Posts Tagged ‘Discipleship’
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.
I shared this devotional thought a few years back, but as I am about to enter into a new season of forming discipleship groups in my local church, I thought it a timely piece to share again.
The Gift of Community: It’s a Family Sort of Thing
Hey, uummmm… you’ve got a booger hanging from your nose.
I know, I know; “ooooh gross!” But really, who hasn’t heard these words at least once in your life? I know I’ve heard it more than once myself and it is never any less embarrassing than it was the first time I ever heard it, but in the end I’m always thankful (after the initial horrifying embarrassment) I was made aware of my “booger.”
Something I’ve realized about publically exposed boogers, there aren’t lots of people who will tell you about them. Strangers, casual acquaintances, and sometimes even close friends will hardly ever take the time to advise you of your “hanging chad.” There are rare exceptions, but that’s why they are exceptions…they’re rare. Family, on the other hand, will almost always tell you about your “sticky little friend.” I come from a family with brothers and sisters; none of us ever hesitated to share with one another about a potentially vulnerable “exposure.”
This is the gift of true community; family familiar and intimately comfortable community. Speaking generally, family love and family friendship is a working paradox of the exquisitely beautiful and grotesquely messy existing side-by-side and all the time.
We talk much about our Christian experience being one of community, but I think we have lost something in the translation. I read something not too long ago that talked about our lifestyles being overly connected through the advances of technology (email, IM, Facebook, etc.), but we are more disconnected from intimacy than at any point in the history of mankind. My experience in the Christian community has been largely disconnected even though we speak of connection. It’s not often that I have had someone share with me about an exposed booger… and when I’ve pointed out boogers to some of my brothers and sisters in the church, some of them have become offended to the point that it was catastrophic, but enough about boogers…
I am becoming more and more of a believer in very small communities of faith. As well, I think these communities need to live in close proximity to one another and spend much time together… really doing life together; eating, playing, learning, laughing, crying, and praying… all together. This is how families live and this is how we grow comfortable with one another even through the screaming frustration that being in family creates sometime. I know that my biological family had some serious knock-down-drag-out matches, but that never stopped us from being family. Truth be known, it was the laughter and the tears that taught us about unfailing beauty and assurance of unconditional love. There needs to be more of this same experience in the Christian family (in my honest opinion).
I think another illustration might be helpful. We are sometimes stubborn about admission of our faults, especially when we spend so much time making ourselves look and smell good. What do you do when someone tells you that you might be wearing too much perfume or cologne? I know my first response is that it might be that person’s issue. Maybe that person who told me has sensitive smell or doesn’t like my cologne; that is their problem, surely it isn’t mine. Right? Well, in a large family a parent, brother, or sister might come to tell me I’m wearing too much cologne as well. Maybe this happens three or four or eight times (my family might be as big as the Walton Family). Maybe now I am inclined to think the remotest possibility could be a reality; maybe my cologne is on a little heavy. Now, I might be persuaded to ask one of my most trusted family members if they think I’m wearing too much cologne… They, of course, being a brother who has nothing to lose or gain (unconditional love works that way), tells me; “Of course, you’ve got too much cologne on. You didn’t notice people passing out from lack of oxygen whenever you entered a room?” Armed with new information and valuable insight, I am now able to adjust the amount of cologne I use so that it enhances my presence instead of overwhelming everyone who comes in contact with me.
On the other side of this “family coin” is the confidence of privilege a family member has in speaking truthfully to a brother, sister, mother, or father in the family. Consider yourself; how comfortable do you feel about telling someone you randomly pass in the shopping mall their perfume is too strong, or how about someone in your workplace, school, or church? Now, consider the same about a member of your immediate family… If your family is anything like mine, you feel comfortable about saying, “Hey Sis, you need to back off a bit on that Miss Dior Chérie and by the way, you may wanna blow your nose.” This is the value of true family and true Christian Community.
I hope my playful illustrations provide something for us to think about on a much more serious level… and we might just want to check our nose before walking out the door today… just sayin’
Revisiting The “I’m better than I was card”
I originally wrote and posted this a few years back. As I was reading some of my past writing, I thought this an appropriate reflection as I head into a new year. What is it that God is calling me to? What is it that he desires of me? He desires whole-hearted devotion and complete transformation to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ… How often do I drag my feet? How often do I think of myself better than I should?
