March 31, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines: Celebration!

This is it!  Today I'll conclude the Wednesday series on the Spiritual Disciplines, as laid out by Richard Foster in his book, Celebration of Discipline, ... on a Monday.  Tomorrow, the beginning of April, I'll begin a series called "Interrupted by Grace."  But more on that later.  For now, let's talk about Celebration in the life of the Christian!  Here's the quote that Foster has at the beginning of this, the final chapter of his book:

The Christian should be an alleluia from heat to foot!
-Augustine of Hippo

Feeling convicted?  Boy, I sure did the first time I read that quote.  Yet I agree whole-heartedly!  Here's why:

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to [Jesus].  Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good new to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
Luke 4:17-19 & Isaiah 61:1-2

Why should God's people be people who celebrate?  Because Christ has sent us free, opened our ears and eyes to the good news!  God the Father sent the Lord Jesus, and He was obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2).  Jesus fulfilled His earthly mission then sent the Spirit to live in the hearts of His people to sustain and change them.

Foster picked the perfect way to end a book about the Spiritual Disciplines. He says, p 191,
Celebration is central to all the Spiritual Disciplines.  Without a joyful spirit of festivity the Disciplines become dull, death-breathing tools in the hands of modern Pharisees.  Every Discipline should be characterized by carefree gaiety and a sense of thanksgiving. (emphasis mine)
Celebration - rejoicing in the Lord, who He is and what He has done - breeds joy.  Joy gives us strength.  In fact the Bible says in Nehemiah 8:10, Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.

And Paul commands the Philippians, Rejoice in the Lord always.  And again I say, Rejoice!

Rejoicing in the Lord, celebrating because we have been set free from domination by anxiety, fear, sin and death, saves us from many self-inflicted paths of woe and sin!  And you know what the path to that joy is?  Obedience.  The Christian will find his greatest joy when He hears the words of the Lord and heeds them.  Our Father does know best, my friends.  He created us to walk in His ways.  He created us to love Him first, our neighbor second, and ourselves last.  He enables His created ones to be restored to joy, out of darkness, by saving us and calling us to obedience.

We can obey the Lord because He is trustworthy, faithful, and true.  The Scriptures remind and assure us of this, as do many experiences in our personal histories.  We are set free in Him, because we no longer need to be concerned.  Foster cites the verse, Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and petition, present your requests to God...  And he says, The Spirit of celebration will not be in us until we have learned to be "careful for nothing" ... until we trust God.  Celebration and joy come out of that freedom of resting in Him and setting our minds (as Paul goes on to say in those verses in Philippians 4) on things that are true, honorable, right, excellent, etc.

And so, Celebration is a discipline.  We make a decision to train our will to focus on the higher things in life  (p 195).  Circumstances can be swirling around us in tornado-strength gusts, but the joy of the Lord is our strength.  Celebration in the Lord is our chosen way of living an thinking, because we cast our cares on the Lord and entrust the present and future to Him.  Oh the security we have in the arms of our God through the blood of Christ and the seal of the Holy Spirit!


Celebration has many benefits.  Foster highlights three (p 196-197).
  • Celebration saves us from taking ourselves too seriously.
  • Celebration is an effective antidote for times of sadness that burden our hearts.
  • Celebration gives us perspective on God and ourselves.
Celebration also takes on many forms, such as, shouting, singing, dancing, laughing, imagining, playing, establishing new traditions, reveling in long-observed holidays, and so on and so forth!  Let the Lord move in your heart with His joy as you embrace celebration as a way of life, dear Christian.  He will set your heart free!

*     *     *

Friends, I have immensely enjoyed taking the time to read through Fosters book and share summaries with you.  Jan, thank you for the suggestion to do so!  I pray that, as I have experienced, you've been encouraged to pursue God with more vigor, relying wholly on His loving-kindness given to you in Christ.  We are not saved by our pursuit of the Disciplines, the saving has already taken place, but we grow closer to the Father, Son and Spirit in and through such practices.  How profound that God wants to be in relationship with us?  It gets me every day!

