Lectio Divina

Seasons Change and So Is Me

Seasons Change and So Is Me

It’s a different season of devotion for me.  It seems this is a continuing cycle, but I’m still trying to figure this “season” out… what it is and what it means to me and for me.

Self-awareness plays a big part in this figuring out. I have always been very “Type-A” the way I pursue life. I am goal and task driven. In my past, I’ve been almost fearless, sometimes a bit reckless, in the way I zealously engaged life. I’m a bit more tempered these days, but there are number of hold-over attributes that I tend to wrestle with as I navigate the life Jesus is leading me. One of those attributes is my tendency to lean into performance-based aspects of my devotional practices. Because I am goal and task driven, I like to have metrics to understand my progress. I have been taught that having real goals means they should be attainable and measurable, so I like to consider my devotional practices and spiritual exercises in this light. For the sake of clarity, when I mention spiritual exercises and devotions, I am referring to things like Bible reading, prayer, fasting, solitude, praise, worship, etc.

With my spiritual practices and my propensity to measure them, I am given pause from time to time and wonder what the basis of my measurement truly is… am I measuring my success in the discipline? Or, is the discipline drawing me closer to God, which I believe, is the desired intent. Perhaps an even greater question is, “How do I truly measure my closeness to God?” Is it a feeling or emotion that can be measured? Is my closeness and devotion to God measured by the manifestation of tangible acts? Is my devotion qualified and quantified by my confidence of relationship through faith?

I might mention that my soul “feels” good, but sometimes my measured devotional practices feel a tad abysmal. This feeling is in comparison or measured against some of my previous years “performances” or my numbered achievements in devotional acts (how much Bible I read and how often, how robust “I think” my prayer life is, how many personal retreats I’ve taken… you get the picture). Are these valid assessments? Maybe. Maybe not. I think it depends on a number of factors. What is the intent of the heat? What is the desired outcome? Who is my audience for the disciplines I pursue??? Me? Others? God alone?

“If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant…” (Gal. 1:10)

I was reading from the Letter to the Galatians while some of the aforementioned thoughts were flitting about in my mind. When I sensed the Holy Spirit ministering to me through the words I share from the Apostle Paul (above).

I felt my response rising within me that I should be careful to remember that I am “people” too (if pleasing people…), and I can easily be caught in the trap of pleasing myself or measuring myself against how I feel or measuring me alongside my expectations for me. This can become a form of narcissism and self-worship as I try to please me over pleasing my God. Lesson: Don’t please me – Please God alone.

The other side of this coin is also important for me to remember. While conviction through the internal witness and guidance of the Holy Spirit is real and necessary for my spiritual development, I can be persuaded to use this conviction and guidance in unhealthy ways. In doing this, I can become a slave to self. I want to remain a slave only to Christ. He alone is the fair and just Master and He alone can be trusted with my soul and my developing self.

“No one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law…” (Gal. 2:16)

While conviction to change and become more like Christ is one of the primary ministries of the Holy Spirit, and as a soul in development, I should be ready, surrendered, and obedient to respond rightly to Him, “Being right with God” is found through faith in Christ—and not through the measurements of my spiritual exercises and/or devotional practices. Naturally, tangible fruit (love, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, etc.) is born from this relationship of rightness. The opposite is not true and has a great potential to be my spiritual undoing when I pursue the path of works-based righteousness. So… I’m changing. God is making like Jesus through the coaching of the Holy Spirit. I should not cling relentlessly to other seasons I have received great enjoyment from during the life of my Christian journey. Instead, I should be more open to trust the work God is doing today and measure my development on how faithful I am to respond to Him in each successive moment. He leads me always and never leaves me alone. God is with me. God is within me. May Christ be glorified in my every moment in my every breath.

Free of Guilt—Prayed for by God

Saturday: Day 4 of Lent

Free of Guilt—Prayed for by God

I don’t know where the Spirit is leading me this Lent, but it is starting out with a very serious departure from my previous seasons of penance, contrition, and somberness. I have several devotional books that have been labeled specifically for Lent and I’m following the Daily Scripture readings from the Book of Common Prayer, providing evidence to me that I have not subconsciously planned or contrived the direction my heart is drawn.  I will continue my practices and devotion, and follow where God leads.

