Four Corporate Disciplines

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Welcome back!

welcome back

This is the last of a three-week series on the Spiritual Disiplines. If you missed the previous two posts, you can read about the Four Inward Disciplines here and the Four Outward Disciplines here.
I’m going to post my introduction and disclaimers again, so if you read those last week, feel free to skip ahead:
Just before Advent I did a series on the importance of the Spiritual Disciplines, or Holy Habits, in our spiritual formation. I introduced the idea of abiding in Jesus and how the Disciplines help us to do that, I wrote of why it is important to abide in Jesus in our daily lives here and here, and I articulated how abiding in our daily lives helps us when the storms come here and here.
But what are these Holy Habits? If they truly are essential to our becoming like Jesus, how do we weave them all through our days so that we are awakened to the promised presence of God in our lives?
I’m going to begin with a couple of disclaimers.
First, this is a very brief overview. If you want to go more in depth (and I pray that you do!), I would encourage you to read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. Most of the ideas in these next three posts on some specific Disciplines are from his seminal book, and he writes with much more wisdom and knowledge than I.
Second, you should not try to cram all of the Disciplines into your life at once. Try one or two at a time and find what fits best with your personality, with the way God created you. Once you are comfortable with a few, stretch yourself once in a while and try one that challenges you.
Now that I have dispensed with those, I hope you will stay with me as I take the next three weeks to briefly describe several of the Disciplines. These posts will be meaty, and I probably will not try to weave art throughout as is my wont. After these three weeks, I will return to my normal style. There are, of course, more Spiritual Disciplines than those I will write about. These Holy Habits are simply the things that Jesus did while walking through this life. These Spiritual Disciplines are our way of imitating Christ.
Let us leave surface living to move into the depths of God.

Spiritual Disciplines

Confession

Because of the cross of Jesus, the Discipline of confession is a means of healing and transforming the inner spirit. Part of what makes confession difficult is that we tend to view other believers as saints rather than as sinners. We think that everyone else is much closer to maturity and we are alone in our sinful state. When we believe this in our inner being, we hide our true selves from each other. If, however, we can trust that all are in the same situation, we are freed to “hear the unconditional call of God’s love and to confess our needs openly before our brothers and sisters…In acts of mutual confession we release the power that heals. Our humanity is no longer denied, but transformed.” (Foster)
Confession can be done in a formal manner. After the confession, the one hearing the confession speaks a word of Scripture, such as “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1.9). Then the one confessing is told in clear, authoritative words that he is forgiven and set free from his sin in the name of Christ.
Confession can also be done very informally. You can, of course, confess to the one you have wronged. You can also pray over your life and write down sins that God brings to your mind, then take that list to a trusted friend (choose carefully one with spiritual maturity, wisdom, and the ability to keep a confidence) and confess those things to them. The friend should then tear up your paper as a symbol of absolution and pray a prayer of healing over you.
When you make a confession, you should begin by inviting God to examine your conscience and show you areas that need His forgiving. Be sure to be specific rather than making generalized confessions. Sorrow is also necessary to a confession. Not necessarily the emotion, although that might be involved, but a deep regret at having wounded the heart of the Father. One last component is a resolution to avoid sin. “In the Discipline of confession we ask God to give us a yearning for holy living, a hatred for unholy living.” (Foster)
Foster makes one last note on confession: that we should be sure there is an end to it. Rather than falling into a permanent habit of self-condemnation, confession should end in joy and the celebration in the forgiveness of sins.

Worship

To worship is “to know, to feel, to experience the resurrected Christ in the midst of the gathered community.” (Foster) It is the response to the love of God. It is how we are a priesthood of believers, reflecting the praise of creation back to the Creator.
Part of worship is preparation, going through your day with a sense of expectancy that God is there and that you will see His presence. Try to spend every moment aware of God, speaking with Him, thanking Him, thinking of Him. When you have heard God speak in many ways throughout your everyday life, you will expect Him to speak to you in worship as well. When you have allowed God to be in charge of your everyday life, you will expect Him to be in charge of your worship as well. Be sure to worship in private so that when you enter the corporate worship service you are ready with a holy expectancy.
In his book, Foster gives a few steps to help in the experience of worship. First, learn to practice the presence of God daily. Try to pray without ceasing, and be sure to have personal times of worship and Bible study and confession. Second, have many different experiences of worship. Worship alone, worship in small groups, and worship in large gatherings. Third, find ways to really prepare for the gathered experience of worship. Go to bed early the night before, arrive early to pray over the leaders and those seated near you, pray for God to help you let go of distractions. Foster gives four other steps that I do not have the space to repeat here, but those I mentioned should help get you started.

Guidance

I long to be a Spirit-led person, and I imagine that you do as well. Yet even if I become directly guided by the Spirit, this will never be sufficient until there is also a knowledge of the active leading of the Spirit together. There is an emphasis in our culture on individualism that does not exist in Scripture when it speaks of the people of God. So many stories in the Bible speak of God leading people as a people, not as individuals.
When you feel the Spirit leading you in a direction, ask a few trusted friends to pray with you and seek the will of God together with you. When you have trouble sensing the direction in which God wants you to move, gather a group of people who know you well, have spiritual maturity, and are able to be honest with you, and let them pray over you.
There are many churches that practice Spirit-directed unity. Issues are approached with the understanding that the mind of the Spirit can be known, so the church gathers to pray and talk. No decision is made until all of the members are of one mind. Sometimes this takes a long time of patient waiting and praying, but they keep at it until all sense the same direction from the Spirit. It is a beautiful picture of how Christians are to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4.3).

