Tagged: spiritual disciplines

The Light of Faith

The first guest article in the 2017 Summer Blog Tour comes from Jennifer Rundlett. Jennifer, the founder of God thru the Arts Ministries, maintains a presence in the community with her active lecture and concert series highlighting the spiritual connections throughout the arts. Author of My Dancing Day: Reflections of the Incarnation in Art and Music, and The Joyful Sound: Reflections on the Life of Christ in Art and Music she regularly posts devotional blogs on God thru the Arts at http://www.jrundlett.wordpress.com

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We all can get burned out from time to time…

and our once full throated song can become a half-hearted tune that we push through as we become absent minded about the glorious light of our faith.

How can we cope with these times of the “doldrums” in our walk with God?

How can we encourage the sweet wind of the Holy Spirit to blow through us to re-kindle our inner fire?

Our faith is a precious treasure, a gift that should be nurtured in the best of times, so we might thrive, but also so we might navigate the storms ahead without losing our way.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you O God. ~ Psalm 42:1

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Rouen Cathedral: Facade Morning Effect, 1892-1894 Claude Monet, oil on canvas, Museum Folkway Essen Germany.

This week, as I was considering the images of our faith, I was attracted to Claude Monet’s series of paintings on the Rouen Cathedral.

Monet was the founder of the 19th century French Impressionism movement. He was controversial for his time because he became fascinated with capturing on canvas the effects of light on one subject. To do this, he left the sanctuary of his studio and went directly to the outdoors to experience the changing effects natural light would have on a particular scene.

The National Gallery of Art describes this series of paintings as Monet’s desire to capture the “effects of light and weather” and he does this by painting the facade of this church some 30 times over many months as he rented rooms across from the Cathedral in late January of 1892 and stayed until spring.

Monet describes:
To me the motif itself is an insignificant factor…What I wanted to reproduce is what exists between the motif and me. 

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Claude Monet (French, 1840 – 1926), Rouen Cathedral, West Façade, 1894, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art Washington D.C.

This got me thinking about how many ways we use the word light to represent our faith and how our understanding of it can change over our lifetime.

  • Light represents seeing
  • It can also symbolize hope
  • A knowledge of a great truth…something that defines us and gives us purpose.
  • Our understanding of Light, gives us an impression of God.
  • Our attention to the light can fill us up until we overflow
  • Experiencing the warmth of God’s light tells us we are loved by our creator.

What do you think of when you talk about God’s light?

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Rouen Cathedral, West Façade, Sunlight, 1894, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art Washington D.C.

When I look at these paintings, I’m impressed and inspired by the thought of his devotion to capture the beauty of the light day after day.

Like Monet, I believe, that often what it takes to thrive in our spirituality is to stop-look-and listen- every day.

I want to encourage you to commit to a regular time of devotion to our Lord. Here are just a few ideas of things I have discovered along the way that rejuvenated my devotional time:

  • Rise early: Easier said than done, but try going to bed earlier so you can set your clock an hour earlier to spend time in prayer and devotion with our Lord. If the tasks of your day keep rushing in, make a quick to do list, then set it aside. It will be there when you are done and your time in prayer will help you remain in God’s peace as you enter your day.
  • A special place: whether it is in your home or office, create a special devotional space and fill it with items that will help you look forward to your quiet time with God. Perhaps you will light a candle or maybe you will have your special mug and favorite blend of coffee, these things can heighten your senses and help you relax allowing you to become more present as you attend to God’s voice.
  • Keep a prayer journal: I have always struggled with maintaining regular prayer practice, until I started writing my prayers. Now it is more of a conversation. I allow myself to write in a free form flowing in and out of prayer and regularly making note of where I noticed God in my day. You can also jot down Bible scriptures or favorite quotes. I’m always amazed at how writing something down helps me to hardwire the passage and meditate on a personal meaning for me.
  • Amazon Wish List: Start a wish list on amazon of all the books you would like to read. Anytime you hear about a book from a friend on Facebook or Twitter you can automatically add it to your list. Goodreads and Spotify are also wonderful social networks that can help you find recommendations for books and music to keep your devotional time fresh and inspiring.
  • Silence: Resolve to ask God questions and follow it by a period of silence…you will be amazed at how God will speak to your heart and open your eyes to new insights, discoveries and people all around you.

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. ~ Isaiah 26:3

Solitude is the practice of being absent from people and things to attend to God. Silence is the practice of quieting every inner and outer voice to attend to God.” ~ Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality p. 161

Like Monet, let us attend to the light of our faith so that we might notice all the beauty and all the little details of His divine love in our lives.

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry we do not lose heart…For God, who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. ~ 2 Corinthians 4: 1, 6

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Jennifer’s latest book is The Joyful Sound: Reflections on the Life of Christ in Art and Music. This book is filled with beautifully written devotionals that will move you through the life of Christ, awakening your senses and your faith. Enhanced by poetry, musical selections, devotional prayers, and journaling suggestions, this book will rejuvenate your private prayer, Bible class discussion, and enhance your journey of spiritual formation.

You can purchase the book HERE (Use Blog Tour Discount code: 4SRV37GX to receive $8.00 off.)