I began my morning with reflection on Psalm 30 and 32. I came away from that reflection with the following as my prayer:

I will exalt you, LORD, for you rescued me—you restored my health, and brought me up from the grave. O LORD, you have kept me from falling into the pit of death. Weeping and my tears may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. You are the morning, my LORD, You are the Bright and Morning Star! You are my Joy! The Bringer of Light and the Giver of Life! You have turned my mourning into a morning of joy-filled dancing! I will sing joyful praises to you and not be silent. O LORD, my God, I will give thanks to you forever. (Personalized from my heart from Psalm 30)

My disobedience is forgiven. My sin is put out of sight. The LORD has cleared my guilt. He forgave me! All my guilt is gone! I will give thanks to you, My God and King, I will praise you forever! (Personalized from my heart from Psalm 32)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything… God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds as we live in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7 NLT)

The past three days, the Gospel reading has come from John 17. This passage of Scripture is among the most influential passages found in the whole Bible for the context of my spiritual development and continues to be one of the most formative passages of Scripture no matter how many times that I read it. There is something mysterious and divine about the energy that soaks into my soul each time I encounter Christ Jesus, the Living God, through this text. It is the prayer of Jesus, perhaps that is part of its mystery. I find this prayer always challenging and always inspiring. The promise and intercessory petition of God (Jesus) for us, his disciples, is mind-blowing.

Excerpted from John 17:9-26

My prayer is for those you have given me… Protect them, so they will be united just as we are… Keep them safe from the evil one. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. I am praying not only for these disciples, but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message—I have given them the glory you gave me. I pray they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. I am in them and you are in me…May the world know you love them as much as you love me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so…

Simply an amazing passage of Scripture. This, prayer of Jesus, is this God praying to God… himself? And praying for humanity, not only for his immediate disciples, but all those who will believe in him/Jesus through their message. Yes, that will make me inclusive in that prayer!!! One of the things that I find so moving about this prayer is how it reveals the heart of God in it. Jesus says as much; “I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so…” (John 17:26). It seems safe, then, to me, to assume that what is happening in this narrative account  of Jesus in the Garden is Jesus revealing God the Father, his heart for us, the loved ones who will follow him and believe in him.

I am so grateful for this “reveal” of God to me… it seems fitting for this season of my life. The “Type-A” personality I am, I can often be tempted to guilt over performance issues where I feel I am not ready, studying, writing, or praying enough (as far as Christian disciplines go). I sometimes feel my thoughts are dark, evil, and unholy… There is no shortage  of stuff that can bring me down and I can be tempted by the darkness and doubt to accept a false image of God—not unlike the false image  that was offered to Adam and Eve during their Garden Temptation, which they ultimately accepted. I can see where that has brought us. I don’t want that image or the catastrophe it brings; no thanks!

What I continue to learn and constantly affirmed is that the Father is far more loving that I can ever imagine. And this loving Father, according to the prayer of Jesus, loves me as much as he loves the Only Begotten Son (John 17:23). Out of this world AMAZING. How can I not praise HIM!!! How can my heart not be joy-dancing-Glad!??!

Here is what my heart sings today:

I am flesh, but I am Divine because Christ is in me.

I am mortal, but my soul is immortal, promised by God to be with Him forever.

I am broken, but in the process of being restored.

I was the son of Adam, but now am the adopted son of God through the Son of God

Glory be to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

My Daily Bread: Scripture Meditations

My Daily Bread: Scripture Meditations

The following is an extended meditation that began with my practice of engaging God’s Word through lectio divina (divine reading). The process follows a few basic steps: (1) quiet, slow, and attentive reading of a short passage of Scripture (2) “listening” in a meditative posture for God’s Word to be “spoken” – a word, phrase or other mental image coming from the selected text (3) focus on the highlighted word or image, praying God will provide clarity on His Word to me/you (4) prayerfully responding to God with gratitude and surrendered obedience to follow His guidance through the Word given for the day. This is the most basic approach in this style of reading, although there are a number of variations. I’ve found this engagement with God’s Word one of the most rich and personally meaningful ways of reading Scripture. Additionally, I enjoy reading in this style with small groups and have found it to be one of the more spiritually insightful ways of listening to God in the current spiritual exercises and devotion that I practice.

“Look, I now teach you these decrees and regulations just as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy.Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations. When they hear all these decrees, they will exclaim, ‘How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!’ For what great nation has a god as near to them as the Lord our God is near to us whenever we call on him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?

