December 28, 2013

New Beginnings and the God Who Never Fails

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When I was a girl, we had a fun tradition of gathering as a family on January first to record our resolutions for the coming year.  My dad began this annual event when we were quite small and kept a record of our resolutions over the years.  I loved when he would read the pages from the previous years, which included gems like, quit wetting the bed and stop biting my nails.  As we matured our resolutions became more sophisticated –  commitments to read a certain number of books or master a new skill before the end of the year.
You know, I don’t know if I ever “achieved” any of my goals – I still bite my nails, ugh.  But I so fondly remember those times when my brother, sister, and I would rearrange the couch cushions and pillows to make our resolution booths, from which we would announce our intentions for the new year.  Maybe it’s my personality, but I have always loved fresh starts:  a new calendar year, a fresh school year, a new job .  I embrace with joy the opportunity to start off on the right foot and dive into the delights that the unknown future has for me.  So much potential!
Do you feel that way about the coming year?   Are you eagerly looking forward to January 1, so that you can leave 2013 and its failures behind forever?  Have you set some goals, made some commitments, and resolved to make 2014 a better year?  ...
Keep reading over at  at  where I'm sharing today!

December 22, 2013

Heart Hospitality

Sorry for skipping posting this past Wednesday.  My husband's semester officially ended that day - grades all turned in - so the week has been one of catching up as a family, getting a tree, wrapping up school for the year, and all that good stuff.  I also had a terribly stiff neck most of the week that wore me out, driving me to bed earlier at night and keeping me there later in the mornings.  Thankfully, I think that's almost gone.  (Full disclosure: not only did it make me tired, it also made me kind of a bear to be around.  This week had some fantastically grumpy moments hours as well!)

So here we are, the last Sunday in Advent 2013.  Christmas sneaked up real quick-like this year, didn't it?  Wow!  This morning I woke up and the phrase "Heart Hospitality" popped into my mind, when I was considering blogging today.  I have written about hospitality before.  Today the topic is on my mind, because yesterday we had an open house here for women from our new church.  For me, it was a matter of wanting relationship and being obedient to God's prompting to open our door and create a space for women to be together.  Our gathering was planned very last minute, but women came!  Read the link above and consider practicing hospitality where you are in this coming new year.  The Lord does amazing things when we open our homes (no matter the size or shape) to others (no matter how many)!

Today's post, however, is not about opening your home to others.  It is about something much greater.  In fact, what I will share with you is of utmost importance as a first step in the process of becoming a more loving, kind, patient, self-controlled, and hospitable person:

opening up the door of your heart and making room for Jesus.

I have read a couple of things and heard a couple of songs this season that focused on the idea of opening up one's heart to Jesus.  For example, verse three of O Little Town of Bethlehem.

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

There was also an anthem sung at the early service last week at church with the same theme.  The sermon, by Charles Spurgeon, that I read talked about how there was no room for the Savior to be born in the inn and how still today there is no room for Jesus in so many places - physical and ideological - in the world.  But then he went on to remind his listeners that

when room is made for Jesus, He comes in!

Do not say, I pray you, "I hope I shall have room for him"; the time is come that he shall be born; Mary cannot wait months and years.  Oh! sinner, if thou has room for him let him be born in thy soul today.  "Today if ye hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation ...: (Heb 3:7-8).  "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2).  Room for Jesus!  Room for Jesus now! 
"Oh!" saith one, "I have room for him, but will he come?"  Will he come indeed!  Do you but set the door of your heart open, do but say, "Jesus, Master, all unworthy and unclean I look to thee; come, lodge within my heart," and he will come to thee, and he will cleanse the manger of thy heart, nay, will transform it into a golden throne, and there he will sit and reign for ever and for ever.  ~Charles Spurgeon

You might be preparing beds and meals this week for guests.  Have you made room, not only in your home, but also in your heart, for the Guest who is the very Gift of Christmas?  Make room for Him and He will come in and make His home in your heart!  Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

Make room!  MAKE ROOM!!


*Charles Spurgeon, Have You Any Room? from Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, ed. Nancy Guthrie (p. 64)

December 15, 2013

Christmas is for the Kids, too!

I'm sure from the title you're thinking, Uh, Heather, doesn't it seem like Christmas is mostly for the kids?!  Well, sure, children really get into the spirit of things with all of the activities and the promise of gifts on Christmas morning.  But I'm scheduled to give the children's sermon at church this morning, so I thought I'd share with you what God brought to mind when I read this week's passage.

The topic: Jesus the Priest.  One of the passages is from Hebrews 4 and 5, about Jesus being THE High Priest, chosen by God to bring His people to Him.  When I first sat down to read the passage and another from Exodus 19, I said to God, I have NO IDEA where to go with this sermon, show me what to say to these kids.  So here you are, God's answer to my prayer and the Good News of Jesus the Priest to share with a child or children you know sometime this week!