“Jennifer Rundlett invites us to experience the stories of Jesus through the arts, and provides a rich resource and guide for visualizing, embracing, and hearing those stories in fresh and new ways. If you want to feel the stories of Jesus anew, practice the exercises in this book and learn to sing a new song.”
—JOHN MARK HICKS, professor of theology Lipscomb University and author of Come to the Table.

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Transformation from the Inside Out

AChurch Inside Outs the Summer Blog Tour continues… Remember that you can win a copy of Tim Archer’s new release Church Inside Out, both the book and workbook, by leaving a comment on this page and completing the form over HERE.

 

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As I observe the Christian world around me (or maybe the entire world around me for that matter), it seems that extremes win the day. I grew up like many Christians have over the past 30 or more years in a faith tradition that was steeped in legalism. God was seen as this angry God who really did not much like his people, but he could be “bought off” with good deeds.

As a reaction to that, we lean over into a world of “justification by faith” to talk about the gospel in such a way that it seems like simply an endeavor of the mind. Believe this, think that, say these words, be immersed in water, and you are “good”. The goal is simply to think certain things and confess certain things with your mouth, and then go to heaven when you die.

For some reason, we never settle in the middle of these extremes with the biblical view that you are loved by God simply because, and that you are saved by faith alone. Therefore, live out your salvation and embark upon a journey of following Christ. We love the extremes it seems.

There has been a lot of scholarship over the past 30 years that has led us to believe that Paul wasn’t plagued with guilt when he wrote Romans, like  say Martin Luther was when he read it. It seems that Paul’s goal was not simply to help get people to heaven when they die (though that is important), but it was to get heaven inside of Christ followers. The gospel was not simply something to be believed, or a formula for salvation from hell at death, but it was a good news event that should dramatically alter the life of those who believe it and follow after this Crucified Christ. To follow Christ is to orient one’s life toward Christ and begin a journey of being formed into His image. It is why Paul would say things about us being transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So I don’t know if you are like me, but I find myself often frustrated. I want to be more patient, loving, kind, gentle, generous, and self-controlled. I want to react differently, or perhaps be less reactionary at times. I wish I was less impatient, less rash, less compulsive, less…well, you name it. It is a bit like my golf game.

golf ball 01I love golf. I don’t think my swing and my game are that bad. In my head, I know how to play the game really well and I can see myself playing well. However, I continually am amazed and frustrated when I go play and I’m not much better than the last time I played. Yet I never think that part of the problem is I don’t practice.

And so it is with my faith. I wish I saw more of the fruit of the Spirit pouring forth in my life, but I do nothing toward that goal.

As Paul is concluding his theological masterpiece, he says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” – Romans 12:2 (emphasis mine).

Paul seems to believe we can be different, and that we can be transformed from the inside out by the renewing of our minds. The gospel can and ought to transform us now, not just at the end. The deal is though, it isn’t a magic formula that you believe and confess and all of the sudden your life is dramatically changed. Sure there are these monumental moments in our faith, but more and more I think it is about the daily process of pursuing Christ. And it is into this thinking that I believe the spiritual disciplines call out to us. The spiritual disciplines are no magic formula, but they can position us for the Spirit to do its work.

I love the teaching of people like Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. They have a holistic and full view of salvation that it isn’t simply a one time conversion moment, but it is a journey or a process of transformation. Both of these guys also believe that the spiritual disciplines are the “practice” so to speak of the faith. If we want to see transformation in our lives, if we want to be less compulsive and reactionary and more patient and kind, perhaps we ought to do things that position us for the Spirit to make these changes in our lives.

Maybe we incorporate into our daily lives what St. Benedict called a “rule of life”, or “rhythm of life” that practices the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, solitude, silence, hospitality, submission to others, etc. If the goal isn’t simply to get to heaven one day, but to get heaven inside of us, to become people who begin to look and act more like Christ, then maybe these spiritual disciplines are a very practical tool for this inside out transformation, or what Paul calls the “renewing of your mind”.

The western story of Christianity has been hijacked into one that sounds like Jesus came into the world so we could get out of it. The problem is, that is not a very biblical picture of faith. Rather, what if we let go of that story and began seeing that Christ came into this world to get His image inside of it, or inside of us? No we don’t want to conform to the ways of this world, but neither do we want to hide from it. Rather, let us be transformed from the inside out by the renewing of our minds, and through this bear His image to a lost and broken world.

I can guarantee you that practicing the spiritual disciplines will position you for this transformation because I have seen it in my own life. The deal is though, no one can teach you into this change. Rather, you will have to try it. We can talk about the disciplines, but if you really want to see how it might could work in your life, then do it. Slow down, carve out space in your life, and lean into these disciplines. And don’t be surprised if you notice yourself reacting a bit differently, perhaps a bit more like Jesus would react. The Holy Spirit wants to transform you into the image of Christ, but this can only be done from the inside out.

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Ryan LassiterRyan Lassiter is the preaching minister at the Hunter Hills Church of Christ in Prattville AL. Prior to that he served as a minster at the Golf Course Road Church of Christ in Midland TX. He and his wife Sarah have also spent time as missionaries. Ryan graduated with his masters in Missional Leadership from Rochester College and his passion is helping people join God in his mission of redemption and restoration. He blogs at www.ryanlassiter.com.

Fasting to Go Slow

We live in a fast paced world. We fret at red lights. We become agitated when our computers take 30 seconds to do something. We have a list of things we needed to do yesterday, or last week. And another list of things we should be working on right now.

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Then there’s God…

God wants us to spend time with Him. God wants to hear from us. God wants to speak with us. God wants us to do things for him too.

Where can I find time in my busy work day, family day, parenting day, social networking day, church day, school day or leisure day to hang out with God?

To commit time in my day to God, I must first carve out space: empty space. I must dedicate myself to a time of nothingness, or nothing-else, and meet God there.

Fasting provides one approach to giving God greater prominence in my daily routine. Fasting commits me to giving something up, so that God can take its place.

When I give up food for a day, I can spend my lunch break talking to God. When I avoid social media, I can update God on my thoughts rather than my Twitter followers. When I turn off the TV or hang up the Ipod, I can listen to God’s Spirit speaking in the stillness.

Fasting, in whatever form we practice it, creates space for God. It reminds of the priority He should have in our life. It confronts the value we give to other aspects of our lives. It’s a way of offering a sacrifice to God… without the blood and guts.

I suspect that most Christians don’t practice fasting. I’ve never previously been part of a church that encourages Christians to fast. Yet, as the pace of our lives and the world around us increases, the ancient practice of fasting becomes increasingly important for our faith.

I’ve written previously on the topic of fasting HERE. Or you can listen to this week’s sermon HERE where I discuss some of Jesus’ teaching on fasting.

Do you practice regular fasting?  What questions do you have about fasting?

Alive and Active

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In Sunday’s sermon I suggested that Christians often talk about the Bible from memory. This came up because my assigned topic for the week was the birth of Christ. We hear the story of Christ’s birth so much each Christmas that I estimate that most regularly attending church members would have no problem listing at least 80% of all the significant elements of the story.

However, if we adopt the attitude that “we’ve already read it one hundred times”, or “we already know the story”, we reduce the likelihood that we’ll read it again. Instead, we’ll rely on a summary version stored in our memory banks.

What we may not realise is that when we rely upon our memory of a story, we’ve effectively taken God’s word and turn it into a collection of information that we either know or don’t know. In most cases as we tell the story of Jesus’ birth from memory we’ll tell a story that describes main events, but misses the divine wording. So we know that that angels praised God before the shepherds, but we forget the exact words they used.

When we rely upon our memory of the story, it’s going to be extremely difficult to differentiate between the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Does that matter? Well, it did to Matthew and Luke. They each included and excluded material for a reason, but we’ll never come to consider the reason if we rely on our recollection of the story.

It’s important to read the Bible, even those parts we already know. Too often we read Scripture as though we’re preparing for a test: an eternal Bible Bowl.

We read to find answers.

We read to accumulate knowledge.

We read because we’re told we should.

We read to find that verse to win that argument.

While each of these reading motivations have their place, it’s not the type of reading the Bible itself envisages.

The Bible is not merely information.

The Bible is not a collection of facts.

The Bible is not an answer book.

The Bible is not a history book.

Hebrews 4:12 vividly describes the dynamic function of God’s Word, 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. That sure doesn’t sound like preparing for a quiz, does it?

Perhaps the language of God’s word penetrating and dividing soul and spirit sounds threatening. Yet, as we mature in Christ, we come to long for Him to mold us into his image. To reveal our weaknesses and utilise our strengths. This doesn’t mean the process is easy or comfortable, but we recognise that it’s for our benefit.

God intends us to read the Bible not just for information, but to shine a light on our lives and examine our relationship with God.

God intends for us to read Scripture without demanding answers to our questions, but allowing God to scrutinise us with His questions.

God intends for us to read His Word allowing His Spirit to guide our thoughts and hearts as we read.

When we rely on our memory to summarise a passage of Scripture or describe an event, we eliminate the possibility that a particular word or phrase of Scripture will speak to us. We will find ourselves forever stuck with our previously developed wording, meaning and significance, which limits our capacity for spiritual growth.

Spending time In God’s word, is the same as spending time with God. Sadly, we don’t always make these meetings because we’re not always looking for a Bible that is “alive and active“. And we don’t always welcome a God who’s “alive and active” in our lives.

Where do you meet with God?

[Just after I posted this blog, a friend shared this video with me. It’s a perfect match, and Bill Hybels does a great job of presenting a different, but important, perspective on this topic.]

Guard Your Heart

Today’s post is the fourth in a series of guest posts centered around my church’s annual theme of “Healthy Hearts”. This month’s contributor is Kevin Griffith. His full bio is at the bottom of the post, but here’s a brief intro…

I crossed paths with Kevin at Harding School of Theology. I don’t think we had any classes together, but we both lived on campus and spoke to each other occasionally. Unlike most students living in campus housing Kevin and Michele had kids!! It kinda made them stand out. 🙂 Kevin was also different because he came to grad school with plenty of ministry experience under his belt, it wasn’t just all theory.

