It’s The Most Spiritual Time Of The Year

You may think that you have never practiced Spiritual Disciplines. You would be wrong.

If you have celebrated Christmas, then you have practiced Spiritual Disciplines. All that music, all of those candles, all that giving, all that singing, all of that charity focus, all of that family celebration, all of that scripture reading, all of that gratitude, and sense of anticipation. These are all Spiritual Disciplines that are practiced during Christmas.

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Spiritual Disciplines is a stuffy phrase that is better described as Soul Training Exercises or Spiritual Practices. These are intentional activities that open yourself up to God’s transformation in your life. They are not for the super spiritual or type A personalities trying to show off. They are for followers of Christ who, for example, want to trust more (then try practicing Sabbath), want to break the tyranny of the flesh (try fasting), want to be more Christ minded (try Scripture memorization), or want to be more aware of other’s needs (try service to others).

Christmas, despite all of its commercialization, is the most spiritual time of the year. From Advent reefs to Candlelight services; to live nativity productions; the focus is on an event that is dripping with hope, anticipation of the divine, and the transcendent. There are so many ways to practice opening yourself up to God through these practices. So be intentional this season and make one of these Spiritual Disciplines a point of emphasis.

A good way to get started is to have a good Advent devotional or family study. Here are some of my favorites.

Good Dirt: http://a.co/01vmpMH

d365: http://d365.org/

Advent writings from Ruth Haley Barton: https://www.transformingcenter.org/tag/advent/

 

photo credit: Lutheran Church of Hope

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My Favorite Exercise

If you would have asked me in 2000 what my favorite spiritual discipline would be 16 years later, I would venture the following guesses: solitude and silence or journaling or simplicity or service. These seemed to fit better with my natural personality and interests.

It turns out that my favorite soul-training exercise is scripture memorization and recitation. This surprised me too.

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Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have the entire New Testament memorized or even large chunks memorized but I do have several verses as well as important sections down to memory. But just the act of memorization hasn’t been the only reward, the recitation of these verses has been the transforming element.

If you put me in a tight, awkward, nerve-wracking social spot, you can probably hear me muttering Psalm 23 or the Jesus Prayer. If you see me in better moments of worship, I have probably just recited Galations 2:20 in my head. If I am on a run and need a pick me up, I will start speaking the Lord’s Prayer or Philipians 3:10-11.

I have fended off powerful temptation by speaking the Beatitudes until the temptation fades away. Colossians 3 is a powerful reminder of where my mind, heart, and actions should be focused. I have most of this in my memory.

It is not just scripture I have memorized but powerful statements spoken by the church for the last 2,000 years. Stripped of its denominational baggage, the Apostles Creed tells the story, the gospel, of Jesus, and it has impacted me tremendously.

The best part of the memorization is how these verses and sacred words always seem to bubble up right when I need them to as reminders and markers to who God is and who I am under him.

If you have never given scripture memorization a shot, try one of the following verses. I like to read the verse five times, then write the verse five times, and then take 2-3 words and then see if I can recite them five times. Then the next day, I build off of what I memorized the day before. Give it a shot.

Matthew 9:12-13

Galations 2:20

1 Samuel 16:7

Psalm 46:10

Why You Have To Plan To Grow Up

Each week, I will be providing a glimpse into the discipleship training program that I have just started. This is a way for me to show you what I am learning and also allow you to progress along with me. For more information, I encourage you to read this. Also, if you like what you are reading, will you consider donating so I can continue with the program and be able to provide more helpful content so we can all reach true Christian maturity.


So, if it is true here and here, why does Growing Up still seem so hard? Why does my spiritual life often seem like one step forward and two steps back.

To have the faith of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, shouldn’t I be making more progress than I am?

Here is where we get to the part of the Growing Up plan that involves our input. In order to cultivate our faith muscles and be obedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit we have to participate in Growing Up Exercises (traditionally these are referred to as Spiritual Disciplines or as James Bryan Smith calls them, Soul-Training Exercises).

The concept of Growing Up Exercises is simple – working directly on our spiritual selves so that God can have the largest impact on our lives.

Sure, could God completely change me and turn me from an impatient person to a patient person, from a greedy person to a generous person, from a angry person to a loving person on the spot? He absolutely could and does, on occasion, but his preferred method is to give us his promises and tools and work with us to create change.

Even Paul talks about his need to Grow Up. His life was turned upside down on the Road to Damascus but there were still parts of Paul that needed to Grow Up. So it is with us, and spiritual disciplines allow us to train so that God has the biggest impact.

The list of Growing Up Exercises are vast, you can find the most helpful ones here and here. The issue is not which exercises you are doing but are you in training? Are you working to Grow Up because you know that your call to salvation under Christ is also a call to a mature, transformed, fulfilled life?

