Posts Tagged ‘disciplines’

He Came To Serve

March 24, 2016

Can you imagine being only a few hours away from trials, beatings, and execution–and knowing it was coming–sharing a meal with your friends? And doing the servant’s work of washing their feet?

I’ve had communion in the Upper Room (or where they think it is). It was a most memorable experience.

In my religious tradition, we celebrated Maunday Thursday. Even as a kid I liked to play around with words, so I’d drive Dad crazy playing on “Monday Thursday” themes. Even today, I have no clue as to the word Maunday. But the celebration or remembrance–that is important. It’s actually a discipline of worship and celebration to remember Jesus’ last meal with his closest disciples and the meaning of taking Jesus into my life.

My wife, on the other hand, never even heard of Maunday Thursday. They remembered Good Friday and had a service that day. Those Baptists–what can I say?

I find remembering the celebration a spiritual moment. Sacred, if you will. I find myself somewhat annoyed when parents give it to their little kids simply because it’s the thing to do rather than with a feeling of the sacred. Rebel that I am, I kind of think that the Catholic First Communion at around 7 is pretty early. (Good thing I don’t make the rules, I guess.)

What really stands out isn’t communion–the bread and wine. That was somewhat common except for Jesus’ new meaning. But the foot washing. By the host. That was radical.

We gloss over that in our remembrance. Up until the end, Jesus came to serve. And he told us–we also were called to serve.

I just finished reading (again) Bill Hybels’ book Holy Discontent. This book contains stories about people who experienced something that caused them to change their lives and go serve.

Do we think about this enough in our Lenten devotions to move from the disciplines of remembrance and celebration to the discipline of service. Certainly Jesus pointed the way.

What Kind of Person Will I Be This Year

January 4, 2016

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. … All the widows stood beside  [Peter], showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made.

This is a story found in the Acts of the Apostles where Peter brings a woman back to life.

Let’s consider the woman, Tabitha, in the context of thinking about looking forward toward our new year. Who do I want to be this year?

First, she–well let’s pause there a second. She. To all those rigid people who misread Paul and other texts, here is an early example of an important woman disciple.

OK, I’m not going to be a she, but I can certainly learn from her example.

She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. I don’t write enough about the spiritual discipline of service. But if I could be known as a disciple who does good things for people, that would be good.

Sort of reading between the lines, it appears that she was a leader of a group of widows. Women who had lost their husbands were at the mercy of others in that society. Remember how the apostles wanted Paul to raise money to support widows back in Jerusalem? One of the powerful acts of service of early disciples was caring for the unfortunate, such as widows.

She must have been a leader of the group, discipling them, doing good works such as making clothes for them most likely out of her own wealth.

For this next year, i’d like to be like Dorcas–do good works, lead a small group into discipleship, help people out of my wealth.

That would be a good year.

Become A New Creation

December 31, 2015

Decide first for the year not what you will do but who you will be.

I was led to study 2 Corinthians 5 this morning. While reading and contemplating, this phrase popped, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.”

Devoting ourselves to spiritual practices, or disciplines, is simply a means of working on the maturity of that creation.

I may be a new creation, but there seems to be continual work on becoming the sort of person that I should be. I don’t think Paul thought we stopped at becoming the new creation or he wouldn’t have written the last few chapters of Romans. It’s on how you live.

The Bible as a whole is not a text book of science, or of philosophy, or of theology, or of history. The Bible is a manual. It is our guide on how to live, how to relate to God, how to relate to others, how to become the sort of person pleasing to God.

We get off the track when we get into petty arguments. We are on track when we ask at the end of one year and the beginning of the next:

What kind of person was I last year? What kind of person will I be next year?

Generous? Joy filled? Sober? Filled with gratitude? Peaceable? Helpful?

Or the opposite.

You can make your daily decisions about how to act in the situation by firmly being aware of what kind of person you wish to be.

Choose wisely!

Review Last Year, Choose New Habits For This Year

December 30, 2015

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle

The last post talked about finding your mountain of “stuckness” and turning.

This week is an ideal time to take a thoughtful look back. Get out your calendar. See where you went; what you did. Where did I waste time? Where did I invest? Is there a trip I made last year that I should do again and improve upon?

Open your list manager. What did you accomplish? What is left? What can be dropped? What must be added to be what I want to be this year?

Who are the people I met with? Who should I have met with? Where can I set aside time to intentionally find people with whom I should mentor or converse next year?

Now, let’s take a look at our friend Aristotle.

We are what we repeatedly do.

That means what we need to work on this year are a couple of new habits. Steve Carter talked about lifting the idea of 40 days from the Deuteronomy story that related to the Hebrews. Do something for 40 days. Make a commitment.

Each day for the next 40 days, I will [fill in the blank]. After 40 days it will become a habit.

Sometimes we fall into bad or sloppy habits. Reading the wrong thing, sleeping in, talking instead of working out, eating that doughnut.

We must become self-aware. See ourselves as if from the outside doing that behavior. Then we decide to replace that bad habit with a desirable one. That is practice.

Let’s repeatedly do excellence. It really is a Spiritual Discipline.

He Came To Set Us Free

December 23, 2015

“He had come to set people free, and like Moses with Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, he was confronting the powers that held people captive.” — N T Wright, Simply Good News

We are only a couple of days from celebrating the coming of Jesus into the world. It’s not really his birthday, as some sects believe and shun the day. It’s not a pagan holiday, at least for us, but it was certainly adopted as an alternative to the pagan Roman holiday celebrated about the same time.

I don’t care about all that. We just simply celebrate the coming.

Why did he come?

I like what NT Wright says in Simply Good News, “He had come to set the people free.” Pope Benedict XVI wrote essentially the same theme in his book titled, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

I like the Gospels–Mark for his great literary style of simplicity and movement; Luke for his attention to detail and lifting up women and the Holy Spirit; John for his devotion.

But Paul captures this idea of freedom especially in his letter to the Galatians. “Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.”

I’ve come to see among a great number of Protestant denominations and even among some Catholics the tendency to have it all in the head. It’s agreeing with the right statements, saying the right things, judging people according to whatever law they ascribe to. And the number of people searching the scriptures for hidden meanings and fortune-telling the future simply amazes me.

When I was young, I wanted to be an “intellectual”, whatever that meant. I studied broadly into different fields of inquiry. By personality, I’m one who thinks too much.

What I’ve learned is that most of us think way too much. The meaning is right there in front of us in plain sight just waiting for us to see.

Jesus began his ministry quoting, “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

“Release to the captives!” Who are they? They are us–all of us. Paul would say we once were captive, but now we’re free.

Who wouldn’t want to go out into the world teaching this? Why do we corrupt the message with too much other stuff?

Jesus came, now we are free.

Respond To Others Rather Than Giving Speeches

December 15, 2015

“My wife told me about a situation at work. I told her how to solve it. Now she’s mad at me. What gives?”

“I told him over and over about the gospel, but I can’t seem to make him understand.”

Have you ever heard comments like those or something similar?

I’m following up on yesterday’s post on listening.

Did the wife ask for advice? I doubt it. She’s probably smart enough to work out things. Why treat her like a child?

What would be a better response? Discussion. And Empathy. “Gee, honey, that’s too bad.What are you going to do?” (OK, the actual conversation would be longer, of course.)

Let’s look at evangelizing.

How well has speaking at people worked for you? Not well? Of course not.

Once again, what does the other person want? Did you ask? Are you merely offering simplistic advice? No one appreciates advice.

Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, said, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.”

What is that key? Respond. In order to respond properly, first we must listen actively.

Let’s Just Hate Them All (Not)

December 8, 2015

I am so saddened. A news alert just came across my iPhone. Presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for barring all Muslim people (I doubt that he calls them people) from entering the country.

OK. OK. I know that he is running for office and is on one of those populist platforms that plays to a segment of the American population. William Jennings Bryan (yes the guy who defended the creation-in-seven-24-hour-days lawsuit) ran for president four times as a Democrat on a free silver platform appealing to the lower middle classes of his day. He lost all by huge margins. We have a history of populist candidates.

I know better. I shut out most of that sort of news. Most politics are just not interesting to me anymore. I did spend a year in a Master’s level political science program back when it was hard to get into grad school. I got something like a 99-percentile on the Graduate Record Exam in Politics. I’m not ignorant–just not engaged.

From a spiritual discipline point of view, however, I am so sad that someone feels he can appeal to a large segment of a “Christian” nation by pandering to the lowest of fears and emotions. Judging by my Facebook news thread, many people who call themselves Christian are eating this up.

I have many friends who follow Islam. Also Buddhists and Hindus. Just as my Christian and sort-of-Christian friends, they are all good people. They were created in God’s image. God loves them. I am commanded by my master to love them. I need to show them as a Jesus-follower that we are not all Crusaders bent on wiping out all “non-Christian” peoples.

Yes, we need to deal with evil people. But to paint everyone as evil because of a few is a travesty.

Lord, guide me to following the spiritual disciplines of prayer and seeking wisdom. And so for my fellow citizens of my country. And every country.

