Christianity 201

May 5, 2016

The Time for Boasting

This wasn’t planned, or I would have run them back-to-back, but today’s devotional pairs well with the one from May 2nd, Lest Anyone Should Boast. The writer is Mark McIntyre at the blog Attempts at Honesty who has appeared here previously. To read this at source, click the title below.

A reason for boasting

For the most part, I really don’t enjoy listening to postgame, on-field interviews of athletes. If the interviewee is on the winning side, too often the interview amounts to boasting about how he is faster, stronger or smarter than his opponent. We live in a day where self-promotion is encouraged and expected. This is an aspect of our society with which I am not comfortable. Perhaps this is why these two verses in Jeremiah jumped out at me when I read them this morning:

“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”” (Jeremiah 9:23–24, ESV)

For believers, if we are to boast at all, let it be boasting about the God we serve. Let us boast about that God makes himself understandable to us. Let us boast that God allows us to know him and be in relationship with him.

We have a reason for boasting, but that reason is not us. Let us boast about God’s character.

If we understand God’s character and boast about it, some of that character is bound to rub off on us. Please look at the list that is given in the verses above.

  • Steadfast love
  • Justice
  • Righteousness

If ware know God and are in relationship with him, it seems to me that these traits should be increasingly operational in our lives both individually and collectively. If we are seeking hard after God, it should be these traits that define the church.

Ask yourself these questions,

  • Are visitors to my church enveloped by a sense of God’s steadfast love (lovingkindness in the NASB)?
  • Is my congregations known for pursuing justice in the local community and around the world?
  • Do I convey an accurate portrayal of true righteousness, that which is granted by God through a relationship with Jesus Christ?

Not only is this a corporate challenge for us as we gather on Sundays, this is a challenge to us as individuals. We should be in prayer to God and give him permission to work these traits into the fabric of our lives. Paul tells us:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12–13, ESV)

Notice that there is effort required on our part. We need to extend effort toward becoming what God wants us to be. But ultimately it is God who works these traits into us. We need to allow Scripture to shape our desires and submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit. This is a good news, bad news situation.

The bad news is that we fall short in love, justice and righteousness. The good news is that God is not done with us.

April 19, 2016

Sacrifice: When the Cause is Too Important

Whenever a nation gets involved in a major wartime effort, the civilian population left at home tends to have to make plenty of sacrifices as well…

So begins an article by Bill Muehlenberg at the blog Culture Watch, who we have featured here twice before. This is a longer piece, and we’re going to join it about halfway through so you are encouraged to click the title below to read it all.

Wartime, Self-Sacrifice and the Christian Life

…The Christian life is a life of warfare, of battle, and of fighting. It is also a life of hardship, surrender and self-sacrifice. At least it is supposed to be.

I have written often the issue of warfare and the Christian life. See here for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2009/03/18/fighting-the-good-fight/

And I have often written about the sacrifices a believer is called to make for his Lord. But here let me offer some spiritual parallels to what we found happening in the countries reduced to rationing during the last great war. The parallels are not perfect of course because in the Christian’s life, it is a voluntary rationing and self-sacrifice, not one forced upon us by government.

Spiritual WarfareBut otherwise we have some real similarities. In both cases, an urgent end requires discipline, self-denial and sobriety in order to achieve a good outcome. In both cases the cause is much greater than the individual, and any sacrifices we can make for the greater good are vital.

In the Christian life we war against the world, the flesh and the devil. The spiritual battle is constant and to the max. If we hope to properly present Christ and extend his Kingdom and strike blows against the satanic empire, that will require real effort from us, and real self-sacrifice.

If we just keep living a self-indulgent, me-first lifestyle, we will achieve nothing of worth for the Kingdom. In fact we will end up aiding and abetting the enemy. The New Testament makes much of this type of thinking. For example Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, as he mixes his metaphors:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Or consider his words as found in 2 Timothy 2:1-5:

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.

Self-discipline and self-denial are essential parts of the Christian life if we want to see Christ glorified, the world reached, and enemy strongholds pulled down. It will not happen any other way. Like Paul, we make sacrifices for our Lord because he made the greatest sacrifice for us. We can do no less.

As C. T. Studd once said, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” Or as the Welsh preacher J. D. Jones said, “All the calls of the gospel are calls to hardship, to sacrifice, to battle. Christ would have no man follow him under the delusion that he was going to have an easy time of it.”

F. B. Meyer put it this way:

It is urgently needful that the Christian people of our charge should come to understand that they are not a company of invalids, to be wheeled about, or fed by hand, cosseted, nursed, and comforted, the minister being the head-physician and nurse – but a garrison in an enemy’s country, every soul of which should have some post of duty, at which he should be prepared to make any sacrifice rather than quit it.

Let me conclude with the words of Leonard Ravenhill on this issue. He said,

When a nation calls its prime men to battle, homes are broken, weeping sweethearts say their good-byes, businesses are closed, college careers are wrecked, factories are refitted for wartime production, and rationing and discomforts are accepted – all for war. Can we do less for the greatest fight that this world has ever known outside of the cross – this end-time siege on sanity, morality and spirituality?

January 9, 2016

The Spiritual Discipline of Fasting

For several years I received a devotional booklet in the mail from James MacDonald and Walk In The Word called Our Journey. After making inquiries with a local Harvest Bible Chapel, I discovered that the devotional is now an online resource, and after checking it out, I read this devotional which you can read at source by clicking the link below.

And When You Fast

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6, ESV)

“And when you fast,” Jesus said, before teaching a few, practical pointers on the subject (Matthew 6:16). His first words raise a basic question, though: When should you fast? Every other Tuesday? When your friends do? When you feel bored? No, fasting isn’t a spiritual whimsy; it’s a spiritual discipline, and the Bible gives some clear outlines to the practice. According to Isaiah 58, you should fast . . .

When you are caught in a sinful pattern. God said, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness” (Isaiah 58:6a)? When you are caught in a sinful pattern, fast. Authentic fasting gives God an open channel to show you how you’re held captive by bad behavior or even by good behavior that’s out of control. Fasting reveals and breaks sinful patterns.