10 “Son of man, give the people of Israel this message: You are saying, ‘Our sins are heavy upon us; we are wasting away! How can we survive?’ 11 As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?
12 “Son of man, give your people this message: The righteous behavior of righteous people will not save them if they turn to sin, nor will the wicked behavior of wicked people destroy them if they repent and turn from their sins. 13 When I tell righteous people that they will live, but then they sin, expecting their past righteousness to save them, then none of their righteous acts will be remembered. I will destroy them for their sins. 14 And suppose I tell some wicked people that they will surely die, but then they turn from their sins and do what is just and right. 15 For instance, they might give back a debtor’s security, return what they have stolen, and obey my life-giving laws, no longer doing what is evil. If they do this, then they will surely live and not die. 16 None of their past sins will be brought up again, for they have done what is just and right, and they will surely live.
17 “Your people are saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right,’ but it is they who are not doing what’s right. 18 For again I say, when righteous people turn away from their righteous behavior and turn to evil, they will die. 19 But if wicked people turn from their wickedness and do what is just and right, they will live. 20 O people of Israel, you are saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right.’ But I judge each of you according to your deeds.”
I’m still pretty hung up on this passage of Scripture from Ezekiel that I was also considering in yesterday’s meditation and post. While this passage speaks pretty loudly in its entirety, I keep being drawn back to the words shared in verses twelve through sixteen. In these verses, the LORD God Almighty is giving instruction to the prophet Ezekiel to send a wake-up call to a people who have grown complacent in their faith, even taking for granted the mercy and salvation of their God. It seems the people didn’t take seriously the nature of their sin against God. The nation of Israel was rife with idolatry, sexual immorality, greed, oppression of people, and a host of other abominations that were counter character to the nature of God. The end result was that the people were not reflecting the nature of the God who had called them out and made them His own.
Interestingly, it seems as though the people may have had the attitude that they were entitled to God’s goodness in spite of how they behaved. In fact, in verse seventeen, the people actually hold God responsible for their treatment. It doesn’t seem as though they are taking personal responsibility for their sin. Even more interesting, paying attention to the verses twelve through sixteen, it appears there may have been some assumption on the part of Israel that because they were “righteous” at one time in their history (as a nation or group) that God should show them favor in spite of what their hearts revealed in the way of rebellion and disobedience in the present. And, it seems as if the people are completely blinded by their own self-righteousness and pride, because they do not turn from their sin…
“The righteous behavior of righteous people will not save them if they turn to sin, nor will the wicked behavior of wicked people destroy them if they repent and turn from their sins. 13 When I tell righteous people that they will live, but then they sin, expecting their past righteousness to save them, then none of their righteous acts will be remembered. I will destroy them for their sins.”
Here is where it gets interesting to me. How often do we, as a people, do something similar with our actions and attitudes? I will confess that when I first examine my own heart concerning issues of sin, I am always prone to compare myself to “my best days.” I will think, “Oh, but I’m much better than I was… and God sees how much I have grown since I was the despicable me.” And, I will do this with little intention of changing the things that I still know are unpleasing to God. I will consider those “still to be corrected abominations” something that God forgives because of my “past righteousness.” Wrong. Let’s read that verse thirteen once again. “When I tell righteous people that they will live, but then they sin, expecting their past righteousness to save them, then none of their righteous acts will be remembered. I will destroy them for their sins.” We can see this same theme carried over under the dispensation of grace under the blood of Jesus too. Hear the words of James the brother of Jesus as he writes; “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17).
Funny (in a sad way) how we are so easily ensnared in this twisted deception that the false self would tempt us to believe. We want to place blame on God too. We want to say He isn’t fair… just like the people of Israel. We will lie to ourselves and say it is too hard to change and God’s expectations for us are too difficult, but He tells us otherwise “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach” (Deut. 30:11). I think the truth is that we just need to be honest with ourselves… either we want to walk after Jesus or we do not. If we do choose to walk after Jesus there is the way of repentance, dying to self, and the life of service to humanity (Phil. 2:5-7). If we choose otherwise, we have no one to blame for the mess we make for ourselves…but ourselves.