“But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren. Deuteronomy 4:5-9 New Living Translation (NLT)

Concerning the decrees and regulations of God:

  • Obey them completely
  • They display wisdom and intelligence
  • They are righteous and fair
  • We are to pass them on to each generation (children and grandchildren)

“The LORD our God is near to us whenever we call on him”

It is my desire to make all of the precepts of God my centerpiece of life—they will keep Him at my center and me at His center. The precepts of God are full of wisdom and intelligence…righteous and fair. It seems then, only a fool and a selfish cheat would seek to avoid God and His decrees. They are intended for the flourishing of all humanity.

Without a focus and intentional connection with God through the Holy Spirit, it is easy for our attentions to stray and easy to forget our commitment to His decrees and regulations. We are prone to seek our own precepts and path…, which often lead in dangerous directions away from “flourishing.”

“But watch out! Be careful never to forget!”

W  I  S  E  •  P  R  U  D  E  N  T  •  R  I  G  H  T  E  O  U  S  •  F  A  I  R

“The LORD our God is near to us whenever we call on him”

The person who follows the commands and decrees of God exhibits wisdom and intelligence.

“Obey them completely…”

The command to “obey them completely” implies that I must know them well and they have been taught to me “just as the LORD commanded” or as God intended them to be lived out. This further infers that individual interpretations of God’s commandments may not be the essence of obeying them completely. Discernment empowered through the Holy Spirit and the assistance of God’s Holy Spirit-filled people is a necessary component to help insure successful following of God’s decrees. Wisdom dictates that my care is needed in interpretation so I do not infer or impose my own desires or culturally nurtured thinking into God’s commands. I am reminded that I can ask God for wisdom and He will guide me into truth using His Word (Scripture), His People (Tradition), God-centered thinking (Reason), and my own experience in the process of interpretation.

Scattered

Scattered

Readings: Psalm 30, 97 ◊ John 16:29-33

O LORD, come to my assistance. O LORD, make haste to help me.

O Light, shine on our senses and dispel the sleep of our soul. To you before all else may our voice resound and let us pay our vows to you. O God, shape and renew me until I bear full the image of my Savior Jesus. Hear, O LORD, and be faithful to me; O LORD, be my help. Amen.

“A well-cultivated spiritual life is the best way to find peace and security. Countries in the far north are cold and frozen because they are at a greater distance from the sun. Some Christians are cold and frozen because they live too far from heaven.” –Richard Baxter

Lectio Divina: A Scripture Reading from John 16:29-33

29 His disciples said, ‘Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.’ 31 Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? 32 The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’ [NRSV]

As I read these words, several points jump out to me. I consider why they grab my attention and what they are speaking to me.

First Impressions:

  • “By this we believe you came from God.”
  • “Do you now believe?”
    • “You will be scattered.”
    • “You will leave me alone.”
  • “I am not alone / the Father is with me.”
    • “I have said this so you may have peace.”
    • “You will have trouble, but take courage; I have conquered the world.”

The disciples, now approaching three years or so having been with the company of Jesus, have witnessed countless miracles by his hand. They have seen Jesus command the elements of earth, calm the stormy sea, walk on water, change the molecular structure of water to wine, multiply bread and fish, command human cells to heal themselves, and even raise the dead to life… and now they proclaim; “By this we believe you came from God.” They boldly make this proclamation because Jesus announces that he speaks plainly.

Considering miracles and the challenges that we might face in a lifetime, there might be many occasions when our faith will be called into question. Here, in this particular setting, Jesus even challenges the belief of his own disciples calling their faith into question based on their confession. “Do you now believe?” he asks them. Then he announces to them what he knows about their belief and their heart; he says, “You will be scattered…You will leave me alone.”

I think of the many ways I am “scattered” and a flood of ideas stream into my mind. The context of “scattered” in Jesus’ words refers to the night of Jesus’ arrest and may indirectly follow through to the persecution of the believers in Jerusalem following Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost blessing of the Holy Spirit, but I believe there is more that can be gleaned here on a personal level.

Jesus also tells his followers, “You will leave me alone.” So I ask; “In what ways do I leave Jesus alone and how might I become separated from him?”