Celebration

Jesus entered this world in celebration (“I bring you good news of great joy, which shall be for all people.”) and left this world giving His joy to His disciples (“These things I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”). “Celebration brings joy into life, and joy makes us strong…We cannot continue long in anything without it.” (Foster) All of the Holy Habits should be characterized by thanksgiving and joy. Foster says that he believes joy is the motor of the Disciplines, that without joyous celebration to infuse the others, we will sooner or later abandon them.
Joy is found in daily obedience to Christ. Without obedience working itself into the ordinary fabric of our lives, our celebrating is empty. When we obey, however, when our families are filled with love and service toward one another, we all are filled with joy and celebration.
Paul tells us in Philippians to rejoice always by first having no worry for anything, just as Jesus told us. We are to trust that God truly has the ability to care for our needs. Paul then tells us that we are to speak with God in prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving. We can rely on God to provide for us and therefore we can live in a spirit of celebration. He also, though, tells us to set our minds on all that is good in life. When we determine to dwell on the excellent and the lovely, when we fill our lives with simple good things and constantly thank God for them, we will be full of joy.
This decision takes an act of will, which is why celebration is a Discipline. It is not something that just appears in our hearts, but the result of a conscious way of thinking and living. How do we celebrate? Sing, dance, shout! Make noise in worship and adoration. Laugh. Enjoy clever puns and good comedy. Savor the creative gift of imagination, both in ourselves and in others. Delight in the arts: sculptures, paintings, music, plays, all of these are gifts. Make family events and holidays into times of celebration and thanksgiving.
We made it!
We’ve reached the end of this series on the Spiritual Disciplines. Next week I won’t be so lengthy, I promise! I hope, though, that some of this was helpful to you. I pray that you will choose one or two of these to begin experimenting with. These are the practices that, when made into habit, will allow the Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ. I will leave you with one last quote from Foster to sum it all up:
We have seen how meditation heightens our spiritual sensitivity which, in turn, leads us into prayer. Very soon we discover that prayer involves fasting as an accompanying means. Informed by these three Disciplines, we can effectively move into study which gives us discernment about ourselves and the world in which we live. Through simplicity we live with others in integrity. Solitude allows us to be genuinely present to people when we are with them. Through submission we live with others without manipulation, and through service we are a blessing to them. Confession frees us from ourselves and releases us to worship. Worship opens the door to guidance. All of the Disciplines freely exercised bring forth the doxology of celebration. ~ Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline
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Four Outward Disciplines

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Welcome back!
Welcome
This is week two of a three-week series on the Spiritual Disiplines. If you missed last week’s post on the four inward Disciplines, you might want to read it here first.
I’m going to post my introduction and disclaimers again, so if you read those last week, feel free to skip ahead:
Just before Advent I did a series on the importance of the Spiritual Disciplines, or Holy Habits, in our spiritual formation. I introduced the idea of abiding in Jesus and how the Disciplines help us to do that, I wrote of why it is important to abide in Jesus in our daily lives here and here, and I articulated how abiding in our daily lives helps us when the storms come here and here.
But what are these Holy Habits? If they truly are essential to our becoming like Jesus, how do we weave them all through our days so that we are awakened to the promised presence of God in our lives?
I’m going to begin with a couple of disclaimers.
First, this is a very brief overview. If you want to go more in depth (and I pray that you do!), I would encourage you to read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. Most of the ideas in these next three posts on some specific Disciplines are from his seminal book, and he writes with much more wisdom and knowledge than I.
Second, you should not try to cram all of the Disciplines into your life at once. Try one or two at a time and find what fits best with your personality, with the way God created you. Once you are comfortable with a few, stretch yourself once in a while and try one that challenges you.
Now that I have dispensed with those, I hope you will stay with me as I take the next three weeks to briefly describe several of the Disciplines. These posts will be meaty, and I probably will not try to weave art throughout as is my wont. After these three weeks, I will return to my normal style. There are, of course, more Spiritual Disciplines than those I will write about. These Holy Habits are simply the things that Jesus did while walking through this life. These Spiritual Disciplines are our way of imitating Christ.
Let us leave surface living to move into the depths of God.
Outward Disciplines