I love at the very end of the book, Foster summarizes the content up in a few succinct paragraphs.  So you'll have to get your hands on a copy to see how He does it!  In fact, since I got no takers for the book give away, (maybe I summarized too well!!), the first to comment on this post gets a copy from me.  :)

Tomorrow I'll begin the third annual April Interrupted by Grace series.  Throughout the month I'll share stories from day-to-day life about seeing God's interrupt me with His grace.  The point is for you and me to practice being on the look out for God at work in our lives, which I think is a great follow up to studying the Spiritual Disciplines.  Cool, how it worked out, huh?  God is good.

I hope you'll join me and even share some of your stories throughout the month of April.  See you tomorrow!!

March 26, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines: Guidance (And a Chance to Win Foster's Book)

Good afternoon!  This week I read Foster's chapter on the spiritual discipline of Guidance, which he chooses to include in the 'corporate disciplines' category because God does guide the individual richly and profoundly, but he also guides groups of people and can instruct the individual through the group experience.  (p. 176)

I don't have much experience with this, but Foster's sites how God led and guided the people of Israel and then the way he led the early church as they gathered to fast and pray.  Good insight, Mr. Foster!  He points out how the church today could gather in similar ways to "discern the mind of the Lord" in decisions for the whole body or in helping individuals make decisions.

The phrase that jumped out at me from his discussion of the early church based on Acts 15:28 was:

They dared to live on the basis of Spirit rule;
no fifty-one percent vote, no compromises, bu Spirit-directed unity.

Wouldn't that be wild?  To have the patience, courage and faith to bring a decision you're trying to make (to go into missions, to get married to a specific person, etc.) to the Lord with the body, and await the Spirit's direction in prayer and fasting.  This certainly flies in the face of our cultural tendency toward indiviualism!

Foster goes on to give examples from church history between us and the apostles as well as offering warnings against the abuse of this discipline, e.g. not letting leaders lead or manipulating people into doing things.  He also says this:
Spiritual direction is first born out of natural, spontaneous human relationships.  a hierarchical, or even organizational system, is not essential to its function and is often destructive to it.  The ordinary kinds of caring and sharing that belong to the Christian community are the starting point for spiritual direction.  Out of them will flow "kingdom authority" through mutual subordination and servanthood. (p.186)

I don't have much more to say today!  This week feels full and I feel scatter-brained, so I need to call it quits there.  BUT, if you want to get more from this chapter, and the rest of Richard Foster's book Celebration of Discipline, I'd love to send you a copy!  I'll have a little end-of-series give-away on Monday, March 31.  Drop me a comment before Sunday night to let me know you'd like me to put your name in the hat, and I will!  Thanks for joining in on this series.

March 19, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines: Worship

Worship is the human response to the divine initiative.
Celebration of Discipline  p.158

What do you think about that?

I love how concise and precise Foster defines worship.

On Sunday mornings, I say to the kids, "We are going to worship!"  Okay, okay, so sometimes it's said more like this, "Hurry up and get in the car!  We are late for worship!!"  In those cases, I'm stopped in my tracks by the word worship.  'Church' can become too associated with the building, similar to saying, we're going to the grocery store.  A building is lifeless.  Worship is alive!  We're not going there to check a chore off of the to-do list; we're going to participate in something living and active with the people of God.  Our people, because of what God has done for us in Christ.  Wow!

"Put on your seat belts, kids.  We're going to worship!"

Thinking of our regular Sunday morning activity in this way has changed my attitude toward church attendance.  So, buckle your seat belts, 'cause that's what we're gonna talk about today!

Of course, we go to church to receive: there is teaching; sacraments are performed; absolution is spoken.  But we also go ready to give and participate: songs are sung to God; money clinks into the plate; sins are confessed; requests are spoken.  Worship should be serious business for the Christian, serious meaning something not taken lightly, but rather approached intentionally and purposefully.

Worship is the human response to the divine initiative!

What is Worship

It helps to know what we're talking about.  So pulling from Scripture and Foster's (most excellent) chapter on the subject, let's clarify some things.

  • Who do we worship?  We worship God, who has revealed Himself in Scripture.  He is the only one worthy of our worship.  Matthew 4:10

  • What do we do in worship? We worship God.  Whatever we do in worship must center on Him and be done in response to Him.  Foster emphasizes that forms are secondary, though not irrelevant.  The forms are not the worship; they only lead us into the worship.  p 159

  • When do we worship?  Anywhere and everywhere all the time, worship is appropriate, good, and right!  We should be listening for God all throughout our days.  Then, we specially gather with 'holy expectancy' with other believers for corporate worship (traditionally this is done on Sundays) every week.

