Spiritual Disciplines


Sunday we had a guest speaker, a pastor from the Seattle area. And yes, he spoke on spiritual disciplines, though he didn’t call them that. This term goes way back to the 1970s and maybe was recycled from an even earlier time. I first heard it when I was a young adult, and the disciplines were ways in which we can grow spiritually.

Our speaker Sunday said essentially the same thing, but instead of “grow spiritually,” he referred to intimacy with Christ and sanctification and building habits.

He even provided a handout so we could pull together his general comments and apply them personally. On the handout the habits that will help us cultivate a closer relationship with Christ are of two types, those we “inhale” and those we “exhale.”

As you would expect, the things on the “inhale” list are things we take in such as Bible study, meditation, church attendance, fasting (not necessarily from food), and so on.

On the “exhale” list are things we give out: service, generosity, hospitality, and the like.

I have to say, I’m excited to see this kind of emphasis, and I’m happy to know that other churches are emphasizing these things. For some time there was so much confusion among Christians.

There were divisions but by far the most serious aspect of what affected the Church was the willingness to have our ears tickled by those who said what was culturally pleasing and not necessarily Biblically true.

I’m thinking of two extremes. On the one hand there were the people who followed “America’s pastor”—and even that silly title says a lot about the error slipping into his teaching. These are people who wanted to have their best life now, who wanted to hear that their fondest dreams would come true, that they too could become free from sickness, that they could have all the technological toys and still be debt free.

In a camp that seems quite the opposite are those who wanted to re-image Jesus, though they pretty much liked what he did about social justice. In many ways this “progressive” view is nothing but a reiteration of the social gospel of the early twentieth century. They’d likely say that a Christian can reach heaven by doing good deeds. Except many don’t believe in heaven. Of course whatever heaven might be, all of humanity is going there. Here’s what one “progressive Christian” site says:

The Christian faith is our way of being faithful to God. But it is not the only way.

Christianity is the truth for us. But it is not the only truth.

This principle stems from the reality of the 21st century. We share our lives with people who are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist. We experience these people as loving and caring by following their religious traditions.

So, yes, speak about the environment and gender issues and social justice in terms that the culture at large will like. Or speak about becoming rich and self-satisfied in your own cocoon. Both those positions will garner followers, but neither is presenting the gospel.

I think a return to the habits that will bring us into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ is needed. Of course, I also think reading the Bible and studying it and memorizing it should be first on the list of habits believers should cultivate. The bottom line is this: we first need to know who God is, what His plan for humankind is. Without that in place, we’re simply operating from our own thoughts and desires and judgments a la the groups that have drifted from the truth.

Here’s what Bart Campolo, son of the evangelist Tony Campolo, said about his own experience:

Campolo admitted that changing his view of God’s sovereignty was “the beginning of the end” of his faith. Why?“Because once you start adjusting your theology to match up to the reality you see in front of you, it’s an infinite progression. So over the course of the next 30 years…my ability to believe in a supernatural narrative or a God who intervenes and does anything died a death of a thousand unanswered prayers”.

Campolo continued: “I passed through every stage of heresy. It starts out with sovereignty goes, then biblical authority goes, then I’m a universalist, now I’m marrying gay people. Pretty soon I don’t actually believe Jesus actually rose from the dead in a bodily way.”
How Christians become atheists

Campolo doesn’t think he’s a special case. On the contrary, he believes the current world of ‘progressive Christianity’ (what he calls “the ragged edge” of Christianity) is heading towards full-blown unbelief . . .

Campolo is predicting that as many as 40% of progressive Christians will become atheists over the next decade. In his view, the process of abandoning Christian doctrines is almost addictive. Once you start, you don’t know where to stop. It might begin with “dialing down” your view of God’s sovereignty, but it could easily end with unbelief.

