February 26, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines: Submission

Good afternoon!  We're half-way through our Wednesdays exploring Foster's list of Spiritual Disciplines in his book Celebration of Discipline.  I've been maintaining a list of previous posts here, so if you are new to the series you can catch-up using the links provided on that page.

Today we get to talk about another 'S' word, one that is not popular these days: Submission.  What I find lovely about including Submission in a book on Spiritual Disciplines, is that submission is addressed as a habit or behavior that should characterize the lives all Christians, not just lower classes or groups.  All Christians.

When you hear the word, what comes to mind?  Being a doormat?  Giving up your individuality?  Pretending you don't have needs and wants?  Or perhaps you immediately think of our Savior, Jesus, who submitted to His Father's will to save mankind through Him.  Foster begins the chapter by reminding us that the Disciplines in and of themselves are of no value whatever.  They have value only as a means of setting us before God so that he can give us the liberation we seek.  The liberation is the end; the Disciplines are merely the means.  (p. 110)  He goes on to say that every Discipline has a corresponding freedom.

Guess what freedom we find in submission.  The ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way. ... we are released to drop the matter, to forget it.  (p. 111)

Are you good at that?  Or do you - as our culture and our sinful natures have conditioned us - always feel the need to have the last word, really settle the matter in your favor, and make sure everyone knows your expertise on the issue?  Guilty as charged over here in front my my computer screen!

So, Foster reminds us that what the Bible teaches us about submission simply has to do with how we view others.  The verses that come immediately to mind for me are Philippians 2:3-4,
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Oh, that is so hard!

Reflection on the Discipline of Submission quickens us to get in the habit of thinking of others, laying down our rights to lift up others.  Submission reminds us that God desires to transform us into Christ's likeness.  Philippians 2 continues by describing Jesus in this way:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross! 
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

We're not called to save the world; Jesus did that.  But as His people, we are called to live like Him - entrusting ourselves to the Father and listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit when He speaks to us.

Our sinful nature would keep us in the bondage of needing to assert ourselves as god, to be pleased at all costs.  Christ sets us free to pick up our cross and follow Him into the liberating presence of the One True God, who sets us free from the law of sin and death (and the need to be the center of the universe), and who covers us with His mercy and gives us new life.  This new life with Him - content, secure, and free - opens up the door to love others with abandon and let go of the need to always have our own way!

Foster calls this freely accepted servanthood and mentions seven acts of submission that you can read more about in the book,* submission to the Triune God, the Scripture, our family, our neighbors, the believing community, the broken and despised, and the world.  Kinda sums up submission - denying yourself and following Jesus - in 'most every area of life!

Odd, isn't it, that we will find what we're looking for when we let go of, rather than holding on tighter to, protecting and asserting our self?**  I'm sure a brief moment's thought brings to mind relationships and arenas of life where you can practice this Discipline right away.  Go for it!  Dying to self feels like the worst thing that can happen to us, until we begin to taste the sweet nectar of freedom that drips from the wounds.  May Christ, the Good Shepherd, be our hope and stay as we love Him with our lives.

* I'll be giving away a copy at the end of the series!

**A few years back I wrote a series about 'Becoming more yourself than ever' that grew out of reading a line in C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters that relates to themes shared in this post.  Check that out here.

February 19, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines: Solitude

When I finished Richard Foster's chapter on Solitude, a chord in my heart had been struck:

Don't you feel a tug, a yearning to sing down into the silence and solitude of God?  Don't you long for something more?  Doesn't every breath crave a deeper, fuller exposure to his Presence  It is the Discipline of solitude that will open the door.  You are welcome to come in and "listen to God's speech in his wondrous, terrible, gentle, loving, all-embracing silence.  (p. 108-9) Celebration of Discipline

The longing I have for peace in any circumstances can be satisfied!  I imagine your days are as full of demands as mine; this world is a wearisome place with its requirements and responsibilities.  Do you long for a little solitude in your days?  Is your soul weary?  I pray God will use this post to lift you up right now.

What is Solitude?

Jesus calls us from loneliness to solitude, Foster begins the chapter on the topic.  Sometimes we think that if we could "just get away," we'd find the peace - the solitude - we're looking for.  Other times we're petrified by the thought being alone, so we turn on some music, switch on the tv, or call a friend.  Our world is not short on distractions!

Our Lord invites us to experience real solitude.  Solitude is not loneliness; it is fulfillment by God.  Solitude is not simply eliminating distraction; it is being filled in our heart and mind with God-sized silence and peace.

How Can Get Solitude?