“Today if you hear his voice, harden not your heart…” (Hebrews 3:15)
Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name. The LORD has pleasure in those who fear him, in those who await his gracious favor. For God alone my soul in silence waits; from him comes my salvation. Happy are they who trust in the LORD. (Psalm 86:11; Psalm 147:12; Psalm 62:1; Psalm 40:4)
This past fall, I was taking some CEU classes that entailed lively discussions about the history and challenges of the modern church in North America. My pastoral role and calling to the vocation of pastor as spiritual director puts me headlong into some of the challenges we discussed, especially those challenges that affect the process of discipleship and whole life transformation in the image of Jesus Christ. This is, after all, the primary mandate Jesus commissioned his followers to pursue before his ascension back to the Father. Jesus said; “Go and make disciples of all the nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” We, the Church of the 21st Century, specifically in the United States of America, face unique and difficult challenges… not insurmountable, but challenges nonetheless, if we are to fulfill the commission we have received by Jesus. The following is a presentation I shared following the the completion my my CEU course.
When asked to prepare a thesis and presentation for what I might consider one of the greatest challenges of the church for the twenty-first century, I immediately thought discipleship…that is, making true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Specifically, I believe consumerism is one of the greatest challenges to the mandate of the Great Commission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ” the Church faces today.
The very nature of making disciples in the image of Jesus is difficult by definition of Jesus himself. It is he who qualifies the disciple as one who “denies himself daily” and/or one who “takes up a cross” to follow Jesus. Likewise, Jesus proclaims his disciples are people who are “kingdom people,” yet he also says the number is “few” who find and follow the path to this kingdom (Matthew 7:13-14).
While I believe the Teacher and writer of Ecclesiastes speaks truthful words saying, “There is nothing new under the sun,” I think our first-world western culture offers unique challenges making discipleship as difficult as or more difficult than any time in the history of the church.
I pastor and worship in the context of the United States of America and my statements are reflective of this context and not a generalization of the global church. This is important because, while I believe discipleship is difficult in any culture; my statements are uniquely applicable to our setting.
It doesn’t take a deep reading of Scripture to realize there is something strikingly different about the message that Jesus taught his followers. A quick reading of the gospels reveals the message of Christ as very counter-cultural, especially when that culture is centered around the economic system of capitalism and the “American Dream.” We, the church in North America, are in direct competition with our culture; this detail alone makes creating disciples incredibly difficult.
Reading from the Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain, quickly reveals the American Dream as the antithesis ideal to following Jesus.
Before I proceed, I think it necessary to say that I love my country and I love the Church of the Living God. I also believe in large part the motive of the Evangelical Church has been born of honorable intentions, but I also believe despite her intentions, she has been deceived by destructive intent disguised as an “angel of light.” Our good intentions and attempts to be culturally relevant have largely defused the dunamis of the Gospel of Christ. Many of our efforts to acculturate the gospel for shifts and changes in our society has resulted in blurred understanding of the gospel at best and a complete reduction of the gospel at worst. The result of this blurry reduction of Jesus’ message is a lack of discipleship and a patchwork of shallow theology that often borders on heretical teaching.
In the monumental Reveal study commissioned by the Willow Creek Association, one thousand churches and two hundred fifty thousand congregants were surveyed. It was discovered that our contemporary church growth model was largely ineffective in making true disciples of Jesus and producing measurable spiritual growth. Our programs and formulas can build self-sustaining organizations, but these organizations are rarely consistent fulfilling the primary mission given to us by Jesus Christ to make disciples.
Recently, I have been reading from the book Thinking | Listening | Being by district superintendent of the Kansas City District Church of the Nazarene, Jeren Rowell. In this book, particularly found in chapters titled “thinking identity” and “thinking leadership,” he gives voice to the dangers presented to our churches as our models for organizational leadership have shifted from the pastoral and prophetic to business and the boardroom. Superintendent Rowell identifies the jugular of this challenge quoting from Eugene Peterson’s book Working the Angles; he writes:
“The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns—how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.”
One of the greatest challenges we face with making disciples in our society is the economic engine of capitalism. The very success of a capitalistic economy hinges on consumers; therefore, all that our society does from top to bottom and side-to-side is built to nurture and develop consumers. The result of this nurture and development is most everything in our society becoming commodified and/or commoditized. Capitalism and consumerism has trickled and seeped into the church at a slow and steady pace over the years until it has become utterly saturated until it bears little difference from any other marketplace in our society. In practice, the western church has simply become another marketplace for many consumers seeking “christianized” commodities. Sadly, the Gospel has become another commodity to sell on Sunday and one wonders if there might not be tables and lattes overturned were Jesus to join the services on any given weekend.
