Renewal In the Trenches

We are in a war. And the main enemy is within. 
Let me clarify, because this is not a trendy idea.

The Word is clear. We have three enemies which stand against us in our relationship IMG_5299with God. Each is to receive an appropriate response.

We are to resist the devil (James 4:7; Ephesians 6:10).

We are to resist the world and its seductive influences (See Galatians 6:4; 1 John 2:15-17;

But the flesh, that requires a different response. We are clearly instructed to mortify our flesh. Yes, mortify – as in the really dead kind of dead.

The spiritual forces around us get a great deal of air time. 90:1 I hear people lay their life problems at the feet of the enemy and not their own choices. How many times do we hear ourselves pray publicly (or privately) against the forces of darkness vs. the number of times we pray for the Spirit to deliver us from our own turned-in-on-oursleves desires?

Yes, I believe in a literal Satan and his legions. I honor the authority of the Word of God on the topic. I don’t require logical, cognitive understanding to accept truth.  Mystery abounds. Besides, I have seen and heard and felt realities in dark places of this world.

However,  of our three enemies – the flesh, the world, and the spiritual forces of darkness – we are told to pursue elimination of only one of them. Paul says that by the Spirit we are to put to death the deeds of the flesh (Romans 8:9-13). Sobering. But that is the point.

Essential is vigilance about what desires are surfacing in us and what is driving those desires. We tread thin ice here. Too easily are we duped by our own selves.

Persistent Pursuit of Renewal
Throughout the New Testament Epistles we are exhorted to pursue renewal.

Research has shown that one of the key markers of those who finish well is regular seasons of spiritual renewal.
Finishing well is here defined as living one’s life to its end faithfully walking with God and doing what he has show one to do. Such a journey is primarily a relational one, not a knowledge- or skill-based one. Yes, we need knowledge (e.g. Word, doctrine, Theology, history, self-awareness, etc.) and skill (how to do certain spiritual practices, relational skills, professional skills, etc.), but all of this is sourced in relationship. The Trinity is the basis of all reality.

IMG_3522Thus we seek constant renewal. We are in a war. The enemy never stops. There is no half-time or or vacation or sabbatical from the war within. We are utterly, continually dependent on God in this war. He is not lobbing rations from the back line up to the trenches where we live and die. No, he is in the trenches with us. Jesus lived and died in this very trench. He invites us to draw near.

Statistically, Odds are You Won’t Finish Well
Dr. Bobby Clinton’s research has shown that 2/3 of leaders do not finish well. The majority of us will fail at finishing well. What are you doing to be part of the minority? Statistically, the odds are against each of us.

Deliberate, budgeted, scheduled seasons of renewal are in order. These practices happen daily, weekly, monthly annually and seasonally. That sounds like massive investment, maybe a tad self-absorbed, so let’s break this down.

Ways of Renewal – Are your life/spiritual practices sufficient for your life-ministry responsibilities?*

Daily – Word, Prayer, exercise, core relationships, rest, diet, and, yes, sacrificial work

Weekly – Sabbath, day of to play, and rest. Do not be accessible via tech all the time.

Monthly – a day of prayer and solitude, time with community, hobbies

Yearly – Vacation, times to reflect, pray, plan, extended retreat,  intake events (where you receive not give as the main purpose of the event – such as a conference or guided retreat).

Seasonally – Sabbatical, further training, extended retreats…

There is much to reflect on here. If you are too busy to live into these let alone to reflect upon them, well you are just playing into the enemy’s hand.

The principle is this: We are in a war and renewal through deeper communion with God and others is key to finishing the fight well.  

What facilitates your renewal? Please comment and share. 

* Eugene Peterson first put me onto this question in his book Under the Unpredictable Plant.

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Interview on Personal Hardships

I was recently interviewed at Grace Community Church, Detroit, MI by Lead Pastor Doug Kempton on the topic of God’s purposes through personal hardships.

Doug’s questions were framed from 2 Corinthians 1 and the recently released book The Uninvited Companion: God’s Shaping Us in His Love through Life’s Adversities (available on Amazon).

IMG_8626 2

You can watch the interview here
Audio version is available here

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

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The Ministry Of Reminding

We sure do forget easily. As an attempt at anti-forgetfulness, I will pray Psalm 143:8:

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,                                                              for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life (NIV).”

We need to be reminded every single morning of God’s love. We too easily lose track of this one central reality that orients all our other life circumstances.