“When you get to this ragged edge of Christianity when people say ‘God’ they sort of mean ‘the universe’ and when they say ‘Jesus’ they sort of mean ‘redemption’ – they’re so progressive they don’t actually count on any supernatural stuff to happen, they’ve dialed it down in the same way I did.” (Premier Christianity, “Bart Campolo says progressive Christians turn into atheists. Maybe he’s right”)

Hebrews was written to first century Christians who were questioning their faith, wondering if they shouldn’t return to Judaism. The writer gives a number of reasons they should stand firm, the first being that Jesus is the only one God ever identified as His Son, “whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature and upholds all things by the word of His power.”

Since Jesus is who He is, the writer concludes, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.” (Heb. 2:1)

Yes, we do need to pay much closer attention! That’s a good habit to form, a good discipline to cultivate.

Advertisements

The Thing About Household Chores


I’m not big on household chores. They’re just so daily! Dishes you washed yesterday are dirty again today. You no more than finish vacuuming the floor than some new piece of lint finds it’s way onto the carpet. The trash cans never stay emptied. And don’t get me started about dust!

It’s never ending. The laundry needs washing, the plants need watering, the mail needs dumping reading filing. Then there is grocery shopping and getting gas and answering email and … well, to be fair not all these things are daily, but they are repetitious. They raise their heads over and over and over again. There is no chance of stamping the job with a finished sign, and if you cross it off the “To Do” list, you just have to put it back on in a matter of days or hours.

So why do we do it? Why do we keep chugging away at the same jobs over and over? In the end, we do chores because we like life better that way. We prefer clean clothes and clean floors and clean dishes. We operate better with gas in the tank and food in the refrigerator. In other words, we’re willing to put in the time to get a known and desired result.

I wonder if the same is true about “spiritual chores.” Are we willing to put in the time to get a known and desired result when it comes to spiritual things?

I suppose first we have to determine if the result is desired. I mean how important is it that I dust the bookcase? If I’m having company, the importance increases ten-fold, so some days it’s very important, but on others — not so much. Is that the way things are spiritually? Are Sundays “spiritual days” and the rest of the week, not so much? Or are spiritual results important 24/7?

And if they are, is there actually a known result of doing “spiritual chores”? What particularly are spiritual chores? I suggest they are things we can point to in Scripture that have been commanded or modeled for us, involving our relationship with God. I’d put things like reading God’s Word in the list of “spiritual chores.” Praying would be there too, and church attendance, Bible memorization, praising God, tithing.

But that brings me back to the “known result.” Do these spiritual chores have a known result? Yes and no. There is no extrinsic reward — no “Best Church Member” sticker or “Faithful Bible Reader” club. There’s not even a promise of health and wealth if we just do our part. But there’s a definite intrinsic result. As with anyone else, the more time we spend with God — in His book or in His house or talking to Him about stuff that’s on our mind — the better we get to know Him. The next thing we know, our spiritual life is showing all kinds of signs of fruitfulness, the most easily spotted one being that the spiritual chores no longer feel like chores.

I actually have a friend who likes to clean. Seriously! She does it to relax. I’m not there, but I can imagine that the routine of doing spiritual things and seeing the desired and known results flourish can transform us into people like my friend — we no longer look at “chores” or “duties” or “responsibilities” but at the best part of the day when I get to

The thing about household chores, they are so daily. But maybe that’s exactly the way to turn them from chores to challenges to cherished moments. Some day. But honestly, I hold out more hope for the spiritual chores than I do for the household ones. 😉

This post was first published here in January 2012.

Published in: on April 6, 2016 at 5:25 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Spiritual Disciplines


prayerThe jargon in Christian circles changes. Years ago, we talked a great deal about spiritual disciplines. Today we talk about spiritual formation and being missional. I’m not sure I see a great deal of difference in any of it, as long as it is Biblical. What we name things isn’t really the important thing as much as is our obedience to what God calls us to.