When you have a heavy burden. Back to Isaiah 58:6b: “Is not this the fast that I choose . . . to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” Do you have a heavy burden you have been carrying for a long time? Then fast. For example, skip lunch for a week. Give the time you would have spent eating to prayer. And let the gnawing in your stomach heighten your hunger for God.

When you are oppressed by the enemy. Consider again the fast “to let the oppressed go free” (58:6b). Many believers feel burdened for someone who’s not walking with God. Names may immediately flood your mind. Perhaps you’ve prayed consistently for them. Add fasting. You can fast and pray about the oppression, asking God to tear the veil of darkness with His light.

When you want to give to someone else. Is [the fast] not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh” (58:7)? When we share our bread, homes, clothes, and blankets—not the extra items we don’t need or want anymore, but the stuff we consider ours—that’s a form of fasting pleasing to God. Fasting teaches us how to be generous not only with the surplus God provides, but also with the principal God provides.

When you need an answer to prayer. “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am’” (58:9). Fasting not only clarifies our prayers, but it also opens our eyes and ears to see and hear God’s answers. When our hunger for God is elevated, the stuff keeping us from sensing His presence will be removed, and we will know that when He says, “Here I am,” He means it.

When you need direction. Here’s another outcome of fasting: “And the Lord will guide you continually” (58:11). Who doesn’t want God’s guidance? Yet how often do we actually demonstrate our desire by fasting and waiting attentively on God?

When you need to be spiritually restored. Through fasting, God restores us. “And the Lord will . . . satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail” (58:11). What a stark picture of what our lives look like. God offers water for our scorched souls.

When you need to be revived. As long as you’re alive, you are under renovation—you’re not finished, and God isn’t finished with you. However “ruined” you see your life today, God can rebuild and use you. “And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in” (58:12). Your best days can still be ahead.

Journal

  • We began by asking, “When should you fast?” Let’s make that question more personal. When should you fast?
  • During a time of prayer and fasting this week, go back over this rich passage from Isaiah 58. What do these verses mean, and what does God promise in regard to fasting?

Pray
Lord God, when should I fast? Help me to hear Your answer to that question. How do You want me to apply what I am reading and learning? Fasting heightens my hunger for You. Through fasting, You refine me, restore me, and awaken me. Thank You for the ways the spiritual disciplines set us free. In Jesus’ name, amen.

January 2, 2016

Give Attention to Reading

 
1 Timothy 4:13
 
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. (ESV)
 
Until I get there, concentrate on reading Scripture in worship, giving encouraging messages, and teaching people. (GW)
 
Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them. (NLT)
 
Till I come, give heed to the reading, to the exhortation, to the teaching; (YLT) BIble

I didn’t know where this verse would take me today, but it led me to a longer excerpt from the IVP Bible Commentary, as found at BibleGateway.com that discusses the apparent differences between preaching and teaching.

First however is the matter of reading. In context, the idea of public reading of scripture fits, but wasn’t part of the KJV text used for many centuries. Clearly, to be able to exhort and to teach, one would need to begin with a personal study of scripture, but we also need to look at this in the light of the eliminating of the public scripture reading in many modern churches. Yes, I know that now we have the scripture texts on a giant screen for closer inspection, and don’t even ask my opinion about the ping-pong style of what were called responsive readings. Still, I think this is an area where the modern Evangelical church loses out to the liturgical churches, with their inclusion of an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a Gospel reading, an Epistle, or some combination of those.

My original intention here was simply to focus on the importance of personal reading as we start a new year. (Admittedly, the verse was a bit of a proof-text when I first selected it.) But then my study took me into so many other areas. Here is the aforementioned commentary:

First, he urges consistent practice of the public reading of Scripture (v. 13). This is by no means an innovation; it was already part of Christian worship, having been adopted naturally from Jewish synagogue worship (Lk 4:16; Acts 15:21; 2 Cor 3:14). Its import lies in the way it centers attention on God, who, communicating with his people, initiates and sustains a covenant relationship. Practically, the reading of the lesson also prepares the people for the exposition and application of Scripture.
Then the writer goes on however to deal with the other two elements of the verse, and there was so much good here I could not leave it aside:

[P]roper Christian worship will include preaching. The term used here could mean exhortation, encouragement, comfort or an appeal, and it is linked to the Scriptures in Romans 15:4 and Hebrews 12:5. Romans 12:8 reveals that preaching is a Spirit-directed activity (that is, a charisma) of communicating God’s message to the people (compare 1 Cor 12:8). The starting point is the conviction that Scripture is always relevant to God’s people (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Teaching is the third activity to be consistently practiced in the worship assembly. As with preaching, a special gift is associated with this activity (Rom 12:7).

But how do these two activities differ? Passages such as this one and 1 Timothy 5:17 and Romans 12:7-8 (see also 1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11) seem to make a distinction between preaching and teaching, though the Greek terms may vary. But the precise distinction is difficult to pin down. The term used here for preaching (paraklesis) refers to appeals made to believers (Rom 15:4; Heb 13:22) and unbelievers (see 2 Cor 5:20). Teaching, however, is usually linked to the church. Knight may be correct to see the distinction in terms of purpose, preaching being the call to respond to God’s Word (which would fit an audience of believers or unbelievers), teaching being the more intellectually oriented communication of Scripture’s principles (1992:208).

It may be also that the two activities differed in style and tone of delivery. But distinctions based on content (for example, limiting teaching to Christian ethics and preaching to theology) do not seem to be in mind (see Tit 2:10-14). Yet often the two activities must have overlapped considerably: it is hard to imagine teaching without leading the people to response, or preaching without providing a reasoned exposition of a text’s principles. Nevertheless, as long as we make room for overlap and avoid distinctions that are too rigid, it seems safe to think of preaching and teaching as two applications of God’s Word in the church: (1) the call to response, whether that entails confession, receiving God’s encouragement or appropriating his promise, and (2) the building of a solid foundation for living through the systematic teaching of biblical principles that coherently and practically express God’s will.

