Contrarian's Guide to Knowing God
Spirituality for the Rest of Us
Multnomah Books, 2007, 219 pp.,
Larry Osborne is the pastor of North Coast Church in Vista, CA. He challenges many of our accepted ideas about what produces spirituality because too often we focus on the procedures more than the results and set standards that God doesn't require. Osborne defines spirituality, describes to grow, and examines what God desires from us. Few books have so many fresh ideas. And it is not as contrarian as the title suggests. If you feel comfortable grabbing what you like and letting the rest go, you will find it refreshing.
1. Spirituality for the Rest of Us
"The tools and spiritual disciplines that can help us get there frequently become an end in themselves." "God wants a great relationship with all of us, but it can't be found in a one-size-fits-all approach. It's the end result that matters, not the path we take to get there." (22)
"Contrarian thinking for the sake of being contrarian is an arrogant waste of time." "Contrarian thinking at its best simply asks, Is that really true?" It is a form of candor. (25)
2. Religion or Relationship?
Although we claim that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship with Jesus, almost all our spiritual growth books, seminars, workshops, and programs are focused on practices and disciplines. "They show us how to do religion in hopes that it will produce relationship." (27)
But we are not all alike and relationships are not alike. God savors our differences. All of our processes are not rules. "God's house rules aren't hard to figure out." They are the same for all. However, we get to know God through developing a personal relationship and relationships are unique. One-size-fits-all discipleship tools don't cut it. (31-33)
3. Jesus or John?
"We have a hard time accepting the validity of expressions of the Christian faith that are radically different than our own. …the other guys are too sheltered or too worldly, too materialistic or too idealistic, sold out or compromised, zealous or crazy." (36) But Jesus and John the Baptist were both pleasing to God despite radical differences in their approach to ministry and lifestyle. "The most important thing in pleasing God is not a particular approach to spirituality or style of ministry; what matters is the fruit." (41)
4. Is it a Sin to be Average?
"Somehow, somewhere, I picked up the idea that we're all called to do great things for God…." "But what if you're more the retiring type?" (43) "Does that mean something is seriously wrong with your spirituality?" Is there room in the kingdom for mediocrity? "Could someone be average and still please God?" "Could he possibly be pleased with simple folks who loved God, loved their family and friends, then died without ever doing (or wanting to do) anything outstandingly significant?" (45) Some wonderful people of integrity and obedience simply will never register much on the impact meter. I have stopped trying to make everyone into a leader. (46-48) "The goal is spirituality is not to lead--it's to know and please God." (50)
5. The Case for Meandering
"Have you noticed that most of our programs and models for spiritual development follow a strict linear pattern? Step one, followed by step two, and so on. Yet, if we stop and look back at our own spiritual journey, few of us will find anything close to a neatly laid out linear path." Our lives follow meandering paths. "Most spiritual growth happens on a haphazard need-to-grow or need-to-know basis." (53) "Life happens, and growth kicks in." (54)
Many Bible studies and discipleship programs look better on paper than in real life. Therefore, the impact may be minimal because information doesn't usually stick until you need it. After many sermons and seminars we don't really "know" the material; we're just familiar with it. (58)
The linear approach is overrated. So don't worry about meandering. "You'll get where you need to be as long as you stay on the path and look first to God and Scripture when a need-to-grow or need-to-know crisis pops up." (59)
6. Vecroed for Growth
When a crisis hits, people who have close and transparent relationships usually find quick and eager help. "Developing close and transparent relationships is an important part of preparing for life's inevitable calamities." (61) "For most of us, the best tool will be a small cluster of friends who covenant together to meet regularly and share the spiritual journey." (62)
"The primary reason to be in a small group…is connectedness. …transparent relationships velcroes me to the people and information I'll need when a need-to-grow or need-to-know crisis shows up." (63-4) "We're already positioned to get the help we need when we need it." (65)
"Close and transparent relationships also allow peer pressure to do its good work." (65) "The best way to produce that kind of spirituality is to hang around those who are already experiencing it." (67)
7. The Dimmer Switch Principle
"Lots of people who ask for advice really want confirmation. They're already convinced they know best." (72)
"We've all had times when we knew exactly what God wanted us to do, but we still decided that in our particular case our own wisdom was better than his. Every time that happens, our relationship with him goes through a fundamental role-reversal. He stops being our God and becomes our cosmic consultant. Now a consultant is someone whose wisdom we highly value and listen to, but at the end of the day, we make the final decision. … Here's the problem: God doesn't do consulting. … When we treat him as a consultant, he simply stops showing up to the meetings." (74-5)
"He also pulls back some of the light he's already given us. I call this phenomenon, the Dimmer Switch Principle." "When we respond to the light we have, God gives us more. When we don't, he takes away the light we already have." (75)
"The longer we walk in obedience, the clearer the spiritual picture becomes." "I find this to be incredibly encouraging." "Maturity and spiritual depth take time. But I can please God right away because it's not a matter of how much I know or how long I've been at it. It's a matter of what I do with what I already have that matters most." (77)
8. Inside Out
"Ultimately, spiritual growth is an inside-out job. It's not something we produce. It's something God does. Yes, we can cooperate or resist him in the process, but the bulk of the work and all the credit goes to him." (79)
"If I'm a genuine Christ follower, I have available within me the same Holy Spirit who instructed, guided and empowered Jesus and the early disciples. …my spiritual growth isn't so much the result of my hard work, intellect, and rigid self discipline…, it's the direct result of my willingness to listen and yield to the Spirit's inner promptings as he works to guide and change me from the inside out." (82)
This involves three parts. First we must remove as much static as possible by obeying what we already know. Second we must be open to the help and insight of other believers. Third was must be willing to let God really change us. (84-85)
When I don't want to do what God wants I pray that he will help me want to do it. "…many of us short-circuit the inside-out work of the Spirit. We're willing to let God provide us with power, but we don't want him messing with our attitudes, feelings, and desires." For example we often don't want to let an offender off the hook by releasing our bitterness toward him. (86)
"When I find myself knowing what to do but not wanting to do it, I'm no longer satisfied to obey with some sort of macho self-denial and hard obedience. If that's all I've got, God hasn't changed me much. Instead, I take that as a sign that I need to go back to the heart of the matter--to give him permission to realign my desires with his, and to let the Spirit genuinely change me from the inside out." "At this point, I often pray…the Prayer of Permission: 'Lord, I know what you ant me to do, but I don't want to do it. I'm giving you full permission to change the way I feel and think about it.'" (88)
9. The High Place Principle
"What kind of spiritual expressions actually spur God's delight and bring his blessings? And what kind of things leave him cold?" (93)
God had way of blessing and using the wrong people, people whose lives weren't cleaned up - like Jacob, Gideon, and Samson.
"Then one day it hit me. It's not that God doesn't have high standards. His standards are incredibly high. But he understands and makes allowances for something most of us leave out of the spiritual equation--spiritual blind spots." (94)
In someone else, a blind spot looks like pure disobedience. A genuine blind spot is different from willful disobedience. It is something I honestly don't see, a truth I'm unable to grasp or an issue I've not yet come to grips with. The idea that God makes allowances for some sins is hard to swallow, especially when it's not one of our sins. (95)
We see this many times in the Bible. For example King Asa's heart was fully committed to the Lord yet he did not remove the high places. We all have our blind spots, areas where we just don't get it. This should make us much slower to condemn those who hold viewpoints and positions that strike me as wrong or unScriptural. (100)
"I've also found it's a lot easier to follow Jesus' command to deal with the speck in my eye when I recognize that the log in someone else's eye might not be the sin or spiritual insensitivity I'm so quick to label it." (101)
"So what does God want from us?" "He wants obedience to the light we have." (102)
10. The Mustard Seed Principle
"Bottom line: God wants us to trust him--to trust him enough to do what he says, no matter how we feel or how certain we are that things will work out." "It has nothing to do with feelings or mental imagery. It has to do with obedience." (106)
The important lesson of the three men in the fiery furnace is not that "if we trust God enough and do the right thing, he'll get us out of every fiery jam." "The important lesson is that God is pleased with obedience, even when we expect the worst." (109)
"The key lesson [from Peter being released from a Roman prison] is not that doubt-free faith and prayer can bring great results. It's that God can come through even when we doubt his ability to do so. Our requirement is to step out in faith and do the right thing, whether it's refusing to worship an idol, gathering for prayer despite the cause being lost, or any other act of obedience. That's what God wants, and that's what pleases him. After that, it's up to him what happens next." (111)
"He wants faith that acts and obeys, even when it's riddled with doubts." (112)