One major component of Solitude is silence.  Foster says solitude and silence are inseparable and reminds his readers of the many times Jesus withdrew to quiet places to be with God.   If we want to know Solitude throughout our days, we must be in the habit of withdrawing for times with God.  Even in those times it can be easy to do all the talking and/or rush through a Bible study to be able to check that off the day's list.  I know, because sometimes I approach my own quiet time as if it's a task on my to-do list.  Practicing Solitude, however, means biting our tongues, hushing our thoughts, and opening our ears.  Not only do we withdraw for times of quiet, we shut up and listen.  We let God fill us with His presence.

How do we grow in solitude?  By taking time away regularly to be with God and by not spending that time doing all the talking.  :)

I've tired this a couple of times over the last week and nothing dramatic has happened, but my soul feels more at rest knowing that God is there and He will speak.  I wrote down phrases or ideas that came to mind during those short times.  In general, I feel a lot calmer even knowing that there can be Solitude within me because of who God is and how He loves His children, not matter what's going on around me.  Good news!

What are the Effects of Solitude?

The fruit of solitude is increased sensitivity and compassion for others.  There comes a new freedom to be with people.  There is new attentiveness to their needs, new responsiveness to their hurts. (p   108)  No longer consumed with our own loneliness or distracted by, well, distractions, we are able to see and care for others better.  By moving closer to God in solitude, we increasingly live out the second commandment: love thy neighbor as thyself.  Our relationship with God is changed and changes us, and so does our relationship with others.  A soul at peace can care for the souls of others.  Oh, that sounds so glorious to me!

What I find most wonderful thinking about solitude is that not only does God show up in the solitude, but He's always there.  A friend shared a quote from a 14th century monk on her blog, It only takes a tiny scrap of time to draw near to God.  We can have "official" quiet times in our day AND we can take hold of any quiet moment throughout the day to draw near to God (rather than our cell phone or our 5,000 Facebook friends).  Whenever we stop and listen, we will find God in the quiet.

Making myself embrace solitude rather than distraction will take some work.  I'm thankful to Foster for addressing this discipline in his book to bring it to my attention!  Do you find yourself missing out on solitude because you favor distraction or loneliness?  Let's be encouraged to forsake the worthless idols of loneliness and distraction, so we don't forfeit the grace that is ours in Christ!  (Jonah 2:8)

February 13, 2014

Hide 'Em in Your Heart (a post for itakejoy)

Sharing today at itakejoy.com.
Join me using the link at the bottom of this teaser!

Most of us who pop in here at I Take Joy agree that the Bible is important.  It is the Word of God to His people!  Most of us also know the challenge of getting in regular Bible study amid the routine and relentless demands of life.  One of my favorite things to do is study a passage with commentaries, thought and prayer, and have an opportunity to share what I learn with others.  The lack of time I have to spend in study is frustrating, but life has other delights for me right now – three to be exact, ages 9, 5, and 2.
Having those three little treasures around has revealed how “all or nothing” I am; if I can’t do a task or activity the way I want, I’m quick to despair and quit. Knowing that about myself, I have had to accept two things.   One, I won’t usually have the blocks of time I desire, so I must stop being annoyed by it.  Two, I should take advantage of (or create) spaces when I can inch toward what I desire, rather than wasting that time despairingly checking my Facebook feed!
In Latin we can summarize the second point in two words: carpe diem, and we can apply this approach to time we spend in the Word as moms.  In particular, we can seize moments to memorize Scripture passages!
Our best offence and defense, in the wild, unpredictable, worrisome and confusing rhythms of life, is God’s Word.
He has spoken that we might listen.
Aren’t there times when you are reading your Bible, sitting in worship, or discussing Scripture at small group when a verse or passage really catches your attention?  You’d like to spend more time thinking about it, but children interrupt, the worship service or small group ends, and you never do.  Let me suggest that when that happens, you ...
- Keep reading at: http://www.itakejoy.com/hide-em-in-your-heart/#sthash.Lz9bBuor.dpuf

February 12, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines: Simplicity

The first four disciplines Richard Foster discusses in his book Celebration of Discipline, he puts in the subsection, "The Inward Disciplines."  Those are the four with which I began this series: meditation, prayer, fasting and study.  Today we move into the next subsection, "The Outward Disciplines."  These include simplicity, solitude, submission, and service.  We'll begin with simplicity.

I found reading through the chapter convicting and liberating.  Conviction came from realizing how complicated I make my life, by failing to entrust it to the Lord by resting in His promises and pursuing His purposes.  Liberation came in realizing that I need not remain in bondage, but can be set free by trusting the Lord, resting in His promises, and pursuing His purposes.

The theme verse for the discipline of simplicity is Matthew 6:33.

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

In that section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is addressing why God's children should not worry and what we should do instead.  The alternative to worry is focusing on God - His kingdom and His righteousness - letting Him "worry" about the rest, e.g what you will eat and wear.