Simplicity

Simplicity is an inward heart-attitude that results in an outward way of life. Both the Old and New Testaments are full of commands and exhortations regarding our attachment to money, possessions, and status. We are to be detached from the world because of our secure attachment to God. Simplicity “reorients our lives so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying us.” (Foster) This Discipline frees us to receive God’s provisions as a gift to be shared freely.
The central idea behind simplicity is to seek God’s kingdom first and trust that everything necessary will come in its proper turn.
Practicing simplicity first looks like recognizing that everything we have is a gift from God, that we are completely dependent upon Him. It looks like recognizing that only God can truly care for everything we have. Yes, we can lock the house when we leave, but we cannot keep the burglar from breaking a window. It finally looks like recognizing that all we have is to be available to others. “If our goods are not available to the community when it is clearly right and good, then they are stolen goods.” (Foster) Startling words. If, however, we trust that God is who Jesus says He is, then we can be free from fear and able to share freely.
Foster describes ten principles for the outward expression of simplicity. I will relate the first three to give you a start on practicing this Habit. First, buy things for their usefulness rather than their status. Purchase cars and clothes for their utility rather than their fashion or prestige. Drive your cars and wear your clothes until they wear out and stop using them to impress people. Second, reject anything that is producing an addiction in you. Soda and chocolate, television and social media are all examples of things that can be addictive. If there is anything you find you cannot do without, give it away. Simplicity is freedom, not slavery. Third, develop a habit of giving things away. If there is some possession to which you find yourself becoming too attached, give it to someone who needs it.

Solitude

Many of us have a fear of being alone that drives us to noise and crowds, podcasts and television. Solitude frees us from this fear by giving us an inner fulfillment wherever we are, whether by ourselves or in a mass of people. We know that we are never alone. When we practice the Discipline of solitude, we gain the ability to carry that peaceful solitude with us anywhere.
In solitude, we choose to be alone in order to hear the whisper of God. Jesus sought out solitude during His ministry as a regular practice. In order to practice solitude, we must also practice silence, which always involves an attitude of listening. When we have learned the Discipline of silence in our practice of solitude, we learn when to speak and when to be silent in the presence of others and thus gain control over that most powerful part of our body, the tongue.
Practically, begin to take advantage of the little moments of solitude all through your day. The few moments in bed before the rest of the family wakes up, the drive to and from work, the nap times of your children, a quick walk outside alone. Find a place in your home and dedicate it to solitude so that everyone in your family knows that when someone is in that place, they should be left alone. Spend time there with God. Take a whole evening and withdraw from company to listen to God. It is the Discipline of solitude that allows us to know Him more.

Submission

This is one that can be and has been horribly abused in our world. Rather than being a law we are required to follow, however, the Discipline of submission sets us free from the burden of needing to always have our own way. Submission allows us to value other people, to love them unconditionally, to be able to give up our rights for the good of others. It sets us free from anger and bitterness when someone doesn’t treat us the way we think they should treat us. In practicing the Habit of submission, we are following Jesus’ statement that “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Foster rightly points out that the limit of submission is the point at which it becomes destructive, such as a wife being asked to punish her child unreasonably or a child being asked to aid an adult in some unlawful practice.
We must yield ourselves first, of course, to God Himself and to the Word of God in Scripture. Next we submit to our family. Make allowances for each other; commit to listen well to and to share with those in your own home. We then submit to our neighbors as we meet them in our daily lives. Small acts of kindness are opportunities to practice submission: sharing a meal, shoveling their driveway, chatting with them about their day. We submit in many other ways to many other groups of people, and if you want to dig into this Habit a little deeper, go to Foster’s book.

Service

As Jesus demonstrated submission at the cross, He demonstrated service when He washed His disciples feet at the Last Supper. Anyone who has any authority over another person (which, I would argue, would be almost all of us) must practice the Discipline of service to those under our authority. Service comes from a relationship with the Triune God deep within us, which frees us from serving from self-righteousness. We listen to divine urgings without striving to impress. We find it impossible to distinguish between small and large service. We rest in the hiddenness of our service.
In our busy, daily lives, service often is made up of small things. This can be more difficult than large acts of service, as small acts require constant sacrifice. Taking a meal to a family who just had a baby, running an errand for a neighbor, even guarding the reputation of others by refusing to participate in gossip, these are all acts of service. We can sit and listen to a friend, invite someone into our home, or simply treat those we meet with courtesy.
There is a prayer that many people use that might be helpful as you begin to practice this Habit of service: “Lord Jesus, as it would please You bring me someone today whom I can serve.” Use this prayer as your own experiment with this Discipline!
I pray that these descriptions and ideas are helpful to you in this quest to know God more, to be transformed into His likeness. Join me next week for the last essay in this series, the “Corporate Disciplines”.
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Four Inward Disciplines

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Just before Advent I did a series on the importance of the Spiritual Disciplines, or Holy Habits, in our spiritual formation. I introduced the idea of abiding in Jesus and how the Disciplines help us to do that, I wrote of why it is important to abide in Jesus in our daily lives here and here, and I articulated how abiding in our daily lives helps us when the storms come here and here.
But what are these Holy Habits? If they truly are essential to our becoming like Jesus, how do we weave them all through our days so that we are awakened to the promised presence of God in our lives?
I’m going to begin with a couple of disclaimers.
First, this is a very brief overview. If you want to go more in depth (and I pray that you do!), I would encourage you to read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. Most of the ideas in these next three posts on some specific Disciplines are from his seminal book, and he writes with much more wisdom and knowledge than I.
Second, you should not try to cram all of the Disciplines into your life at once. Try one or two at a time and find what fits best with your personality, with the way God created you. Once you are comfortable with a few, stretch yourself once in a while and try one that challenges you.
Now that I have dispensed with those, I hope you will stay with me as I take the next three weeks to briefly describe several of the Disciplines. These posts will be meaty, and I probably will not try to weave art throughout as is my wont. After these three weeks, I will return to my normal style. There are, of course, more Spiritual Disciplines than those I will write about. These Holy Habits are simply the things that Jesus did while walking through this life. These Spiritual Disciplines are our way of imitating Christ.
Let us leave surface living to move into the depths of God.
Inward Disciplines