In many churches across America, congregants come to the marketplace on Sunday to have felt needs met and to get their soul entertained…rarely is the intent to enter into deeper transformational relationship with Creator God by becoming a more dedicated disciple of Jesus Christ.
This consumeristic relationship between the church organization and the congregant develops codependency. While codependency may be good for the capitalistic model, it is critically unhealthy for the Bride of Christ.
The dangers of codependency become realized when the organization becomes the focus of the church rather than Jesus Christ, making disciples, and living as kingdom people.
Ultimately, the codependency becomes the “driver” behind every vision and mission statement. If the “mission and message” is not new and fresh to compete with the latest “flavor of the day,” consumer-members may seek out a more popular and momentary gratifying mission and message… In essence, churchgoers may seek out a more charismatic teacher (claiming they are not being fed), they may seek out a different music, children’s program, affinity group, or more robust programming. While there may be some validity and good in all these aforementioned programming elements, it can easily be recognized how quickly they become commoditized and consumed. When this becomes the model and churchgoers become dissatisfied consumers, they leave in search of a better product to consume. When churchgoers leave, finances wane. When the organizational structure (building, grounds, staff, and capital resources) get large, the organization cannot afford to suffer serious and unsustainable loss of income. When this happens in a capitalistic model, bankruptcy can occur and the business dissolves. Churches have largely copied the business model of western society and tried to balance the reality of their message with the wants and perceived needs of the churchgoers and have effectually compromised the message and call to “deny self” and follow Christ. Simply put, the consumer discipleship model hinges on serving the self, which illustrates the fundamental flaw when compared to a Christocentric discipleship model.
The call of the Church is to make disciples and teach them all the commandments of Jesus Christ. We are not called to make “McChurches” looking to franchise or assembly line church growth methods. We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ, not consumers of church products hoping to make a better self… a better self is not necessarily a denied self.
The nature of this thesis is to identify the challenge of the Church and not to necessarily identify a definitive correction; however, there are some suggestions we might consider as we ponder our next steps.
We might remember that systems and processes are needful, but discipleship is intimate and organic at its core. People and souls are unique, mysterious, and wonderfully made, and as such, disciples cannot be cookie-cutter created or assembly line manufactured.
It is likely we will not be able to change the current and flow of our economy and society. Personally, I’m not sure that is part of our mandate; there are a number of Scripture passages that teach us to not conform to the world and we are “in the world, but not of the world.” The point is that we are all consumers of some degree and it is all too easy for consumerism to creep into all we have done and all we do. It will be important for us to remain vigilant, always on guard that we do not allow consumerism to contaminate our mandate to make disciples of Jesus.
The Church can learn much from the ancient traditions and not fear the streams of Christendom that are not our own. God has been working from the earliest days of the Church to refine His bride and make true sons and daughters in the likeness of Christ. We might choose to walk on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and embrace the revelations that God shares with us today.
by Jeff Borden–The Greatest Challenge for the Church of the 21st Century ©12/27/2014
24DEC2014—4th Wednesday ADVENT Year B
Advent: Christmas Eve—The Power to Save
Scripture Reading: Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 45, 46 ◊ Isaiah 59:15-21 ◊ Phil. 2:5-11 ◊ Luke 1:67-80 ◊
As for me, this is my covenant with them, says the Lord. My spirit, which is upon you, and my words, which I have placed in your mouth won’t depart from your mouth, nor from the mouths of your descendants, nor from the mouths of your descendants’ children, says the Lord, forever and always. (Isaiah 59:21 CEB)
Today is the eve of Mystery revealed; Advent is upon us, and darkness is now at dawn. The question begs asking; “Are we ready?” Are we prepared for the greatest and our most longed for Visitor to arrive? Are we looking for and anticipating his living amongst us…living within us? Arrival is nigh. He comes. Ready or not.