Certainly a worship service includes a good deal more than these three activities, especially elements that are response-oriented: prayer, the singing of hymns, testimony and practical ministering of one to another, observance of the Lord’s Supper. Paul was here correcting tendencies introduced by the enthusiasts, and he focuses on the primary tasks of the minister. God’s Word, through its reading, preaching and teaching, initiates and sustains spiritual life, and its place in Christian worship is central. Without it there can be no effective ministry.


July 13, 2015

Prayer: Uses and Abuses

The Heavens Declare 1Three times previously we’ve borrowed material from Alabama pastor Scott McCown’s blog, The Morning Drive. I can’t recommend his writing enough. Each Tuesday he’s been running insights on the subject of prayer. You can investigate all the articles at this link. We’re going to run one today, and then choose a second one for tomorrow. Click the title below to read this one at its source…

Using Prayer

How do you use prayer? Do you use prayer as an avenue for you or as a way to talk to God?  Before you answer think about these “uses” of prayer.

We disUSE prayer when we are:

  • Not praying for national, state, local, and Church leaders.
  • Not praying for strength for the Body of Christ
  • Not praying for spiritual growth in ourselves and in the Church.
  • Not praying.
  • In Acts 13:1-3 we read of the early church’s reliance on God through prayer, Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”

We misUSE prayer when we see it as:

  • A tool for manipulation. Like the misbehaving child who’s parents sent him to his room to pray about his misbehavior.  He came back later and was still acting up. When asked if he prayed about his behavior, he said, “Yes, I prayed you would be more patient with me.” Sometimes we pray aloud with the intent of our words changing those that hear us pray and not a sincere prayer to God.
  • As a substitute for preparation / work. Someone said, “As long as there are tests in school there will be prayer in school.”  Prayer-peration is not a substitute for preparation.  Prayer is inviting God to walk and work along-side us and to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, not what we are unwilling to do for ourselves. Maybe that is what James is warning about in Jas 2:15-17, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Don’t just pray that someone’s needs are taken care of if you are not willing to act to relieve those needs. Prayer is communication with the Father.

We abUSE prayer when

  • We make demands of God. To hear television preachers tell people to pray in a way that demands God act concerns me. God is sovereign, I am not.  God knows what is best for me, I do not.  I ask for God’s blessing, I do not demand it. Again James speaks to this, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (Jas 4:15).
  • We pray to “look good” or pious. Jesus said, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (Mat 6:5-7).

How do you use prayer?  Use it to open your life to God letting Him know your struggles, needs, and desires.  Trust that He will work what is TRULY best for you.


Go Deeper: Here’s a link to another article by Scott on a different subject that we considered running today, but it’s a bit longer. Check out Who Is Jesus? Really?

February 21, 2015

Devotional Poetry

Today you have a choice of two devotionals; you can choose one or read both.

 

CEB Luke 5: 29 Then Levi threw a great banquet for Jesus in his home. A large number of tax collectors and others sat down to eat with them. 30 The Pharisees and their legal experts grumbled against his disciples. They said, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

31 Jesus answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do…

Last year at this time we visited the blog Scripture4You. Because they take more of a poetic approach to scripture and the readings are shorter than what we do here, I thought we would include two of their most recent posts. As always, click the titles to see these at source, along with some beautiful illustrations.  (I wish I had the font that they used as well!)  The scripture verses are all links as well, today we’ve used the Common English Bible for all of them.

Scripture4You

Levi’s Dinner Party

Jesus called Levi, the tax collector, to follow.
Jesus was an equal opportunity employer.
Levi was so excited about his new career…
 …he gave a great banquet for him in his house,
and a large crowd of tax collectors
and others were at table with them.

 

Levi invited all of his friends who also just happened
 to be in the financial field.
So was this one of the first fund raiser events.
Did Levi see that if Jesus was to spread his message
some additional funds might be necessary?

 

Jesus chose to place himself in the company
 of every kind of person imaginable.
He did not concern himself with a person’s
sinfulness social or economic status.
Jesus came for everyone.

 

Imagine for a minute if Jesus
had only chosen fine upstanding members
of the community for his followers.
Would the greatest of sinners given him any notice?

 

Jesus purposely went out of his way to encounter
 all aspects of the human condition.
No one repulsed him… no one was rejected by him…

 

“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, 
but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous 
to repentance but sinners.”

 

Today we believe in annual
visits to our physician for our well-being.
Jesus was focused on the well-being of the soul.
We have many ways to maintain the health
 of our soul through the sacraments.

 

When Jesus walked among us
 he was the preview of all of the sacraments.
Jesus restores and repairs all things;
those whom he called came to witness this first hand.

 

We are Blessed today because Jesus
is the Divine Physician
for the body and soul.
~~~Peace~~~

14 At that time John’s disciples came and asked Jesus, “Why do we and the Pharisees frequently fast, but your disciples never fast?”

15 Jesus responded, “The wedding guests can’t mourn while the groom is still with them, can they? But the days will come when the groom will be taken away from them, and then they’ll fast.

Fasting Beatitudes

Today’s message highlights the pitfalls
and the beauty of fasting.
Fasting is a spiritual practice designed
to bring us closer to God.
We do not fast to let others think more highly of us.
A time of fasting is not to pretend we are a better
person because we are not eating.
Fasting is a practice to remind ourselves of our dependence on God.
It is God who sustains us in all our needs.

 

We fast for blood work, we fast because it is prescribed
by our religious beliefs.

 

Fasting is not so much about what we do or don’t eat.
Fasting is more about our mindset.
We must ask ourselves what is our motivation for fasting.

 

God reveals to Isaiah what amounts to
the Beatitudes of Fasting.
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.

 

Yours will be a clean heart…entrance into the kingdom.

 

…your wound shall quickly be healed…

 

If while you are fasting you focus on the care of others;
your own ills will be healed…
your heart will be cleansed…
you will be forgiven…
Your fasting will not be in vain…for all the wrong reasons.

 

The wounds of our soul are healed
when we reach out to care for God’s children.
The wounds of our soul from years past
will be filled in smoothed over with the grace of God.

 

If you choose to fast do so with a loving heart…
for even if you are not aware of the wounds of your heart
healing will occur.

 

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…

 

Fasting is not about being sad and gloomy.
Fasting is about surrendering our will to doing God’s will.
It is in fasting where we can come to know
 what hunger for God truly is…
Our hunger for God is our hunger to be made
whole again to be with him in heaven.

 

Blessings may come in restricting you food intake,
but not by ignoring the needs of the poor.
~~~Peace~~~

January 16, 2015

Salvation By Works: Yes and No

The Message – Col 2:6-7 My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.