I have great respect for the work that chaplains do. I would not do well at it.They approach people at some of the most difficult times of their lives and seek to speak God’s comfort and peace into those lives. In most cases there’s a constant turnover and few opportunities to see long-term fruit from the emotional energy they invest. I am grateful to Kevin and others who serve in this role of truly shining God’s light into darkness and making the world a better place.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

— Proverbs 4:23

Working as a Staff Chaplain in the 2nd busiest trauma center in the nation has its unique challenges, but I love my job. Each night I pass through the halls of the Elvis Presley Memorial Trauma Center connecting with families, patients and staff. Boring nights are few and far between, and welcomed by me and the staff. Each time I pass through the Trauma ICU I am reminded just how precious and how fragile life is – and how suddenly it can all change.

Working here has made me appreciate the simple things in life and it has made me realize just how blessed I am. However, working here does have its price as well. Like any other job it can become just another hum drum day at the office. Because death is a constant companion (I’ve stood at the bedside of almost 700 deaths in the past six plus years) I can become easily desensitized or even jaded. Although I may not be personally involved, I have to constantly guard my heart and not allow myself to forget I am dealing with family members who have just lost a loved one. I must strive to be an emotional support and a spiritual ambassador – sometimes the only representative of God in the room. I must guard my heart.

The same can be said of a patient that is, in my estimation, in fairly good shape considering some of the more serious cases I have dealt with in the past. It’s easy for me to forget that those that are not as seriously ill as others are also human beings in need of a consoling touch, a listening ear and a sympathetic heart. In chaplain circles we call it being “fully present.” Being “fully present”, in my estimation, is exactly what we find Jesus doing in the Scriptures as he interacts with all those who come into his realm of influence. He not only listens to them with his ears, he listens to them with his eyes and his heart as well. And yet he chastises the smug, the arrogant and the self-righteous that come within earshot. I must guard my heart.

Not only can the job become hum drum and death all-too-familiar, but also the anxiety of others can take its toll on my attitude. Working in a trauma center will test you, sometimes more than wanted.  Scripture tells us: “An anxious heart weighs a man down.” (Proverbs 12:25) Those that administer care to the seriously ill sometimes suffer from a condition known as “Compassion Fatigue.” So, I must constantly be on guard and remind myself that I choose how I react to the stress and anxiety of others. I can choose to be caught up in all the craziness that surrounds me, or I can choose to be a calming presence. I can choose to take things that are said in the “heat of the moment” as personal attacks, or I can choose to understand that people and staff members in “crisis” often say and do things without thinking. If I am not careful I will find myself responding in kind to these perceived attacks and undermine all that I am attempting to accomplish as God’s representative. I must guard my heart.

All too often I am more like the proverbial “frog in the kettle” — as the temperature rises and I happily sit and boil, smug in my own self-confidence that all is okay and I am in control. And this brings me to another point — the deceitfulness of the heart. We find in Jeremiah 17:9 a very interesting verse which makes this point — “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Indeed, who can understand their own heart, then alone the hearts (i.e., motives) of others?

So just how do I guard my heart against this?

First, Luke tells us that the good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart that out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. So what is it that you put into your heart? If I am to guard my heart I believe I must take specific steps to fill it with good rather than evil. The beginning place for me is in the Scriptures. The Bible is my source of all things good and I endeavor to spend time in it daily. Will this make me perfect? By no means! But I believe it will get me closer to the goal of having a pure heart – a heart that endeavors to please God with my words and actions. I choose to treasure God’s Word – for in doing so I find my heart there.

Second, I believe it important for me to live a prayerful life. By “prayerful” I do not necessarily mean sitting down and spending an hour or two on my knees – I wish I had the time and the discipline to make that happen. However, what I do mean is to be in conversation with God every minute I am possibly able. As I walk through the Trauma Intensive Care Unit, I see many of my patients who are unconscious, on ventilators or even in a coma. I do not make a spectacle of myself, but I do pray for them, even if it is just a short breath prayer of healing and peace. I believe prayer changes things – if nothing else, it guards and changes my heart, and draws me ever closer to God.

Third, I must remember that out of the abundance of my heart my mouth speaks. That is to say the words I speak, and the thoughts I choose to share, are brought forth from the well-spring of my heart. If I am having difficulty with saying inappropriate things or even if I am the saying the right thing in the wrong way, then I know I need to stop and examine just exactly what I have been putting into my heart.

Bio: Kevin Griffith is a Staff Chaplain at the Regional Medical Center in Memphis, TN. He obtained his BA in Bible from Lubbock Christian College (now University) and served churches of Christ for almost 15 years in Texas and California in the capacity of Youth and Family Minister. In 2001 Kevin moved his family to Memphis so he could complete his Masters of Divinity degree. Having completed this degree in 2005, Kevin enrolled in Clinical Pastoral Education for a year in order to train for a career in Chaplaincy. In September 2007 he began working at the Elvis Presley Memorial Trauma Center, a part of the Regional Medical Center, and serves there to this day. He has been married to Michele Roder Griffith, a graduate of Harding University, for 22 plus years. They have four children: Shelby (18) a freshman at Harding University; Peyton (14); Abby (11); and Levi (9). Kevin and his wife home school their children.

If this article has encouraged you, please return the favour by leaving a comment to let Kevin know. Or perhaps you have questions or comments. I know Kevin will check in and respond. So don’t be shy!

