Is Jesus Lord Of Your Life?

All of my talk about spiritual disciplines may give the impression that these are requirements for righteousness. Spiritual disciplines serve only one purpose – to assist in making Jesus Lord of your life.

What spiritual discipline can best focus your mind and heart on the Lordship of Jesus? For me, right now, it is the word of God.

What will it be for you?

Prayer? Meditation? Service? Worship?

Whatever it is for you this weekend. Do it.

There is no higher purposes.

 

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Christian Life Hacker – 23 Things

Here is the entire list of the 23 Things. I hope you discovered some new practices and ideas that you hadn’t been exposed to before. Feel free to share the 23 Things with your small groups and disciple groups. Congratulations to Cary Jester who commented on the most items and wins the free book. Thanks to others for reading and commenting.

Week 1: Introduction

1Listen: Podcast on 23 Things and Spiritual Disciplines

2.  Read: A primer on Disciplines, the Holy Spirit, and  Spiritual Growth.

Week 2: Solitude and Silence

3. Read: this article on solitude and silence.

4. Embrace pockets of solitude and silence today. Here are some ideas. Choose what works for you. Every time you find a pocket of solitude and silence, ask God to be with you in a special way.

  • Leave the car radio off while you drive
  • Take a walk around your work place during lunch
  • Limit TV watching to no more than one hour
  • Start a meal with everyone silent. Then have someone read a chapter from Mark before beginning speaking.
  • Park farther away from your intended location to give yourself more time to reflect while you walk.
  • Replay before falling asleep the day’s  events  and notice where God has been present.

Week 3: Prayer and Meditation

5. Explore what Henri Nouwen has to say about prayer

6. Have some fun with your prayers and Pray in Color

7. Learn what makes Christian Meditation different from Eastern Meditation

Week 4: Fasting

8. Read this interview with Scot McKnight on Fasting

9. Participate in a Week of Elimination. In the past, I have eliminated sports from my weekly schedule. If sports is not a distraction for you choose your most attractive guilty pleasure (TV shows, YouTube clips, blogs, Facebook, etc.) and eliminate it from your daily life for one week.

Week 5: Study

10. Watch Paula Gooder talk about “what the Bible is?”

11. Not everyone is bent towards reading and study. Still, you can immerse yourself in scripture through Psalms set to music by Sons of Korah (Click on Listen)

12. Who are your teachers and what are they teaching you? Make a list of your chief influencers, past and present. What aspects of God do you need to study more deeply? Develop a plan to pursue this study of God.

Week 6: Service

13. Read Philippians 2:3-11. What is one way that you could humble yourself today in a tangible way?

14. Make a list of ways that your church is reaching out to its community? Are there areas in the community that are not being reached?

15. Read this excerpt from a commencement address by Dallas Willard:

Remember to live sacrificially.

On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the thirty-fifth president of the United States. During his inaugural address, this, the youngest man ever elected president said that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.” In this context, President Kennedy issued the following challenge: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

This simple statement, delivered with great fervor, drew forth an amazing current of sacrificial giving from people. This is built into our hearts. We know it’s right. And as Christians we’re the ones who really know what it means and how it can be done.

Don’t strive to advance yourself. Let God advance you. This is a deep psychological and sociological truth as well as a profound theological teaching. If you try to save your life, you’ll lose it. Give it away. God will give it back to you. Don’t make it your aim to get what you want. Serve others. Remember, God gives grace to the humble. He calls us to submit ourselves to the mighty hand of God that, when the time is right, He will lift us up.

I need to add that it’s not safe to be a servant unless you know who you are and unless you stand before God. On the night of His betrayal, just before He shared the Passover with His disciples, …

Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into His hands, that He had come from God, and that He was going back to God. So He got up from supper, laid aside His robe, took a towel, and tied it around Himself. Next, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel tied around Him (Jn 13:3-5).

Because Jesus knew who He was, because He was secure in His relationship with His Father, He was able to do the work of the most menial slave.