The Voice – Col 2:6 Now that you have welcomed the Anointed One, Jesus the Lord, into your lives, continue to journey with Him and allow Him to shape your lives. Let your roots grow down deeply in Him, and let Him build you up on a firm foundation. Be strong in the faith, just as you were taught, and always spill over with thankfulness.

Amplified – Col 2:6 As you have therefore received Christ, [even] Jesus the Lord, [so] walk (regulate your lives and conduct yourselves) in union with and conformity to Him. Have the roots [of your being] firmly and deeply planted [in Him, fixed and founded in Him], being continually built up in Him, becoming increasingly more confirmed and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and abounding and overflowing in it with thanksgiving.

If you read nothing else here, don’t miss the first line of the reading which follows. Some people have a works-based faith. It’s not grace-based because it consists entirely of doing things. But some people, once they believe they have assurance of salvation by grace, end up doing nothing. Still a third group of people often realize that they have been guilty of living their lives in one extreme or other other, and end up swinging to the opposite position, but that leaves them still in the extreme. There is a continuum here, and the key is to find the balance in the middle.

E. Stanley Jones was one of the best-known Methodist missionaries (to India) and religious writers in the first half of the twentieth century. This is from Good News, a United Methodist website.

Devotional by E. Stanley Jones, Focus 3

By E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973)

You cannot attain salvation by disciplines*—it is the gift of God. But you cannot retain salvation without disciplines. If you try to attain salvation by disciplines, you will be trying to discipline an unsurrendered self. You will be sitting on a lid. The result will be tenseness instead of trust. “You will wrestle instead of nestle.” While salvation cannot be attained by discipline around an unsurrendered self, nevertheless when the self is surrendered to Christ and a new center formed, then you can discipline your life around that new center—Christ. Discipline is the fruit of conversion—not the root.

This passage gives the double-sidedness of conversion: “As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” (Col. 2:6-7, RSV). Note, “received”—receptivity; “so live”—activity. It appears again, “rooted”—receptivity; “built up in him”—activity.

The “rooted” means we take from God as the roots take the soil; the “built up” means we build up as one builds a house, a character and life by disciplined effort. So we take and try; we obtain and attain. We trust as if the whole thing depended on God and work as if the whole thing depended on us. The alternate beats of the Christian heart are receptivity and response—receptivity from God and response in work from us.


* What are the spiritual disciplines? Here is a list to get you started. That list has 12 disciplines in total, this one contains more, but breaks it down into seven key areas. (Click the tabs at the side of the landing page.)

October 21, 2014

Chewing on the Word

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Jim ThornberFirst of all, it’s not a reference to Ezra eating the scrolls, but if you guessed that, give yourself five extra points!

Today’s reading is from Jim Thornber whose writing we have shared here several times. For four years, Jim was an Assemblies of God minister who was also a monk. Seriously! Check out his story here and here. To read this at source, click the title below.

Gnawing On God

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” —  Joshua 1:8

I like the word “meditation.” Although some Christians are truly scared to meditate – thinking it is something done by cultic Eastern religions while forgetting that Judaism and Christianity ARE Eastern religions! – Scripture is full of injunctions to meditate upon the Word and Law of God.

The word for “meditation” in this passage comes from the Hebrew haghah, meaning to murmur, to mutter, to sigh, to moan, to roar, to meditate, to muse, to speak, to whisper. The word also describes the low moaning sound of a dove (Isa. 38:14) or the “growl” of a lion (Isaiah 31:4). Eugene Peterson uses the analogy of a dog gnawing on a bone, getting everything it can out of it.

This got me wondering: what is my heart gnawing on? What causes me to moan and growl, to be so totally consumed with God that I’m unaware of any thing else? If people could listen to my thoughts, would they hear me murmuring and musing about God and His goodness? Would they hear me whispering to God the joy and wonder I sense in His ever-present love? Or, would people hear me doubting my place in His Church, struggling with my pride and my desires and wrestling to place my wants into the realms of His eternal agenda?  Depending on when a person tuned in, I know they’d hear a little bit of both.

I want my heart to murmur, sigh, growl, moan and utter the goodness and glory of God. I want to be lost in my consumption of God and unaware of anything but Him. But in reality, I spend too much time thinking about my self and my place, or perceived lack of a place, in the Kingdom. In say I want to consider Him but I end up thinking mostly of my self.

However, meditation is not thinking, which is where I go wrong. Meditation means I’m gnawing on the truths of God. It means I’m taking into my spirit the very nourishment that God knows I need in order to grow into a healthy man. Meditation is the simple act of putting my mind and spirit into the hand of God and allowing Him to take me where He needs me to be. Thinking, on the other hand, is me taking God where I think God and I need to be. See the difference?

I want to wrap my thoughts and prayers around God the way a lion wraps its paws around a piece of meat, savoring and tasting its life-giving goodness. I want to meditate upon God and reap all possible benefits from the encounter. I wonder if this is why the Psalmist encourages us to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8)? Could this be one of the reasons Jesus said we must eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:53)? How else could we take into our spirits the nourishment needed for the eternal journey?

Today I purpose to gnaw on the goodness and faithfulness of God. What about you? What’s on your plate?

 


Related: 4 Previous posts by Jim Thornber at Christianity 201.