Jesus: the boy, the Priest

Good morning, I am so happy to be sitting up here with you this morning!

I have a question for you.   Did you know that after Jesus was born, he grew up, so at one time he was the age you are now?  Jesus was a kid!  He went through everything you go through as a kid.

What are some fun things about being a kid?

What is tough about being a kid?

All of those things, Jesus experienced!  He played with his friends.  AND He had to obey is parents.  Just think!  Jesus, the one who would be our Savior - Jesus, the Son of God who lived in heaven with the Father and the Spirit before he came to earth – He had to clear his dishes from the table, sweep the floors, and make His bed when His mother asked him to!  And He had to listen and learn respectfully about how to be a carpenter from His dad!  God had to obey his parents.

And you know what the Bible tells us?  HE DID!

Do you obey your parents every time?  (You’re supposed to say ‘NO’ here.)

I didn’t when I was a kid either.  In fact, I am still rude to my parents sometimes.

I did always WANT to please my parents and obey them, but the sin in my heart would get the best of me.  I’ll bet it gets the best of you more than you would like, too.

But it is GOOD NEWS that Jesus obeyed His parents!  The Bible tells us why in the passage Pastor Milligan is going to preach from today, Hebrews 4: 14-16

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

That’s a lot of big words to say this:  Jesus is now alive in heaven with God.  He understands how hard it is for us to obey God and obey our parents.  He knows because he had parents and was tempted to disobey them.  But, he always obeyed and He’s up in heaven saying to God on our behalf, “Forgive them, I died for their sins.”   Through Him God will forgive our sin and help us not to sin.

Pretty neat, huh?  Jesus not only did amazing miracles, preached wonderful sermons, and died on the cross and rose again.  He was also a little boy who had to obey his parents and did it just right so he could understand us, forgive us, and change us to look more like Him each day, when we ask for His help.  It is very good news that Jesus was once a little boy!

December 11, 2013

The Spiritual Disciplines: Meditation

What do you picture when you hear the world meditation?  My first thought is quiet.  Then I think about the mind, something is going on in the quiet of the mind.  One usually meditates on something.  Merriam Webster defines meditation as the act or process of spending time in quiet thought.  That means to meditate we need to make time and quiet in the hustle and bustle of life.  You know, Jesus did this.  Our Lord was in very high demand in his three years of ministry.  But Scripture says he would sometimes withdraw, alone, to a quiet place.  Isn't that neat?  When I think about that I'm humbled.  The Son of God needed to take time to be alone with the Father.  If He needed it, how much more do I!  But how difficult it can be to withdraw and get our brains quiet enough to meditate on Him and His Word.  Difficult or not, it is certainly these quiet, set-apart moments that are the training ground for having hearts and minds that are at peace in the midst of the rest of life.  Meditation transforms.

What does the Bible say about meditation?

The Purpose of Meditation
Pleasing God with the meditations of our hearts (Psalm 19:14 and 104:34)
Transformation by the renewing of the mind  (Rom 12:2)

The Content for Meditation
Knowing the Word helps us to obey  (Josh 1:8)
The present and future, not the past (Isaiah 43:18)
God's law (Psalm 119)
God's works (Psalm 145:5)
Good things (Philip 4:8)
The word of Christ (Colossians 3:16)

The Results of Meditation
A changed you because of greater fellowship with God!  Psalm 1:1-3 

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

I read in an Advent meditation by Tim Keller recently that our definition of blessed is "limp."  What the Hebrew and Greek really point to is that "to be blessed brings you back to full shalom, full human functioning; it makes you everything God meant for you to be.  To be blessed is to be strengthened and repaired in every one of your human capacities, to be utterly transformed."*

If that's what it means, then sign us up to be blessed, right?!  Well, Psalm 1 indicates that one habit of the blessed person is meditation on the law of God.  His thinking is focused on the Lord and His Word.  The result?  He is solid.

He's rooted, flourishing, and strong, because He's walking in God's way, not his own.

I'm a traditionalist, I get up early in the morning for quiet time, when most of the time kids won't interrupt me. (In fact, Brian popped down for a short visit this morning.) But God is available any time and anywhere you find yourself, and He may not have made you a morning person!

How do you, or how can you start to, make time and space for meditation?

Consider picking up a few verses to memorize this week.  Meditate on them.  Let them sink into the recesses of your brain.  Hang them up in a place you'll see them often or write them on a card to keep in  your pocket.  Let the Lord use them to transform your way of thinking and, thus, your way of living.  Foster says we learn to meditate by meditating.  So give it a shot!  This time of year is a wonderful opportunity to meditate on some aspect of the Christmas story, asking God to help you see it with fresh eyes.  God BLESS you as you seek Him!