Remember who you are. Keep God before you. Then serve sacrificially. When you serve others, you’re really serving God. Because you are serving God, you give the best of service to other human beings.

Week 7: Simplicity

16. Learn about simplicity from this video

17. Read Matt. 5: 33-37. This is Jesus’ instructions to avoid manipulating and misleading people through the words that we say. The goal is to be the type of person who can simply say “yes” or simply say “no.” Additional information and explanation is usually only used to make sure that others continue to think good of us.

For the next week, attempt to answer questions with a simple “yes” or a simple “no.” Avoid the urge to explain yourself constantly. Make every effort to remove verbal manipulation from your day. Work toward honest and appropriately simple language. Talk about your experiences in the comments below.

Week 8: Worship

18. Watch John Ortberg and Dallas Willard discuss worship. Watch from the 6:00 mark to the 13:00 mark

19. How often do we prepare for worship? One thing we can do is expect to meet God during worship. Next, we can pray for the worship leaders, that they may feel God’s presence and can speak and lead effectively. Third, focus on singing the songs directly to God and listening to God in scripture and preaching. Commit yourself to worship with your heart this week.*

*The idea for this week’s exercise came from the book, A Year With God, by Richard Foster and Julia Roller.

Week 9: Sabbath

20. Read this interview with Pastor and author of The Message, Eugene Peterson.

21. Sabbath accomplishes many things but the most beneficial to our use of time are the following:

1. Cultivates trust in God – Dallas Willard elaborates on this point, “When we come to the place where we can joyously “do no work” (Leviticus 23:3), it will be because God is so exalted in our mind and body that we trust him with our life and our world, and we can take our hands off them.”

2. Reshapes our week – So much of our time is shaped by our responsibilities at work and at home while other parts of our time are shaped by the technologies that we are so attached to. By receiving the Sabbath and its time of rest and worship our entire week can be shaped in a sacred direction rather than a worldly direction. We still have our responsibilities but these duties no longer carry the weight that we had previously assigned to them.

3. Eliminates Hurry – Even if the Sabbath is the only day of the week that we intentionally attempt to rest and not extend ourselves we learn to appreciate what an existence might be like minus hurry and urgency. We can learn that the world can carry on just fine without our input and activity. One hurry free day demonstrates to us that a hurry free existence is possible.

22. Read these guidelines for practicing the Sabbath:

1. Sabbath can be practiced on any day of the week. Sunday is a natural choice because it is the day that we commonly worship and despite recent developments in our culture, it is often a day that includes the fewest responsibilities. If Sunday does not work for you, choose any day that provides you with the most freedom.

2. Start small. Remember that we are not subscribed to the philosophy of more. Try spending two hours after Sunday lunch in quiet reflection, in rest, or recreation. As God enables you over time, try to extend the Sabbath to the entire day.

3. Include your family. Spend your Sabbath with family playing games, cooking meals at home, or outdoor activities.

4. Protect The Sabbath. The first thing that will happen when you decide to receive the Sabbath is that something will occur forcing you to make a choice between your commitment to Sabbath keeping and something else. Though we want to avoid turning this practice into a legalism, we do want to demonstrate conviction regarding the Sabbath. For example, I attempt to complete Weekend errands, housework, and yard work on Saturday in order to free up Sundays for Sabbath keeping.

23. Summarize your thoughts on 23 Things in the comments below.

Why I Envy Smokers

I envy smokers sometimes. You have seen them. Those lonely people huddled outside a back entrance looking reflectively at the horizon. I envy them because they have an excuse to go outside during work hours. They are probably one of the few people who ever look at the stars anymore. And if you joined them, they seem more than willing to take an interest in you and strike up a conversation.

Studies have shown that smokers are much more likely to be extroverts than introverts. They probably started smoking because of the communal aspect of the practice but now they are stuck in solitude wondering where all of their smoking buddies went. Smokers, because they have become so ostracized, have a natural bond with other smokers that involves bumming lighters and cigarettes.