There are a few things that once were known as spiritual disciplines—largely because they required self-discipline to develop the habit of doing these particular things that would enhance spiritual growth—i.e., a closer relationship with God.

They really were no-brainers. Like any relationship, our relationship with God depends on communication. So the spiritual disciplines were things like spending time every day reading Scripture and praying. In other words, communicating with God.

I don’t recall ever seeing a list of spiritual disciplines, but they would undoubtedly include meditating on God’s word, going to church regularly, telling others about Christ, fasting, and serving others. What we rarely talked about then or now is memorizing Scripture.

We didn’t talk much about praising God or thanking Him either. Oh, we sometimes included praise and thanks in our teaching about prayer. There’s the cool acronym ACTS that serves as a “what to include in prayer” guide. If I remember correctly, A is for adoration—another word for praise. C is for confession, T for thanksgiving, and S for supplication, or asking God for the things we perceive as needs.

Still, praise and/or thanksgiving never seemed to get their own special place among the other spiritual disciplines. I suppose many people assume that praise is taken care of if a person goes to church because there’s “a time of worship,” which generally means singing. Sometimes singing does involve corporate praise, but I don’t think it’s a substitute for praising God personally.

It’s kind of like the difference between sitting in an audience and applauding a performer versus going up to them afterward to tell them how much you enjoyed what they did. Both are good, but the personal “why I liked it” or “what it meant to me” or “how it affected or influenced or changed me” goes deeper. I think that’s what individual praise of God can do.

Back to memorizing Scripture—when I was in school, memorization as a learning tool was in disgrace. I think that idea carried over to the Church until we pretty much stopped emphasizing it altogether.

The thing is, Jesus said the Holy Spirit would bring to our remembrance His words. But how can He bring to our remembrance what we’ve never learned?

He’s God, so He can work around our own failings, but if we are serious about our relationship with Him—if we truly want to hear His voice, we need to draw near to Him, as James says (“Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” James 4:7).

Of late I’ve been working harder at memorizing Scripture, and one thing I’ve noticed: verses I’ve read any number of times suddenly have greater meaning. I “get” them. I suppose it’s really that I personalize them because I’m thinking about them so much more and repeating them more often. Because that’s the secret to memorizing verses or passages of Scripture: repetition.

That’s the secret to memorizing anything. I use the times tables as my measurement of memorization. In school I needed to memorize the times tables. I had a teacher who tested us on our times table over and over. At some point, even though I wasn’t reviewing the times table or being tested on it, I could still pop off and answer, Whats 5 times 6, without a pause.

In other words, I own the times table. I know it as well as I know my own name. I have it memorized.

In contrast, too often in the past I would memorize a verse or a passage of the Bible and then go on to something else. At some point I would realize that I no longer could quote that verse by heart any more. That was true of something so well known as Psalm 23. I knew it as a child, knew it into adulthood, but at some point, I could no longer call it up like I could the times table. Why? because I hadn’t repeated it any time in the last decade or so!

I’m not good at memorization. We all have different learning styles and one model identifies some learners as “global,” meaning we grasp the big picture over and above the specifics. Consequently, I learn concepts more easily than I learn particulars. I could tell you, for example, the causes of the Civil War more easily than I could tell you what general fought in what battle on what date. Other people have no problem learning the particulars. They come easily and they stick. Me, I have to work at it and work at it and work at it.

In fact, I’ve figured out that I need to learn a verse at least three times before I have it actually learned. I mean, I can say a verse word perfectly in the morning. I mean, I’ll say it, check myself, say it in context. I have it. Until the next day. Then it’s like I’ve never seen the verse before. So I start over. I may remember some parts of the verse, and re-learning it isn’t as hard as the first time, but come day three, it’s like I never even looked at the verse. So I re-learn it once more. By that time, I’m making connections and figuring out key words that can cue me to the next phrase. Generally by day four I can struggle through, but I need to keep reviewing.