  • Why do we worship? Well, in once sense, we worship because we're told to.  Remember the 10 Commandments?  But do you also remember the words God spoke before delivering them?  And God spoke all these words:  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  God rescued them from slavery, just as He has done us from sin, at His initiative. In worship we respond to God, who is worthy in His being and for what He has done for us.

  • How do we learn to worship? As with all of the disciplines, Foster says, We learn to worship by worshiping.  And I love what he draws out in this chapter about how we learn, individually and corporately: Christ is our leader and teacher.  Foster calls Christ our Present Teacher.  It reminds me of the prayer of St. Patrick, about Christ being with us, before us, behind us, etc.  What a great comfort, having our Present Teacher there with us as we learn to worship through our days and learn to worship together on Sunday mornings or in smaller groups during the week!  Also, postures and behaviors that are appropriate for worship are found throughout Scripture.  These are good to have in our heads, so when the Spirit prompts we know that it is from Him and not our imagination.

Closing Thoughts

One of Jesus's accusations of the Pharisees in Matthew 15 (quoted from from Isaiah 29:13) was that they worshiped with their lips, but their hearts were far from God. So tragic; they were so close, yet so far.  Let this not be true of the Church of Christ!  Worship that is not directed toward God is idolatry.  But praise be to God, we are all professional idolaters who can be transformed in to worshipers of God!  Get your heart, mind, body, and spirit into worship!*

Foster also reminds us that the "divine priority" is worship first, service second.  Putting the second first is idolatry.  Let us serve out of our worship, keeping the "divine priority" as our priority!

Finally, be cautious as you begin to intentionally practice the discipline of worship.  You'll probably get carried away sometimes by the Spirit of the Lord!  <wink>

Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Psalm 103-1-5

*You can learn more about some details of those things in this chapter in Celebration of Discipline. Oh, I really think you should read this book, because I can't summarize it all here!  I'm still planning to give one away in a few weeks.  :)

March 12, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines: Confession

Over the last few months, Wednesdays have been "Spiritual Discipline" days following the Table of Contents of Richard Foster's book, Celebration of Discipline.  To see a list of topics covered thus far, click here.  To read today's post, don't click anywhere, just keep reading!

Today we enter the last subsection, The Corporate Disciplines, which include Confession, Worship, Guidance, and Celebration.  We'll begin with Confession.

You know what confession has to do with, right?  Sin.

Do any of you try to avoid, hide or cover up your sin, brushing them under the rug like dust bunnies, hoping to mask their presence?  We really are pretty nice people, after all.  Yet sin is not so easily hidden from our own hearts and minds.  Those dust bunnies grow into unbearable dust storms in our souls and we walk around trying to "act normal" while blinded and burdened by unconfessed and unforgiven sin.  The weight of which often leads us further into darkness.

Confession is an alternative, THE alternative.  If we deny our sin we deceive ourselves and call God a liar.  But when we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Woah and Hallelujah!  In confession, the weight of wickedness can be lifted and replaced by the precious weight of glory, because God is faithful and just.

Why Corporate?

If we confess or sins and God forgives us, why is this included in the corporate disciplines.  Well, how many of you lovely ladies and gents have confessed a sin to God and know in your head that you are forgiven, but guilt still eats away at your conscience?  C'mon, raise your hand; I'm raising mine!

We all know how difficult it is to cling to Truth and let go of the bondage, even though we believe God's Word to be true and know that He has and does forgive His people in Christ.  This is why Foster plops this topic down in the Corporate Disciplines section; we need to confess our sins to one another* - not willy-nilly to every brother in sister in Christ that we meet, but with discernment, bringing our burdened hearts to another, fruit-bearing believer to hear him or her as the voice of the Lord in our lives saying, You are forgiven.  The cross covers that too.  You are not defined by your sin, but by your identity in Christ.  Go, be free then, to love and serve the Lord.

This also makes me think of confession in the course of a worship service.  On a given Sunday morning, so many are gathered and offering up their confessions to the Lord at some point in the service.  How sufficient is the blood of Christ!  So many receive the elements when communion is served.  So many sinners saved, so many sins forgiven.  Blessed be the name of the Lord!  We need to confess to God, to one another, and with one another for the strengthening of our faith and the health of the body.

Elements of Confession

Foster offers three elements of confession borrowed from St. Alphonsus Liguori: examination of conscience, sorry, and a determination to avoid sin.  A note on each:
  1. Examination of conscience is time to ask God to search our hearts and reveal our sin to us.  Something like David's petition in Psalm 139:23-24.
  2. Sorrow is a way of taking the confession seriously, (p. 152).  We can look to David again on this point, in Psalm 51:4, "Against you and you alone have I sinned ...."
  3. A determination to avoid sin is not a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps attitude, but rather a desire to be delivered from sin and be ruled by God.
Often when God reveals sin to me, I feel bad about it.  Then, I stop there.  Rather than finding freedom in the discipline of confession - letting God search my heart and then letting him be the one to release, heal, an transform me - I wallow, feel defeated, and figure "it will always be this way."  How inspiring to be reminded that God is in the business of forgiving sin, and we can learn to confess and be set free!  Our pride would keep us from the practice, but the Spirit in us can prevail over our pride and we can grow in humility and faith.

What a relief!

What a fellowship,
What a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms!

He's Not Angry

Finally, a sweet or maybe shocking reminder before we close, one our pastor in Cambridge was fond of repeating:  If you come to God, He will not be angry with you.  Foster says it this way at the beginning of the chapter,
Love, not anger, brought Jesus to the cross.  Golgotha came as a result of God's great desire to forgive, not his reluctance.  Jesus knew that by his vicarious suffering he could actually absorb all the evil of humanity and so heal it, forgive it, redeem it.  p 144

Stop suffering for that which has already been suffered.  Go.  Confess your sin to another, trustworthy, kind believer, and be healed, believe you are forgiven, and walk as a redeemed child of the Lord!

*     *     *

I don't know that I've done this chapter justice.  Foster shares some great stories and so much encouragement to move toward God in confession.  I've only pulled out a few highlights and added what comes to my mind.  I would encourage you to read Celebration of Discipline sometime.  In fact, I plan to give away a copy.  Keep your eyes peeled for the giveaway announcement in a couple of weeks!  :)

*"God has given us our brothers and sisters to stand in Christ's stead and make God's presence and forgiveness real to us."  p 147

March 5, 2014

So It's Ash Wednesday (a repost)

I'm reposting these thoughts from Ash Wednesday, 2013.  I highly recommend the article link in the first paragraph, if you're looking for a better understanding of or ideas for what to do during Lent.  Thanks for putting up with hearing from me again today.  :)

So It's Ash Wednesday

I have had a couple of thoughts this morning that I want to share with you regarding Lent.  I was pondering the first set of questions for self-examination in Craig Higgins' article, 'On Keeping a Holy Lent.'  Here they are:

  • What are my characteristic sins, and how can I work and pray for change?
  • What idols have captured my imagination so that my love for the living God has grown cold?
  • In what ways is my devotion to Christ and his church less than wholehearted?

These are broad sweeping questions to get us thinking about this season of repentance.  I don't know what your characteristic sins are, but I'm sure you've got a handful.  After spending a little time thinking about mine this morning, (you know, the ones you find you're always confessing during Sunday worship confession time or in personal prayer during the week), I thought perhaps this season would be a wonderful time to memorize a verse on each point to have the Word hidden in my heart for the Spirit to call to mind when I find myself in "characteristic sin situations!"  I wanted to pass that along as an idea you might consider as well.  God's Word has the power to change us.  It really does, because it is alive!

Another thing I learned about Lent several years ago is that Sundays are not included in the 40 days.  Sundays are a day of celebration, feasting, worshiping the Lord.  It's the Lord's day; enjoy it!

Finally I want to leave you with a chunk of verses I read this morning that connect well with the beginning of this season of Christian discipline, Psalm 44:4-8.
You are my King and my God,
who decrees victories for Jacob.
Through you we push back our enemies;
through your name we trample our foes.
I do not trust in my bow,
my sword does not bring me victory;
but you give us victory over our enemies,
you put our adversaries to shame.
In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name forever.

Let us, even as we consider self-denial and spiritual disciplines, remember that it is all of the Lord.  We seek Him only because He has been merciful to incline our hearts toward Him.  The Bible says no one seeks God, not even one ... so if we are seeking Him, we can boast only that He is at work and rejoice our way through whatever joys and trials we encounter.  For He has been so good to us.