October 4, 2014

Practicing Silence

Discipline of Silence

Today’s post is by Donna Wood from the blog Food For the Journey. To read this at source, click the title she gave it (!) below:

Hush, little Baby…

“Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” ~ 1 Kings 19:11-13 (NSV)

During Centering Prayer this week, I was thinking — wait! Thinking while Centering. Isn’t that against the rules? —  We are told to be quiet and wait for God to transform us in the silence.  But sometimes, even when, according to the rules, we shouldn’t pay attention to words and noise, God speaks.  What..?  It’s true that Centering Prayer is designed to take us beneath the noise into the silence where God dwells within, but I have learned to listen for his voice there.  I must be a bit of a rebel. “Be still and know that I am God” is true, but sometimes He insists on talking to me.  The Bible shows that God is not as interested in all the rules, even though helpful, as he is in relationship. I want to be aware; I want to notice God and pay attention if he decides to speak into the silence.

It is the becoming still that is the biggest problem, or at least for me, when we are trying to be aware of God.  Often he speaks in a whisper or the sound of sheer silence (see scripture above.)  The fact is, we can’t still the voices in our heads.  Brains aren’t designed that way. But we can silence our minds by not following our constant thoughts down rabbit trails. This does take practice—the practice of returning to silence when we catch our mind in its ADD activities.

There is a story about one of our granddaughters who lived with us when she was small.  This granddaughter was an extroverted child who was always talking, talking. Since her grandfather and I are both strong introverts, this was a challenge.  One time grandpa said quite firmly, “Please be quiet for a while.”  She said, “OK.” Then without missing a beat, she said, “I will be quiet.  I will stop talking.  I won’t say anything more.  Not at all.  Can I talk now?”  Sometimes we are like that with God. We plan to be quiet; we think we are being still, but the noise is so loud that we couldn’t hear God if he did talk.

Amazing transformation has happened to me in the last five years since I began silent prayer.  I have changed in ways I would never have imagined possible and my life with God is more intimate.  Whether we use Centering Prayer or not, some practice of silent awareness is important to our spiritual lives and formation.  Ruth Haley Barton said, “Silence is the most needed and the least experienced spiritual discipline among Christians today.”

Help us today, Jesus, to be still.  Quiet us as we wait on you in the silence.  We want to be with you and listen if you speak.  Hush our busy thoughts, and make our hearts and minds aware of your presence. Amen.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

 

 

August 25, 2014

Forgiving Those Who Betray Us

Matthew 6:12

Forgive us the wrongs we have done,
    as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.  (Good News)

Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. (Phillips)

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven (left, remitted, and let go of the debts, and have given up resentment against) our debtors. (Amplified)

I had run across Samuel C. Williamson online because of his book, Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids? (Bet that title has you curious!) I thought we had used his material once before, but apparently today will serve as an introduction. I also thought the topic of this particular post might resonate because, unless you live in a vacuum, we’ve all been hurt. To read this at source, and then look around the rest of his blog, click the title below.

How Do We Forgive Betrayals?

I ended last week’s story of betrayal with the faint beginnings of a desire to forgive. But our wanting to forgive doesn’t mean we’ve granted forgiveness any more than wanting a beach vacation gives us tickets to Tahiti. It’s a start, an important start, but only a start.

Our desire to forgive is undermined by our memories, recollections of the betrayal that relentlessly resurface with stunning clarity. With the vividness of slow-motion video, I recall a half-erased whiteboard, the buzz of a fly, and the shadows on the wall.

A friend of mine remembers the jingle of an ice-cream truck and the smell of lilacs through the screen porch.

We want to forgive, but images flood our mind, and something in our soul recoils. We try to forgive and forget, but those memories scratch their way out of the holes we buried them in.

We want justice; somehow, in some form or fashion, we want payment. Like David, our heart cries, “Let death take [them] by surprise; let them go down to hell while still living” (Ps. 55:15).

Or as Freud said, “One must forgive one’s enemies: but preferably after they’ve been hanged.”

It twists our soul

Last week, I heard a talk radio host interview a therapist. The therapist claimed that “unforgiveness is a major contributor to heart disease,” and that “bitterness can kill us.” The wrong done to us begins to take root in us. The evil inflicted on us begins to flow out of us.

Mirslov Volf wrote, “Forgiveness flounders because I exclude my enemy from the community of humans and I exclude myself from the community of sinners.” We begin to dehumanize our betrayer, and in turn we are dehumanized. Agony and anger twists our souls.

On hearing the consequences of non-forgiveness, the radio host responded, “I don’t want a stroke, so I’d better start forgiving. I’ll just let it go.”

But it’s not so simple. No magic wand will wave away the stain. To claim, “I’ll just let it go,” is like getting over stage-fright by saying, “I’ll stop being self-conscious.” It makes matters worse.

And it completely misunderstands the essence of forgiveness.

Because someone does have to pay

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (the World War II martyr who died resisting Hitler) said:

If you’ve ever really forgiven somebody, forgiven some real wrong, all forgiveness is suffering. If you say “I forgave and I didn’t suffer,” it wasn’t that serious a wrong. But if you have ever really been wronged, and if you have forgiven it, then you have suffered. Because all forgiveness is a form of suffering.

When we’ve been deeply wronged—not just an accidental slip-up but a treacherous betrayal—we know there is a debt, a deep-seated sense of injustice. We can’t shrug it off as if nothing happened, we can’t simply dismiss those memories in a momentary fancy of forgiveness.

When we remember the injury, we must choose between two paths. We can make the perpetrator pay (by finding little ways to make them suffer, poking pins in their memory, disparaging them to our friends, or snubbing them in our heart); or we can forgive.

If we make the perpetrator pay, evil wins. The road to hell is not paved with good intentions, and not even with our betrayal of others. The road to hell is paved with our non-forgiveness.

So what does it mean to forgive?

Everyone thinks forgiving is a wonderful idea. Until they have something real to forgive. Because forgiveness means suffering. If we don’t make the perpetrator pay (and somebody has to pay), it means we pay.

Forgiveness means we pay our betrayer’s debt.

It’s normal life. If I borrow your car and wreck it, then either I cough up cash for the repair, or—if I don’t have any money—then you do. The damage doesn’t disappear magically. Somebody pays. (Or you drive a wrecked car, which is just another form of you suffering for my mistake.)