*p 36 of Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, ed. Nancy Guthrie

December 8, 2013

The Spirit of Christmas

We are one week into December and it's all around us!  Twinkling lights, festive tunes in malls and coffee shops, lists of ingredients needed for baking, arrangements being made with family about who's spending what time where, parties and activities filling the weekends on the calendar, and white elephant gifts being pulled out of the dark corners of the attic are all shouting at us:


Well, grab yourself a cup of cheer (whatever that means) and pull up a chair, because I've got something to tell you.  That Christmas spirit, that may or may not be filling your heart?  It's not real.  I know, because I find myself trying to create an environment of cheer for myself, by constantly listening to Christmas music, making sure the lights are just so in my home, and lighting pine and cinnamon scented candles around the house.  But shucks if I don't still have to tend to routine duties - dishes, children, laundry, school, trash, diaper changes - which really dull the sparkle of the cheer.  And I can't tell you the number of times I have offended a family member or had a cruel thought in the last week.  Real cheer-wreckers, I tell ya!

Christmas spirit, you're nice (actually, I like you very, very much), but you're not enough!
What I need is the Spirit of Christmas.

Wait, isn't that just the same thing with different wording?  No, it is not.

The Spirit of Christmas is a person,

the third person of the Trinity, the one who came upon Mary and caused her to conceive Jesus, who was born to save His people from their sins.  The point, the purpose, and the power of Christmas lies with a baby in a manger, fulfilling the promise of Most High God, accomplished through the Spirit: the Spirit who helped Mary to believe the words of the angel, the Spirit who moved mysteriously in her womb, the Spirit who filled Christ as He lived and moved, taught and served on Earth, the Spirit who comes upon God's people NOW, when they put their trust in Jesus.

THAT is the Spirit of Christmas.

That Spirit can fill us up to endure hardship with faith and hope.  That Spirit can free us from the tyranny of sin and fill us with joy.  That Spirit can enable us to love my neighbor when all we want is to love our self.  That Spirit can change our  heart of stone into a heart of flesh.  Christmas spirit can't do these, but the Spirit of Christmas can!

I have been memorizing these verses from Titus 3.
3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
I've been impressed by Paul's repetition of Savior and saved while also thinking about the Christmas season.  Salvation is what Christmas is all about; Salvation is what we really need; and Salvation is accomplished by the Father, Son, and Spirit!

Spirit is very important at Christmas, not Christmas spirit, but rather the Holy Spirit.

Enjoy this holiday season!  Go to parties, decorate your tree, listen to the festive music, and eat too many cookies!  It is a very fun time of the year; I LOVE it!!  But through it all, let's worship the Spirit who caused Mary to conceive, who came upon Jesus, who fills our hearts and changes us, giving us the greatest gift we could ever ask for - but never would, so God got the ball rolling - SALVATION!

Merry Second Sunday in Advent!

December 4, 2013

The Spiritual Disciplines: An Introduction

Toward the end of November, I bombarded you with a few posts about the Spiritual Disciplines as Richard Foster lays them out in his book, Celebration of Discipline.  There was not enough time in the series to give each proper attention, so over the next few months, once a week, I will share a post about one of the disciplines.

The title of this blog, Life in the Valley: Pressing on with Great Hope, is meaningful to me.  People often speak of "mountain top experiences" with God, longing for life to have more of them.  We want to live on the mountain top, really experiencing God, feeling spiritual intimacy and intensity more regularly.  But most of life is lived in the valleys - home, work, play, chores, relationships, and responsibilities - where the intimacy and intensity can be quickly swallowed up by the mundane.  The hope?

Jesus is Lord on the mountain tops and in the valleys!

As we walk the valley of life, what I would call normal life, we can press on with great hope because God is with us, right where we are, relating to us and willing and able to transform us more into His likeness.  Sure, we should desire mountain top experiences with God and we should look forward to eternity in heaven with Him.  But we can also know and experience Him now, right now, in our kitchens at home, at our desk at work, in our cars in traffic, and, well, you get the idea.

How do we do that?  Well, the Spiritual Disciplines are your answer!  I don't want this to sound like an infomercial; I am perfectly serious.  God has given us many ways to grow in relationship with Him.  None of them are complicated or only for an elite, ultra-spiritual few.  They are for me and YOU.  There is a reason they're called disciplines, though - they require effort and regular practice.  The Good News?  God provides all we need!  We take the gift and, rather than admire it from afar, we use it.

I will not be writing to you as an expert to novices.  Many of Foster's disciplines are areas in which I need to grow - a lot - or try for the first time! So let's learn together, eh?  It should be fun to feel stretched and challenged, all the while remembering our gracious God who is our Savior, Provider, and Sustainer.