There are some verses or passages I’ve left too soon, and when I go to review them later, I have to spend considerable time with them because I make so many mistakes.

And yet, as much as it’s work for me to memorize Bible verses, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s one of the coolest disciplines that draws me closer to God. And, get this, it doesn’t take as much time as you might think. Consider this. Once you have a verse memorized, it doesn’t take any longer to say it than to read it. How long does it take to read John 3:16? Maybe 20 seconds? Probably less.

So if I’m memorizing a verse, and I say it over and over and over and over and over—if I break it into parts, as I do, and repeat a phrase three times, then do the same for the next phrase and then add them together until I have the whole verse, that’s what, 20 seconds multiplied by maybe 18 repeated phrases, or six minutes to memorize a verse. Six minutes. I can think of a lot of six minutes I waste, even though I say I’m oh, so busy.

The key for me is . . . well, discipline. I have figured out a place and time that works for me to spend time reading, praying, whatever. Eventually, after repetition, these disciplines aren’t actual disciplines any more. They’re habits.

Now if I could just get in the habit of cleaning the house. 😉

Published in: on May 8, 2015 at 7:23 pm  Comments Off on Spiritual Disciplines  
Tags: , , , , , ,

The Thing About Household Chores


I’m not big on household chores. They’re just so daily! Dishes you washed yesterday are dirty again today. You no more than finish vacuuming the floor than some new piece of lint finds it’s way onto the carpet. The trash cans never stay emptied. And don’t get me started about dust!

It’s never ending. The laundry needs washing, the plants need watering, the mail needs dumping reading filing. Then there is grocery shopping and getting gas and answering email and … well, to be fair not all these things are daily, but they are repetitious. They raise their heads over and over and over again. There is no chance of stamping the job with a finished sign, and if you cross it off the “To Do” list, you just have to put it back on in a matter of days or hours.

So why do we do it? Why do we keep chugging away at the same jobs over and over? In the end, we do chores because we like life better that way. We prefer clean clothes and clean floors and clean dishes. We operate better with gas in the tank and food in the refrigerator. In other words, we’re willing to put in the time to get a known and desired result.

I wonder if the same is true about “spiritual chores.” Are we willing to put in the time to get a known and desired result when it comes to spiritual things?

I suppose first we have to determine if the result is desired. I mean how important is it that I dust the bookcase? If I’m having company, the importance increases ten-fold, so some days it’s very important, but on others — not so much. Is that the way things are spiritually? Are Sundays “spiritual days” and the rest of the week, not so much? Or are spiritual results important 24/7?

And if they are, is there actually a known result of doing “spiritual chores”? What particularly are spiritual chores? I suggest they are things we can point to in Scripture that have been commanded or modeled for us, involving our relationship with God. I’d put things like reading God’s Word in the list of “spiritual chores.” Praying would be there too, and church attendance, Bible memorization, praising God, tithing.

But that brings me back to the “known result.” Do these spiritual chores have a known result? Yes and no. There is no extrinsic reward — no “Best Church Member” sticker or “Faithful Bible Reader” club. There’s not even a promise of health and wealth if we just do our part. But there’s a definite intrinsic result. As with anyone else, the more time we spend with God — in His book or in His house or talking to Him about stuff that’s on our mind — the better we get to know Him. The next thing we know, our spiritual life is showing all kinds of signs of fruitfulness, the most easily spotted one being that the spiritual chores no longer feel like chores.

I actually have a friend who likes to clean. Seriously! She does it to relax. I’m not there, but I can imagine that the routine of doing spiritual things and seeing the desired and known results flourish can transform us into people like my friend — we no longer look at “chores” or “duties” or “responsibilities” but at the best part of the day when I get to

The thing about household chores, they are so daily. But maybe that’s exactly the way to turn them from chores to challenges to cherished moments. Some day. But honestly, I hold out more hope for the spiritual chores than I do for the household ones. 😉

Published in: on January 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,
%d bloggers like this: