How to know God personally and “First15”: A conversation with Craig Denison

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How to know God personally and “First15”: A conversation with Craig Denison

December 12, 2022 - Denison Forum

Denison Forum podcast logo, protraits of Dr. Mark Turman and Dr. Jim Denison

Craig Denison and Dr. Mark Turman share how to cultivate a personal relationship with God through daily devotionals, prayer, and worship, how the First15 devotional was created, and how to hear God’s voice in your life.

Show notes:

Craig Denison opens by talking about being Dr. Denison’s son, how he made his faith his own, and his early career as a musician and worship leader (3:22). Then they talk about his heart behind writing First15, the daily devotional available for free (7:31). They discuss the idea of personal, devotional time with the Lord (11:00), and how to discern the voice and will of God in prayer (16:36). Then they consider how God wants us to both rely on him and grow to make our own decisions, guided by the wisdom that he’s taught us (22:07). They talk about why Craig Denison crafted First15 the way he did, and how to worship God with your whole being (24:16). They discuss how to cultivate a personal relationship with God, and how it can differ from person to person (35:10) Craig Denison closes by encouraging listeners to start now in alone time with God and start somewhere, regardless of your life circumstances (41:47).

Resources and further reading:

About the hosts

Dr. Mark Turman is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.

About the guest

Craig Denison, son of Dr. Jim Denison, is a speaker, songwriter, worship leader, and the author of First15 daily devotional – helping almost 2 million believers a month in more than 200 countries connect with God in daily worship, reading, and prayer. Craig also serves as the Chief Innovation Officer of Denison Ministries.

Transcript

Transcribed by Otter.ai

 

Mark Turman  00:11

Welcome to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Mark Turman, the executive director of Denison Forum, glad that you are back with us today. We also have joining us in the conversation, the younger son of Jim Denison, our founder and CEO Craig Dennison is Jim and Janet’s younger son, the son of, or the second of two sons, I should say. And he is also creator of first 15. So first of all, Craig, welcome to the podcast.

 

Craig Denison  00:41

Hey, thanks, Mark. And I’m a little bit mad that you didn’t say, younger and better son. Because I think that’s pretty widely known as I hope the listeners will agree after this conversation today. But regardless, I’m still happy to be here and happy to talk about first 15

 

Mark Turman  00:54

Well, we know that many would claim that and, you know, we’ll just wait and see what your brother Ryan has to say our audience may be a little bit more familiar with them with Ryan because of his substitute for your dad as the writer of The Daily article on occasion. So they may be slightly more familiar. But Craig has long been a part of Dennison ministries. If I understand the legend of Craig Dennison, you started at the ground floor doing communications ministry and helping produce things like a podcast and other video resources. That type of thing, eventually became the CEO of Denison ministries, that term may be new to some of our audiences well, that we are actually more than simply a ministry of cultural apologetics. We also do Christian parenting. We do Bible study resources that your mom is heavily involved in that we call foundations. And we have a devotional resource that we’ll talk about today called first 15. But Craig has been CEO of that, and recently, in the last number of months, moved into a new role. You’re now called the Chief Innovation Officer at Denison ministries, what is an innovation officer?

 

Craig Denison  02:11

Do? You know I just wake up every day. And I think about artificial intelligence. And I think about, you know, just where the whole world is moving. And now I’m just kidding, really, it’s just new projects, new initiatives, as I’m moving into more of this consulting space, and the chance to be able to get my hands in a broader sense of what God’s doing around the kingdom, and have an impact there, but also be able to connect those things to the mission and resources of Denison ministry. So it’s been a wild ride so far this year, getting to kind of venture out a little bit more, and get my hands on things that are happening around the world. And I’m loving the process.

 

Mark Turman  02:45

Yeah, that’s awesome. Tell us about your family. People want to know about that, too.

 

Craig Denison  02:50

Yeah, absolutely. So married 10 years to my wife, Rachel, who is amazing and far more talented than I am as infine is all my friends seem to remind me constantly and have two sons, Wes and Wales who are about to be six, and three wishes started kindergarten two weeks ago. And so that’s a new thing for our family also have a two year old Chocolate Lab named Milo can’t forget about the first child live in Lake Highlands in Dallas, and you have this really beautiful life being close to friends close to family and the freedom to jump into whatever it is that God’s calling us to do.

 

Mark Turman  03:22

That’s awesome. Well, before we get specifically into the conversation about first 15 as a devotional, spiritual devotional resource, tell us a little bit about your ministry background. You weren’t always working in some capacity with Dennis and ministries. You had some life and ministry experience before that. So paint a little bit because this in my opinion, Craig kind of goes right into the genesis of what first 15 is all about. So give us a little bit of your spiritual history and your ministry history before Denison ministries.