I think it might be true to say I “leave Jesus alone” and become “separated” from him whenever I become overwhelmed by the tasks or circumstances from any given day. The noises and voices that can suddenly fill my peace unexpectedly also have the potential to “scatter” and “separate.” In fact, I believe that any moment that my peace is disrupted, I have momentarily become scattered and separated. Now, this is not sin. Jesus did not call it such. What he said was you will be scattered… and you will leave me alone.” The point in clarifying this is that when I become separated and scattered…leaving Jesus alone… this should not induce guilt.

Let me repeat, This should not induce guilt, but neither should it induce denial.

Two important things come to my mind here. First, there are times we will become scattered and we will leave Jesus “alone.” This does not mean we have been cut off from Jesus or abandoned by the Holy Spirit. What it means is that we have lost our focus and locus (our place of centering). It is for this reason that Jesus speaks very clearly when he follows his challenge to them with these words:

“I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

I am not alone. The Father is with me. You may have peace. Take courage. I have overcome.

These are good words. Real words. Comforting words. Encouraging words. Especially when I consider that I will have days when my thoughts and even my heart are scattered…and I leave Jesus alone.

There are several notable takeaways here for me. First, as we walk after Jesus and with Jesus—as we are also filled with the Holy Spirit—it is true that we (also like Jesus) are never alone. We are never actually cutoff or separated in a real sense. We are forever connected and joined with the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is always with us. Since this is a promise of Jesus to us, we can have the confidence to know that we may have peace, and this no matter the circumstance. We can have peace.

Jesus advises us to be anxious for nothing and do not worry. Being anxious and overcome by worry are the precursors of scattered and separated. It happens; Jesus knew this and said it to his disciples…and to you and to me. The point to remember is that when we become scattered and we leave Jesus alone, we can easily become reconnected to our peace, Jesus, unscattered and reattached to the Vine. No matter our doubt and no matter our fear, we can “take courage” because Jesus has overcome and because He has, we can overcome too.

I am reminded, as I sit here now, God is gazing on me with love and holding me in being. I pause for a moment and think of this. I need to close out the noise, to rise above the noise. .The noise that interrupts, that separates, the noise that isolates. I need to listen to God again.

Today I just want to be especially sensitive and attentive to your presence. Help me and let my heart respond to your love. (Sacred Space)

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Lent 2013: Distractions: A Fix for my Desires

Lent 2013

Distractions: A Fix for my Desires

Lectio Divina: Luke 19:28-44

“…because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (Luke 19:44 NRsV)

These tragic words fall at the end of the narrative in Luke’s Gospel describing the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Triumphal Entry, sometimes I wonder if that really is the best description of what takes place in this account, but I’ll save that thought for another time.

These are horrific words coming from the mouth of Jesus. The strange, if not ironic thing about this indictment, is that the people were recognizing something about Jesus, but they failed to recognize THE THING about Jesus. It is apparent in their accolades, greeting, and cheers, they wanted a savior, but they were not interested in a visitation from their God.

As I read this account, the tragedy here was not so much the “wrong want” as much as the big miss. I think it was natural—is natural—to wish to be freed from oppression and injustice. Desire for a leader to push back the Roman was an acceptable want. The heartbreaking reality is in the course of intently searching for a fix for their desires they missed the greatest blessing of all: God was in their midst.

The focus of their search was no longer vertical, with eyes looking to and for God, but horizontal…toward an immediate and felt relief of their most obvious aches and pains. I think, had they been looking for and attentive to God, they may have realized their deeper needs over their felt needs and had both met…instead of having neither met.

Herein lies a broader lesson for me. The people onsite for Jesus’ triumphal entry had no realization of their true identity. They thought they were the people of God; yet, on another occasion Jesus had told most of them they were deceived even calling them sons of the devil (John 8:39-47). They did not know who they were, so they did not know what they needed…consequently, they were not looking for the right remedy for their true need—

And they did not recognize the time of their visitation from God.

I wonder how many times a day this happens to me. God is omnipotent, imminent, and transcendent. His Spirit is everywhere and sustains all things—even in me and sustains me as it did those ancient Jews present on the day of Jesus’ return to Jerusalem. How often do I not recognize my own personal visitations from God? Am I present to His grace and nearness, His voice of guidance and comfort, throughout my day? Too often, I might be found looking for an immediate fix for my most present desires; I’m probably looking for the wrong need in the wrong place. The truth is that I rarely understand any of my real needs without first opening myself to God and consequently I do not recognize the time of my visitation of God.