Simple Time With God: part 2

I make to claim to being an expert on the topic of Spiritual Disciplines. Reading on the topic of Spiritual Disciplines doesn’t automatically make me (or you) an expert. Yet, paradoxically, I understand their importance and appreciate their benefits when I do practice them. I struggle to maintain regular times of prayer and personal devotional Bible reading. I often allow the inane busyness of life and leisure to steal my simplicity of time with God.

I have not spent a week with Trappist Monks, though I know some preachers who have. Neither do I have a spiritual adviser I talk to regularly, although I know other ministers who depend upon a relationship like this.  Still, here’s a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.

SILENCE

I’m tempted to leave this space blank as a tribute to literary silence, but that wouldn’t help anyone very much.  In Habakkuk 2 the prophet describes idol worship as a waste of energy, but he concludes that list by saying “But the Lord is in his holy temle; let all the earth keep silence before him.” So often we come into God’s presence and rush to pour out our hearts to him. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but it also seems reasonable just to silently absorb his presence and then talk with him. There’s little virtue in treating God like a giant vending machine in the sky and all we have to do is walk in and punch the right buttons to have what we want come down the chute.  “Let all the earth keep silence before Him.

When I was in campus ministry we held a retreat one year that included different stations of spiritual disciplines. One of those was silence. We blackened a room and over 15 minutes nothing was said but every 5 minutes the facilitator read a verse relevant to our theme for the weekend. I’m not suggesting you need to blacken your room, but silence does require the removal of distractions. It’s also a good idea but not a necessity to have a Scripture or thought to guide your silence.

Our time of silence can take place in a blackened room. It can equally occur in a park with kids playing on a nearby playground, or next to a lake just watching the waves. At night, gazing at a the stars is a good time for me to be silent with God.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from Randy Harris book Soul Work (p126). He spent 40 days in mostly silence with some real life hermits in southern Texas. This chapter shares some of his experiences and observations. He refers to silence as “listening prayer”.

As you enter into this listening prayer and being with God, you are going to have all sorts of intuitions, urges, and feelings. Not all of those are the Holy Spirit. You have to be discerning. When you think that God is calling you to do something, one of the things yo do is take it back to God in prayer. The other thing you do is open up to the community for their discernment too. That’s why prayer is both a personal and a communal experience.

When I think God is calling me to do something other than what I’m doing, one of the first things I want to do is to gather four or five people around me who know me well, who love God deeply and who love me. I’;m going to say, “I think this is what God is calling me to do. I want you to start praying over this and I want us to see what we have here.” Because I am so self absorbed, there is virtually nothing that I cannot talk myself into and make it turn into the will of God. And the only protection I have against that willfulness is the wisdom of the community. Continue to pray over it, offering it up to the community for discernment.

Silence is a type of fasting. If you’re not ready for full-blown silence, you might attempt a period of hours or days without something that adds noise to your life: Internet, cell phone, television, etc. (not spouse and kids!) and make the effort to fill that space with some God time.

SPIRITUAL CONVERSATION

This one is my own invention, which doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t proposed it, I just don’t remember hearing about it before. 🙂

At practically every church service I’ve ever attended, as soon as the closing “Amen” is said, the conversation turns to family, football, lunch, weather, holiday plans, school, almost anything except the service everyone just experienced for the last 60-90 minutes.

When do you talk about God?

More specifically, when do you talk about your relationship with God?

Is that a weekly, monthly, annual event, or not at all?  Who do you talk with?

I think women will generally find this easier. Men generally have a hard time discussing things like emotions and relationships.  Unfortunately, spiritual health gets lump into that same bundle. It takes discipline to share our spiritual victories and struggles with others. Yet the biblical picture of the church is of one who aches and rejoices together when one member experiences pain or triumph.

John Eldredge (Wild at Heart, 174-5) teaches men,

Don’t even think about going into battle alone. Don’t even try to take the masculine journey without at least one man by your side. Yes, we need men to whom we can bare our souls. But it isn’t going to happen with a group of guys you don’t trust, who really aren’t willing to go to battle with you.

My take away from that is the importance of investing in relationships to develop trust so that we care share our spiritual journey. Don’t just grab the first guy or girl you see. Choose someone you can trust to provide insight and feedback on your life and relationship with God.

In the book “Why Men Hate Going to Church” (p224), David Murrow states that

Men comprehend relationships in terms of activity. Ken has his work buddies, his fishing buddies, his football buddies and so on. Ken would never approach another man and say, “Hey Roger, can we have a relationship?” Such a  request would arouse suspicion, because it’s not expressed in terms of activity. Instead Ken would say, “Hey Roger, let’s go fishing.” Ken and Roger could go fishing every weekend for thirty years and never describe what they have as a relationship.

So if you’re a guy looking to find a spiritual support system, find some other Christian blokes that you can do things with and go for it. But make sure you’re intentional about discussing your faith. It’s real easy to spend 5 hours riding around with someone in a golf cart and never have a meaningful conversation.

HERE is an interesting article I came across on the value of Spiritual Conversations. The article also has some tips on what makes a productive Spiritual Conversation as a mentor.