 

Craig Denison  03:57

Yeah, so when I grew up as a with a wonderful pastor father, created the Denison forum really was one of the greatest gifts that God’s given me of being able to be raised by him and mom, and having a vibrant faith as I was growing up, you know, things like that would come and go in different seasons and different challenges. When I went away to school I really sensed to college I mean, I really had a sense that it was time for my faith to get far more personal and that there were aspects of my faith that I haven’t hadn’t really engaged in that were available to me. So started carving out space really started with spending time alone with God started going away to a lake that was near to the college that I was reading every book that I could, waking up early, spending time in worship, and reading and prayer. And it was really, in Time Alone With God that my faith deepened. And my connection to God grew and I started to see how that could impact every part of my life and not just be an avenue for peace or an avenue for purpose, but really how the Holy Spirit can be present and working in actus inside of things that I felt were trivial or mundane that he cared about this things, things that were significant and bigger than I could ask or imagine that he obviously cared about those things. And that journey just sort of lit me up in my process of experiencing God. So took me down some different pathways. And one of those pathways was doing the one thing my parents told me not to do, which was dropping out of college with a band. So a band that I was in, got assigned to a contract with a Christian music producer, and wrote songs, travel tour tickets for labels, and really felt that God led me into that. And it was this wonderful season of seeing how to really engage in music and worship at a higher level at the highest level, being around people that are doing it at a significant level. And seeing what that was like, it was also a great season of realizing that I don’t want to be a touring musician. That is not the life for me, which is a great gift to learn that lesson at that time, too. So it’s really not as much fun being stuck in the back of a van all day, every day and playing the same songs the same way every night isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be so and then that process, left that went back to school, and then had a real calling to join that as he had founded this ministry just in any way that I could. And being willing to help in any way they could look a lot of different ways over 10 years here at Denison ministries, but it’s been a joy and a gift to just get to fill in whatever gaps exist and help propel this amazing mission that seems to grow more and more every day.

 

Mark Turman  06:20

So what you’re telling me is, it’s not necessary, you’re not necessarily recommending or giving an endorsement for dropping out of college. But you do need to be responsive to wherever God’s prompting you. Right?

 

Craig Denison  06:32

Exactly. I would say it really those faith steps. I don’t know that they happen that many times in life, but I can look back at specifically two or three of those that you know, the people around, you might not tell me this makes the most sense. But I had a real conviction from God that this was the right thing to do. And those were some of the most transformative moments of my life, the ability to say yes to those things, and the ability to say yes to the ability to trust my sense, a relationship with God, and where he was leading me was a huge gift. But absolutely, I think those things require and every one of those God had been speaking to me for months leading up to them. And every one of those transitions felt more like a fulfillment of something I already knew, then something that I couldn’t understand or explain that if God to give me the grace of leading me up to those moments and giving me a supernatural piece about them, and also that they were bearing fruit in a way that was obvious that God was in it. And so, so many aspects of it that made it make sense, leading up to it, and on the other side of it.

 

Mark Turman  07:31

Well, and that that’s so well sets the foundation for what we want to talk about with first 15 I said, in some ways, you know, as young people were like, you can’t really know if you want to be a touring musician, even even in a Christian spiritual context, until you actually go try it right. You don’t know what it’s like to be in that band, day after day and, and doing that kind of ministry, which some people just love, and they’re they thrive in it, and they’re, they’re drawn to it. And that’s great for them. And some do it for a season. But you can’t really sometimes know about things as your dad has said many times, you can’t know that the job you’re taking is the job you should take until you take it right. And so you have to get in and experience some things. But let’s talk about first 15 One of the very, very significant aspects of Denison ministries and is significantly connected to other things that we’re doing, including the Denison forum and cultural apologetics discerning the news differently. Tell us the genesis of first 15 Tell us what it is, and then tell us where it came from.

 

Craig Denison  08:36

Yeah, so first 15 is a daily devotional that’s primarily digital, we have physical books as well, that helps believers begin their day in worship and reading and prayer. And the first 15 minutes of their day. The genesis of it was actually going to lunch with Dad early into the process of starting at Denison ministries and agencies and forum and wanting to support this mission that he was carrying. And and prior to that, like I mentioned, spending time alone with God and worship and reading a prayer really changed everything for me, and was the rhythm that I clung to inside of different life transitions and carried me through so many different things. And so at lunch, one of those times, we were just talking about the mission that was developing. And I had this sense the both of us that in order for people to really do something with the resources of Denison forum, maybe there needs to be a sense of pulling away from the world to go out into it, that it’s not enough to just know what’s happening in the world or to know even just what the Bible would say like we have to have the leadership and the conviction and the courage to do something about that with love and empathy and in partnership with God joining him where he’s at work. That’s where the transformation in the world happens. So what would a companion resource to the daily article look like? In a devotional like first 15. And so he went away to go write it. He’s been a pastor for decades and is a brilliant writer, as we all know, and as incredible devotional resources that he’s written across decades and had this check from the Holy Spirit is how he would say that he just wasn’t supposed to write this and while he was God I was feeding words still like, Oh, what if people knew this? Or this was so meaningful for me? Or would it be pulled from this book? Or what does it look like this. And so he came back from a couple of those writing retreats and just said, crikey, I think you’re supposed to give this a shot and write it. So I started writing it, the minister had enough grace around the idea to let me transition from what I was doing and to creating this brand and really took off pretty quick. So started with a website that we had an app and launched a podcast, and now have a new app and website that just launched a few weeks ago, actually. And it’s been amazing to see how if people around the world can just create some space for God to fill. And there’s this tool or this rhythm, or this guy, the first 15 to help them worship and read and pray. It’s amazing to see how God fills that space. That’s the power of it to me, isn’t that a good writer? Or isn’t even that the worship songs that we pick from are amazing, although they are. It’s that when we create space, God in His grace is willing to fill that space with His nearness and with his word, and really to guide us and lead us where it is that he wants us to go.