The Status of Your Heart

November 25, 2015

John Ortberg, author and pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, has called Jesus the first cardiologist–“He is always interested in the state of your heart.”

We use metaphors of the heart often in our culture. In meditation we use breathing to calm the heart, slow the beating, bring order to the body. We talk about heartbreak. There are affairs of the heart.

Kevin Roberts, executive chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi a creative agency, recently wrote about the status of the heart in relation to the brain.

“We often think of the brain as the command center, responsible for how our whole body functions, but scientists now know that the heart in fact sends more signals to the brain than the brain does to the heart. The heart therefore affects how we think and function emotionally; conscious awareness comes from the brain and heart working together,” wrote Roberts.

We were taught in elementary biology that the brain does not really control the heart. Turns out the heart really is the center of our being.

Roberts says, “Perhaps this shouldn’t really come as a surprise. From everyday experience we know that when we are calm and the heart beats steadily, we are more able to think clearly. When we are in a stressful situation or panicking, our heart tends to race and our clarity of thought is hindered making it more difficult to think, remember or learn. So different emotional states send different signals to the brain and affect our cognitive functions.”

We really do need to check the status of our hearts. Not only from the view of keeping it calm. But also from the view of such things as empathy, gratitude, joy, love. Let’s inform our brain about the higher gifts.

Curiosity Is The Foundation of Learning

November 9, 2015

How could you draw that smile (on the Mona Lisa)? How do you draw? What do you know how to draw? How do they paint the Eiffel Tower? Do they tie ropes to the guys? Why can’t they make a light bulb that lasts longer? Why can’t they make a better battery? How did they know about waves in the air when they invented them to make a radio?

That wasn’t even the entire conversation with my 8-yr-old grandson. I just asked him about his trip to Paris.

I told him that the world is filled with problems to solve. That’s why we need engineers and scientists.

I’m worried that school will kill some of that curiosity, but that’s another story.

The thing is–he’s always been curious. At 18 months taking a walk down the street could take a long time as we stopped explore all manner of things.

The conference I attended a few weeks ago featured a keynote speaker called Michael Gelb. He wrote a book, “How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci.” It is a fascinating book about a fascinating guy.

The first of seven characteristics–Curiosity.

What is that doing in a spiritual discipline blog?

Think of all the curiosity in the New Testament.

All of the original 12 close disciples were curious about Jesus. Who is that guy? Paul at first was opposed, then he too wondered, “Who is that guy?”

Paul also had to answer the question, Now what do we do after we believe? (Hint: Love the Lord and love your neighbor.)

I’m incessantly curious–what is God trying to say to me? What does the Bible say? What should I be doing? Why do people act that way? How can I help? What can I do to serve?

Curiosity can be a powerful spiritual discipline. It keeps us from becoming complacent.

Free To Be With God

October 29, 2015

“The purpose of the spiritual disciplines is to make you free.”

Both Dallas Willard and Richard J. Foster warn about the proper use of the practice of spiritual discipline. The point is not to be able to say that I fasted so many days, or read the Bible every day, or prayed diligently. To have that attitude is to return to that old human attitude of works being the way to get right with God rather than trusting in God’s grace.

This morning in my meditation, my thoughts turned to freedom. It’s a topic I’ve pondered and written on for my entire adult life. I was greatly influenced by a book by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin I came across at age 20 or so. He looked at philosophers of freedom and divided the concept into two–freedom for and freedom from.

Without chasing the squirrels of various philosophical traditions, I’ll just ponder Paul.

He said that God’s grace and our response in faith does both!

Grace frees us from the tyranny of our emotions, our self-imposed boundaries, our jealousies, fears, worries, greed.

The discipline of meditation that I’ve practiced for more than 40 years has calmed my emotions, freed me from worry (something passed down from my mother and who knows how many generations), helped me deal with the winds of emotion which can enslave.

That is just one example. The discipline of reading the Bible or great thinkers about the topic such as Augustine or Henry Nouwen or many others has added depth to my understanding and guidance for my direction.

Paul does not stop there. Grace frees us for service. Why are we here? To serve others in love. That is Jesus’ command. That is what Paul repeats. Many times.

These are words that I never wanted to hear as an adolescent. I can still remember being 17 or 20. No bounds. Discipline is a bad word foisted upon us by conservative old people. Service to others is slavery.

Trouble is, many people today have yet to outgrow those adolescent urges.

Adolescents hate paradox. I’ve always been fascinated by paradox. Here’s an important one–discipline leads to freedom. Who would have understood that at 17–or sometimes 57.