If we can’t discuss our faith and our relationship with God with other Christians, how on earth do we ever hope to share the Gospel with the non-Christians in our lives?

Simple Time With God

I make to claim to being an expert on the topic of Spiritual Disciplines. Reading on the topic of Spiritual Disciplines doesn’t automatically make me (or you) an expert. Yet, paradoxically, I understand their importance and appreciate their benefits when I do practice them. I struggle to maintain regular times of prayer and personal devotional Bible reading. I often allow the inane busyness of life and leisure to steal my simplicity of time with God.

Having made that opening disclaimer, here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way that may be useful for you.  I’ve found most churches give very little instruction on Spiritual Disciplines while expecting everyone to engage in them. Whether you’ve never made a serious attempt before or are looking to refresh you current routine, I hope you find these simple tips useful:

PRAYER

Josh Graves recently shared an interview with Mother Teresa who commented “I don’t think that I could do this work for even one week if I didn’t have four hours of prayer every day.” Do you feel intimidated? I do. That’s admirable discipline on her part, but probably not a realistic target for most of us.  But the only way of having any hope of getting anywhere near that is to take small steps.

The biggest mistake I’ve made with the discipline of prayer has been trying to get through my whole list every time I sit down to pray. I can easily make a long list of friends, family, church members, missionaries I know, world causes… and then it would take me at least an hour and that’s without getting to my personal thoughts and desires.

If I’m new to spiritual disciplines then I need to take baby steps. If I can pray 3 times a week for 15 minutes and maintain it for 2 or 3 months, that’s tremendous progress.  Attempting an hour a day (or four hours!) is like running a marathon with no training. It’s almost always doomed to fail.

So my big tip here is to break your list up into smaller lists. Maybe there are some people or situations you pray for every day, but others that you only pray for on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Or you can give every day a different theme: Thanksgiving, Church needs, Family members, People outside of Christ, etc.

A last practice I’ve employed from time to time is to carry a list in the car with me.  When I get a red light, rather than cursing the delay, I use the time to pray for the next person on my list. Some days I get a long way through the list and the red lights bring me closer to God, rather than tempting my patience.  Just remember to keep your eyes open so you don’t get honked at when you miss the light turning green!

READING SCRIPTURE

Again, my first advice here is not to get too ambitious. I know many people that want to start or renew a habit of regular time in God’s Word, so they commit to read the Bible in a year.  That’s a least half an hour a day.  And that’s half an hour of constant reading.  There’s certainly a place for reading the Bible in a year as it greatly increases our familiarity with Scripture, but it’s not necessarily the best way.  (Check out www.YouVersion.com for a huge range of reading plans including shorter readings and shorter periods of time. They’ll even email you the reading every day if you want.)

If you’re setting aside 15 minutes for Bible reading every day, or a couple of times a week, I recommend that you plan for at least 5 of those minutes to involve reflection on what you’ve just read.  You might want to give yourself a standard set of questions to consider.  For example:

  • How would I feel I was reading this as the original reader? (offended, reassured, comforted)
  • Does this chapter or passage speak directly to a situation in my life?
  • Is there a particular word that caught my attention for any reason? (take some time and think on that word)
  • How do I need to respond to this reading? (as a whole, or a particular verse)

Then close your time by praying in a way that includes what you’ve just read.

FINALLY, if you have more like half an hour, in Rick Warren’s book, Bible Study Methods (p39-40), he recommends using the S-P-A-C-E-P-E-T-S acrostic to direct your meditation.  After you’ve narrowed your contemplation down to a shorter passage or verse, work through these questions.  Is there any…

  • Sin to confess? Do I need to make any restitution?
  • Promise to claim? Is it a universal promise? Have I met the condition(s)?
  • Attitude to change? Am I willing to work on a negative attitude and begin building toward a positive one?
  • Command to obey? Am I willing to do it no matter how I feel?
  • Example to follow? Is it a positive example for me to copy, or a negative one to avoid?
  • Prayer to pray? Is there anything I need to pray back to God?
  • Error to avoid? Is there any problem that I should be alert to or beware of?
  • Truth to believe? What new things can I learn about God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, or other biblical teachings?
  • Something to praise God for? Is there something here I can be thankful for?

In both prayer and Scripture reading, look for God to speak to your life.  God’s goal is for us to be transformed into His image, so be prepared to change. Don’t expect God to just pat you on the back and tell you to keep doing what you’re already doing.

Tomorrow, I hope to post some tips on the disciplines of silence & spiritual conversations.

Expanding Simplicity

I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard “Simplicity” named as a value within Churches of Christ, yet it exudes from each and every historical pore. Perhaps the value is best represented in our pioneers’ pursuit of “common sense” theology & philosophy. Consider the numerous ways the Restoration Movement has sought to distinguish itself from other churches.