This is your invitation to join me on Wednesdays for the next three months as we peek into avenues the Lord has opened up to us to grow in relationship with Him.  What a good and gracious God!

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.  2 Peter 1:3-4

December 1, 2013

What is Advent, Anyway?

Today is the first day of a season in the church calendar known as Advent.  In the introduction to the book we read as a family last year (and will again this year) says that observing this season did not begin until the fourth century and was not solidified into the four-Sundays schedule we know now until the ninth century.  Thus, like the Spiritual Disciplines addressed in the November series, observing Advent is not law that must be obeyed.  It is simply a practice that can help focus our hearts on God in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Tradition need not be upheld for tradition's sake, but it can be beneficial to consider how the Church has done things in the past and adopt practices that draw us nearer to the Lord.

I was surprised to learn last Sunday that the first Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of the church  (liturgical) calendar each year.  (Please feel free to snicker; I'm a little embarrassed that I didn't know that after so many years - my whole life - in Presbyterian churches!)  Seems so right, a time of anticipation of Christ's coming as a starting point for the church year.  Then, as I was reading last night, a couple of articles mentioned that not only in this period are we anticipating, preparing for the celebration of, and focusing on the birth of Christ, but it is also a time to think about the second Advent (which means, 'coming') of Christ.  He will come again, just as he came the first time!  We can join with Israel in her waiting, to some degree and sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel with similar longing, though we do have the blessed benefit of living after Messiah's first coming!*

Wikipedia says, For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.  I like that phrase to be alert for his Second Coming.  I sure don't live alert most of the time!  I long, for sure, to be rid of this body of death, of the evil one's schemes to trip me up, and all of the effects of the fall.  But I am dreadfully lacking in the anticipation department!  I moan and groan when I could be eagerly and actively waiting.  Maybe you do too.

What is Advent, then?  Simply, it is a season in the church calendar that includes the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, during which we reflect on the "comings" of Christ, first and second.  We set aside time to think about the promises of God and how He fulfills them.  Such thoughts remind us of our desperate need for His promises and their fulfillment in and through Him.  How wonderful to have a time of preparation and anticipation, shared with other believers, as we look to Christmas!

Maybe Advent has never been a "thing" at your church.  Maybe Advent was always overdone or too showy.  Maybe you love Advent with all your heart.  I dunno where you come from, but since it is the first day of Advent in the Western world and Advent has become more important to me in recent years, seemed like a good idea to talk about it here.  I'm looking forward to Sunday meals with one more candle lit each week (we got our advent wreath out this morning!), and I'm thankful for the new perspective about being alert for Christ's Second Coming while reflecting on the first.

I don't know if people say this, but I will: Happy Advent!  May this month full of activities, concerts, parties, and shopping also be a time of new discovery of how long, wide, deep, and high the love of God is for you in Christ.

*     *     *

Over the rest of the Sundays of Advent, I plan to write a Christmas-y reflection of one kind or another.  I hope you'll stop back!  :)

*Ideas borrowed from Justin Holcolm in this article:

November 30, 2013

{Day 30} Saved and Called: The End (and the Winner Announced)!

If you're just popping in on this November series, you can catch up here.

I launched this series to explore what Scripture has to say about the holy life, a phrase I found in 2 Timothy 1:9a.
[God], who has saved us and called us to a holy life - not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.

In His Word, God has A LOT to say about this life to which He calls His people!  I hope you've seen that with me over the last 29 days.  What is beautiful, however, is to remember what holiness means.  Set apart.  Those called by God are set apart to a new way of life.  Who does the setting apart?  God does.  Who defines the new life?  God does.  Who is the one who acts with purpose and grace?  God is!

Over this month, the wonder the Good News that God saves us through the blood of Jesus and fills us with the Spirit has stirred my heart to praise, because, boy, we do not deserve it!  I have also been convicted of how lightly I receive His grace, demonstrated in the ways I am too easily satisfied with the world and dependent on myself.

God calls us to a set apart life that is more demanding than we could ever accomplish alone.  True, but that perspective is all wrong.  God has called us into relationship with Himself, not into merely checking off a holiness to-do list!  It has been drawn out, by looking at various passages, that walking in His way is about relating to Him freely, joyfully, thankfully, and honestly.

We're not set apart to master holiness;
we're set apart to know and honor the Holy One.

Can you believe, Christian, that the God of all creation wants a relationship with you?  He wants you to trust Him, to love Him, to know Him.  Can you believe, Christian, that the God of creation has provided for you all you need for life and godliness?  He wants to see you grow and flourish as His child and helps you to do so.