The world is full of troubles for us, isn't it?  We are bombarded with decisions and distractions.  There are times my head and heart have almost exploded out of my body when I've been so consumed by the concerns, fears, doubts and confusion this world so readily offers.  Happened just last week, in fact.  Oh, and yesterday, too!

The temptation, then, is to leave the world behind.  Get rid of all unnecessary stuff, close my Facebook account, don't watch the news, and simply tend to the tasks that come my way.  That sounds so freeing, but Foster reminds us that simplicity is not asceticism; Simplicity is an outward expression of an inward reality.  The inward reality is a quiet, consistent trust in God that sets our hearts free.  Foster also offers that true Simplicity is only thing that reorients our lives so that our possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying us. (p 84)  Simplicity will likely result in eliminating some distractions and getting rid of some things, but first it is a reorientation of the attitude of our hearts.

I'm guessing your heart is like mine.  You either love your possessions too much or you despise and cruse them.  Whether it's the former or the latter, our stuff is in God's place in our lives.  So we all have room to grow!

However don't want to pursue Simplicity for Simplicity's sake.  We want to practice the discipline of Simplicity to draw near to God!  We need to seek the Lord, asking Him to 
  • change the attitude of our hearts such that we praise and thank Him for all He as provided,
  • give us generous hearts, willing to share all that He has given to us, and
  • instill in us "single-mindedness" for His kingdom and righteousness, trusting in His protection and provision for us, not our own.
God is able to change our hearts!

So this week, let's think about applying seek first His kingdom and His righteousness to various areas of our life!

Here's an example from my life.  God provided us with this wonderful new home and more than enough stuff to go in it, but I am often overwhelmed by the messes we make and spend far more time complaining and grumbling than rejoicing, giving thanks,and thinking about how we can use our house to God's glory.  I need to think about how can I seek first God's kingdom and righteousness as I care for our home and in how I use it?

What about other areas of life: work, church, relationships?  We will begin to grow in Simplicity as we practice saying, "Lord, how can I seek first your kingdom and righteousness here?  I am worried about how sharing my time or things could detrimentally effect me.  Change my heart, fill me with thanksgiving and a spirit of generosity.  Set me free to run in Your way with no regrets."

Simplicity is a discipline of freedom,
the freedom to trust God because He is trustworthy and the provider.

Go forth and be more free in Him today than you were yesterday, friends!

February 9, 2014

The Church

Sunday's a great day to talk about church!

I have been sharing with you on Wednesdays about Spiritual Disciplines which are mostly individual practices.  But the Christian is not a lone ranger.  Each follower of Christ is part of a worldwide body of believers called the Church.  For reasons of time and space, we cannot all worship together on Sunday mornings, but we belong to each other just the same because we are in Christ.  We are His bride.  His blood has covered the sins of every soul who sits in a pew or walks to the front to take communion in remembrance of Him.  Being part of the Church is a profound blessing.  Most places you might go in the world, you will be able to find fellow believers and have an automatic, familial connection with them in Christ.  Stop for a moment and savor that wonderful truth.

Our pastor at our new congregation during the new members' class yesterday asked us a couple of questions:
  1. What do you think of when you hear the word church?
  2. Name a person who you really associate with church and why.
The answers fell into themes.  Church made folks think of buildings, people, the body, the bride of Christ, and family.  And everyone had stories of parents, grandparents, pastors, or Sunday School teachers who took them to church and/or who God used to give them a foundation in the faith, even if they didn't believe until much later.

As a mother, the church is more important to me than in used to be.  Parents are relentlessly bombarded with advice and reports about what is the best way to raise children.  We want our kids to grow up in the faith and it can start to feel like it's all up to us.  If we fail, we've failed big.  After all, it's their souls that are at stake!  Enter, the church.

In Scripture, the Church is spoken of as a body with many parts that need to work together and are dependent on one another.  In my local congregation, there are men and women who know the Word and will model and share the Gospel with my kids.  They need that; I need that!  They need to hear testimony of God's goodness, might, power and mercy from us at home AND from Sunday School teachers, the pulpit, during coffee hour, at special events, etc.  This will grow their sense of wonder at the expanse of God's kingdom in our town and throughout the world.  You know, rubbing shoulders with fellow believers on Sunday mornings does the same for me too!

The answers that people gave to the pastor's questions yesterday expressed (consistent with Scripture) that church is far more than a building where we gather.  The church is the people gathered under that roof, who have been redeemed by God and called His children - a family!  The church is (as my friend Linda said) the expression of God's kingdom on earth - a testimony to the world of who God is and what He does!  The church is a place where people can love and serve and be loved and be served, as each person finds his or her place - a body!