  • We rejected human creeds as extra-biblical with with simple slogans such as “No creed but Jesus”, and “Bible names for Bible things”.
  • We taught against denominational structures in favour of self-autonomous congregations (not a Bible term).
  • The Restoration Movement has always emphasised the priesthood of all believers, and the ability of each individual to interpret Scripture for him/herself. This contrasts with denominations who have an ordination process for their clergy, dress them in robes, and call them by a title.
  • The leadership of local congregations rests with elders and deacons appointed according to the Biblical criteria of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3.  There is no elected board or constitution to negotiate.
  • Churches of Christ have seldom attempted to build cathedrals. Most church buildings have emphasised simplicity and rejected stained glass, paintings and ornaments as distractions and potentially idols.
  • Congregational singing has been a historical value and the introduction of specialists, either soloists or choirs, has resulted in controversy. The reason for emphasising congregational singing is to allow each member to worship from the heart. (And I’m sure in some circles a belief that if anyone omits an act of worship they’re sinning.)

All of these customs reveal an underlying value of simplicity, whether this term is ever used or not.  The Restoration Movement was all about Simple Church even before the book was written.

In my experience the church has rarely made the same application to Christians’ personal lives. Many preachers and church members have undoubtedly sacrificed a lot to spread the kingdom of God, but I don’t know that this has been widely preached as an expectation of the church.

Our Sunday morning Bible class is currently discussing Hicks and Valentine’s book Kingdom Come. In two chapters they demonstrate that James Harding and David Lipscomb (early 19o0’s) certainly encouraged personal simplicity. I believe this message has faded over the years.  Harding himself claimed to have never had possessions that totaled more than $500. In turn, Lipscomb didn’t promote simplicity as a goal in and of itself, but championed the poor while teaching that,

“Our fellowship for one another must be of this character… The man that can spend money in extending his already broad acres, while his brother and his brother’s children cry for bread — the woman that can spend money in purchasing a stylish bonnet… merely to appear fashionable, while her sister…[is] shivering with cold…are no Christians… notwithstanding they have been baptized for the remission of sins.”
David Lipscomb (Quoted in Kingdom Come, p98.)

Both Harding and Lipscomb lived this way as a result of their conviction that God calls all Christians to live as pilgrims, or resident aliens in the world trusting in the providence of God.  In The Cruciform Church (p169), C. Leonard Allen calls attention to 1 John 2:15-17.

“Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.” The Message

At the end of the chapter, Allen states that “The church – God’s new social order – can serve the world most faithfully and sacrificially by being the church.” (p179) He goes on to give four examples, the fourth of which states that the church should “Sound a call to greater modesty, generosity, graciousness, and simplicity of life – and look to leaders who model such a life. As “strangers and exiles” in this world, Christians are called to travel light.” (p180, italics his)

Jesus kingdom is not of this world.  (Jn 18:36) We live in a society of gadgets. The advertising industry constantly entices us with the next hot thing: the thing that will truly make our lives simpler.  Often we buy into the deception that more stuff will create more space. It doesn’t work.  Removing stuff remains the only way to create space. When Jesus needed time with God he removed himself from his village, from his friends, from the crowds, and found the quiet space of a hillside.

I don’t want to use this post to suggest that Christians should sell everything and live under a bridge. I don’t want everyone to turn Amish. I don’t want to give the impression that God is simple, He’s not. I do want to call all Christians back to the fact that our faith and our lives orbit around God. He’s our centre. In a busy and materialistic world we need to create space to spend time with God. To listen to God. To talk with God. What have traditionally been called “spiritual disciplines” need to regain prominence in the lives of the church.  It’s not enough to have simple church buildings. We need a simple faith, and a simple relationship, that allows us to tackle the complexities of life.

Hopefully, in the next couple of days I’ll put up a couple of posts on Spiritual Disciplines.

  • Have you been part of a church that actively encourages members to practice spiritual disciplines? How did they do this?
  • How important are personal spiritual disciplines in your life?
  • Churches often promote prayer and Bible reading as standard disciplines. Are you content with the basics or is it important in your relationship with God to be creative?
  • Does your relationship with God benefit more by practicing a variety of disciplines or a variety of approaches to the basics such as prayer and Bible reading?

Colossians 1: A Shepherd’s Prayer

  • Read Colossians 1:1-14 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (10 October), you can listen to it here.

As a church leader, I find myself often bogged down in a lot of tasks and details that seem distinctly un-spiritual.  Surely I have a higher calling than comparing this year’s energy bill to last year’s bill and discussing who’s the best church member to manage the church’s thermostat.

Don’t get me wrong.  Thermostat management is an important function to church growth.  If members/guests are habitually too hot or cold their motivation to continue attending will no doubt diminish.  But is that really the responsibility of church leaders?  In a small church the answer may well be “Yes”, but it’s never our primary responsibility.

In Colossians 1:9-14 Paul provides a tremendous example of how church leaders should care for God’s flock.  I find his prayer personally inspiring.  (However, I also find that he uses a lot of run on thoughts and doesn’t take many breaths, so I outlined these verses)  He doesn’t beat around the bush.  He focuses on the Big Picture describing his vision of how the Gospel impacts people’s lives.

I love the heart behind Paul’s prayer for these young Christians.  His primary concern is that the Spirit fill them with the knowledge of God’s will.  But this is not his final goal.  The reason for the knowing God’s will is so they can 1. Live a life worthy of the Lord, and 2. Please him in every way.