I pray that over the course of this month the Lord has turned your eyes upon His grace and filled you with a real sense of how great His love is for you.  I also pray that looking at His Word has quickened in you a desire to get to know God better and to live as a set apart one who loves and serves a wonderful, holy God.  Lately, I've been thinking words Paul wrote to Titus, which serve as a good wrap-up for this November.
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.  Titus 3:3-8

 Thanks for popping in for a read as you were able this month.  God bless you!

*     *     *


She totally called it yesterday on Facebook!
Congrats, friend.

November 29, 2013

{Day 29} Saved and Called: Heaven Bound

If you're just popping in on this November series, you can catch up here.
There's also a give-away in progress, get your name in the drawing here.*

In the Thanksgiving post, I wrote about looking back at what God has done and giving thanks.  Walking with God means we not only look back and give thanks, but we also look forward and give thanks with great hope.  The subtitle of this blog is pressing on with great hope.  Do you know why?  Well, it is because as we walk in the valley that is life this side of heaven, we keep going because we have hope in and from God.  This hope comes from His promises made that THIS IS NOT IT.  We're in training for something greater - a place where there is no need for a sun, because God is the light.

God's people will one day spend eternity with Him.

From early on in this series I knew one of the final posts had to be about heaven, because of the way William Law talked about it in A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.  Heaven was a reality for him.  It is easy to get caught up in the things of this world, its passions and pleasures, and forget that THIS IS NOT IT.  Eternity awaits us on the other side of death, which is a reality we cannot escape.  If we think about life as preparation for a (wonderful, glorious, worshipful, free) eternity with God, what does that do to our priorities?  Will we spend our time the same?

Law points out that when we get to heaven, all of the things that grieved us about the possibility of dying will fade away.  Since that is the case, he asks, why do we cling so tightly to them?

I don't hear much about heaven these days.  I don't think about heaven much.  Christians are going to spend far longer there than here.  Have you considered heaven lately?

Oh Lord, give us a vision of YOU and of your glory!  Place in our hearts a greater desire to know You and to get to know what You care about by reading Your word.  We are weak, but your Spirit in us is strong.  By your grace, let us awaken each morning with joy, knowing You have saved us.  And, in that joy, help us press on in faith through action that draws us closer to You.  Thank You for sending your Son, for raising Him from the dead, for giving Him a place at your right hand,  for placing your Spirit in our hearts, and for preparing a place for us, your people, in Heaven.  Our minds cannot fully comprehend Your love, but we cling to it with all our hearts!  Thank you for giving us opportunities to taste and see that You are good.  Set before us a vision of heaven that changes how we see things here on earth.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

*     *     *

*This is the last day to get in on the give away.  Tomorrow I'll announce the winner of a fantastic collection of Advent readings (Advent starts Sunday) and a sweet treat.  YAY!  Click here to toss your name in the hat by leaving a comment.

November 28, 2013

{Day 28} Saved and Called: The Discipline of Thanks Giving

If you're just popping in on this November series, you can catch up here.
There's also a give-away in progress, get your name in the drawing here.

Today is a day set aside by Americans to feast and give thanks.  I love reading books with my kids during this season about how God used Squanto's difficult life and his sorrows to prepare him to save the Pilgrims of Plymouth, and then other stories about the persistent efforts of Sarah Hale to see Thanksgiving become a national holiday - persistence finally rewarded by President Abraham Lincoln at a time in history when America needed something to draw her together.  History reveals much about our God and His hand in the lives of individuals, groups, and nations.

The Pilgrims were grateful to be alive, to have a place they could worship freely, and for an abundant harvest in the new land, (among other things, I'm sure).  What do you give thanks for today?

I wonder at the Pilgrims.  So many died during the first terrible winter in Plymouth.  Yet when the boat returned to England for more supplies, they stayed.  They worked; they planted; they cultivated; they weeded; they watered.  Then, they harvested.  They harvested!  Maybe sometimes they got discouraged, wanted to go home, missed the comforts of the old world, or doubted that they were following God's will for them.  They kept going, though.  On Sundays they met for worship.  Monday through Saturday they labored, driven by necessity, but also by the desire to build a new life.

They left the old for the new.  Hm, that's kind of what we've been talking about around Life in the Valley this month.

They knew the God of the Scriptures and wanted to live to serve Him only.  Their desire was so strong they were willing to move to new lands (they tried Holland first) and risk their lives for that freedom.  Will we too set aside the comforts of this world to follow in their footsteps, to follow Christ?  Having been saved, will we press on in the holy life to which God has called us?

Psalm 107
If we belong to the Lord, we have so much for which to be thankful, whether or not we are surrounded by comforts and can buy everything our heart desires at the Black Friday sales!  I was just taking a quick look at Psalms that talk about giving thanks to God and I'm impressed by Psalm 107.  It begins like this:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
    those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
those he gathered from the lands,
    from east and west, from north and south.