How do we pay? When we’re tempted to dwell on their cruelty, we stop (it costs not to punish them in our thoughts). And when we have a chance to tell others of their betrayal, we shut up (we suffer when they enjoy a good reputation). And we pray for their welfare, not punishment.

Of all Christian disciplines, this is the hardest. First we suffer the horrible wrong done to us, and then we pay for their wrongdoing. It’s double baked death. Compared to forgiveness, chastity, charity, and contentment seem like sipping lemonade on a summer’s evening.

Forgiveness also brings us closest to Christ. It is suffering, thorns, nails, and a cross.

Forgive me for repeating myself

To settle a debt requires capital. We need a full bank account (either financial, emotional, or spiritual reserves) to write that check. We need deposits in our account before we can pay out. But our reserves were depleted by the wrong done to us. What are we to do?

Our ability to forgive is wholly dependent on our being forgiven. When it seems impossible to forgive, our only hope is to understand our debt to God, and to grasp our own forgiven-ness.

Jesus said of the prostitute who washed his feet, “She loves much because she’s been forgiven much, and whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” With the deposits of our own forgiven-ness, we pay our debtor’s debt. And little by little, we find we have forgiven.

Over time (not magically in a moment) something miraculous happens. We begin to really hope for them, to really wish them the best; we even begin to love them.

The evil done to us has been executed.

Sam   (see also, Betrayal)

P.S. Don’t think that because I can write this that I can also do it well. But I’m getting better.

P.P.S. Forgiveness does not mean disconnection with reality. Our betrayers may still act like jerks toward us or toward others. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we should go back and work in that ministry or become best pals with that former friend. But it does mean their debt has been paid, that we have shredded our case files, and we that desire their welfare.

September 15, 2013

His Word: Our Sustenance

CEB Ps. 119:11 I keep your word close, in my heart,
so that I won’t sin against you.


NCV Ps. 5:3 Lord, every morning you hear my voice.
Every morning, I tell you what I need,
and I wait for your answer. (emphasis added)


NIV Ex. 16:4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.

17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.

19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”

20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.


NLT Luke 11:3 Give us each day the food we need

Despite the fact I prepare these readings each day, I am also acutely aware of my need to find something that constitutes my own feeding from God’s word; and although I spend most of the entire day immersed in the consideration of Christian resources and doctrinal matters, I am becoming increasingly aware of the times I have omitted to include some personal time in God’s word.

Daily BreadThe graphic at right turned up this week on the Facebook page of a local church. It reminded me of an earlier time in my life when I would run to the Bible in the face of crisis. I remember one time when our family learned of the sudden, untimely death of the daughter of a family friend. As my parents drove to offer them some comfort, I found myself alone basically choking down chapter after chapter of my Bible, trying to find some meaning or peace in the face of tragedy.

But you can’t successfully negotiate a book with which you have little familiarity.

The other type of sporadic Bible readers are those who only turn to the book on Sundays. I was thinking of this today when I looked down at my Bible and realized that if anyone asked, I only use this Bible at church. But the reason is that I have at least a dozen other Bibles which I use during the week, but I only take this one  to church because it has larger print and I can read it without glasses. (My vanity Bible, I guess!) However, it gave me some insight into what it must be like for people who don’t touch a Bible during the week, or worse, people who only read from a Bible at Easter or Christmas. 

This is why I feel it’s appropriate to consider Bible reading as an application of the story of the manna in the wilderness.  In light of verse 20, I was tempted to title this, “When God’s word starts to stink.” But as offensive as that might have been to some readers, it does express what happens if we try to live on yesterday’s input from God. The Word is powerful, and will show itself to be real to you over and over again, but you need a fresh word for each day.

…The above quotation from Psalm 5 reminds us that hearing from God is one half of the ongoing conversation we are encouraged to have. Prayer and Bible reading go hand-in-hand. Here I have to be brutally honest; I spend more than a passing measure of time each day in prayer, and I endeavor to spend more than a token amount of time reading the Bible each day, but in truth, the two disciplines are rather separated. I confess that my Bible reading time and my prayer time are not integrated, and even as I write this, I realize this is a deficiency on my part.

One of the best writers in this area of spiritual disciplines is Richard Foster. On a Wikipedia page about him, someone has identified these practices as:

inward disciplines of

  • prayer,
  • fasting,
  • meditation, and
  • study in the Christian life;

the outward disciplines of

  • simplicity,
  • solitude,
  • submission, and
  • service;

and the corporate disciplines of

  • confession,
  • worship,
  • guidance, and
  • celebration

Today we’ve looked at the inward disciplines, but I believe they are foundational, and there is a reason why the list appears in this order.

Questions:

  1. Do you feel the time you spend overall in prayer is adequate?
  2. Do you feel the time you spend in prayer is consistent on a daily basis?
  3. Do you feel the time you spend overall reading your Bible is adequate?
  4. Do you feel the time you spend reading your Bible is consistent on a daily basis?
  5. Is your prayer time and your Bible time integrated or are they somewhat divorced from each other?

September 2, 2013

Cultivating The Inner Life

Where we live, Labor Day weekend marks the kickoff of the school year, and therefore, the official beginning of a new season in educational, personal, business, and church life. This blog post seemed most appropriate. Jim Williams has not been writing consistently, so this appeared back in February at his blog The Journey, under the title Better Every Day. I think it’s equally important for this time of year.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Cor 4:16-18 (NIV)

‘Outwardly we are wasting away.’

One look in the mirror exemplifies this truth. Physical beauty fades and youthful vitality wanes.

‘Inwardly we are being renewed every day.

Inwardly we are getting better every day. Renewal of spirit and inward refreshing are experienced by those who embrace Christ-like living.

The choice is ours …

a) We can live focused on the ‘outward life’ but the Bible warns us that this only leads to despair and destruction.

b) We can live focused on the ‘inner life’. The scriptures tell us that when we do this we can live a better life every day. This is in spite of any natural decay of our outward life. The inner life can get better, fresher, newer every day.

It starts with spiritual renewal and rebirth.