When I think about enemies in the Psalms, I often think of our great enemy, satan, and the sins within that threaten to undo me at every turn.  Read those verses from that perspective and we are reminded that it is through God  that we trample our enemy, through God that we trample our foe.  Let's trust neither in our spiritual practices nor our will power, for it is in Christ we have the victory.  But do let us go into battle, (remember Israel still fought their enemies, though it was God who gave the victory)!  Let's arm ourselves with the Word; let's look our sin in the face and tell it it can no longer occupy the place it does because Christ is our Lord; let's watch what He does in giving us new victory as we join the church through the ages in observance of this season of Lent.

In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name forever.

How wonderful, amazing, incredible, baffling that the God whom we've offended calls us His children through faith in Jesus!  It leaves me speechless every time I think about it.  Praise the Lord and may He bless you as you consider what He's done for you as we approach the Sunday of Sundays (Easter) in just a handful of weeks.

Have a good day, friends!

Spiritual Disciplines: Service

Service is the last of the four S-words that comprise the outward disciplines!  Next week we'll start into the four corporate disciplines and that will take us to the annual April Interrupted by Grace* series.  Yeah!  But I won't rush us to April, it being only the first week of March and all.  Back to Service, then.

In our day, Service is hot stuff.  We participate in service projects and include our volunteer gigs on job and college applications.  You are a better candidate (and human being) if you can list ways you spent time and gave yourself for others, rather than you.  One day a few years back I was filling out an application to work with a local organization.  They wanted met to list other ways/places I was volunteering.

I had nothing to write on those lines, and was embarrassed leaving them blank.

Why?  Because I wanted them to know that I really was a nice person, that I did think of others and cared well for my family, that I gave my time and efforts, just not in the usual volunteering kind of way.  I didn't want to be judged and found lacking.

Do you serve so that others will notice or so you can feel better about yourself?  We all do at one time or another.  We humans are like that.  Biblical service, however, is another ballgame entirely, focused not on the acts of service, but rather on cultivating the servant lifestyle.  

Do you find it odd that Foster includes this as a discipline?  Did you know we can cultivate a servant heart?  We don't have to beat ourselves up about lacking humility and a servant's heart.  We can instead, as those beloved of God, repent of our sin and look for ways God has called us to "take up the towel" and serve others for His sake, not for recognition or to pat ourselves on the back.  This is possible!

I can be a helpful person.  My personality is inclined to reach out when there is a need.  Most of the time I don't get involved to be recognized, but because it is right.  However, my perseverance in service is desperately lacking.  I'm "good at" single acts of service.  I cannot claim to have a servant's heart; I love myself and my time far too much.

But, behold, I bring myself and you good tidings of great joy:  Jesus came!  He showed us true service.  Security in our relationship with Him, the Father, and the Holy Spirit frees us to die more to ourselves each day as we choose to be servants of God and others, rather than slaves to our flesh.  Foster says,
It takes some practice so, rather than dashing out to bear the burdens of the whole world, let us begin more humbly.  We can begin in some small corner somewhere and learn. Jesus will be our teacher. ... The risen Christ beckons us to the ministry of the towel.  Such a ministry, flowing out of the inner recesses of the heart, is life and joy and peace.  Perhaps you would like to begin by experimenting with a prayer that several of us use.  Begin the day by praying, "Lord Jesus, as it would please you bring me someone today whom I can serve."

*     *     *

How wonderfully appropriate that the discipline of service falls on Ash Wednesday.  Today the church turns her eyes toward Holy Week, remembering the sufferings of Her Lord, then celebrating His resurrection on Easter Sunday!  Traditionally, believers give up something for the 40 days of Lent.  This can be a wonderful practice.  Last year, I felt prompted to try an alternative.  I added something to my life that required something of me and made me face my idols of control and self-centeredness.  Since we're in the middle of learning more about the Spiritual Disciplines, let me suggest focusing on one of these things during Lent!  Perhaps some regular fasting, reading your Bible every day, or committing to pray that prayer above each morning and being on the look out for opportunities God brings your way?  Any of these things drive will us to repentance, the true focus of the Lenten season!

This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  I John 4:9-10

*Here's how the April series became "a thing" on Life in the Valley.  This will be the third year for us to spend April intentionally keeping our eyes peeled for moments God interrupts our days with His grace.  :)

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