“How can we expect to find Jesus if we do not seek him in the states of this earthly life, in loneliness and silence in poverty and suffering, in persecution and contempt, in annihilation and the cross?” -Francois Fenelon
The time and place of Jesus’ birth makes me wonder if many of us in this modern and over-busy world would recognize his coming today. We people living in “first world” countries have a debilitating habit and hunger for the loud, proud, and shiny things. Many of us like busy and entertainment filled lives; we do not crave the quiet or silence, and many of us do not like being alone or in solitude.
Jesus was born in the shadows…and lived in relative poverty on the edges of his society hidden from the world’s stage for more than ninety percent of his life. Would we know him? Would we recognize him? In all likelihood, many who claim to know him today probably would not have recognized him then… Truthfully, many who say they know him today, probably would not recognize him if they saw him face-to-face today. I count myself as one of those who likely would not have known or recognized him.
For Christmas is not merely a day like every other day. It is a day made holy and special by a sacred mystery. It is not merely another day in a weary round of time. Today, eternity enters into time, and time, sanctified, is caught up into eternity… We are then, above all, obliged to reveal Christ in our lives… Every day of our mortal lives must be His manifestation, His divine Epiphany, in the world which He has created and redeemed.” -Thomas Merton
A Psalm and a Prayer
1 God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble. 2 That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart, when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea, 3 when its waters roar and rage, when the mountains shake because of its surging waves. 4 There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city, the holiest dwelling of the Most High. 5 God is in that city. It will never crumble. God will help it when morning dawns. 6 Nations roar; kingdoms crumble. God utters his voice; the earth melts. 7 The Lord of heavenly forces is with us! The God of Jacob is our place of safety. (Psalm 46:1-7 CEB)
Lord God, our Father in heaven, you have sent u the Savior, who was born to bring great joy to all people. Glorify your name, we pray. Give the world the peace you along can give, the peace that wells up in our hearts. Let your favor rest on us so that we may hold out under our sufferings on earth. We need your loving help to remain inwardly steadfast until everyone can be reached by the message, “Be strong in the grace of Jesus Christ.” Amen.
22DEC2014—4th Monday ADVENT Year B
Advent: Jesus, King of all the Peoples
Scripture Reading: Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 61, 62 ◊ Isaiah 11:1-9 ◊ Revelation 20:1-10 ◊ John 5:30-47 ◊
December 22nd: O Rex Gentium (Is. 2:4; 9:5): “O King whom all the peoples desire, you are the cornerstone which makes all one. O come and save man whom you made from clay.”
I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will. I have no need of human witnesses, but I say these things so you might be saved. …You were excited for a while about his (John the Baptist) message. You have never heard his (God the Father) voice or seen him face to face, and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you. You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life. Your approval means nothing to me, because I know you don’t have God’s love within you. For I have come to you in my Father’s name, and you have rejected me. (John 5:30-47)
These are some serious words that Jesus is throwing out. While Jesus is speaking directly to the Jewish leaders during this discourse, this being the Living Word for us today, these words apply in some sense to us today as well. The question I have been asking is, “How much attention do we pay to Jesus’ teaching and his invitation to ‘follow me’?” Read carefully the words of Jesus in this chapter five of John’s Gospel paying particular attention to the indictment that Jesus launches against people who know truth but fail to believe it through obedience. The gavel of Jesus’ justice comes down with this blistering verdict; “You search Scripture thinking it gives you eternal life, but the Scripture points to me and you refuse to come to me… therefore, rejecting the life you seek in the first place. Your problem is this; you don’t have God’s love within you!” (My paraphrase)
The way we wait is very telling… the outward manifestation of our lives; how we live, the things we value, where we spend our money and time, and things like that are the equivalent of a spiritual EKG or MRI. These actions of our lives indicate the value we place on the testimony of Jesus. Yes, the way we wait reveals what we truly believe.
The endurance of our faith is tested during our wait. Another way of saying this; a persevering and faithfully obedient wait is part of the work of sanctification… it is faith being proven genuine.
With each hour the Christmas day celebration draws nearer, the more frantic and rushed the flow of society becomes. The feverish pitches of television commercials, email “last minute to order before Christmas” solicitations, postal sales circulars, and radio commercials stir our collective psyche like a mixing whisk beats an egg into a bubbly froth. The mob mentality takes over so many folks and the swarm begins. I just want to sit…and reflect…and adore…and worship. It’s not that I don’t value tradition and the memories that Christmas evokes, but it is so easy to get sucked into the current that pulls me away from the real object of Christmas, the Christ.
O King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all, you are the cornerstone that binds two into one. Come, and save poor humanity, whom you fashioned out of clay.
I am comforted by the promise and the knowledge that communion and union with God is for us today and the hope we look forward to for tomorrow. The days that spin wildly out of control and the days when friends and loved ones leave us sobbing with grief are the days that make my soul sing the loudest: Come, Lord Jesus!
A Psalm and a Prayer
1 God, listen to my cry; pay attention to my prayer! 2 When my heart is weak, I cry out to you from the very ends of the earth. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I am 3 because you have been my refuge, a tower of strength in the face of the enemy. 4 Please let me live in your tent forever! Please let me take refuge in the shelter of your wings! (Psalm 61:1-4 CEB)
Purify my conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find me a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
19DEC2014—3rd Friday ADVENT Year B
Advent: O Root of Jesse
Scripture Reading: Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 40, 54, 51 ◊ Isaiah 10:5-19 ◊ 2 Peter 2:17-22 ◊ Matt. 11:2-15
December 19th: —O Radix Jesse (Isaiah 11:10, Isaiah 52:15, Habakkuk 2:3): O Root of Jesse, you stand as a sign for the peoples; before you kings shall keep silence and to you all nations shall have recourse. Come, save us, and do not delay.
Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else? (Matt. 11:3)
Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand. (Matt. 11:15)
As I consider the questions from yesterday’s reflections, I have continued to ponder what it means to “have the peace of Christ” and how one becomes a peacemaker. Interestingly enough, a practical opportunity to engage these ideas presented itself to me today and I was able to glean more insight about maintaining an attitude of peace and bearing peace as a peacemaker.
As I’ve been reflecting upon past writings from Advent seasons past, I found the following words from a couple years ago. It’s interesting how this particular writing has shaped my journey since my originally writing. My spirit, my mind, and my emotions continue to be tested by circumstances and seasons of life, but I am more keen to understand I do not have to be controlled by circumstances. I will continue to seek out my God in all facets and stations of life. He is my Master-Savior and it is He I desire to be controlled by—I do not want to be controlled by emotions or rash reactions to circumstances outside my control.
You are a slave to whatever controls you. (2 Peter 2:19)
Today my peace was tested…not disturbed, but tested. I had a number of errands and appointments and was “on the go” much of the day. While there were many opportunities for me to lose my peace, there was a solid foundation and I sensed the presence of God at every meeting and every turn of my day. Peace won. I maintained a peaceful attitude of heart and I think I lived the part of a peace-bearer, if not a peacemaker.
“If we realized and were constantly conscious that whatever we do to each other, to any human person, we do to Jesus, to the Son of God, to our beloved Savior, how then would we act?” -M. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O.
Tonight presented a different scenario and my peace was disturbed. I realized at the moment that I was disturbed, I was being presented with a choice. I could allow the disruption to continue unraveling my peace or I could choose another path. At the same time I was realizing my choices, I had the consciousness to recognize that my inner joy and winsome attitude was slipping from me with almost equal proportion to my peace, which had been “disturbed.” I was aware that a swirl of unhealthy emotions was amassing at my mental gate waiting to be released into my spirit. I had the mental image of some type of infection being released into my bloodstream… At the same time these thoughts were being stirred in my mind, other memories and Scripture recollections were being called to my mind as well.
You are a slave to whatever controls you. (2 Peter 2:19)
I was on the cusp of being offended and angry; and for the most part, over something inconsequential. I had a choice to make; I could choose to be offended and allow my peace to be disturbed and have my joy dampened or I could choose to dip into the reservoir of Christian virtue and the teachings of Jesus who said; “You will know them by their love.” I remembered the greatest Christian virtue of all, love.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Cor. 13:4-7)
Love, and its practice, was the key to maintaining my peace, keeping ownership of my joy, and remaining credible as a witness to bearing peace and potentially being a peacemaker. What I determined is that there are countless opportunities to let peace and joy slip from us each day. I reflected earlier, with pride, how I had managed to maintain my peace in the throes of a potentially disruptive day. That pride was almost my undoing (Love is not boastful or proud) later in my evening. Instead of choosing offense and “wanting my own way,” I chose to love. I chose and I choose; patience, kindness, selflessness. I choose peace. I choose joy. Love never gives up. Love never loses faith. Love endures through every circumstance. Through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and Almighty God, Love wins.