John 3 recounts the incident when a religious leader named Nicodemus visited secretly with Jesus in the middle of the night. Jesus told him that to experience the kingdom of God one must be ‘born again’. He wasn’t speaking of a physical rebirth but of a spiritual rebirth. You and I can experience this new birth by acknowledging our need as sinners, and making Jesus our personal Lord and Saviour.

Sometimes when we feel life is not improving, or things aren’t getting better we get discouraged. This portion of scripture encourages us that when we are tempted to lose heart remember these three things:

1) The inner life is more important than the outer life.

2) Things that are of eternal consequence outweigh things that are temporary.

3) Natural circumstance is temporary but spiritual reality is eternal.

There are many voices that are vying for our attention. The natural, outer life continually tugs us away from the better life in Christ.

It is constant and will not cease until we step into eternity with Jesus. It is something we must deal with daily.

How does one keep themselves focussed on the more important inner life?

The best way I know is to practice ‘Everyday Faith’. The fellowship of which I am part, The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, is encouraging its members to do just this by combining the following four habits. (http://www.everydayfaith.ca) Below is a brief summary:

a) Read every day.

– Hebrews 4:12 “ For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double- edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

– The truth is that when we engage scripture, we engage God. Engaging God renews us internally.

b) Pray every day.

– Phil 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

– Prayer is conversation with God. Conversation with God energizes our spiritual life.

c) Give every day.

– Acts 20:35 Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

– Practicing generosity with our finances, time and resources help us to focus on eternal values.

d) Share every day.

– There is something about sharing our faith that brings joy to the one who is sharing.

We are unable to stop the ‘wasting away’ of our outer life. It is happening and it will continue.

We do have the opportunity to embrace the renewal and refreshing of our inner life. We can experience the joy of getting better every day when we embrace life in Christ.

Q: What does it mean to you to have an inner life that gets better every day?

May 14, 2013

Dallas Willard Quotations

We frequently take a break here to run quotation sets, this time around Internet Monk did the work for us.  The featured author is Christian philosopher Dallas Willard, who passed away last week at age 77.


“We must understand that God does not “love” us without liking us – through gritted teeth – as “Christian” love is sometimes thought to do. Rather, out of the eternal freshness of his perpetually self-renewed being, the heavenly Father cherishes the earth and each human being upon it. The fondness, the endearment, the unstintingly affectionate regard of God toward all his creatures is the natural outflow of what he is to the core – which we vainly try to capture with our tired but indispensable old word “love”.”

“Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.”
The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship

“The test of character posed by the gentleness of God’s approach to us is especially dangerous for those formed by the ideas that dominate our modern world. We live in a culture that has, for centuries now, cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes. You can be almost as stupid as a cabbage, as long as you doubt. The fashion of the age has identified mental sharpness with a pose, not with genuine intellectual method and character. Only a very hardy individualist or social rebel — or one desperate for another life — therefore stands any chance of discovering the substantiality of the spiritual life today. Today it is the skeptics who are the social conformists, though because of powerful intellectual propaganda they continue to enjoy thinking of themselves as wildly individualistic and unbearably bright.” Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God

Dallas Willard“The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.” The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship

“What is truly profound is thought to be stupid and trivial, or worse, boring, while what is actually stupid and trivial is thought to be profound. That is what it means to fly upside down.” The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God

“Kingdom praying and its efficacy is entirely a matter of the innermost heart’s being totally open and honest before God. It is a matter of what we are saying with our whole being, moving with resolute intent and clarity of mind into the flow of God’s action.” The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God

“[Jesus] matters because of what he brought and what he still brings to ordinary human beings, living their ordinary lives and coping daily with their surroundings. He promises wholeness for their lives. In sharing our weaknesses he gives us strength and and imparts through his companionship a life that has the quality of eternity.”
The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God

“God is the treasure, and where the treasure is, there is the heart. By this we may test our love to God. What are our thoughts most upon? Can we say we are ravished with delight when we think on God? Have our thoughts got wings? Are they fled aloft? Do we contemplate Christ and glory?… A sinner crowds God out of his thoughts. He never thinks of God, unless with horror, as the prisoner thinks of the judge.”
The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship

“Few people arise in the morning as hungry for God as they are for cornflakes or toast and eggs.”
Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God

“In many cases, our need to wonder about or be told what God wants in a certain situation is nothing short of a clear indication of how little we are engaged in His work.”
Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God

“The union Christ had with the Father was the greatest that we can conceive of in this life—if indeed we can conceive of it. Yet we have no indication that even Jesus was constantly awash with revelations as to what he should do. His union with the Father was so great that he was at all times obedient. This obedience was something that rested in his mature will and understanding of his life before God, not on always being told “Now do this” and “Now do that” with regard to every details of his life or work.”
Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God

“The cautious faith that never saws off a limb on which it is sitting, never learns that unattached limbs may find strange unaccountable ways of not falling.”

“And God has set up prayer in such a way that, if you want to explain it away, you can. That’s the human mind. God set it up like that for a reason, which is this: God ordained that people should be governed in the end by what they want.”

**More great quotes from Dallas’ book The Spirit of the Disciplines at this post at the blog Learning My Lines.

August 3, 2012

Nothing to Read Here

Romans 12:9-21

Marks of the True Christian

 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

These days it’s very fashionable to have blog layouts that give you three or four lines of an article and then you click something that says “… continue reading” to get to the meat of the piece.

But what if you came here to Christianity 201 and found only two or three sentences telling you, basically, to walk away from your computer and do something specific instead?

That’s the type of reaction I got yesterday stumbling across Soul W.O.D.,  the blog of Ragan Sutterfield.  (It’s short for Workout of the Day for Advanced Training in Christlikeness.)  Consider the following blog posts posted here in their entirety:

Last Friday:

Eat no food until 5PM.

Fasting is critical for two primary reasons–to tame our desires and to reorient our hungers.  Spend the time you would spend at mealtimes focused on reorienting your hunger toward God.  Ask God to tame the addictions of your heart and to focus instead on finding fulfillment within the good things of God.