Then it has many sections about different types of people in different, but equally desperate, situations and how God turned their lives around, giving them cause to give thanks.  The stanzas begin, Some ...
  • Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding now way to a city where they could settle.
  • Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness, prisoners suffering in iron chains.
  • Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
  • Some  went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters.

People, in different circumstances, led, rescued, redeemed, and saved by Almighty God.  The psalmist tells them to tell their stories and to give thanks.  For it is God who is good and whose love endures forever.

Thanksgiving is a great day to tell our stories of God's goodness to us in things material and spiritual!  But really, dear Christian, EVERY DAY is a great day to speak of the wondrous love of God, to remember the history we have with Him, to feel thanksgiving swell in our hearts as we reflect on who God is and all he has done for us.  You may find yourself in less than desirable circumstances at the moment and quite resistant to giving thanks.  I understand; we're all there at times.  I'm guessing Richard Foster would say this, We learn to give thanks by giving thanks.  Today is a great day to get started.

I know that as we practice this discipline of thanks giving, a great harvest of gratitude will come.

Have a wonderful holiday!

November 27, 2013

{Day 27} Saved and Called: The Corporate Disciplines

If you're just popping in on this November series, you can catch up here.
There's also a give-away in progress, get your name in the drawing here.

Ah!  The last two posts have been too long.  I'm sorry.  Today, I will very briefly share about the last section of Foster's book Celebration of Discipline.  After that there are only three more posts in this series!  Final topics include: the discipline of thanksgiving, heaven, and a conclusion post with the give-away winner announced.  One friend wisely pointed out that each discipline that Foster addresses in his book could be its own post.  So over the next several months, I will write one post per week about a spiritual discipline, which will allow us all more time to reflect on and apply what I'm rushing through in these posts.  I needed some direction for the future; thanks for the feedback, Jan!

What does Foster include in the corporate disciplines? Confession, worship, guidance and celebration.  A few sentences on each.

Confession: Obviously confession is something we do individually, for it is the Lord who forgives sin.  Confessing our sins to a brother or sister in Christ, however, is vital for keeping us all close to the cross and focused on Christ as our only hope, drawing us nearer to one another in Christian community.  We are all sinners saved by grace; let's not act like we're not.

Worship:  Worship is a response to God to be practiced all day long, not just on Sunday morning.  Gathering with other believers in the presence of the Lord is an important aspect of worship, though.  Enter into your church building for worship with "holy expectancy" - expecting God to show up!  We should leave corporate worship with a greater desire to love and obey the Lord.

Guidance:  God guides individuals, but he also guides His people (e.g. Israel and the early church).  God's people can together, in groups large or small, seek God's guidance for big group decisions or for His leading in a decision one person in the group is trying to make.  [Foster gives many examples from history.  This has not been common to my modern experience, but seems worth exploring.]

Celebration: Sure seems like celebration is much better done corporately than alone!  Foster ends on this note because it is central to our Christian life and the pursuit of any of these disciplines; celebration comes from joy and joy from the Lord.  True joy in the Lord is found in obedience, walking in the Lord's way up and down the rolling hills of life's journey.  We have to discipline ourselves to really celebrate when celebration is due, not taking ourselves too seriously or settling for anything less than GREAT JOY because of who God is and what He has done.

Hopefully that wets our whistles for future posts on the topics!  The short story is that Christians need one another:

Have a good Wednesday.  If you're traveling for the holiday, I wish you a safe and happy journey.  Till tomorrow!

November 26, 2013

{Day 26} Saved and Called: The Outward Disciplines

If you're just popping in on this November series, you can catch up here.
There's also a give-away in progress, get your name in the drawing here.

Alright!  Today we'll take a quick peek into what Richard Foster calls "The Outward Disciplines."  In my skimming of the four chapters, however, it became quite clear that each of these outward disciplines are manifestations of inward transformation.  So when we're thinking about simplicity, solitude, submission, and service, we're thinking not only about outward behaviors, but also having our hearts changed so that we're doing out of who we are, not who we want people to think we are.

Again let me remind us, the Disciplines are about drawing near to God.  None of them are laws, but they are means of grace for us to know God better, walk more fully in His way, and to be transformed.  While challenging, because we live daily in the reality of the flesh vs. the Spirit, we should also be awestruck that God reveals Himself to us, offers us ways to get to know Him better, and transforms us to look more like His Son.  Amazing!

On with a few points about each of the Outward Disciplines!