Meditation

Our world is full of busyness, full of hurrying, full of distraction. If we are to move deeper into the things of God, we must learn the Discipline of meditation. Foster describes Christian meditation as the ability to hear God’s voice and obey His word. We engage in specific meditation exercises at specific times, but for the aim of bringing that reality into all of life.
It is helpful to practice this Discipline every day, for it does take Discipline and practice to get better at focusing yourself. Find a quiet place, free from distractions. Find a position that is comfortable. Sometimes you can close your eyes; other times you can look at nature or other works of beauty.
Meditation on Scripture is a good way to begin. Take a verse, or a phrase, or even a single word, and dwell on it. Mull it over. Seek to hear the God who spoke that word speak to you. Use your imagination to place yourself in the scene.
There are more ways of meditating, and Foster describes them in detail. Most of all, be patient with yourself. You are swimming against the tide of culture. It is well worth it.

Prayer

Prayer is one of the non-negotiable Holy Habits.
Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us…The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ. ~ Foster
In his book, Foster sticks with intercessory prayer (praying for others) while acknowledging that there are many other forms of prayer.
We must learn to pray. It does not come naturally. You are free to question, experiment, even fail. I must admit to you that intercessory prayer is a very difficult thing for me. I have seen many prayers go unanswered, at least in the way that I and those who prayed with me hoped, so I will admit that I do not understand this kind of prayer. I can only, in this space, summarize what Foster says and let you question and experiment and come to your own conclusions.
Once we understand that praying involves a learning process, we are able to continue to try without giving up. If our requests are not granted, we seek to discover what went wrong, whether we prayed wrongly, or something within us needs changing, or persistence is needed. Then we try again.
One of the most important pieces of learning to pray is listening. If we are not listening to God, are not attune to His Spirit, our prayers are vain repetitions. Foster says that as we listen, as we meditate, it is when we have an inner sense of compassion rise up, a compulsion to intercede, that we have a yes from God to pray for the person.
Pray simply. Pray while imagining a healed situation. Pray while imagining Jesus standing over the person and healing them. Every night I have begun to go in to each of my children while they are sleeping, place my hand on them, and ask Jesus to flow through my hand and heal any emotional trauma and hurt feeling they might have received that day. It is, I suppose, my current experiment.

Fasting

Our culture today is completely opposed to any form of self-denial. Fasting, therefore, unless done as a form of weight loss, seems obsolete. Jesus, however, seems to assume that those of us who follow Him will fast regularly (although it is not explicitly commanded). There are both full fasts (abstaining from all food and drink except for water) and partial fasts (a restriction of diet but not total abstention) mentioned in the Bible. Mostly fasting is private, except for a few times of public fasts for specific purposes.
Fasting must center on God. It must above all be God-initiated and God-focused. Secondary benefits must never replace God as the center. Foster writes that more than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is hugely helpful for us who want to be controlled by the Spirit alone. Fasting is a reminder that God alone sustains us.
Begin slowly if you have never fasted before. Try a partial 24 hour fast, perhaps from lunch to lunch, which would mean that you are only skipping two meals, and drink fruit juices. As you go about your normal day while fasting, pray and worship. Make every task sacred by the hunger you feel; allow your physical hunger to awaken you to the presence of God. After trying a partial fast several times, try a normal 24 hour fast. Drink only water, but lots of it. If you can, use your meal time for meditation and prayer.
If you feel that God is calling you to a longer fast after this, I would use the recommendations in Celebration of Discipline as a guideline.

Study

Lastly for this week is the Discipline of study. Paul says in Romans that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. The Discipline of study is the primary way in which we renew our minds in order to transform them. If we do not know the truth of God, if we do not know Him and His promises through the study of His Word, we cannot be changed to look like Him.
Foster writes of four steps of study. First is repetition, which regularly channels the mind in a specific direction. Second is concentration, which centers the mind and focuses the attention on what is being studied. Comprehension is the third, which brings us to a new level of insight and discernment. The last step is reflection, which defines the significance of what we are studying and allows us to see things from God’s perspective. All of this requires humility, the acknowledgement that we are only the student, dependent on God for understanding and insight.
Study is different from devotional reading. Study seeks to understand what the Scripture means; devotional reading seeks to apply what it means to me.
There are many methods of study. Take a major book of the Bible and read it straight through, noticing the structure and flow of the book. Jot down thoughts and areas of difficulty to return to later. Take a smaller book and read it through each day for a month. Write down what you find. Use Bible dictionaries and commentaries, many of which can be found online or at your library. Study some of the classics of Christian literature. Once again, Foster gives many more ideas for how to practice the Discipline of study which I do not have the space or inclination to repeat.
Still with me? These are all Disciplines that Foster categorized as “Inward Disciplines”. Next week I’ll summarize the “Outward Disciplines”. I pray you will meet me here.
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Sorrow Wrapped in Joy

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My third baby girl turns five on Monday.