Last Saturday:

Sit in silence for five minutes and think about what you are most thankful for.  Then give thanks for five things, giving 1 minute to each.

Last Sunday:

Sunday for Christians is always a feast, just as Friday is traditionally always a fast–each week, through our eating, we celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ.  On Friday we ate nothing, as we realized the emptiness of a world without Jesus, but now on Sunday we celebrate as though it is a wedding feast and the happy couple have arrived.  So eat something sweet, drink a little, eat for happiness as much as health.  We Christians are not known enough for our parties and that is a disgrace to the Gospel.  So invite others to join you–we feast every Sunday!

Monday:

In what will be a recurring exercise, we will take Monday to memorize a passage of scripture.  This week our passage is Paul’s classic portrait of the Christian life in Romans 12:9-21.  Write this passage on a note card or print it off–find some way that works for you to keep the scripture with you wherever you go.  During any down time in the day, look at the passage and memorize it.  There are several apps for smart phone users that can also help with memorization.

I’ve reproduced that Bible passage above, by the way.

Tuesday:

Mark Scandretti, in his wonderful book, Practicing the Way of Jesus introduces an exercise called Have2Give1.  This exercise follows the teaching of Jesus in Luke 3:11 that for those who have two of something, they should share with the one who has none.  Look through your belongings and find the things you have two of, then seek someplace to give away one of the two.  It could be an individual or an organization like goodwill.  Make it a constant practice to give away anything that you unnecessarily have two of.

Wednesday:

One of the key disciplines of the the Christian life is study.  Spend an hour studying and really trying to get at the meaning of Romans chapters 12 and 13 (many scholars agree these passages are best read together).  What was Paul saying in this text and why was he saying it?  Consult commentaries, look up words you think are key in lexicons, go as deep as you can into the passage.  What do you find?

Thursday:

C. S. Lewis is said to have walked every day, rain or shine, because walking fueled his creativity.  There is much research to back this up–walking is an important human practice, and as such it is an important spiritual one. Today go for a walk with no destination in mind.  Simply wander and pray that God will lead you, even if the only place you arrive is at yourself.

…Most of us have spiritual dietary expectations based on the length of what our online devotional regularly offers; so these may seem a bit short; but they are certainly not light. Some of you would not come back next week if all I offered here was just two or three sentences daily.

But hang on. Think of what you’re being asked to do in these spiritual workouts: Spend an hour in two chapters of Romans; memorize a passage in Romans; fast; give away personal possessions; invite the neighbors to a party.

We tend to evaluate the depth of a devotional on the basis of its orthodoxy — what it teaches or reinforces about right doctrine.  But these spiritual workouts have more to do with orthopraxy — getting us on our feet and doing right things.

This is, in reality, the greater challenge

It’s the challenge Jesus offers to the rich young man.  The man basically says, ‘I’ve read all the right stuff; I’ve studied all the right doctrines; I’ve memorized all the key passages; I can get 100% on any Bible test;’ and Jesus basically says, ‘Okay, let’s give you full marks on orthodoxy, now it’s time to see what your orthopraxy is made of.’

You just might want to follow Ragan’s blog — I’ve already bookmarked it in my computer — here’s the link once again to Soul W.O.D.

June 21, 2012

Non-Stop Praying

Today we’re going to talk about prayer not as a nightly upload, but more in terms of a chat channel we stay logged into all day.

1 Thessalonians 5:17
Common English Bible (CEB)

17 Pray continually.

Today’s post is from the blog of Christine Sine, who along with her husband Tom founded Mustard Seed Associates.  But it’s actually a guest post on their blog by Roy Goble and it kicks off a series they are beginning on prayer. So… I’m strongly suggesting you read this at Christine’s blog Godspace, and consider staying with the rest of the series.

Many years ago, when I was far younger than today, I was interviewing a person for an important leadership position at a ministry. He was about my age and I asked him to describe his prayer life. He answered, “My life is a prayer.”

That’s all he said. I sat there waiting for him to elaborate. He didn’t.

Curious, I asked the typical follow-up questions. How do you do that? What does it look like? Are there exercises to follow? How can you attain such intimacy with God at such a young age? I wanted an answer that helped me understand how it was even possible. But he basically shrugged and said, “It just is. I can’t really explain it.”

Frankly, the answer made me nervous about this candidate. A conversation with wiser friends calmed me as they explained how different faith traditions view prayer in different ways. Eventually we hired him and he worked for many years with the organization.

But I still think about his response. Or more accurately, I think about living a life in such a way that it is pure prayer. How is it that every thought, action, and breath reflects such a spiritual richness?

A simple poem by Fr. Gilbert Shaw sets up the question:

Prayer
is the turning of our whole mind,
our whole being,
towards God.

I want that, of course.  It sounds wonderful. But how do you get it? The idea of a life that is prayer sounds great but seems impossible. A part of the mosaic within my brain understands that there is no definitive methodology, but my linear side is completely frustrated by that.

This is very Western of me, I’m told.  And I agree that it is. But that doesn’t answer my question.  Besides, the Western faith tradition has a long history of mystics and poets who found great joy in struggling with the incomprehensible idea of living a life of prayer.  Brother Lawrence and his pots and pans comes to mind. Learning from those who walked down this path before me has been helpful … to a point.

Shaw also writes:

The purpose of living is not to learn to make prayer,
but to become prayer; to live in and for God
according to the divine call, wholly surrendered to
the Spirit’s activity in the soul for the glory of God.

That’s somewhat more helpful because it equates the idea with something we become. It’s an action. But what action? I keep coming back to the desire for something tangible. It all seems like hard mental work to figure this stuff out, and I would rather just not think about it.

But then that’s the point where I stop and smile. I have learned that we need to be thinking about it. God likes it when we wrestle with such things.

Over time I have come to understand that this struggle to understand is exactly what God wants. My life is prayer only when it is a life of longing for God. The mental sweat that comes from striving to grow spiritually is part of connecting with God’s heart. And God considers it pure joy to meet us in that place.

Or said another way, what we find to be work may well be what God finds to be praise.

~Roy Goble (c/o Christine Sine)

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