God has provided the gifts, tools, and power but there is a part for us to play. So start Growing Up and get training!

 

photo credit: Robert Hruzek

Tactics Can Be Dead Ends

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I have been hesitant in this space to offer recipes and tactics for spiritual growth. You can find those in previous versions of the blog. Tactics and exercises without an understanding of the goal and the purpose behind them easily become instruments for pride and moralism.

Through reading this blog, I hope you have had a slight tug in your spirit and a craving in your soul for a life in Christ that reflects his mighty work and is worthy of his glory. This is no fleeting emotional trick, this is the Holy Spirit pushing you towards Christ.

Without this inspiration, all the tactics in the world will be dead ends. So, I have focused on helping you understand areas of weakness and improvement and sparking your interest in taking steps forward to a mature Christian life.

Book Review: Freedom of Simplicity – Richard Foster

fosterRichard Foster’s book Freedom of Simplicity was written more than 30 years ago. For a book that discusses money, materialism, and possessions, there is not much that needs to be updated.

What strikes me is that so much of what he touches on in this book – moderation, simplicity, and generosity – has not become mainstream 30 years later. Why haven’t Christians embraced a more simple existence? Why is materialism as rampant in the church as it is outside the church? Foster’s words remain timely.

Foster always manages to keep three elements in play when he writes – the biblical, the historical, and the practical. Every book I have ever read by him keeps this same pattern. It is strange to hear occasional critics of Foster describe him as operating outside of Biblical emphasis ; these people must not have read any of his books. In this one, he spends entire chapters on the Old Testament view of money and simplicity as well as the New Testament.

Additionally, I probably know more church history from reading Foster books than just about anything else . This book is full of examples of the Christian church’s effective approaches to money and possessions.

Finally, Foster shares practical steps to removing what is unneeded in our lives and ways to approach a life that is not wanting but is full of what truly matters – God and his kingdom.

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.

 

Three Ways To Simplify Your Spiritual Life

Darren Lwyd through the window The urge to try...

You may think that your spiritual life is the one area that you have maintained

Are you in more than one Bible Study or small group? Are you reading more than one Christian book? Do you stress out when the list of podcast from your favorite preacher start to collect in your iPhone or iPod? If you answered yes to one of these questions, you might be overcommited to spiritual activities.a level of simplicity but is this really the case?

Here are three things you can do simplify your spiritual life.

1. Say no the next time the church makes requests for your time– We all know those people in our churches who are just a vacuum sucking up what the church dishes out without making any real contribution to the church. But the majority of us are well-intentioned and want to help in the work of the church. Every service opportunity sounds like a worthy endeavor, every event sounds enriching, and every ministry could use an extra hand.

What did Jesus tell Martha about her sister Mary? He said that Mary had made the better choice to spend time with Jesus but he didn’t say that Martha had made a bad choice by preparing for her guests.

Martha and Mary had two choices in front of them but neither one of them was a bad choice. One choice was just a better good choice. If we choose to be more selective with our work in the church we are not discrediting what we choose not to participate in but we are letting the Holy Spirit guide us to the better choice for us and God’s plan for his kingdom.

2. Take a walk – Sometimes our scripture reading and study, as well as our small group times can become too academic and full of books and mental gymnastics. We need to find time to capture the peace and stillness of a quiet walk where God can speak and we can listen. We need to recapture that connection with God that gets pushed aside by our academic pursuits.

3. Remember RPW (Read, Pray, Worship) – I am always struck by what the apostles and the early church were able to accomplish without the tools that we see as so necessary today.

They didn’t have the full canon of scripture to draw inspiration and teaching from. They didn’t have seminary degrees to guide their theology. What they did have was the Holy Spirit, prayer, and the Old Testament.

The church activities of the early church centered around prayer, readings from the Old Testament, and worship of the risen Savior. Do we really need to make our spiritual activities much more complicated than read, pray, worship?

23 Things – Week 7: Simplicity

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 requests 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.

This is week seven of 23 Things. See previous posts here and here for the first 15 things and an introduction to 23 Things. If you want to be eligible to win a free book, post a comment under each week’s session. Those who complete all 23 Things will be placed in a drawing for a free book.

23 Things – Week 5: Study

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.

This is week five of 23 Things. See previous posts here and here for the first nine things and an introduction to 23 Things. If you want to be eligible to win a free book, post a comment under each week’s session. Those who complete all 23 Things will be placed in a drawing for a free book.

23 Things – Week 2: Solitude and Silence

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.

This is week two of 23 Things. See last week’s post for the first two things and an introduction to 23 Things. If you want to be eligible to win a free book, post a comment under each week’s session. Those who complete all 23 Things will be placed in a drawing for a free book.