I am grateful that Jesus has given us the words of life and a model to follow. I am thankful to Him for the Peace he has given to his disciples; the Peace Who is the Comforter and Holy Spirit. I boast in Christ my Savior that I am His servant and I can “joyfully” smile when I read Peter’s words, “You are a slave to whatever controls you…” And know that tonight, it was my surrender to the Holy Spirit and His control that maintained peace and joy in my soul.
Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand. (Matt. 11:15)
A Psalm and a Prayer
I waited patiently for the LORD to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God… Oh the joys of those who trust the LORD… I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart. Please, LORD, rescue me! Come quickly, LORD, and help me. May all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. Let the LORD keep me in his thoughts. You are my helper and my savior. O my god, do not delay. (Psalm 40: 1-4, 8, 13, 16-17)
Gracious and eternal Lord, in your bounty you have sent us your Holy Spirit. May he teach us to think and do what is right, so that we, who without you cannot exist, may live in loving obedience to your will. Come Holy Spirit and enlarge your presence in me this day, that I may bring into the world more of your life and more of your love. Lord, hear my prayer. And let my cry come to you. Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God. 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.
15DEC2014—3rd Monday ADVENT Year B
Advent: He Came So We Might Flourish
Scripture Reading: Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 41, 52, 44 ◊ Isaiah 8:16—9:1 ◊ 2 Peter 1:1-11 ◊ Luke 22:39-53
There are many thoughts swirling through my head inspired by these Scripture readings. The words of Peter are especially inspiring. When I am tempted to forget who I have been recreated to be, this reminder from Peter sets my feet back on a solid foundation and path. God has given us/me everything needed to live a godly life…even to the glorious wonder of sharing his divine nature. Just incredible! This is a good word to remember when days are dark.
”By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.” (2 Peter 1:3-4)
Jesus’ words to his disciples also serves as a reminder and a challenge for me as well. The constant discipline that keeps me closely knit to the guiding presence of God is prayer. An always constant awareness and running dialogue with the Godhead keeps us/me free from succumbing to temptations, whatever they may be. I am thankful for the disciplines God has guided me to that help me engage the divine partnership of transformation into his image. I am eternally grateful for the gift of God himself to me.
“Pray that you will not give in to temptation.” (Luke 22:40)
“The challenge of faith isn’t so much to trust God’s promises when we hear them as it is to continue trusting them when it does not appear to our best judgment that they are being fulfilled.” Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove; The Awakening of Hope.
A Psalm and a Prayer
“I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. I will thank you forever, because of what you have done. In the presence of the faithful I will proclaim your name, for it is good.” (Psalm 52:8-9)
Lord Jesus, Splendor of the Father’s glory, O true Sun, descend, sparkling with uninterrupted brightness; O radiance of the Holy Spirit, pour in upon our senses.
Almighty, eternal God, every good gift comes from you. Increase our faith, fill our hearts with love for you, and guide us through this life until we inherit life eternal. Do good to your servant according to your word, O LORD Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.
Let your mercy, O LORD, be upon me.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
13DEC2014—2nd Saturday ADVENT Year B
Advent: The Reciprocity of Faith
Scripture Reading: Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 30, 32 ◊ Isaiah 8:1-15 ◊ 2 Thess. 3:1-18 ◊ Luke 22:31-38
I am pondering faithfulness today and considering a number of aspects and dynamics that faithfulness plays out as it extends from God, interacts in our world, and circles back to God. I’m not entirely sure if that thesis consideration flows logically, but that’s kind of where I am at the moment.
I’m wondering how faithfulness works; to us…as we interpret it coming, or not coming, from God. I think in wondering how it (faithfulness) works, it helps to understand what it is. We humans are responsible for coining the word, but I think in the “big picture” it is God who defines it. So, how does God define faithfulness? I believe the best way to describe faithfulness is to examine God’s character in the Bible.