IMG_3228

She was a New Year’s baby, the first of the year in our county.  In my own opinion, it would be difficult to find a better way to bring joy and hope to a new year than with a perfect baby.
Newborn
She passed her Papa on her way to us.
Papa
My dear friend, Martha Cook, said it well:  And so your Papa stood at Heaven’s Gate.  He saw as she passed by.  He blew a kiss.  “Samantha,” he said, “God is sending you to the best of families.”  Then he turned and entered into the arms of the God he served.  Well done.  Well done.
It is a truth of this world that joy is wrapped up with sorrow.  You cannot have one without the other.
It is the way of this world and it is the way of our God.  He loves us, knowing that the joy of His love will be enveloped in sorrow.  He loves us while He bears our grief and our sorrow.
Weeping in Gethsemane
If God Himself bears both joy and sorrow, how can we expect anything different?
Yet we do.  We expect joy without sorrow, love without grief.  When the grief and sorrow come, we shake our fists at this God and ask why?
And we should ask why, but a why of a different kind.  Why, God?  Why would You choose to love us when we continually turn our faces from You?  Why would You choose to take our grief and sorrow upon Yourself?  Why did You come to our rescue instead of leaving us to the fate we brought on ourselves?
On the Cross
We will not, in this life, have joy without sorrow.  We can either try to live this life with God or without Him.  With Him, the joys are brighter and the sorrows are lighter.
Walking with Christ
So breathe in and breathe out.
We receive what You give; We give thanks for what You give.
Our Living Water
Above all, we give thanks for You.

edited from the archives

Art credits: Gethsemane by Carl Bloch; Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Going to Emmaus by Robert Zund; Christ and Samaritan Woman by Henryk Siemiradzki

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This Flickering Hope

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O Come
Flame
We cry out and we plead
O Come
Flickering
We need You. We hope for You.
O Come
Hope
Our hope is a flickering flame.
There are no bonfires of hope in a world like ours, only flames that flicker.
Sometimes our flame flickers so much that it seems, at times, to go out completely.

Hold on

Yet even if the flickering grows faint, hold on. It will not be extinguished altogether.
He promised.
…a bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice.
Hold on.
He will come
He promised He will come and set things right.
He is at this moment working through us – through you – to set it right.
Emmanuel
His promise was proved by His coming the first time. As a baby.
As Emmanuel.
God with us.
God with us
He established His Word as true by making His Word take on flesh and dwell among us.
God with us.
Emmanuel.
O Come
O Come
We raise our arms to the heavens in a desperate cry of
O Come
He replies, I did come and I will come again.
Emmanuel has promised.
Hope
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This Industrious Advent

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It is a quiet hush, this advent, but a hush that is expectant.
hush
It is a silent waiting, this advent, but a waiting that is heavy.
waiting
It is the upraised conductor’s baton before the explosive opening salvo.
advent
Don’t let the quiet waiting deceive you. The very idea of the God who spoke light into existence becoming an eyeless embryo swimming in the dark of a womb is astounding.
Don’t let the season itself distract you. The caroling and feasting, the decorating and gifting, it all tries to smother the startling significance of advent.
bling
Candy cane 2We must try to “restore that quietness, that inner peace, that willingness to wait unfulfilled in the dark, in the midst of a season that conspires to do nothing but fling bling and tinsel at us right through December.” ~ Malcolm Guite
Find your quiet moments and stay focused.
quiet
Advent celebrates a visitation to our world. A visitation that will happen again.
The visitation of our God upon this little planet of ours happened once and will happen again and we are to work to bring it about.
It is not a passive waiting. It is a heavy and expectant waiting. A waiting into which we are welcomed.
That is why, behind all our fun and games at Christmastime, we should not try to escape a sense of awe, almost a sense of fright, at what God has done…Nothing can alter the fact that we live on a visited planet. ~ J. B. Phillips
This advent is a waiting in which we are to pray and work for the spreading of God’s kingdom, for His will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven.
This advent is a waiting in which we are to be awake and alert so that His coming will not be a horror to us but an unending joy.
It is a quiet hush, this advent, but a hush that is focused.
It is a silent waiting, this advent, but a waiting that is industrious.
advent
E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.