Will you find your way to a pew this morning?  Maybe you live on the other side of the world and you already have!  Look around you, read our bulletin, engage in the worship (even if it's not exactly how you'd put it together) and purpose in your heart to connect.  You will not find perfection in those pews or in the pulpit, no matter how nice people look in their Sunday dress.  But you will find echoes of redemption, stories of salvation, messages of hope.  Don't sit on the sidelines; get in and get dirty!  You need the church, and the church needs you, the Bible tells me so.

Have a great Sunday!

(There is so much to be said about the church.  Today I just wanted to share what was on my heart, to encourage you to engage with your local congregation and watch the Lord work there.  Also, I didn't have time to put together lots of Scripture references for this, so I encourage you to explore what the Bible says about church!)

February 5, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines: The Good News is for Sharing!

Today we'll take a break from looking at specific Spiritual Disciplines to consider what the purpose and role of the disciplines should be in the Christian's life.  My dad sent me this devotional from My Utmost For His Highest, by Oswald Cambers, on January 31.
"Our calling is not primarily to be holy men and women, but to be proclaimers of the gospel of God. The one all-important thing is that the gospel of God should be recognized as the abiding reality. Reality is not human goodness, or holiness, or heaven, or hell— it is redemption. The need to perceive this is the most vital need of the Christian worker today. As workers, we have to get used to the revelation that redemption is the only reality. Personal holiness is an effect of redemption, not the cause of it. If we place our faith in human goodness we will go under when testing comes. 
Paul did not say that he separated himself, but “when it pleased God, who separated me . . .” (Galatians 1:15). Paul was not overly interested in his own character. And as long as our eyes are focused on our own personal holiness, we will never even get close to the full reality of redemption. Christian workers fail because they place their desire for their own holiness above their desire to know God. “Don’t ask me to be confronted with the strong reality of redemption on behalf of the filth of human life surrounding me today; what I want is anything God can do for me to make me more desirable in my own eyes.” To talk that way is a sign that the reality of the gospel of God has not begun to touch me. There is no reckless abandon to God in that. God cannot deliver me while my interest is merely in my own character. Paul was not conscious of himself. He was recklessly abandoned, totally surrendered, and separated by God for one purpose— to proclaim the gospel of God (see Romans 9:3)."
Chambers raises an important point for us in the middle of this study.  What are we doing when we pursue holiness?  Are we trying to please man (others or our self) or God?

I don't think that Cambers would say, "Don't pray, fast, or study and meditate on Scripture."  He did all those things and wrote a famous devotional!  So what's he getting at?  He's highlighting the very important truth that the story of Scripture and the purpose of God is Redemption.  If we start to focus on holiness as the end, we are lost in ourselves indeed.  Keeping our eyes on the blessed, glorious, amazing redemption of God, enables us to embrace the Spiritual Disciplines and enjoy getting to know God and the Gospel more fully.

Chambers's comments about proclaiming the gospel of God also highlight that it's not enough to know that Redemption is what mankind needs.  We need to open our lips to declare truth that souls may be brought to Christ.
"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”    Romans 10:14-15

Some are called to minister as pastors and missionaries in specific places.  All Christians are called to proclaim the gospel of God in their spheres, no matter how ordinary.  The Spiritual Disciplines are a place of equipment and "sending out."   Time spent getting to know more about our mighty God through His Word and talking with Him in prayer change us, challenge us, and embolden us.  The Disciplines serve as continual reminders of the beauty of Redemption.  We are so dependent on God: Father, Son, and Spirit!

I have been thinking about how to illustrate that we need to keep our feet firmly planted in what Paul called "of first importance": that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.  And, at the same time, we need to keep running toward the prize, letting go of what is behind and looking forward to what is ahead.  The best I can come up with is the phrase STOP MOTION.  We're stopped at the foot of the cross AND we're moving toward heaven with gusto.

Chambers rightly reminds us of the call to bring along some friends!

*     *     *

Thanks to my dad for sharing Cambers's words.  Thanks be to God that He showed is love among us by sending His one and only Son that we might live through Him!

PS  At one point while I wrote this, Fernando Ortega was singing me This is My Father's World.  Thanks, Pandora!  :)

February 2, 2014

This Is My Father's World

I love this hymn, especially the last verse.  Have a blessed Sunday!

 This is my Father's world, 
and to my listening ears 
all nature sings, and round me rings 
the music of the spheres.  
This is my Father's world:  
I rest me in the thought 
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; 
his hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father's world, 
the birds their carols raise, 
the morning light, the lily white, 
declare their maker's praise.  
This is my Father's world:  
he shines in all that's fair; 
in the rustling grass I hear him pass; 
he speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father's world.  
O let me ne'er forget 
that though the wrong seems oft so strong, 
God is the ruler yet.  
This is my Father's world:  
why should my heart be sad?  
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!  
God reigns; let the earth be glad!