O Gracious and Eternally Present God,

Help me to be attentive and open to You always. I know I am easily distracted and often mistake what my needs are. I know, O God, that you are my sustaining Bread of Life and Eternal Living Water. Help my heart to remain focused upon You, so I might never miss Your visitation. I need You and You alone ever present and always the center of my days. Thank You for Your mercy and thank You for Your grace. All glory and honor to You reigns eternally together, The Father, The Son, and the Blessed Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Lent 2013: Unharden my heart, O Lord

Lent 2013

Unharden my heart, O Lord

Readings: Psalm 95, 103:2, 10-13 Hebrews 4:1-16  Joshua 1—6  John 3:22-36

I’m doing a lot of reading these days, even more than my normal heavy appetite. The net result of this is that I have a lot of influences and swirling thoughts. If my writing or thought processes seem disjointed, it might be because they are. Nonetheless, they are good and challenging thoughts—I am motivated and I am inspired.

“Solitude is one way we can imitate Jesus…” Emilie Griffith

As I consider this season of Lent and venturing into the “desert” to be alone with Jesus, there are a number of themes and postures that I intend to assume. One is an attitude of humility and another is repentance; both of these postures are necessary to keep my heart surrendered to the transformation of Christ in me. I’ve written several times in the past week or so about living noisy and distracted lives. This is the thorn in almost every American side. Our daily lives are often too busy with work and sleep getting most of our attention. How often do we make the space to get alone with God-Jesus? How long do we spend with him? Most importantly, what is Jesus telling or teaching me?

Everywhere is the evidence and handiwork of our God. Am I paying homage and tribute to the glory of God in my day? Is my professed relationship manifest in my daily travels?

“The cross is not the horrible end of a pious, happy life, but stands rather at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ… Those who are not prepared to take up the cross, those who are not prepared to give their life to suffering and rejection by others, lose community with Christ, and are not disciples. Discipleship is commitment to the suffering Christ.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Discipleship and the Cross from Meditations on the Cross.

A Prayer

Bless YAHWEH, my soul. Never forget all his acts of kindness. He does not treat us as our sins deserve, nor repay us as befits our offenses. AS the height of heaven above earth, so strong is his faithful love for those fear him. As the distance of east from west, so for from us does he put our faults. As tenderly as a father treats his children, so YAHWEH treats those who fear him.

O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.

O God, help me to never be that man. Help me to cling always to your holy garments. May my love for you always be pure and righteously motivated.

Divine Reading: Psalm 119:162-168

Divine Reading: Psalm 119:162-168

I am enjoying the comforting presence of God and His Word to me this day. Prayerful meditation in the Psalms this morning with my family with our selected reading from the Book of Common Prayer, Psalm 119:145-176. The Word to me came from the passage as follows:

I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil. I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules. Great peace have those who love your law; can make them stumble. I hope for your salvation, O Lord, and I do your commandments. My soul keeps your decrees; I love them exceedingly. I keep your precepts and decrees, for all my ways are before you. -Ps. 119:162-168

“My soul keeps your decrees…” I love this. I receive an affirmation of the highest order when I read these words. My soul keeps your decrees. Yes. I am comforted to know that regardless of what or how I might miss the mark in the throes of my own frailty, the realty I can depend upon is that God’s Law is written on my heart and my soul keeps His decrees.  As I go through my day, I know the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, my guide and counselor—my teacher and advocate—communes non-stop with my soul. The two are united in a sacred dance, the dance of the sacred and mysterious divine union… I have been invited to participate and enjoy this beautiful, holy, perechoretic dance (John 17:21-24).

“My soul keeps your decrees…” I know that I am not perfect. I know that I am subject to failure. I also know that I have been released from the oppressive nature of imperfection. Likewise, I am not condemned by or fearful of the idea of failure. While it is God’s best for me that I not miss the mark of reflecting His image fully, if I miss the mark, there is One  who is greater than I who intercedes on my behalf (1 John 2:1-2). My confidence and my comfort come from the knowledge that my heart has been replaced by a heart of God’s own design (Ezekiel 36:26-27), my heart can be and is pure because God has made it that way!

