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!

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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.

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*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!

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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!

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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.

November 23, 2013

{Day 23} Saved and Called: What are the Spiritual Disciplines?

Hey!  One week till the give-away.  Drop your name in the invisible internet hat by leaving a comment here for a chance to win!  What's being given away?  This book, to enrich your Advent season,

and a sweet treat of some kind!

Now I must confess to you that we have guests this weekend and we stayed up till the clock struck twelve last night, so this post will likely be loaded with (more) typos (than usual) and more brief.  It's a good place for that, fortunately, because yesterday I said I'd share with you what the Spiritual Disciplines are.  We'll keep it to that for today.

When I think of the Disciplines, my mind goes to prayer, fasting, and giving, several practices Jesus addresses in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  Personal Bible study and repentance also come to mind.  Did you come up with others?  Let's see what Richard Foster includes in his book Celebration of Discipline.

He has the text divided into three parts: inward, outward, and corporate disciplines.

The Inward Disciplines
  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Fasting
  • Study
The Outward Disciplines
  • Simplicity
  • Solitude
  • Submission
  • Service
The Corporate Disciplines
  • Confession
  • Worship
  • Guidance
  • Celebration

We only have a week left in the series, so we will not be delving too much into any of these things, but perhaps we can spend a day on each category.  I am intrigued by the idea of corporate disciplines.  The Church can engage in practices together that draw them closer to the Lord.  I think that is very cool.  (Cool, such a profound vocabulary word, isn't it?!) I also wonder, in this stage of life with noise all around (all. the. time. - almost) about solitude.  Perhaps your interest is piqued enough that you'll grab this book and give it a read; I think I need to, too!

That's all for today, folks. [yawn & stretch] Can you think of passages that Foster might use to support and/or explain choosing the disciplines he chose for his chapters?  You can engage in the 'study' discipline this weekend to answer that question!

Tomorrow I'll have a Psalm of thanksgiving post for your reading pleasure.  More on the Disciplines on Monday.  Enjoy your weekend!!

November 22, 2013

{Day 22} Saved and Called: "I am the Vine"

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.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you.No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."  John 15:1-5

We are about to enter our last week in this exploration of what it means that God has saved us and called us to a holy life.  I have really enjoyed this examination of Scripture and the exercise of daily writing again this November.  (I am also looking forward to slowing down with the writing a bit in December.  Please, don't tell anyone.)  Thanks for coming along for the adventure!

To conclude the series, I want to take a peek into what Christians call the Spiritual Disciplines.  Wow, that phrase sounds like lots of fun, doesn't it?  Well, take a look at the verses I posted for you at the beginning.  The quick take-away from this and the rest of the passage in John 15 is that we cannot do life with Christ without a constant, abiding, dependent, and consistent connection with Him.  He is a constant, abiding, dependent, and consistent vine, a source of life and strength.  A disconnected branch benefits from none of that, but a connected one?  Well and, oh my and, indeed!  A connected branch is regularly nourished by the life and strength flowing from the Savior.

Jesus is not speaking here only monks and clerics.  He's teaching his disciples!

You too are a disciple of Christ if you belong to Him.  He's talking to you.  Dear ones, he says to us, I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

That last phrase is telling, isn't it?  We can strive, and struggle, and gather up our will power in the pulling up of our boot straps, but it's all for nothing apart from our Vine.  Bless His holy name!

But, how in heaven's name do we do the Spiritual Disciplines thing?  First, we start with our understanding of the purpose of the Spiritual Disciplines.  There is a lovely book that I have not read in years, but thought would fit well into this series, called Celebration of Discipline, by Richard J. Foster.  Today I'm going to leave you with some passages for contemplation from the first chapter titled, The Spiritual Disciplines: Door to Liberation.  (The title alone piques the interest, right?)

We must not be led to believe that the Disciplines are only for spiritual giants and hence beyond our reach, or only for contemplatives who devote all their time to prayer and meditation.  Far from it.  God intends the Disciplines of the spiritual life to be for ordinary human beings: people who have jobs, who care for children, who wash dishes and mow lawns.  p 1 
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 
We need not be well advanced in matters of theology to practice the Disciplines. ... The primary requirement a longing after God.  p 2 
God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace.  The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us.  ...  This is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciplines -- they are God's way of getting us into the ground; they put us where he can work within us and transform us.  p 7 
We must always remember that the path does not produce the change; it only places us where the change can occur.  This is the path of disciplined grace.  p 8 
As we enter the world of the Spiritual Disciplines, there will always be the danger of turning them into laws.  But we are not left to our own human devices.  Jesus Christ has promised to be our ever-present Teacher and Guide.  His voice is not hard to hear.  His direction is not hard to understand.  If we are beginning to calcify what should always remain alive and growing, he will tell us.  We can trust his teaching.  If we are wandering off toward some wrong idea or unprofitable practice, he will guide us back.  If we are willing to listen to the Heavenly Monitor, we will receive the instruction we need.  p 10-11

Ah yes, the Christian life all comes back to and centers around Christ.  He is the vine; we are the branches.

Aren't you now wondering what the Spiritual Disciplines are?  Try making a list and we can compare it to Jesus' teaching and Foster's Table of Contents.  We'll move in that direction tomorrow!

November 21, 2013

{Day 21} Saved and Called: Created in Christ Jesus to do Good Works

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.