IMG_5278Peter Taught Me This Shepherd’s Role
In 2 Peter 1:12-15 Peter states three times that he will constantly remind the sheep he cares for of central truths:

“12 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things (NIV).”

Refreshing the memory of believers of Gospel truths was a central feature of Peter’s ministry. It helped orient their perspective in complex, fluid times. We need that orientation too.

A New Testament Theme
A quick survey of the New Testament reveals that many of the writers took this reminding role seriously.

Paul wrote the book of Romans to remind the believers there of core tenets of their faith (15:15).

Paul sent Timothy to Corinth to remind them of his ways in Christ (1 Corinthians 4:17).

In 1 Corinthians 15:1 Paul writes, “I remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you… (ESV).”

To his young proteges Timothy (2 Timothy 1:6, 2:14) and Titus (Titus 3:1) Paul wrote to remind them of their calling and that in their role as leaders they were to remind the churches they cared for of how to conduct themselves.

Fiery Jude wrote to remind his readers of the prophecies of Jesus concerning the last times (1:17).

The church in Sardis is reminded through John of what they have received from Jesus  in Revelations 3:3.

In Hebrews 10:32 the readers are reminded of earlier days in their faith journey when they endured hardships to encourage them as they face a new round of trials.

Hebrews 13:3 reminds us to not forget those imprisoned for the name of Jesus.

Hebrews 13:7 tells us to remember the modeling of faith we have received from our spiritual leaders – Jesus being supreme in that category.

Shepherd’s are Refreshers of Minds
This quick, incomplete survey, shows that shepherds keep reminding others of central spiritual truths. We are easily distracted so we need others to point us back to our essential focus.

Sadly, we will get bored communicating the same truths over and over again long before others have adequalty appropriated them. We are too often on the lookout for new and dazzling messages. But we all need to keep hearing the gospel – what God has done and is doing and will do on our behalf and his new-every-moment invitation to receive him.

Keep reminding yourself and others every where you go of the Father’s love which he has clearly displayed in his Son (Romans 5:8) and constantly spreads abroad within us by the Spirit (Romans 5:5). In so doing, like Peter did, you will help to firmly establish others in the truth.

How has God been reminding you of his love of of late? Who has he used to refresh your mind of his love?

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Recognizing God’s Presence in Our Suffering

The Following is an excerpt from The Uninvited Companion: God’s Shaping us in His Love Through Life’s Adversities  © 2017 Scott E. Shaum pp. 113, 116-117.  

The book is available from in print and Kindle versions.

Earlier in this book, I made several references to the silence I experienced during the Printearly days of my illness. Though I can now look back and see God’s loving hand doing a deep work in me to open me and draw me into his love,

at the time the sensation of God’s absence simply piled on top of the physical challenges I was facing. On top of all the physical discomforts, God seemed to have up and left.

I often describe the experience in the following manner: It felt like I had been riding down the road of life with God, and then one day he pulled the car over and told me to get out. So I did. Then he drove off. I looked in every direction and had no idea where I was. All I saw was a barren, featureless terrain I had never been to before. This barrenness went on to the horizon in every direction. I sat down and waited for God to return.

And I waited.

I cried out to God in anger and confusion. The silence was simply overwhelming.

It was one of the most confusing, disorienting, and disrupting times of my life. What was God doing?

A Better Offer

Frankly, this passage (John 16:33) was a confounding one to me during the time of sitting in that barren and silent place. God was not speaking to me. I could not sense his presence. I did not have the discernment at the time to sense his abiding presence and work, but he was there all along. Herein lies an important spiritual reality: We often want from God what he can do for us, more than we want God himself. In my case, I just wanted all the pain to go away—and fast.

But God’s primary longing for us is not for our comfort; it is for our communion. He is not merely extending his gifts to us, but he is extending himself. His primary desire is always relational. Suffering is but one means he uses to catch our attention and draw us deeper into himself. It was in this barren landscape that I was being awoken to the greater gift he was extending to me than the mere removal of suffering. I wanted resolution. He invited me to an enduring companionship with him in the midst of suffering. I wanted explanations. He offered his presence instead. He was using all the disorienting, painful stripping of my inability to solve my own problems to invite me deeper into his loving presence.

A New Recognition

There are spiritual truths we will otherwise never learn unless we find ourselves in similar barren places. Our life situations are as varied as could be, yet God is up to something beautiful in each of us. What is common to all, though, is his unbridled commitment to draw us into his loving presence. This is one of those unforeseen gifts of our sufferings.