Am I romanticizing the smoker? Probably, but I do wish that I could just walk outside right now and no one ask me if I am waiting for someone, or if I need a ride. “Can’t you see I am just standing here because it is a nice day and I needed some fresh air?” Have we gotten so accustomed to busyness that if we see a person sitting and reflecting on things that we must assume they are actually wishing they were doing something else? Smokers have an excuse to be reflective, to chill, to be in nature, to share a kind word. No one questions their motivations, they just notice that they are smoking and that they are doing the things that smokers do.

I wish it was just as common for Christians to be seen in deep thought and reflection. I wish Christians had a common experience outside the church that provided support, encouragement, and growth.

The next time you see a smoker, think of a way that you can take a break from your constant tasks and just be for a little while. Maybe you can ask a Christian friend to join you and you both can simply enjoy each other’s company and the shared bond that exists between you.

Introducing 23 Things

23 Things is a learning phenomenon within the circles in which I work. To keep up with trending technologies and to train those that are somewhat leery of new web movements, a librarian developed 23 Things to introduce these technologies and to give participants the opportunity to develop new skills and apply internet based tools to their work activities. I would like to modify 23 Things so that it can be used in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship. Instead of introducing Web 2.0 tools, I will introduce Spiritual Disciplines and exercises to all of those who want to participate. Then, participants can do a small exercise related to that discipline.

This project takes a little more effort and time than usual blog posts so I will be a bit sporadic and link driven over the next week or two. I think you will enjoy the finished product though. I have been developing some of these ideas for over 10 years now and in true Christian Life Hacker style will attempt to make it accessible and doable.

More to come…

Don’t Bow Down To Your Feelings

I don’t want to write today. I would rather be sleeping or catching up with Twitter or watching basketball. But this blog is important to me and if I am able to help some people who might happen upon it then I have really accomplished something. So, I know I have to keep the discipline of regular writing even though I don’t want to.

There is immense value in doing something even though I don’t want to. Isn’t our “want to” response the enemy of many things that are important? If we only listened to what we wanted to do we would do absolutely nothing. Any truly great athlete or performer will often be able to answer their “I don’t want to” response with a pointed “shut up.”

Orel Hershiser, a Christian and great pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, said in his book that on the days that he needed to workout and his “I don’t want to” response was especially loud he would find someone nearby and tell them that he had little motivation that day and he needed them to workout with him to keep him honest and working hard.

Hershiser knew that accountability and community were essential for him to maintain discipline and commitment. It is too bad that American churches push the “lone ranger Christian” mentality so hard and make following Christ out to be such an individualistic endeavor. Left to ourselves, we listen to our negative responses way too often. We justify our lack of commitment to Bible reading or prayer. We give in to the myth that what matters is the 10 minutes we spend in quiet time even though the rest of our lives could be filled with devotion and spiritual activities as well.

We all could use a little more practice and help telling our “I don’t want to” response to shove it. Get started today. There is much that we are missing behind these negative responses.

How To Give Your Good Intentions A Boost

We all make lists. Even the people who claim that they don’t do list often break down and make a list when something big is coming up; even if it is just in their head. Have you ever written down your spiritual activities on a to-do list? If not, why?

I once traveled by bus on a trip that spanned several states. I was looking forward to the ride as a way to catch up on reading and just relax. A friend of mine noticed that I had a list of items that I wanted to get to during the ride. He was already chiding me about the list but when he saw one item listed he bust out laughing. Underneath “proof article” and above “call office” I had written “ride.”

Did I really need a reminder about what I was most likely to be doing for next 10 hours? No, but what I did need a reminder about was noticing the scenery, reflecting on long stretches of our country that I wasn’t that familiar with, and giving myself time to just relax. By writing it down, I gave importance to it and moved it away from just a good idea to something I can take action on.