As a church member I would be thrilled to know that this was the primary concern of my church leaders.  I would be enormously encouraged to know that they were regularly praying for my spiritual growth, not just in conforming my behaviour, but in my real relationship with God and knowledge of His will.  I long to live a life worthy of the Lord and to please Him in every way, but it’s an ongoing struggle.  While I assume my church leadership share these goals for me, it’s comforting to hear Paul, and my leaders, express it.

As a church leader I know that far too often I have prayed, both in leadership meetings and privately, that someone might attend worship services more regularly or for deliverance from a particular crisis a member is experiencing, rather than for the spiritual maturing of the church.  It’s much easier to be reactive, than proactive.  To be fair, most members are a lot more forthcoming about a co-worker’s mother’s kidney disease, than the total absence of their own prayer discipline, or their struggle with anger.  This lack of transparency within most churches increases the challenges elders and other leaders face as we care for the souls in our care.

I expect that church leaders who regularly pray for “the Spirit to fill their church members with the knowledge of God’s will” would also discuss different issues in their meetings.  They would be more likely to consider ways God could use them to increase the church’s knowledge of God.  They would discuss the growth of members, not just the struggles.  They would spend more time discussing how they could encourage members to “live lives worthy of the Lord“.  Thermostats might never be mentioned.

Have you known church leaders that you regard as particularly “spiritual”?

  • How did they express their spirituality?
  • How did they communicate their concern for your soul?
  • How did this person impact your faith?

Read Colossians 1:9-14 again.

  • Can you imagine Paul chairing a church business meeting or elders’ meeting?
  • How do you think Paul’s meeting would run?

NOTE:  I have been a member/minister at 7 churches since my baptism.  This post reflects my collective church experience in addition to other resources I have encountered.    I believe the vast majority of churches struggle to integrate the Spiritual and Physical needs of the congregation and to be more Proactive than Reactive.  As do most individuals.  I think that’s why I find the clarity and focus of Paul’s prayer so striking.

Neither do I recall having any particular conversations about thermostats, but used that simply as an example of the type of issues that can demand attention at times.

Church OF Christ: Part 10

  • Read Revelation 19:4-10 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (18 July), you can listen to it here.
  • Follow the rest of this discussion here.

The image of God marrying His people seems to be first laid out by the prophet Hosea who was one of the earliest writing prophets.  Jeremiah and Ezekiel subsequently expanded upon Hosea’s imagery.  In turn, the NT writers, and Jesus himself, applied this imagery to Jesus’ relationship with the church.  Through the church, Jesus/God weds His people.

The poignant passages are:

  • Hosea 1-3;
  • Jeremiah 2-3;
  • Ezekiel 16, 23;
  • Matthew 25:1-13;
  • Luke 5:33-35;
  • 2 Corinthians 11:2-3;
  • Ephesians 5:21-33
  • Revelation 19:4-10.

With all these passages discussing the same topic, there’s obviously a lot to talk about.  My point is pretty simple, The Church of Christ Must Love Christ.

In his book Crazy Love (p100-101), Francis Chan poses a question from John Piper’s book God Is the Gospel (I’ve read Chan’s book not Piper’s, otherwise I’d quote him directly.)

The critical question for our generation — and for ever generation — is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?

That is the most challenging thought I’ve confronted in quite a while.  Do I love Jesus, or just the benefits I get from him?

We all know from personal experience that it’s easy for relationships with those close to us, spouse, parent, child, sibling to sometimes be motivated by emotional love, but more often by commitment and dedication.  In our darker moments our relationships are based on guilt and obligation.  In a similar vein, love does not always motivate our relationship with Christ.

Churches of Christ have a heritage of rational and logical thought.  We’re reluctant to base our beliefs and practices on experience or emotion.  I appreciate this orientation, but at the same time, if we’re the bride of Christ, the church MUST have some loving feelings toward our groom!  This takes work and effort.  Many marriages dissolve because the “spark dies”.  Many Christians also lose their faith because church attendance alone fails to fill the God shaped void within them.

I don’t have all the solutions for “keeping the spark alive” with Christ, but it seems to me we’re back where we started.  Open and introspective communication between us and Christ is essential for a loving relationship.  But we can’t just emphasise the contemplative life.  1 John 5:3 tells us that we express our love for God when we keep his commandments.  Again, this is not motivated by compulsion, but by love.  We keep his commandments and we love those around us because we’ve opened ourselves up to Him living within us.  We love Him, because He first loves us.  (1 John 4:7-21)

  • How can churches help us keep our love for God fresh and vibrant?
  • Is it the church’s responsibility or ours?
  • How do you “revitalise” your relationship with Christ when you feel it getting stale?

On a related topic, I like this post by Matt Dabbs on his blog.  Although he doesn’t specifically discuss the imagery of the Bride of Christ, he makes a relevant observation.  “Shouldn’t viewing the church as the Bride of Christ impact the way we treat the church?” If the church is God’s bride, then shouldn’t we be careful how we speak of her?  Sometimes it’s easy to be negative of the human faults we identify in the church.  However, I would be pretty upset if someone criticised my bride the way I often hear and read the church being criticised, and I sure don’t want to get Christ worked up.  It’s extremely difficult to always keep our “suggestions” positive and constructive when we see elements of the church that we disagree with.  What do you think?