Simplicity - main passage Matthew 6:25-33
  • It is an inward reality (focus on God and His kingdom, trusting in Him for provision) with outward effects (how we spend and make decisions about our time, money, and stuff).  Simplicity sets us free to receive the provision of God as a gift that is not ours to keep and can be freely shared with others.  p 85
  • The central point for the Discipline of simplicity is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of his kingdom first, and then everything necessary will come into its proper order.  p.86  Simplicity is single-minded focus on seeking God and His kingdom.
  • Simplicity can easily become an idol and we can fall into legalism, wanting to make up rules for ourselves and others, but Foster believes Jesus spoke enough about economics and how to relate to our stuff, that it's worth taking the risk to discuss the point.  We must know the pitfalls and keep our eyes on Christ as we move forward in faith.
  • The main inward effect of growing in the Discipline of simplicity?  Freedom from anxiety.  Jesus says, "Do not be anxious about all these things ... your Heavenly Father knows you need them."

  • Jesus calls us from loneliness to solitude. ...  Loneliness is inner emptiness.  Solitude is inner fulfillment.  (p 96)
  • Solitude and silence go hand in hand.  The purpose of silence and solitude is to be able to see and hear.  (p 98)  We cannot see and hear God if we are always surrounded by noise and listing to the loud voices in our minds.
  • Growing in this Discipline, Foster suggests, will likely take us through a "dark night of the soul," a time when God brings us into a hush, a stillness so that he may work an inner transformation upon the soul. p 102  It will not be comfortable, but it will be good.  God uses these times to change our appetite from temporal to eternal things.
  • Some of Foster's ideas for taking steps into solitude: take advantage of quiet moments in the day (we often miss or misuse them), find/develop quiet places, try periods of less (or no) talking, take several times a year to be with God for reorienting and goal setting.

  • Every discipline has its corresponding freedom.  What is the freedom that corresponds to submission?  It is the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way.  p 111
  • Jesus showed us the way in this with His "cross-life."  He had (unlike us) every right to demand praise, honor, obedience, and His own way!  Instead He walked the road to the cross.  The cross-life is the life of voluntary submission.  The cross-life is the life of freely accepted servanthood.  p 116
  • Self-denial is the drumbeat of the submissive life.  We are dependent on Christ to help us die to self, putting aside getting our own way.  We are called to think not only of our interests, but those of others: God, neighbor, family, friend, and even foe.
  • Foster has some discussion on specific aspects of submission (like relating to government authorities) but you'll have to read those on your own.

  • As the cross is the sign of submission, so the towel is the sign of service.  p 126  Remember Jesus telling His disciples to wash one another's feet?
  • The opposite of true service is self-righteous service, which comes through human effort, ... is impressed with the "big deal," ... requires external rewards, ... is highly concerned about results, ... picks and chooses whom to serve, ... is affected by moods and whims, ... is temporary, ... is insensitive, and ... fractures community.  (p 128-129)
  • True service comes from a relationship with the divine Other deep inside, ... finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large service, ... rests contented in hiddenness, ... is free of the need to calculate results, indiscriminate in its ministry, ... ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need, ... is a life-style, ... can withhold the service as freely as perform it, and ... builds community. (p 128-129)
  • Humility increases as we set ourselves aside and engage in true service.
  • Foster goes into some detail about types of service we can do unto others, but for the sake of finally ending this post, I'll leave you to read the book to learn more!

After reading about these, I think putting in the effort to move toward God in these disciplines is like taking up arms and entering the front-line battle against the flesh.  These things will help us to die to self in new (and sometimes dramatic!) ways.

Now I must make a confession: I want the results of growing in these disciplines, but I'm not so sure I want to put in the work.  Even as I read about these things, I find myself wanting to make plans and start doing things, without stopping to hear God, to seek His kingdom, to be silent, to listen.  I also feel encouraged by Foster's words.  Too often I make the Christian life about being nice or self-improvement, rather than the two greatest commandments.

I pray God will show us how to put some of these things into practice right now in a way that lets Him give us life and sets us free!

*     *     *

Don't forget about the give-away!
Saturday is the day YOU could win a wonderful book for reflection during advent and a sweet treat!!

November 25, 2013

{Day 25} Saved and Called: The Inward Disciplines

If you're just popping in on this November series, you can catch up here.
There's also a give-away in progress, get your name in the drawing here.

On Saturday, I listed the chapter titles of Richard Foster's book Celebration of Discipline for you.  Today through Wednesday, we'll take a quick look at each of the three categories into which Foster places the disciplines: inward, outward, and corporate.  I'll be skimming through the chapters to pull out main points for you, but if you want to benefit more from the book, you'll have to get your hands on a copy to give it a thorough read.