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Mastery And Mystery

We seek competency and proficiency in many areas of our lives. That is good and proper stewardship of what God has graced us with in life. As caregivers, it behooves us to provide as excellent of care as we can.

We feel most comfortable discussing and pursuing mastery. Mystery, though, is another reality IMG_0785.JPGaltogether…

Its the mysteries in life that undo us.

Mysteries are the life circumstances in which we often feel stuck, confused, and undone. We cry out to God for relief and nothing seems to change. Even the Apostle Paul experienced God saying “no” to him when he cried out for help (see 2 Corinthians 12 for example).

Tolerance for Mystery
God seeks to grow us in our tolerance for mystery. As we grow in tolerance for mystery, we actually become more competent in our mastery. However,  we often, sometimes unknowingly, ignore and hide the broken places in our lives; those places that undo us.

How is God growing your tolerance for mystery? How might this growth impact your mastery of journeying with others well?

At the annual Mental Health and Missions Conference (November 2017. See for information)  I addressed this paradoxical dynamic we find ourselves in. You can listen to it in its entirety.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and responses.

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Book Release: The Uninvited Companion

PrintThe Uninvited Companion: God’s Shaping Us In His Love through Life’s Adversities is a culmination of  wresting with God and his Word through year’s of personal, physical adversity.

Here is an excerpt:

My Hannah-Like Prayer Moment

I remember clearly a Hannah-like prayer that was formed within me. This was not some well-crafted, long-thought-out prayer. It simply rolled off my lips, unrehearsed, one day. I was not prepared for what I said. It makes me wonder that Hannah’s may not have been planned either (see 1 Samuel 1:1-11).

My wife, Beth, was driving me home from yet another unhelpful medical appointment. I was simply too chronically exhausted to drive. My head was resting on the passenger window of our car. A tear rolled down my cheek and a prayer rolled off the edges of my heart: “Allow this to continue for as long as you want, to do whatever you want in my life.”

Where did that prayer come from? I suspect in the recesses of my soul, where the Holy Spirit was shaping a deep, new form within me, such words took seed. I had never prayed such a prayer before. Up until then, I only wanted to be better. Fast. But the God of Hannah was birthing in me a posture toward him that had previously not existed. Like Hannah, a livelier response was being born in my heart.

God has answered that prayer. I am a different person than I was. He has not answered prayers about getting physically better, yet he continues to use physical illness to ripen this soul of mine. What’s more is that he has shaped me in ways that allow me to tend to others more sensitively. Like Hannah, God can use all our pains for others’ gain.

Such prayers are one of the fruits of enduring through prolonged pain. What if God, in his wisdom, love, and mercy, is allowing us, yes, even causing us, to experience some pain in our lives to shape yet nonexistent reality in and around us? Does that make the pain any easier to live with? Certainly not. But it can take our engagement with God in profoundly different directions.

We can now be open to the paradigm of yielding to God in his redemptive purposes in us, rather than merely demanding he relieve us of our suffering. Hannah has shown us an entirely different response. This courageous housewife has shown us a beautiful, enlivened way to respond to suffering, even as the tears continued to flow over the losses she was asked to live with—years of barrenness followed by sacrificially giving her young son to be raised to serve in the temple and, eventually, for the well-being of a nation.

(Excerpted from The Uninvited Companion: God’s Shaping Us in His Love though Life’s Adversities ©Scott E. Shaum, 2017; pp. 38-39).

The book is due for release on November 15, 2017. I will have copies at the Mental Health and Missions Conference (IN) November 16-19 and at Grace Community Church, Detroit, MI on November 25 and 26. Copies will be available via Amazon, both print and Kindle versions soon thereafter. You can also obtain a print copy directly from me for $12 including postage mailed within the US.

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Traveling Wise in a Fast World

Several weeks ago I posted a link to a video that has garnered some good feedback in many circles. You can see the blog here with a link to the video in it.

One person commented on that video post wondering what it would look like to seek to live this type of pace while traveling internationally at jet speed. This is a great question.

Lessons on Itinerant Shepherding
Personal, on-site interaction is a core philosophy of my shepherding. I want to walk the IMG_7018streets of those I tend to – meet their community, sit in their living room (if they want that) – enter into the very fabric of their lives. We all long to be known. Long-term, particularized care leads to others being known, loved and that creates space for life change.

There are some hidden temptations that come with such a model. One of the greatest is to be need-driven.