Most Christians have well intended plans to spend more time in worship, to pray while on their commute, or to listen to a sermon while working out but if we do not write it down on a list or schedule it these activities will most likely remain just worthy intentions that are never acted upon. You don’t have to be as geeky or OCD as I am about lists but it wouldn’t hurt to remind yourself, in writing, that Bible reading, prayer, stillness, and service are an important part of your day or week.

What do you need to add to your list?

Re-Hacked #2: Discovering Spiritual Activities That Work Best For You

To mark the one-year anniversary of the beginning of this blog, I am re-posting some of my favorite posts from the past year. This post first appeared on Jan. 26.

In the last post, I explained that cookie-cutter advice  for growing spiritually was ineffective. Today, I want to give some examples of activities that fit individual personalities. Perhaps you can relate to one or more of the following types of people.

If you are the type of person who gets more out of the worship portion of the service rather than the sermon, then why don’t you look up the scripture verses where many of the praise and worship songs get their lyrics. A simple Google search for some of the lyrics should provide the scripture reference.

If you are the type of person who prefers working with your hands and creating things, then why don’t you create a cross of some kind. As you work on the cross, think about Jesus’ sacrifice and what it means to you. Think about how Jesus turned an ugly and torturous piece of wood and turned into something beautiful.

If you are the type of person who would rather watch someone read rather than read yourself, then find an audio version of the Bible to listen to in your car or on your mp3 player.

If you are the type of person who would rather play sports than watch sports, then take a Psalm and as you read it, act it out. You may have to do this one when no one else is around.

If you are the type of person who is energized by times of solitude, then take your lunch hour and find a park and just sit thinking about God’s creation and provision.

If you are the type of person who likes writing encouraging notes to people, then why don’t you write a prayer of praise to God.

If you are the type of person who enjoys talking with friends about serious matters, then find two or three who will join you regularly to talk about what Christ is doing in your life.

If you are the type of person who gets more out of the sermon than the worship portion of the service, then take notes during the sermon and review your notes during the next week.

If you are the type of person who learns more about yourself when you are helping someone else, then volunteer with a ministry who serves the poor and envision each person you help as Christ himself.

These are just a few suggestions among thousands. The point is to be creative and be willing to try out new things. Do any of these resonate with you? What suggestions would you add to the list?

Why Solitude?

Why is solitude a spiritual discipline?

1. Jesus Did It – Read Mark and pay attention to how often Jesus goes off by himself to pray. Being a devout Jew, Jesus no doubt participated in the daily prayers that all Jewish people participated in but scripture tells us that Jesus did more than the prescribed prayer and needed even more time listening to his Father in the quietness and stillness of time spent alone. I have trouble finding the time for solitude much less the motivation. Jesus was intentional about his time with God.

2. It Exposes Your Mind – Try this, go spend 15 minutes in silence and solitude and record the first thought your mind gravitates toward. This is the baseline for your thought life. If you are like me, this thought was probably not very spiritual. Even if your first thought was spiritual, note how fast it took you to move to a less than spiritual thought. In solitude we come face to face with the reality of our thought life. No wonder we like to stay so distracted. Our thought life is a minefield of temptation, negativity, evil, and laziness.

3. It Makes Room For God – When I was dating my wife, I didn’t like being with her in larger groups with her friends because, being an introvert, I couldn’t compete very well for her attention. I much preferred having her to myself. I could be more comfortable and more like myself. God, of course, can arrange moments any way he likes but he seems to relish times that he can have us to himself. Corporate worship is essential to our relationship with God but it is in our times alone with God that we learn to hear his voice and be impacted by his presence. It is also where we learn to know him. As the scripture says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

We are coming up on the busiest time of the year. Don’t lose sight of your need for solitude. Make this Christmas season filled with meaningful moments, not just with family and friends, but with God.

Making All Things New – Hacked

Henri Nouwen, for all of his scholarship and academic pedigree, was a master at taking aspects of the spiritual life and making them accessible and appealing. I have read his book, The Way of the Heart, many times and his Return of the Prodigal Son is one of my all time favorite books. I have recently completed reading Making All Things New and would highly recommend it as an introduction to the spiritual life and to the use of two important disciplines – solitude and community. I have provided my summary notes below so that you also can draw key insights from this book.