Yesterday the letter to the Galatians provided us with the idea of nailing our sinful nature to the cross and keeping it there, because we have a new way of life in the Spirit!  Today we'll spend some time in another passage that contrasts the life of the Christian before conversion and after.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  Ephesians 2:1-10

Similar to the verse that was the impetus for this series, Paul talks here about how God, who has saved us and called us to the holy life - not because of anything we had done, but because of His own purpose and grace.

Isn't it beautiful?!

You were dead, ruled by Satan, controlled by your cravings, and deserving of wrath, dear Christian.  BUT GOD.  Yes!  BUT GOD, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ, placed us under His rule, rescued us from our cravings, and delivered us from His wrath.

Paul is then quick to remind the Ephesians that it's not by works they have been saved, but by the will and grace of Almighty God, who does what pleases Him.  But then he also includes that last verse, that I bolded.  The impression I get from that is this:

God made you; God saved you; God's got work for you!

We know that it is not work that saves us.  That's been done!  Our identity and place in God's family are secure in Christ.  But it seems that not only did God save us on purpose, He saved us with a purpose for us in mind.  Obviously, it is to live our lives to His glory, and we can do that by doing good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Oh, I think that's so cool.  God sees through and lives outside of time.  Even when we're still dead in our transgressions, He knows when He will save us and has plans for us!  We don't need to go searching for purpose, we need to seek Him!  Getting to know our Savior God, asking Him to soften our hearts to His Spirit, leaning daily on the blood and righteousness of Christ, all these things set us up to be walking right smack dab in the middle of the works He has for us - that He prepared in advance for us to do.

How about a take-away assignment for today?

If you feel a little nudge inside you today, even if it seems like something strange for you to do, but is good and lines us with the way of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), ROLL WITH IT and see what happens.  God uses His people as His hands and feet in the world!  For we are His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Have fun loving and serving the Lord with joy today!

November 20, 2013

{Day 20} Saved and Called: The Fruit of the Spirit

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, considering Paul's words in Galatians 5:16-26, we will consider another aspect of living the holy life to which God calls us: repentance.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Boy, oh boy!  There is so much to unpack here.  I will do my best to be concise.

There is war raging inside you, Christian.  If you are in Christ and belong to God, you can now live by the Spirit.  The challenge we face this side of heaven, however, is that our sinful nature will daily try to take over.  So if you feel conflicted at moments, like you have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, you are experiencing normal Christian life.  As Paul says, the Spirit and the flesh want very different things.  The former, to honor and please God, the latter to please the evil one and itself.  Oh yes, there is a war raging inside of you for ownership of your soul!

The acts of the flesh vs. the fruit of the Spirit.  Because the sinful nature and the Spirit desire different things, their fruit looks different.  I love that Paul says the acts of the flesh are obvious.  They are, aren't they?  You may not be into witchcraft or participating regularly in orgies, but have you hated,  been jealous, or had a fit of rage this week?  None of us can escape the truth: we are sinners and sin wants to occupy the throne of our hearts.  (As an aside, when Paul says those who live like this, it's an habitual living, unwilling to let go of the lifestyle.)  Paul contrasts the acts of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit, which are not acts, but rather, character traits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  We all want those, don't we?  How does the Spirit grow such fruit in our heart?

Crucify the flesh by repenting and believing the Good News.  Christ rescuing sinners from their sin and the condemnation of the law, reconciling them to God, is Good News!  Paul has spent time in Galatians reminding them (and us) that they are free in Christ, but not free to do whatever they want.  No, free to live unto God with joy, to pursue holiness without the burden being on getting everything right all the time!  Verse twenty-four tells us how we can do that: mercilessly nailing our sin to the cross.  John Stott draws this point out in his commentary on Galatians:
So Paul says, if we have crucified the flesh, we must leave it there to die.  We must renew every day this attitude towards sin of ruthless and uncompromising rejection. ... The first great secret of holiness lies in the degree and the decisiveness of our repentance.  If besetting sins persistently plague us it is either because we have never truly repented, or because, having repented, we have not maintained our repentance. ... We have crucified the flesh; we are never going to draw out the nails.  (p 151-152)
Why do we daily renew our commitment to keeping sin OUT?  Because our Savior bled and died to rescue us from the same fate.  Praise the Lord!  How do we do so?  Glad you asked!

Walk in the Spirit's way!  Christians let go of their sin and have a new way to walk in, the Spirit's!  The sinful nature is dethroned and a new King sits there.  We look to the Spirit!  Stott says:
If it is vital to be ruthless in turning away from the things of the flesh, it is equally vital to be disciplined in turning toward the things of the Spirit.  (p 153)
God calls us to shut the door on the old way and walk in a new one, the path He has laid out for us.  The path He has equipped to walk in, by coming to dwell in our hearts by His Spirit.  As we repudiate sin and keep the Spirit on the throne, His fruit is cultivated in our lives and begins to flourish.  You know those Christians for whom godliness seems to come naturally and (gasp!) joyfully?  Yeah, I think they got these ideas a long time ago!

*     *     *

Well, [clears throat] I don't know about you, but I have some nailing of sin to the cross I need to recommit to this morning: - lack of self-control, fits of rage, worry, earthy pleasures - and a heart-throne I need to make open and comfortable for my Lord.  You, too?

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  Ephesians 3:16-21