“My soul keeps your decrees…” Yes, even when I do not know what to pray—even when I do not know what to say—my soul keeps your decrees. My deepest desires are no longer driven by my self-idolatry. My deepest desires are coordinated and mapped by the Spirit of the Living God who lives within me. My soul keeps your decrees. In my darkness and in my doubt, I am comforted by the word that speaks truth to me; “My soul keeps your decrees.” This word I tell myself, confirming truth when my physical senses would attempt to betray my soul. Yes, praise be to the Most High God, my soul keeps your decrees. Amen.

Divine Reading (John 8:37)

Divine Reading (John 8:37)

“Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there is not room in your hearts for my message.” (Jesus speaking) John 8:37 NLT

Jesus is throwing down some heavy duty on his listeners with these words. The entire passage is pretty hard stuff as he actually calls his kinsmen “sons of the devil,” but I think the crux of the conversation is found with the words found in this verse above.

What I find rather ironic is that Jesus affirms their heritage and acknowledges their birthright; “Yes, I realize you are descendants of Abraham…and yet…” I think these words also apply to you and to me.

It seems a day doesn’t go by where we are not reminded of our rich Christian heritage. In some sense, we too are descendants of Abraham. We’ve been taught God’ law. We have been “brought up” with teaching about Jesus, “and yet…” I think we are no less guilty than Jesus’ audience is with our own attempts at trying to “kill” him.

Every time we try to redefine Jesus we try to kill him. Every time we try to change his teaching to conform to our ideals and societal pressures, we try to kill Jesus. Every time we refuse to enter his kingdom, we effectively try to kill Jesus.

We look to one another even as we try to kill Jesus and tell each other we are good people; see how we “prophesy in your Name and cast out demons in your Name, and perform miracles in your Name,” Jesus? “And yet…” Jesus responds to us “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws” (Matthew 7:21). We miss the point. We break God’s law because there is no room in our heart for his message.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest of God’s law (commandments) was, he answered; “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength'” (Mark 12:28-31). We are incapable of honoring and following the greatest commandment because there is no room in our heart for it. Most of us choose to love ourselves most. The result of this self-idolatrous behavior is that many of us want to “kill Jesus.” We refuse to love God with all our heart, because “we can’t.” Therefore, we substitute other “acts” of obedience in the place of loving God and accepting the message of Jesus in our hearts. We build buildings, we cast out demons, we institute programs, and perform miracles, we hold audaciously superior Vacation Bible Schools, form awesomely cool Worship Bands, and prophesy about the mighty works of God… “and yet…” There seems to be little room, even no room in our hearts for Jesus and his message. He said love with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, All your mind, and All your strength. Are you? Or… is there enough room in your heart with you in there too?

Book Review: Spiritual Formation

Book Review: Spiritual Formation

By: Diane LeClerc & Mark A. Maddix

Publisher: Beacon Hill Press ISBN: 9780834126138

Spiritual Formation: A Wesleyan Paradigm

I wish I could say I’m surprised this book hasn’t gained more traction than it has, but I’m not… and that’s a shame because this contribution of essays from Leclerc and Maddix is a treasure trove of insight, tradition, and wisdom for those who aspire to become formed more fully in the image of Jesus Christ.

Classic spiritual formation is something that has been largely abandoned by the Protestant Evangelical church, although there seems to be something of an awakening interest to this tradition in recent years. It is for this reason I am greatly encouraged by the work done in this book from Leclerc and Maddix and most especially for the reason that it is written from a Wesleyan perspective.

Regarding a review of this book, I really do not know where to begin, every chapter and every page is chock full of goodness. The book is comprised of twenty chapters (essays) from various contributors and I have over twenty-six “sticky-bookmarks” spaced throughout those twenty essays… lots of very good, insightful, encouraging, challenging, and practical tools helpful in establishing specific disciplines to aid individuals and groups in their spiritual transformation.

It is difficult for me to say what part or parts of the book I enjoyed the most…there really were so many. I do have to admit that the treatment given to “entire sanctification” by Diane Leclerc (pp.59-63) is some of the most readable and practical writing on the topic I have seen in recent years. By this, I do not mean exhaustive or comprehensive, but it is succinct and down-to-earth in explanation. That alone, is high praise when discussing views like entire sanctification or “Christian perfection.” I think Thomas Jay Oord adds to the same conversation with his essay from chapter seven also speaking to the notion of Christian perfection, loving God and loving neighbor. There is some really good reading in these two essays in particular. Brent Peterson has a wonderful treatment in his chapter dedicated to communal worship and the sacraments. I loved the attention he paid to the Eucharist and Baptism (pp102-105).