All photographs copyright Made Sacred 2017

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Abiding in Great Storms Part Two

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For the past several weeks in this space we have been talking about the vital importance of abiding in Jesus. This will be the last week of this series until after Christmas, when I hope to begin writing about a few specific Spiritual Disciplines. Perfect, perhaps, for the New Year.
If you would like to catch up, you can read the introduction here, the first part of abiding in daily life here, the second part of abiding in daily life here, and the first part of abiding in great storms here.
John Donne shows us how beautiful and natural it can be when we have steeped ourselves in Holy Habits and are thus able to allow God to transform us through our sufferings rather than to turn away from God in our bitterness or anger.
suffering
Donne is best known as a great English poet, but he was also a cleric in the Church of England. In 1623, he suffered through a serious illness. So serious, in fact, that he believed he was on his deathbed. During this illness he wrote Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, a book that combines Donne’s brilliant writing with his devotion to Christ to illuminate the ways in which we can respond to suffering when we have deliberately given over the time in our days to the Holy Spirit.
John_Donne_by_Isaac_Oliver
John Donne had a love for and a knowledge of Scripture that is stunning. He interacted with Scripture throughout his book as the Word of God to him, asking a question, quoting a Scripture in return, then responding once again. It is not as though he left all fear behind – he was honest about his weaknesses and his doubts – yet the Holy Spirit clearly was strengthening him, giving him hope, holding out truth to sustain him.
When he wrote of pain and tragedy, he admitted that he was fearful, but emphasized the hope also contained within: …because Thy hand being upon me, Thou wilt never let me fall out of Thy hand.
He understood the hope in death that we have in Christ: When one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. 
Donne also wrote of the way God uses suffering to shape us, to mold the dark and dull thing that we are into something extraordinary, something full of light: Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. 
beauty in pain
Peter Kreeft, in Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing says something similar: (It is) all for our good, the finished product, God’s work of art, the Kingdom of Heaven. There is nothing outside heaven except hell. Earth is not outside heaven; it is heaven’s workshop, heaven’s womb. 
heaven's womb
The point, after all, of the Spiritual Disciplines is to allow God to reveal Himself to us, to give us Himself, to change us into the likeness of His own Self. When we are faithful to practice the Disciplines, the Holy Spirit changes our own self in a way that allows God to fill us with His presence when we are experiencing pain and suffering.
This, God’s presence, is what we need when we are struck by a sudden storm, but it is not what we desire. What we desire is for the storm to vanish, leaving sunshine and rainbows in its wake.
our storms
When we are not abiding in Christ, we can be blindsided when the storm does not vanish after we have prayed.
When Christ’s words are not abiding in us, we can deceive ourselves into believing that we are safe and when the ugly occurs to us or those we love, we are surprised and angry. We strike back at God, even if we claimed not to have believed in Him before, putting Him on trial for the brokenness we see around us.
Job did the same.
When disaster struck, stripping him of material possessions, his children, even his health, he demanded answers from God.
If only I knew where to find Him; if only I could go to His dwelling I would state my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what He would answer me and consider what He would say.
Job demanded explanation and God responded not by answering his demands but by giving him a guided tour of creation.
creation
creation
creation
creation
It seems unsatisfactory. Job wanted to know why his world is burning to ashes around him and God showed Job the wonders of the zoological world and the stunning beauties of the galaxies and told him, I did this! He showed Job the mysteries of our world and our universe and said to him, I did this!
When Job wanted, even demanded, an answer from God, God gave him something much more beautiful than a simple answer.
He gave Job the same answer that He gives to all who ask, to all who seek: Himself.
After God had revealed Himself to Job through all of His wonders, Job said,
My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You.
His seeing, his knowing came only through great pain.
seeing pain
Is this the only way to know?  I truly believe that when we choose a holy kind of suffering, a suffering that Jesus also chose, a suffering through the Holy Disciplines, we can know God in a more beautiful and less scarring way.
The Holy Habits can also lead to a darkness of their own.
We are, after all, in a spiritual war, and God wants us, in the end, to love Him rather than only what comfort He brings to us.
Yet whether our suffering is chosen or unwelcomed, at just the right time, just when we think that we will never find a way out of the darkness and are ready to give up all hope of ever catching a glimpse of light or beauty again, God responds by disclosing not explanation, but the light of the world in a deeper way than we have ever seen before.
seeing God
This is what the Spiritual Disciplines do: they allow the Holy Spirit to change our very hearts so that God can use the ugliness of this world to open us up so that we can receive what is truly the deepest desire of our hearts.
God Himself.
Conclusion
There are things in life which are common to us all.
We all have pieces of our lives that are ordinary, common, and mundane.
We all have pieces of our lives that bring pain, suffering, and ugliness.
We all dream of home.
Whether we have experienced a true home or have only read about such things, we all dream of a place where we are loved unconditionally and are safe. We dream of a place of light and warmth, of comfort and contentment.
home
We dream, whether we know it or not, of finding our home in Jesus.
We must be taught how to abide in Christ. We cannot even do this much on our own. We must watch Jesus, imitate His life, do the things He did in order to learn how to abide in Him as He abides in the Father. What we call the Spiritual Disciplines are simply the spiritual activities that Jesus practiced while on this earth.
When we weave these same Habits into our days we are simply following Jesus. We are following Jesus as He lived out His everyday life and we are following Jesus as He went through the kind of suffering most of us will never know. We are following Jesus as He lived the life of all humanity.
It is this following after Jesus that opens us up to knowing God.
disciplines
These Holy Habits allow the space in our lives and our hearts for the Holy Spirit to transform us into the people God created us to be, the people who know God and dwell in Him and look just like Him.
Our world desperately needs “little Christs”, people who bear much fruit because they are abiding in Jesus.
Our world, the little piece of the world where we live, is full of people who are drowning in the loneliness of the ordinary.
Our world is full of people who are being crushed by the ugliness of pain.
Jesus is the light of home that shines out, drawing us into Himself.
abide in Jesus
He calls us who claim to follow Him to be the people who abide, the people who reflect His light to the bit of world in which He placed us.
Jesus calls us to make Him our home so that through us, others can come Home too.

Art credits: painting of John Donne by Isaac Oliver; storm, river, and mountain photos by Kirk Sewell; first home photo by Maria Langer from www.aneclecticmind.com; second home photo from www.oliverstravels.com; all other photos copyright Made Sacred 2017

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Abiding in Great Storms

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

For the past several weeks in this space we have been talking about the vital importance of abiding in Jesus. If you would like to catch up, you can read the introduction here, the first part of abiding in daily life here, and the second part of abiding in daily life here. This week we will speak about how the practice of abiding in daily life gives us roots and a safe place when the storms come.
It is this daily abiding in Christ, largely through the Spiritual Disciplines, that keeps us safe in Him when storms come.
Storm Clouds
Jesus certainly promised that storms would come.
storms
When we have made Jesus our home through the mundane, yet sacred routines of daily life, we have His peace and His joy deep within us. We emerge safely on the other side, though perhaps a bit battered and wind-torn.
When we have neglected these Habits, however, when we have claimed busyness as a reason for leaving them behind, we are left out on the doorstep to bear the full brunt of the storm. We may eventually still emerge on the other side, but will carry many more wounds into the rest of our lives.
suffering
One thing that is certain in this world is that life is full of pain. Our world is broken, and time is broken, and we are broken, and the result of all the brokenness is pain. From loneliness to cancer, from dealing with tantrums to fleeing from hurricanes, we are all suffering.
pain
Jesus didn’t try to hide this from us. In this world you will have trouble. He didn’t pull a bait-and-switch to convince us that following Him would make our lives rosy. In fact, He talks a lot about carrying a cross around as we follow Him.
Some of this suffering is chosen. Fasting. Simplicity. Solitude. This kind of holy suffering is what we choose when we decide to practice the Spiritual Disciplines.
Some would go so far as to say that suffering is necessary to living a holy life. Jesus’ own words seem to bear this out: If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself…
cross
This chosen suffering is what creates the space for the Holy Spirit to transform and strengthen our interior world so that we are able to stand up under the pain of the exterior world in order to serve it.
An Abba (an older, spiritual mentor) from the 5th century A.D., St. Mark the Ascetic, put it this way:
He who does not choose to suffer for the sake of truth will be chastened more painfully by suffering he has not chosen. 
Whether our suffering is chosen or unwelcomed, the way we choose to respond to suffering matters.
Chosen suffering
Over and over, Scripture tells us that the choices we make in this life ripple forward into the next (Matthew 25.31-46, as an example). What we do with the ebbs and flows in our lives matter.
From interruptions to worries, from marriage to loss, every choice we make in response to our circumstances is changing us. Changing the very essence of ourselves into something different than what we are now.
C. S. Lewis said it best:
Taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.
Choosing to live these Holy Habits, activities like Scripture reading and prayer, solitude and worship, are how God the Holy Spirit transforms us into people of His Kingdom. People who, by obedience and love, are helping the Kingdom, God’s rule, to break through here and now.
Prayer
Scripture
Solitude
Paul speaks all through Philippians of living now as though we were already perfected. One habit leads to another which leads to another which suddenly leads to hope and love breaking through into our world. When we deliberately choose these Disciplines, we slowly become the sort of person who naturally and authentically follows after God.
It takes work, it takes choice by painful choice to build these habits, but the more work we put in, the more natural it becomes, and the easier it is to abide when the world is hurling its worst at us.
Next week, if you are gracious enough to join me, I will give some specific examples of people who abide through great storms in their lives.

Art credits: both storm photographs are by Kirk Sewell; photograph of Christ on the cross sculpture by asta kr; all other photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2017

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Abiding in our Daily Lives Part Two

If you missed my introduction to practicing the Spiritual Disciplines or part one of using the Spiritual Disciplines to help us abide with Christ in our everyday lives, you can click on the links to read or listen to those.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