Due to the fact that a particular visit can be short and the needs are great, there is great temptation to pack the schedule full to see as many people as possible.

But consider first: What message are we sending? Do we unintentionally communicate that needs dictate one’s choices? Are we unknowingly affirming a relentless lifestyle? Did Jesus attend to every need that came his way? Should I attempt to? Besides, is this pace sustainable?

I do hold to the adage that what we do speaks louder than what we say. We can model for others what a God-driven, sacrificial life and ministry can look like.

Here are some simple lesson I have learned along the way:

  • If I am tired and harried, that is likely how others will experience me. I don’t want others to get the weary leftovers of my heart. Therefore, it behooves me to have margin prior and during travel. This is not selfish. Its actually thoughtful toward God, self and others.
  • Once I land in a location, I try to get a day or two rest due to jet lag. This allows me to show up to appointments more fresh and able to receive others.
  • With great exception, I keep Sabbath. That day of being delighted in the Lord informs all my other days and shapes the way I engage others.
  • I try to maintain a “2/3 principle” in my daily scheduling. I split the day into thirds: morning, afternoon and evening. As a practice, I try to make myself available two of those thirds. For example, if I have meetings in the afternoon and evening, I try at all possible to keep the morning free. The unscheduled third is actually “scheduled.” That other third of the day is for time in the Word, to pray and reflect and to rest, enjoy the area, get exercise and keep to some semblance of normal rhythms.

What are some of your lessons to slow down to “Godspeed?”  What is your experience of long-term, particularized care of others on their turf?

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Toward Becoming A Father or Mother in the Faith

What are some markers of a mother or father in the faith?
I take note of John’s descriptions of three generations of believers in his first epistle:

“I am writing to you, little children,
    because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
I am writing to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
    because you have overcome the evil one.”                                                                                     
(1 John2:12-13 NIV).

I note that the spiritual children are marked by forgiveness, the young men are marked by aggressive activity (overcoming the enemy), and the elders are marked by a relational knowing.  An aspect of maturity is moving deeper into communion with God and others which will mandate less activity. 

Eugene Peterson taught me (in his many books) that shepherding work is not efficient work. Relationships, spiritual transformation, emotional maturation, and even organizational development is not about efficiency. It is about relationships and, boy, are relationships messy. Nurturing such organisms take enormous swaths of time. I know that you know this. Ah, the tensions of life….

What catches my attention from this brief passage in John, taken with the context of the book, is that the later stage of maturity is not marked by greater activity but rather deeper knowing – particularly of “him who is from the beginning.”

How does one go through such a transition from a stage of life marked by “overcoming the enemy” to one that is marked by “knowing him who is from the beginning?” I presume we are led through such a transition. I have no hope that I would find this Way on my own.

1 John 2:13b-14 is very similar, yet has some variances to it:

“I write to you, children,
    because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
    because you are strong,
    and the word of God abides in you,
    and you have overcome the evil one.”

Forgivness for the children brings them into an adoptive relationship with God as Father. The young men (and women) are still out there overcoming, but we now see the source of their strength – the Word of God abides in them.IMG_2170

A Relational Influence
The Father’s ( and spiritual mothers) however are steady. No varying with them. Their life in the church, in the community, and in global impact – their very identity – is not marked by what they do for God, but that same relational knowing.

As I think of the elders in the faith, those spiritual mothers and fathers, that I have had the gift of getting to know, what strikes me about their life is not how much they get done but rather a presence, a weightiness of soul, a spiritual depth.

Where are you, not in age, but experientially in your walk with God?

  • Do you experience yourself before God as an adopted child, forgiven and God as your Father?  This is the core of our identity.
  • Do you see yourself as giving your life to overcoming the enemy as an outworking of your abiding in God and his word abiding in you? This marks a large chunk of our lifetime.
  • Are you growing in your relational knowing? Experience God’s beckoning in deeper and further to your communion with him? Responsiveness to this invitation is essential for maturing as an elder of the faith.

Each is valid. Each spiritual generation makes up the family of God.

Yet I see and hear little in our society and culture beckoning us onward into deeper, relational knowing, let alone giving place for those who are aged and “less productive.” The Spirit through the Word and lives of others offers a contrary message. We are constantly invited deeper into knowing the Father in Jesus by the Spirit.

The church and the missional enterprise simply cannot have enough of those ones being matured into mothers and father in the faith.

How are you responding to these invitations? What has been your experience?

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