 

Mark Turman  11:00

Yeah, I love I love the idea of the balance between our private life and private connection to God, and our public life and our ministry within and for God, that those two things are acknowledged so, so strongly by this ministry, by both by everything that Denison Ministries is doing that, look, if you’re, you can’t have the kind of salt and light effect that we talked about so much at Denison forum, you’re not going to be assaulted, you’re not going to be bright. If you’re not having meaningful time with Christ on a personal basis, often in solitude, not always in solitude, but often in solitude. Going back in the last year or so, I just remember stumbling upon what Jesus prayed as they came out of the Upper Room, John 17. Three, it says that Jesus says at the beginning of that prayer, this is eternal life that you know, the Father, and you know me. And he’s not just talking about intellectual knowledge, he’s not talking about being able to win the game of a church Trivial Pursuit about all the things that you could find out about Jesus, it’s about what does it mean to know Him in a personal and intimate kind of way. And that’s something that, you know, as a young Christian at 17, my church really stressed that we call it everybody talks about quiet time back in those days, and some still do. Kind of, if you would kind of build on that, how are the components look about the components that are within the tool of first 15? How is it like, what I might have learned, you know, 40 years ago to, quote unquote, have a quiet time with God every day? Sometimes we would we even have a season in our youth ministry, where we called it a seventh up, you know, seven minutes with God. First thing in the morning, was one way that we talked about it. But it did become an ingrained rhythm, as you talked about, in your own experience, it became an ingrained rhythm of what it meant to develop a relationship with God, how did that feed into and then ultimately give form to what the components first 15 are.

 

Craig Denison  13:18

And I think there’s so many good ways to do this. I think God’s perspective is so much more, that he’s willing to meet us wherever we are than that we have to do this perfectly, or any specific way. And so I always want to say that first 15 is, you know, this free resource, and it’s available. But the expectation isn’t that this is the best devotional out there is the only devotional someone cheese for forever. It’s just a way that I hope is helpful to people and helping them connect with God. And people could come and go from it too. And in different seasons, I think God calls us to engage with them in different ways. I know that’s been true for my own life. And so, specifically, first 15 was birthed out of the rhythm that I found to be most meaningful in my connection point to God, I think a lot of that has to do with my worship background. And both in writing songs and recording and touring, but also in leading worship at churches and, and seeing that as an avenue of helping people connect with God on a heart level, before getting into a time where we’re trying to connect with him on the head level, or make, you know, dedicated sessions of what it looks like to follow him in and out of the week that’s in front of us. And for me, when I start with worship, it is this gift, and people talking about music in this way, often that it’s this language, but that it communicates can communicate from heart to heart, as opposed to head to head. And it’s this great ability, I find that when I start with worship, the problems I thought I had that day, the things I thought I wanted to tackle with God, sometimes they just go away in the context of worship, and I realized they’re just not as significant as I thought that were when I get my life centered around God, I’m not the center of my time with him, but through worship, God becomes the center of my time with him. I find that it changes the whole rest of however many minutes I spend alone with God. And so starting with worship was a gift to me. And that’s how we begin with first 15 is setting some context for the day and then getting into a song of worship some of the Those are originals that I or others on the first of team team or people around us have written, some of them are songs that we pull from amazing worship that’s out there, then that goes into a devotional thought, which is meant to sort of invite you to that place of connection with God with your whole being, whether it’s intellectually or on a heart level, or having a sense of an intuition or with the Holy Spirit might be saying to you directly, and all that wraps in what I think is maybe the most critical component, which is a real time of prayer. And by prayer, it’s not talking at God, but really, some guided questions, three guided questions, specifically every day, then invite you to not only talk with God, but didn’t really hear from him. And to have a sense of inviting him to speak to you directly. Often when I’m speaking somewhere, that’s the question I get asked most often is, how do I know that God’s talking to me and and I don’t feel like I’ve had that experience? And my first question is, you know, have you asked him questions, and then just been quiet, and seeing if he would speak to you. And I think that’s often where it starts as a willingness to say, God is alive, and he’s working, and he is around me, he wants to speak to us more than we want him to speak to us. He doesn’t always do it in the way we want him to. He doesn’t always do it at the time that we want him to. And he does it. But he always does it in the perfect way. And so creating some space at the end of the devotional time through prayer, I think is so key, in order to actually have this sense of just one on one connection, and God can tell you anything he wants to tell you that day and for me, and that’s when I’m able to walk out into the day like you mentioned and really be the saltiest and the brightest that I can be is after that time of conversation with God, where I’ve connected with him, I have the sense of courage and love, empathy, and that connection that carries me through the ups and downs that are inevitable inside of every day.