11. What's Zeal got to do with it?
"If our obedience comes with lots of fervor and zeal, so be it. If it comes with quiet conviction…that's okay too." (123)
14. Gift Projection
"Gift projection takes place whenever we begin to project our own unique gifts and calling upon everyone else, as if our assignment should be their assignment, and our strengths their strengths. At its core, it's an arrogant assumption that my calling is the highest calling, and my gifts are the best gifts." (144)
"I'm amazed how lightly the sin of arrogance and pride--which simply means looking down on others--is taken in so many of our Christian circles." (147)
15. Seeking Balance
"The Bible nowhere calls for us to have a balanced life." The heroes of the faith were obedient to God's call but not balanced. (152) "When we're juggling competing priorities, our ultimate goal is not to be perfectly balanced. The goal is to fulfill God's calling without falling over." (153) "…we each have a unique calling and role to play. Playing our role well sometimes demands being out of balance somewhere else." Life goes through seasons and each season has its own special responsibilities and assignments. (154) Ask: 1. What season is this? 2. What does God want me to do today? 3. Is anything so out of balance that it's harming my health, relationships, or walk with God? "Appropriate balance can't be defined by a schedule or a checklist. It's defined by that sweet spot where we're pursuing whatever helps us play out our role better, avoiding whatever sidetracks us or causes us to fail, and ignoring most of the rest." (157)
16. Why Results Don't Matter
"Neither our conscience nor the results of our decisions are accurate measures of our spirituality or our relationships with God. Both can be incredibly deceiving." (160)
People often say "I have peace about it." But our consciences are not foolproof. It can be adjusted and it will click in where we set it. (160)
We often judge our relationship with God by how well things are going, but this isn't reliable either. "The only sure and reliable sign that I'm on good terms with God is my obedience to his commands and laws." (162)
"Our deeply ingrained assumption that failure must mean something is spiritually wrong makes it nearly impossible to accept the idea that we can fail when everything is spiritually okay. But isn't that the lesson of the book of Job?" (165)
"Judging God or my spiritual journey by results also tends to ignore the fact that the middle of a story is never the end of the story." (166)
"Faith and obedience always matter. Results don't." (167)
17. Preparing the Horse
"I've found there's a certain steadiness and emotional equilibrium that comes with understanding the difference between my role and God's. Defeats aren't as devastating. Victories aren't as seductive. I've also found tranquility in accepting the fact that there are things in the unseen realm I'll never know or understand. It keeps my brain from overheating with hyper-analysis every time things don't go according to plan. Not that I don't ask why and how it happened, and what we can do differently next time. I'll always ask those questions. They're important. But I've also come to accept that sometimes they won't have answers." "We take too much credit when the walls of Jericho cave in and too much blame when our Ai's can't be conquered." (175)
18. Tools or Rules
"The difference between a tool and a rule is profoundly important. Rules must be obeyed, all the time, by everyone. No exceptions. Tools are different. They're task-specific." "There's no value in using any tool for the tool's sake. If it helps accomplish the task, it's a wise choice. If it doesn't, it's a foolish choice. The same goes for the spiritual tools we've come to call spiritual disciplines." (178-79)
"As I've learned to treat the standard spiritual disciplines as tools rather than rules, I've found them to be much more powerful. Depending on what I need to accomplish or build into my life, I'll look through my spiritual toolbox and pick out just the right one for the task at hand. When applied to the right situation at the right time, it will get the job done." (1830
Some guidelines for selecting tools: Try them all. Keep what works. Be honest and ask yourself where you most need to grow. Know yourself and what kinds of things work for you. (185-85)
19. The Potential Trap
"We tend to see unfulfilled potential as a tragic shame; squandered opportunity as a sinful choice. We assume that God couldn't possibly be pleased with anyone who settles for being less than the best they can be--in any area of life. But it's a lie. Potential is not a sacred responsibility." (187)
"The siren call of fully realized potential has become so powerful that it's now commonly read into biblical passages written more than a millennium before the ideas of Maslow and the self-help gurus were even thought of."
"Even the straightforward decree to 'love others as we love ourselves' has been turned into a plea for more self-focus. Apparently, the more I learn to put myself first, the greater capacity I'll have to love others. But let's be real. We don't have any problem putting ourselves first. We come by that quite naturally. We may struggle with poor self-esteem, the leftover baggage of a dysfunctional family or an inability to set healthy boundaries. But we definitely don't need anyone to teach us how to be more selfish and self-centered. Adam took care of that." (188-89)
The parable about the talents is "not a warning about unfulfilled potential. It's a warning about ignoring a God-given assignment and doing nothing to advance the cause of the master. The difference is significant." (190)
"The formula for maximized potential is strangely similar to the recipe for a nervous breakdown or a broken home." (192)
"While Potential seeks greatness in being all I can be, serving others seeks greatness in helping others be all they can be." (195)
20. Glass House Living
"Glass House Living recognizes that the best way to help a friend overcome an addiction like internet pornography is to have him put his computer in the living room, install a program that records every site he visits, and give his wife unfettered access to it."
"It's too easy to lie to the [accountability] group. But it's hard to lie to yourself or anyone else when your wife is standing there looking over your shoulder. It's far easier and more effective towage the battle against this and many other areas of sin and spiritual weakness by removing the cloak of privacy and replacing it with the bright lights of transparency." (201)
"Instead of depending on a few close friends to ask tough questions about what I did last week, I've increased the number of people who can see what I'm doing this week -- and see it in real time." (204)
* * * * *
Your comments and book recommendations are welcome.
To discontinue receiving book notes, hit Reply and put Discontinue in the text.