The Inward Disciplines are certainly what come to my mind right away when I think about Christian living.  Foster lists four things: meditation, prayer, fasting, and study.  Let me remind us all at this point of what he says in chapter one and what Scripture teaches (and I hope what has been driven home throughout this month), Joy is the keynote of all the Disciplines.  The purpose of the Disciplines is liberation from the stifling slavery to self-interest and fear.  When the inner spirit is liberated from all that weighs it down, it can hardly be described as dull drudgery.  Singing, dancing, even shouting characterize the Disciplines of the spiritual life. p 2 

The disciplines require work, but it is the work of drawing near to God who has done so much for us, that we are filled with joy.  All good things require that we give up some things to pursue a greater thing.  By making time and space in our lives for meditation, prayer, fasting, and study, we move toward not a greater thing, but the Greatest One.  Guess what.  It is a process.  We learn - as the disciples did, as all of God's children have - how to practice these disciplines over our life-times.  I appreciate that Foster says this several times in the first few chapters!

A second important note: God uses the disciplines to transform us.  Learning to meditate, pray, fast, and study are simply means, not the end.  When we consider the Spiritual Disciplines our hearts and minds must always be turned toward our God, not getting the discipline right!  (As a type-A, recovering people pleaser, I know this to be a real temptation.)

With all of that being said, here are a few points on each of the inward disciplines:

  • Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God's voice and obey His word.  It is that simple.  (p 17)
  • It is intentionally filling our mind up with the things of God, so that it becomes a lifestyle to walk with the Lord, detaching from the world around us and all of its noise, to have a richer attachment to God.  (p 20-21, paraphrased)
  • We learn to meditate by meditating, choosing a verse or passage on which to focus for a period of time, letting the truth sink into the depths of our brain and heart to transform the way we think and live.

  • Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us.  Foster also says it catapults us onto the frontier of the spiritual life.  (p 33)  In prayer we communicate with the God of the universe; relating with Him changes us.
  • Real prayer is something we learn. (p 36)  The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray.  Prayer does not come naturally to us: submitting to the Father, letting go of control of all situations, asking for wildly impossible-with-man-but-possible-with-God things.  But we can learn how to pray!
  • We must pray if we confess faith in God.  And prayer has many facets: praise, thanksgiving, supplication, confession, intercession.  We should come to God in prayer about all aspects of our life.  (Foster talks mostly about praying for other people in his chapter on prayer.)

  • This discipline has fallen by the wayside in recent history, but can be found practiced regularly throughout Scripture and Christian history.  It is abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. (p 48) Could be for a few days or a few weeks, but it's abstaining with purposes and usual is between an individual and God, but in Jewish tradition there is one annual day of communal fasting, the Day of Atonement.
  • There is no Biblical command to fast, but Jesus addresses having the correct motivation in fasting in Matthew 6, indicating it has a place in the Christian life.
  • Fasting must forever center on God.  It must be God-initiated and God-ordained. (p 54)
  • Foster spends the last handful of pages of this chapter explaining how to go about fasting.

  • Study is a specific kind of experience in which through careful attention to reality the mind is enabled to move in a certain direction.  (p 63)  Meditation is devotional; study is analytical.  (p 64)
  • There are four steps in study: repetition, concentration, comprehension, and reflection.  We put ourselves under the subject matter and let it mold our minds.  For the Christian, the most important book to study is the Bible, not to master the content and lord it over people, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
  • Regarding other books we read for our spiritual edification, Foster says, The key to the Discipline of study is not reading many books, but experiencing what we read.  (p 72)
  • We can study books and have discussions, but Foster highlights that we can also study reality through nonverbal "books," like nature, events, and our very self.  There's a lot to learn and Christians should be thoughtful people, excited to learn more about God, His creation, and His people.

Phew!  That's a lot, isn't it?  I think the end of this series is going to be like drinking from a fire hose!  Do you have a favorite inward discipline?  I definitely gravitate to study, and the more I do it, the more I want to.  But I can do so at the expense of meditating on the Word, talking with God in prayer, and fasting, well, I never do that!  I imagine as we learn and mature in each of these disciplines, we will have that "the more I do it, the more I want it" experience.  God is so good to us!

*     *     *

Tomorrow we move on to the outward disciplines, which, in Foster's book, all begin with S:  Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service.  Till then!

November 24, 2013

{Day 24} Saved and Called: A Psalm of Thanksgiving

If you're just popping in on this November series, you can catch up here.
There's also a give-away in progress, get your name in the drawing here.

Psalm 65

Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion;
    to you our vows will be fulfilled.
You who answer prayer,
    to you all people will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
    you forgave our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
    and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
    of your holy temple.
You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds,
    God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
    and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by your power,
    having armed yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas,
    the roaring of their waves,
    and the turmoil of the nations.
The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
    where morning dawns, where evening fades,
    you call forth songs of joy.
You care for the land and water it;
    you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
    to provide the people with grain,
    for so you have ordained it.
10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
    you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
11 You crown the year with your bounty,
    and your carts overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
    the hills are clothed with gladness.
13 The meadows are covered with flocks
    and the valleys are mantled with grain;
    they shout for joy and sing.