Other notable chapters for me were chapter eleven, Breathing Faith-Christian Prayer and Contemplation, wonderfully well-rounded and diverse attention to prayer by Gary Waller in this essay! Rhonda Carrim in chapter fifteen, Walking the Journey Together-Spiritual Direction and Mentoring, helps the reader slog through the morass of semantic confusion we’ve created in our “us versus them” discussions in her essay regarding discipleship, mentoring, and spiritual direction.

As a pastor in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition and a person who has been studying the ancient and classic traditions of spiritual formation, I am grateful for the help this book provides me with a common language to share with my peers. Personally, I’ve struggled with sharing ideas about the ancient traditions of the Christian faith because so many of those traditions were established pre-reformation and much of the teaching and writing are from authors rooted in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Sadly, for that reason alone, much of the conversation regarding spiritual formation in the circles I have traveled stops at that point, largely because of ignorance and unfair biases. This is why I’m so excited to have been made aware of this book; I think it will be a great asset for me going forward assisting me as I share these great spiritual formation tools in a language that is common to my own tradition and helpful making connections where people might have thought there were none in the Wesleyan paradigm.

Very Highly Recommended.

Mark Maddix shares on book, “Spiritual Formation,” co-authored with Diane Leclerc from Church of the Nazarene on Vimeo.


 

Scripture and Devotional Reading 2012

[01JAN2012] Scripture and Devotional Reading 2012

I’m so excited about beginning a new year of Bible and devotional reading. I get this giddy feeling with the start of each new year reading plan, but this 2012 year gives an extra little boost. The past three years I have followed the Daily Office of the Book of Common Prayer and Lectionary for my Bible reading plan. It has been very good and beneficial for the feeding of my soul. I will continue to use the Book of Common Prayer and the Benedictine Daily Prayer Book for prayer and meditative reading, but I am returning to my New Living Translation Chronological Bible as my guide for reading through this coming year.

I cannot speak with words strong enough to share how valuable the chronological Bible has been to my spiritual journey and Christian development. I believe I’ve shared the story before on the blog, but my first venture with the chronological style of reading was back in 2004. It is a bit of a long story, but suffice it to say my life was forever changed; I was finally able to see the “big picture” of the Bible…the whole story as it were. The years that followed my first chronological reading were repeats, choosing to read through the Bible in this same manner several times until I started using the Book ofCommon Prayer and Lectionary around 2008.

In addition to my Bible reading plan, I’m excited about a couple of new devotional reading projects. I’ve been a big fan of N. T. Wright over the years and couldn’t wait to get my hands on his translation of the New Testament when I heard it was coming in 2011. I picked it up through Amazon.com as one of my Christmas gifts to myself. I have already started reading beginning with the Gospel of Luke. I’ve got several new gospel commentaries that I’ve been looking forward to reading and plan to read a commentary alongside my reading of The Kingdom New Testament. The Luke commentary is a new commentary, The Biblical Imaginative Series, and authored by Michael Card published through InterVarsity Press. Also from InterVarsity Press, I have two volumes from the Resonate Series with The Gospel of Matthew by Matt Woodley and The Gospel of John by Paul Louis Metger. I don’t have a gospel commentary set aside for Mark just yet, but we’ll see what comes along down the road. In the mean time, I think this is a pretty good plan and look forward to what God the Holy Spirit has to say as He guides my reading and devotions.

I’ve added a couple of new prayer books to my line-up this year too. I ordered, and have been using, The Benedictine Daily Prayer Book since returning from the Pecos Monastery this past summer. My other Christmas gift to me was a two volume prayer book set, Take our Moments and our Days, from the Anabaptist tradition. I still plan to use the Divine Hours Prayer Books I’ve been using for the past five years along with these newer acquisitions.

I have several devotional books riding over from last year into this year. The only new devotional book I’m using this new year (as of now) is the Ancient Christian Devotional – Lectionary Cycle B by Thomas Oden and Cindy Crosby.

I think this is going to be a grand year.

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