 

Mark Turman  16:36

I know that, from my own experience, personally and talking with others that maybe the hardest thing a Christian has to figure out is how do I understand discern the voice of God versus my own voice or the you know, cacophony of other voices that are constantly coming at us. You know, Jesus made that statement, you know, My sheep know my voice, and they follow Me. How can I get to the place where I have high levels of consistent confidence that I really am hearing God. And, you know, when we, when we start talking about spending this kind of time with God, we start, we kind of know that we’re operating in that part of what Jesus said, love him with all of your heart and soul that really operates in kind of in that area, although we’re probably not supposed to pull that apart as much as we sometimes pull it all apart. We’re holistic beings. But really getting to that point of, you know, I remember there’s this little story that came out of Sunday school, you know, we’re kids, we’re writing notes to missionaries, and one of the little girls in the third grade wrote a note, hey, we’re praying for you, we’re not expecting an answer. And, you know, trying to tell the missionary you don’t have to write back, but that’s the way a lot of us approach prayer, hey, I’m praying, I’m not expecting an answer. But I also, you know, kind of building on what you said a minute ago is just it comes to mind that, you know, God could God could get my attention. So clearly, he could, he could overwhelm all of my senses and understanding in such a way that there would be no need for a decision of faith. He, he could, you know, he’s written on walls, he’s written in the sky, he can reveal himself so profoundly, that there’s no question. And there’s no decision that has to be made. But he’s respecting and in nurturing my decision of faith, and a lot of that comes through, you know, because sometimes we will be interested to get your reaction. Sometimes we hear people that they talk about their relationship with God, as if it’s two people talking like you and I are talking right now. And and it’s rarely been that kind of thing for me. And yet God does say, I will speak to you.

 

Craig Denison  19:06

Absolutely, yeah. And I think it’s so personal, the way that he speaks to us. And as opposed to wishing that I think he was overwhelming all of our senses. I, I think God in His grace speaks to us in so many different ways. You know, whether it’s through open doors, or people around us, or scripture or directly through the Spirit, or intuitions or pictures, or, and I think so much of that has to do with the ways that we’re willing to hear him. I think there’s a lot of it, how open are we to hearing him through any and every avenue that he’s willing to speak to us, but also recognizing that part of what I don’t like about this with God, but learning more and more about the older that my kids get is, you know, as my kids grow, I don’t want them to call me for every little decision like Dad, where should I go for lunch today? Dad, should I even as as they get into the process of deciding career paths, I want to be a sounding board for them. I want to teach them principles and develop their character and I want to lead and guide them but I think as we mature even with God, I think there’s the sense of God is pleased for us to have a little bit more space to play in. And that there isn’t always the clear just this is 100%, the exactly, I think everything else is on a percent not God, I think there’s so much more complexity to it. And there’s so much more grace to it. And that if we have a yes in our heart to how he’s leading us, in our maturity, I think God actually wants us to have some space there. And so I think that’s I wish that God would just shout to me, and I tried that for a while, would just shout to me for every little thing. So I would know that every little thing was him because I so desperately wanted to be him. And there was moments that I had a real sense of leadership from him in those times. And then there was a lot of moments that I felt like it was was disabled, you know, is debilitating to have to lean on that sort of experience from God to do anything or everything. And it’s not mature to go about it that way. And so I love and I wish that God didn’t do it that way. But at the same time, as a father can understand the how he has a loving Heavenly Father wants to lead and guide us in the ways that we’re willing to hear him and actually wants us to have some, some sense of say, I think in what this life looks like, in partnership with Him, He wants us to co labor with him. He doesn’t want us to be a bunch of robots, that he just pushes a button says do exactly this, he wants us to have faith, He wants us to have relationship he likes doing this work of advancing his kingdom together. That’s why he set it up the way that he did. And as scary as that is, it’s also beautiful, and it draws me closer to God. And that’s why I think something like a devotional time every day is so key, because it’s less about getting specific answers to specific things that we need to do. And I find that following him and hearing his voice is a lot more about staying close to his voice. And scripture says that it’s still in small, I think that’s on purpose. You know, God’s voice, being still in small draws us close to him. That’s the whole point. Right? The whole point isn’t just the United Kingdom, the whole point is relationship with him and actually being close. And the fact that his voice is still in small draws us to that place of closeness. So I find that it’s more it’s less about even just once a year going on a retreat or having these big mountaintop experiences. And it’s more about the everyday consistency of just making sure that my ears attuned to him and that my hearts open to him and experiencing that sense of connection so that we can live every day in every moment together.

 

Mark Turman  22:07

Yeah, so good. And, you know, because over time you hear people talk, right between these two kind of extremes of okay, God, tell me everything that you want me to wear today? What color of a shirt Do you want me to put on? And what meal do you you know, what food am I supposed to eat to take my next meal. And then you have people on the other extreme? Well, I only talked to God, when my back is really against the wall. And I have no other options. There’s no other thing I can do the all the other options have been played out. Now I’m going to pray. And it shouldn’t be that way either. Right? That, that the most important thing is is that God wants us to develop what we sometimes call intimacy or oneness with what the Bible on multiple occasions describes as oneness. And I love what you said that God wants us to mature in a way that we never forget about him, we never exclude him. He’s always a part of, of our experience. But we’re also not like immature chill children who don’t have capacity that He’s given us to function and to engage in things. So kind of where that takes me in my thought process. Craig is okay, how does first 15 then potentially help to launch me into a consistent awareness, and an appropriate kind of mature engagement with God through the Holy Spirit all through the day, you know, Christian history. Last couple of years at the church, I pastored, I was really taken with the example of Daniel, where it says that Daniel, went up into this room in his house and three times a day, got down on his knees, opened a window, looking to the east, toward Jerusalem, where he wanted to be, he’d been carried off in exile. But there was this rhythm in his life that three times a day, he was just known to do this. So how, how have you experienced? Or how would you, you know, even encourage others, that something like first 15 could launch people into that kind of consistency, even throughout their day?

 

Craig Denison  24:16

Yeah, I think what was so interesting to me, as we were about to start this was trying to do a lot of polling people and get a sense of what would actually be really helpful. And the sense that I had is that the problem really isn’t that people don’t want to spend time alone with God. It’s that especially in the morning, I think, in general, if you were to ask Christians, is that something you’d want to do? I think by and large, Christian would say like, yeah, I would love to do that. But when it comes down to it, and the busyness of the morning, it’s really hard to figure out how to do that. And I found that if I don’t know how I’m going to achieve something or accomplish something, it’s really hard, especially in a crunch time, like morning with kids in school and work and every social media and everything dinging in my pocket, you know, to try to get my attention every single morning. If I don’t know how I’m going to spend the time then it’s really hard to spend A time at all. And so that’s where I think is helpful about 15. Is this this way that’s free on devices that you use every single day that answers that question of how am I going to experience God today? How am I going to connect with God that has worship and reading and prayer and scripture for you there. So that in that crunch time in the morning, I think most of us, we might not be able to an hour might even go to half an hour, but in 15 minutes, we can have a meaningful connection with God. That’s the first question I wanted to answer for people or for solution I wanted to provide is getting that that gap was between the desire for people to spend time with God and actually fulfilling that desire closed with this free, easy to use avenue to a meaningful connection with God. And then from there, I think it become it can become what you make of it had a phone call from a pastor a while back, who said, you know, it supposed to be 15 minutes, but every I’m finding myself spending two hours with this every day. And it’s just because God was meeting him at that place, he didn’t want to leave. I mean, once you start to get that place of connection with God, even the most simple passage of scripture can start to reveal itself to be so deep and meaningful in so many different ways that we just want to stay in that sense of encounter, experience, or Revelation. Or it can be done in five minutes, we have people and people that tell me like, look, I don’t really love the worship music you choose. So I just kind of skip it. And I just jumped straight to devotional prayer. And I’m like, That’s great. You know, maybe try to find something you can do that you do enjoy for worship, it’s so personal. And that’s part of the value I think of this daily experience, individual experience with God is the ability to do whatever we want for worship. You know, it’s not like a corporate service where there’s hundreds of 1000s of people there, you have the chance to find the songs that most resonate with your heart and help you connect with God. So that’s the real power of it is the solution that answers the question of how and what so that people can fulfill the desire I think most believers already have, which is a real desire to stay connected to develop a connection with God and stay connected to God.

 

Mark Turman  26:47

So help me help. Help us understand a little bit, Craig, when I’ll put you on the spot when Jesus says that the Father desires worshipers and they must worship Him in spirit and in truth? How would even that statement inform the way you think and the way that you and the team construct verse 15? What does it mean, to really have these parameters? pretty broad? Really? What does it mean to worship God in spirit and in truth? Whether you’re engaging God through something like first 15, or a lot of other devotional path pathways you could take? How would you look at that?

 

Craig Denison  27:27

I think it really is one of those times where that passage is meant to tell us to engage with God with our whole being. Now he created us the way they did for a reason. And that is the is a huge point of why first of teen is structured as it is, I feel like there’s I’m by no means qualified, like you or dad are to be engaging in expository teaching or doing a deep exegetical work, I can’t read the original biblical languages. I didn’t study that in school. And at the same time, I felt like there’s this great opportunity to invite people to connect with God on a mental on an intellectual level, but also on a heart level with him through verse 15. And that this could be a launching pad into all those other resources, like, the desire is that you can engage with God and spirit in truth and in 15 minutes, and then that day or that week, decide that man, I really need to study this passage of Scripture to a greater depth, and then go to someone that’s not me for that, or man, I think I really need to go on like a silent retreat. And I need to just get my heart connected with God in a deeper way. And, and you can go and do that there’s amazing resources out there for that. I wanted to first of team to be this chance to offer you everyday chance to connect with God and spirit and truth and then love that launch you in to wherever it is that God’s leading you to with all of the vast amazing resources that have already been created out there for us.

 

Mark Turman  28:42

Yeah, so scripture is obviously a big part of this on a consistent basis. When when you approach putting this together, you know, people might ask the question, okay, well, is he going to take me through a part of the Bible or a book of the Bible? Or is there is there like a long term plan to take me through, you know, even all of Scripture, there’s, again, so many good, different kinds of devotional resources out there that approach it in a lot of different ways. Is first 15 built on kind of a scripture calendar, is it built on different themes? How is it structured so that as people use it, they can kind of know what to expect when they engage with it?

 

Craig Denison  29:28

Yeah, this is part of my wiring. And I think is part of the reason God would call me to create this also, recognizing that it’s by no means the only thing that he would ask someone to create, and there’s people wired differently. And I’m glad for that, though, the wiring that I have and what I felt culty with first 15 was to literally put my head down on my desk and to say, God, what do you want people to know about you today? And to have a sense of a plan of in general where God wanted to take his people and a sense of understanding him and a sense of connection with them, and roadblocks that are in the way of that that we might be able to tackle so every first of teens started with my head down on my desk and a blank white piece of paper, which no matter how many pieces of paper I filled up before, still terrifying to this day, to see another one and think maybe I don’t have anything else to say. But staring at that blank piece of paper head down on the desk and saying, God, what do you want people to know about you, and just having an intuitive sense of what it was that supposed to chase down. And then I went straight to resources to just see what Scripture said about that. And so I would try to compile the most amount of scripture that I could, anything that I thought was a good and valuable reference to the thing that God wanted me to chase down. And then most of the devotionals are weaving those scripture, that Scripture together into a narrative around this piece of God’s character or this piece of, of how he created us that he wanted us to know about, and how worship and prayer could look into that devotional experience in verse 15, to kind of help you get to that place of understanding and that place of connection, so topical in nature, just based off of why I felt like God was wanting to speak to his people, and what do you want his people to know about himself, and then rich, the only way I can fill up all these pages is how is what the gift scripture is to us. And the idea of researching all of that and finding, oh, man, if I pull this here and put this here, and there’s this narrative of scripture on this topic I wants me to find my job is really just to weave those pieces together in a meaningful way for people. So that’s kind of the structure of it. It’s at least fairly intuitive in nature in terms of how it’s developed, but packed full of scripture on a daily experience.

 

Mark Turman  31:23

Awesome. So the most recent, significant evolution, I would say maybe is the app. That’s been a significant journey for the first 15 team. And tell us a little bit about that. Tell us about the app. And if there’s some things that might be useful, so hey, when you go to the app, here’s the best way to get the most out of it. You know, we we live so much of our lives through the smartphone now and so much through apps. Tell us about the first 15 app and in the best ways to engage with it.

 

Craig Denison  31:58

Yeah, we wanted to we’ve had an app for a while. And technology in that space gets outdated, so quickly. So wanted to get something that was fresh and was as current as it could be. And so had some donors fund that which was incredibly generous, so that we could give it away for free. The reason that we were so focused on an app is I really was trying to decide what’s the most immersive way that we could guide people to an experience of God, we have a website, we have an email, we have a podcast. On the website, there’s the whole internet, right there at your fingertips with email, there’s the rest of your emails with a podcast, there’s the rest of your podcast feed. And since this is meant to be experiential in nature, how do we guide people into the most immersive experience with worship and reading and prayer they can every day. And that’s the first 15 app. So the app really invites you with every one of those components into a more experienced immersive experience with just the worship piece. And with a scripture that’s woven into the devotional. There’s all kinds of components and elements in there, there’s actually additional resources as well. So some guided prayers, if you are leaving that prayer time that day, and feel like there’s a topic you really want to pray about more deeply, or something you want God to speak into more deeply, there’s a section of guided prayers that’s constantly emerging and developing and original worship that’s out there if you want to extend your worship time, and we’re articles and links to other resources. And so there’s also ways to create a functionality to where you’re reminded more, so that if you need some help remembering, hey, the first 15 is available for you that today, there’s tools and functionality to help you get a reminder, so that you can set up your time with God when you want it to be able to jump into the content for that day. So love the app, because I really think it’s the most immersive way that you can experience the resources, the first 15 and then through that have the most immersive experience with God that you can’t with first 15.

 

Mark Turman  33:32

So is a lot of people when it comes to their devotional life, a lot of people engage with journals. How does journaling? Relate or not relate to using the tool? The first 15? How would you encourage people to think about that?

 

Craig Denison  33:49

I’m a big advocate of journaling. Most days in the guided prayer section encourages you to grab a journal before you begin, I’m in a new book that I just finished writing that will come out later next year, actually, that every single day starts with that, for me journaling is this is this great opportunity to personalize my experience with God and to allow him to speak and for me to chase those things down. And like you said, to discern, you know, why don’t why am I sensing this from him? Is this me? Is this him? What is it that I want to communicate with God? And what is it that he’s saying and that find that as soon as they start writing a sense that I have from God, it’s amazing how that takes me down this journey and process of, of deepening that experience. And it’s so hard to do that without a journal. Part of it is I think our minds can get so scattered and so in a time of prayer can be really hard to focus and stay still. And a journal often helps me do that helps me divert my attention to that conversation with God without just having to do that and silence and and stillness. Well, I’m a huge advocate for that as well, like a journal can be incredibly helpful. So my recommendation to everyone is to have a journal in hand, there’s tools depending on which platform you’re on for Versiv team, their journaling tools available to you on those platforms. I’m a big advocate of whatever you’re doing for devotional time. Make sure you have that piece of paper and a pen or you’re engaging with a digital journaling tool, so that you can invite God to speak to you more directly through the resources, the first 15, or whatever it is that you’re doing.

 

Mark Turman  35:10

Yeah, I found that whether you’re journaling electronically on a device, or you’re actually writing with a pen and ink, that is, it’s very hard to be distracted. It’s much more focused. And that’s really one of the big battles I think all of us face when it comes to spending time with God is we just our minds can just go in so many different other directions, and we can get easily distracted, easily detoured. And we mistakenly, I think, have this idea of, okay, if I’m gonna spend time with God that I need to sit in a chair or get on my knees and be really still. And there’s nothing wrong with that. And in some ways, getting on your knees helps, because being on your knees for very long can be uncomfortable, and it’s hard to go to sleep then. But, you know, I think a lot of the praying and interaction that Jesus had and others had with God, they were doing that while they were walking around, or, like I said, if you’re if you’re journaling, I don’t journal every day, I don’t look at it like a diary. But when I journal, it helps to create a focus and creates a depth that doesn’t come in other ways. Oftentimes, I’ve often found in using a tool like first 15, or some of the other resources that I sometimes use, that if I go out and walk particularly early in the morning, God actually wants me to pray out loud. Because in the same way that you and I would want to hear the voice of our children, or the voice of our spouse, actually hearing their voice is a powerful thing. And that God would actually want me to talk to him out loud, rather than just in my mind and in my heart, or even through a pin. And that a resource, like first 15 can prompt me how to have some of those conversations. Been been really useful to me in that way. And and helps to just stimulate a greater depth if you try to draw parallels to any other conversation or any other relationship you have with people. Right? Okay, well, how do I do that with God? It’s going to be, it’s going to be both similar and different, right?

 

Craig Denison  37:35

Absolutely. And I think that’s one of the most key ingredients is I went to a service in New York that a friend of mine led when I was in the city a couple times ago, and the service was called embracing stillness. And it was the most amount of quiet that I’ve ever been in with a group of people, you could hear the hustle and bustle of the city around me. And one of the My favorite moment was the my friend that was leading it said he was doing a silent retreat and was so frustrated that he couldn’t keep his attention on God. And the in the midst of that silent training, went up to the person leading it and said, I must have my attention in those five minutes must have gone 1000 different directions. And the person leading it said, What grace that’s 1000 opportunities to turn your heart back to God, which I love that sense of it. And I feel like whatever tool we’re using, there’s so many different ways to be able to do this. And I think we can get so frustrated in Time Alone With God to think Man, I was thinking about work, or I was thinking about family, or I was thinking about the football game that I watched last night, and I wish the Cowboys could have won or wish the Mavericks would have won, or whatever it is, and I can’t believe I’m thinking about that, when I’m trying to engage with the living God here, like and I have this time I’ve set aside for that. And the reality is, is that God is so pleased just for us to sit with him. Even if our mind wanders, when my three year old crawls up in my lap, even if he’s playing with toys, and has given me all of his attention, I’m still so glad that he chose to get in my lap and experience me and have that presence and engage in my presence in this time period. And I enjoy him in those even if he’s not talking directly to me, and God has so much grace for us. And the real reality is if we’ll just create space for Him to fill, he’ll say yes to that. And we’ll come and meet us and he has given us all these tools in ways to be able to engage with them and, and the idea that we can just continue to turn our heart back to God, we’ll get better at it over time. And and as we engage in that with tools like journaling or walking or praying aloud, there’s no wrong way to do this. The only wrong way I think is not to do it at all, not to give it any attempt. That’s what we’ll miss out on the opportunity, the great opportunity that God gives us to meet with us every single day.

 

Mark Turman  39:32

Yeah, and it’s just, it’s just so profound, even today, using verse 15 In some ways, along with some other tools that I use through Scripture and that type of thing, just to just be profoundly realizing that not only are you and I the creation of God, but we can become the child of God. And, and first 15 talked about that on the day that we’re recording this and then and then realizing that He even goes so far as to say you’re my friend, and you’re my partner. And just to be just overwhelmed with those kinds of descriptions and to think on that, you know, meditate on that thing about that. What does that really mean that, Hey, God does God didn’t just create me, he doesn’t just love me, he actually likes me. And he wants to, he wants to have time with me and vice versa. Right? It’s just profoundly.

 

Craig Denison  40:28

Yeah, it’s, you know, I think we miss soon as we miss this point, especially around Easter when, you know, when Jesus was on the cross and His death, absolutely, that was meant to provide us an eternal life with God beyond this world. But at that moment, the veil that was separating the presence of God from the world was torn into, from top to bottom. And these crazy things happen Matthew tells us and it was reality that Jesus died, not just so that we could have eternal life with Christ and with with God, beyond this robot so that we can have the presence of God in this world. And then you see Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit coming and you see Jesus showing up in these different ways. And we’re not meant to just get saved so that we can save others so that we can eventually get to heaven with God. God is here now. And he went to such great lengths, including the death of his son, just to be nearer to us. That was the whole point. The whole point is His nearness to us in that newness. We get to do amazing work with them and learn about him and learn about ourselves and advance his kingdom and do all these amazing things. But the real point was closeness. That’s why Jesus died. And not just closeness beyond this life, but closeness in this life.

 

Mark Turman  41:29

Yeah, what a great word. Craig, anything else about first 15, you would want us to know that you’ve been so gracious for you to share with us about this such a great resource. Anything else you want us to know about first 15? Or about just spending time with God?

 

Craig Denison  41:47

Yeah, Mark, thanks so much for the invitation. This is really fun. Usually, we just get to talk on the golf course. So it’s fun to actually get to talk in this not as much fun as on the golf course. But, but fun as well to do it this way. Yeah, I think the last thing that comes to my heart, my mind is that even if it’s been days, weeks, years, since you’ve cracked open a Bible or spent 15 minutes in stillness with God, don’t let that hold you back from doing that now or tomorrow or the next day. So often, I think it’s the shame of missing the rhythm of it, that keeps us from getting back plugged into it. And that’s not the heart of God, like God is so happy for us to say yes to Him, even if it’s been a long time, since we said yes to him, he’s happy to meet us at that place. And to connect with us. There’s no shame in any of that. There’s just joy and grace. That’s what God has for us. And so no matter how long it’s been, no matter how equipped you feel, no matter if you have a sense of trepidation about it, and not wondering what’s going to happen, just take the risk in tomorrow, or right now take 15 minutes and see if God will meet you in a meaningful way. And I promise that as he fills the space that you create that that will build into a life and assign an a meaningful consistency of doing that. And that if you’re If your experience is anything like mine, that that has the power to change everything.

 

Mark Turman  42:59

That’s such a good word it likes it is. I love what you said a minute ago, it’s not so much about saying, Oh, I did this, right. It’s that I turned my heart in some some simple way, some significant way back to God. And back to him as the beginner and finisher of everything. And keep recentering refocusing your mind, your heart, your life on that. And learning like as you said, the more you kind of create that kind of process and use these tools as things that help make it more likely make it more more creative. Those things just help us to be more successful over time, to where where the relationship with God becomes deeper and deeper and deeper and more, more intimate, more familiar. Every, every time we go through or our every year that goes by, we get to know him a little bit better, right? Rather than have some, the old preacher used to say have one year’s experience 20 times over. That’s not the kind of relationship we want to build. Thanks for being a part of the conversation. Craig, thank you for all that you have done and are doing in the world of dentists and ministries and in the larger world as well. Thank you for that. May God bless you and Rachel in the boys in every way. Thank you for this time.

 

Craig Denison  44:20

Thanks for having me, Mark. Yeah, this is great. All

 

Mark Turman  44:23

right, you can find Craig and the work at first 15 at first 15 That’s first one five.org You can download the new app and use it that way. And you can find it on the web as well let us know how we can make things better. And thanks for being a part of this conversation with us on the Denison Forum Podcast. We’ll see you next time.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV®️ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®️), copyright ©️ 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.

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