Our Present State

– We all share the same human condition

– Resignation of our spiritual state keeps us from growing

– Our occupations and preoccupations fill our external and internal lives to the brim and leave no room for God

Setting Our Hearts On the Kingdom of God

– A heart set on the Kingdom of God is a heart set on the spiritual life

– Jesus was concerned with one thing: to do the will of his father

– Everything that belongs to Jesus is given for us to receive. John 15:15

– Kingdom of God = rich variety of ways in which God makes his presence known to us

– In the Kingdom, everything is a gift or challenge that strengthens and deepens our new life.

– Hearts set on the kingdom = worries will slowly move to the background

Spiritual Disciplines

– Spiritual Disciplines allow us to become attentive to the voice of God and respond to it

– God constantly speaks but we seldom hear it.

Solitude

– If God is who he says he is then he deserves our undivided attention

– We often use our outer distractions to shield us from interior noises

– We do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside time to be with God and listen to him.

– A day without solitude is less spiritual than a day with it.

– To fight distractions, use scripture as a way to focus.

– Solitude= living active lives in the world while remaining always in the presence of God

Community

– True community – always reveals to us who we are before God.

– Community is obedience practiced together

Conclusion

– Through solitude and community we try to remove the many obstacles which prevent us from listening to God’s voice.

– Spiritual Life – active presence of God’s Spirit in the midst of a worry filled existence

– If we are faithful to our disciplines, a new hunger will make itself known. First, we will start to recognize God’s presence. Then we will be led deeper into the Kingdom of God. Finally, all thing will begin to be made new.

Christian Lifehacker 101: Spiritual Disciplines Are Not Just For Super Christians

Let’s look at two more terms that are often misunderstood – Spiritual Disciplines and the Holy Spirit.

Spiritual Disciplines – If you don’t have a grasp of the concept of Grace then Spiritual Disciplines will seem like a set of legalistic requirements that if you are not practicing indicate your poor faith and lack of devotion. We often feel frustrated because we don’t pray and read our Bibles enough and to have another list of spiritual activities to do just makes this idea of spiritual growth seem more daunting.

In a previous post, we learned that grace is God’s action in our lives to accomplish what we cannot accomplish on our own. Spiritual Disciplines are the best way that I know of to increase God’s action in our lives. For example, by spending more time in silence I give God more room to speak to me and draw closer to me. By fasting, I learn that God has provisions for me that go much farther than the material. By worshiping, I focus my mind on “things above and not on earthly things”. Everyone of these examples creates an avenue for God to work in my life. If I was not intentionally practicing these things then I am reducing God’s place in my life to afterthoughts and pushing him to the periphery of my life.

If you are still put off by the term discipline, then replace it with the word training. No person has ever completed a marathon without some kind of training. It is the same in your Christian life. You will not grow closer to God or become more like Christ by wishing it to happen; you have to train your spirit (non-physical side) so that real change can occur.

Holy Spirit – After reading the above definition you probably have started to wonder where the Holy Spirit fits into all of this.  Though Spiritual Disciplines are an important ingredient in change, they have no power without the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has been given to us for one purpose and that is to make us disciples of Jesus. James Bryan Smith says that, “everything that happens to us in our Christian life is the work of the Holy Spirit.” When you become frustrated with your Christian life, it is the Holy Spirit that nudges you toward a new set of priorities. When you read scripture, it is the Holy Spirit that draws your attention to a certain passage that speaks to a specific need in your life. If you have gotten anything out of these blog postings it is due, not to me, but to the Holy Spirit moving in your heart and mind to be inspired by what is written here.

One of the last things that Jesus tells his disciples is that, “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). This is the role of the Holy Spirit  in our Spiritual Formation – to be an unseen teacher constantly reminding us of what Jesus did and said.