One example of using the Holy Habits to remain mindful of God throughout our days, even in the most mindless of chores, comes from the writings of Brother Lawrence.
Brother_Lawrence_in_the_kitchen
Many have found wisdom in the actions and words of the seventeenth century monk.  Brother Lawrence wasn’t the most important monk in the monastery; on the contrary, he was the dishwasher.
This dishwasher for an entire monastery certainly knew how commonplace and uninteresting such tasks could be, yet his thoughts and writings about living in the presence of God at all times, even while washing dishes, influenced many around him and have continued to influence Christ-followers to this day. 
For Brother Lawrence, standing at the kitchen sink was as sacred as kneeling at the altar.  Both were opportunities to commune with Christ in an uninterrupted fellowship, both brought him a flow of peace as ceaseless as a river.
The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great  tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament. ~ Practicing the Presence of God
In the same passage from the gospel of John in which Jesus speaks of abiding in Him, He reminds us that apart from Me you can do nothing. Whether you are able to find large spaces of time in which to practice these Habits regularly or whether you simply wrap your day in them through small ways, God the Holy Spirit uses this regular abiding in Him to increase our dependence on Him.
abide in Him
They force us to rely on God to provide for this day only.
God transforms us in the now, through the present moment, and this sacred routine keeps us rooted in this present moment when we mostly desire either to dwell in the past or fret about the future.
Thomas Moore spoke of the sacredness of this routine when he said that “the ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”  
daily life
daily routine
Frederick Buechner also spoke of ordinary life as a fathomless mystery.  He admonishes us to listen to the ordinary, everyday life and see it for what it truly is:
In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
When we find our way to the holy and hidden heart of our daily routine, we find that Jesus truly is before all things, that Christianity is not compartmentalized and relegated to a few hours on Sunday.  Our Christian faith is a way of life.  It is a way of doing life, a way of living life in relationship to the One who is the way, the truth, and the life.
Caravaggio
God asks not for a few hours on Sunday.  He asks not even for a few moments each day.  He is Lord and He demands nothing less than all of us.  It seems arduous, yet He promises that His burden is light and so we find, after all, that our greatest joy and our deepest peace is found on those days during which we are most successful in inviting Him into every moment of our day.
We find, too, that His command to abide in Him is, in the end, a promise. A promise that one day we will be fully His, transformed to be fully like Him, and we cooperate with this transformation as we do the things that Jesus did, watching to see what His habits and practices were and imitating them.
abide in Christ
Christ is before all things, even toilets, and in Him all things hold together.  All things were created by Him and for Him. If all things are created, then all things are sacred and can be used by God to awaken us to His presence and to transform us into His likeness.

Art credit: Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2017

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Abiding in our Daily Lives

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Paul says that Christ is before all things and that in Him all things hold together, yet it is difficult to believe that God could be a part of something as ordinary as cleaning toilets, as tedious as reading yet one more rendition of Goodnight, Moon.
mundane
ordinary
Yet if we are to abide in Christ, as I wrote about last week, these are exactly the kinds of activities in which we are to look for Him. If God is present in the singing of a hymn, He is also present in the folding of a spouse’s shirt.
A.W. Tozer, in The Pursuit of God, directs our eyes to Jesus, pointing out that if Christ’s claim to only do the things that please the Father is true, then this would also include such prosaic activities as eating, sleeping, and being with friends.
all to the glory
Tozer writes that Paul anticipated an objection to his command to “do all to the glory of God”. The objection is that there are sacred and secular separations in our lives, and Paul fully negated that objection by specifically including eating and drinking in his command. Every act of our lives should be done to God’s glory.
Of such a one it may be said that every act of his life is or can be as truly sacred as prayer or baptism or the Lord’s Supper. To say this is not to bring all acts down to one dead level; it is rather to lift every act up into a living kingdom and turn the whole life into a sacrament. ~ Tozer
Turn the whole life into a sacrament.
It is a beautiful idea and one that fits perfectly with Scripture. God clearly cares about the menial details of our lives.
God cares
all is sacred
If any doubts this, he only must read the book of Leviticus.  
In Leviticus, God gives minute instructions to the Israelites concerning how to go about daily life, from how to care for articles of clothing to how to work in a vineyard.  He tells them how to clean cooking pots that have come into contact with an insect and what to do when their tent gets moldy.  He tells those who work the land not to harvest the fields too thoroughly but to leave a little for the poor.  
It turns out that He does indeed care about every moment; He cares about even our everyday routine.  He cares so much about us that He wants to be present to us in everything we do.  
There is, it turns out, no separation between sacred and secular. All is made sacred and all is in Christ.
So how do we become awake to His presence in our daily lives? How do we learn to abide in Jesus so that there is no place of our lives in which He does not dwell, no place in which we walk without dwelling in Him?
After all, as Evelyn Underhill says, “The spiritual life is simply the life in which all we do comes from the centre, where we are anchored in God.” How do we live anchored to God?
prayer
Scripture intake
Largely, though not entirely, through the Spiritual Disciplines.
As we practice the Holy Habits, we learn to become aware of God’s presence in every area of our lives. We wake up to God’s presence and His purposes in our lives and our world. Rather than going through our days mindful only of the world we can see, as we weave in the Holy Habits we become more fully conscious of how completely intertwined are the physical and spiritual worlds.
A.W. Tozer speaks of this intertwining in The Pursuit of God. He says that the spiritual world is real in the same sense that the visible world is real.
We must break the evil habit of ignoring the spiritual. We must shift our interest from the seen to the unseen.
Tozer tells us that the Kingdom of God is not some distant future promise, but a present reality, a parallel to the seen world. The Spiritual Disciplines help the eyes of our soul to see this kingdom everywhere we turn.
I’ll give an example of using the Spiritual Disciplines to help us see God in our every day lives, as well as expand this idea a little more next week. To be continued…

Art credits: All photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2017

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