But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. And we are confident in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we commanded you. May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ. 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5
Arthur Pink writes from the reformed perspective, so there are other points of view, but I still believe his observations give us a reasonable starting point when examining God’s faithfulness; he writes:
IMMUTABILITY is one of the Divine perfections which is not sufficiently pondered. It is one of the excellencies of the Creator which distinguishes Him from all His creatures. God is perpetually the same: subject to no change in His being, attributes, or determinations. GOD IS IMMUTABLE IN HIS ESSENCE. His nature and being are infinite, and so, subject to no mutations. GOD IS IMMUTABLE IN HIS ATTRIBUTES. Whatever the attributes of God were before the universe was called into existence, they are precisely the same now, and will remain so for ever. GOD IS IMMUTABLE IN HIS COUNSEL. His will never varies. (The Immutability of God; Arthur W. Pink)
I think it is a fairly safe comparison to equate God’s immutability with His faithfulness. It is on this assumption that I wholly believe in God as faithful. I believe his character is faithful, his love is faithful, his intent is faithful, and his promises are faithful. But, what does that mean to me really?
There are several ramifications that proceed from my understanding of God as faithful; first of which, his faithfulness is not dependent upon anything but himself. God is unchanging and God is faithful; period. Fact: I can trust Him. There may be things that make me uncomfortable about the working of God, but lack of trust is not one of them.
Secondly, God’s faithfulness is not diminished or sullied by my lack of faith. He is still faithful, His promises are still true, and His will and His counsel is always unchanging. It is this second point I wish to explore in greater detail…
I titled this meditation Faithfulness—Unwavering and Reciprocal; the faithfulness I refer to is twofold, God’s faithfulness and my own. As I have shared, I fully believe God’s faithfulness is unwavering… I cannot say the same for myself. While I try hard to be, I am not always faithful. My faith wavers at times and I stumble… I falter… I fall short. But, God remains faithful to me in spite of my shortcomings; He loves me when my actions show weakness and a distorted understanding of love. He stays faithful and true to His promises when I am prone to renegotiate or break mine. Yes, God’s faithfulness is unwavering. The thing about the law of reciprocity in this context is that it is not operationally applied from God to me to God; as I said, His faithfulness is not contingent on anything I do or believe. The alternative context is what is interesting though… and this is where I think the law of reciprocity reaps exponential reward in the life of the believer who exercises faith in God’s faithfulness. When I begin to act on the trust I have in God’s faithfulness, that act is reciprocally multiplied as my faith grows in God’s faithfulness. Confused yet? Let me share an illustration that I hope will bring some clarity.
Several years back our family was on vacation and made an impromptu stop at a random amusement park. One of the things we tried (me and my boys) was this killer twenty-something foot high rock climbing wall. The “ride” proprietor geared us up in harnesses, cables, hydraulic auto-belay system, and other safety gear. And then, we set out on our climb.
I’m sure you’ve seen these fiberglass climbing walls, they’re pretty straightforward with the standard foot holds and hand grabs… they’re not terribly difficult to climb. Plus, I think there is some assistance with the hydraulic belay system you’re attached to, the climb almost felt semi-assisted (aka it was easy going up). Another thing I remember about the climb is that it didn’t seem scary going up; I don’t think I even considered that I might slip or fall, I just climbed on up. I think this can be similar in our experience with God’s faithfulness. Some things we trust Him implicitly with and we just “go with it” devoid of fear or second guessing. We put our trust in God to take us up the “make believe wall” and faithfully believe in our “spiritual climbing gear.” Other times we might not trust Him so much.
I mentioned the climb up the wall. When we got to the top, we were supposed to kick back from the wall with our legs, let go and let the auto-belay system allow us to slowly and gently drop us back to the ground level. No matter that I knew the equipment worked. No matter that I saw people doing this (including my sons). I was practically paralyzed. My brain was saying “it’s all good, Borden, kick it and go.” My body, however, was screaming a paralyzed “NO!!!” and I couldn’t move… I just kinda hung out at the top of this fiberglass climbing wall with people staring up at me wondering what my trip was. The significance of this is pretty huge. You see, I’m practically fearless when it comes to stuff like this… I jumped out of an airplane for crying out loud without blinking, but I just couldn’t bring myself to kick away from the wall. Our faith journey with Jesus can have similar moments of doubt… we’ll trust him halfway through the journey, never fearing for a moment in the how, the way, or the what of where He’s leading us and then all of the sudden we freak… we get paralyzed and we refuse to go another step. Like me… on the wall.
Here’s where the reciprocity of our faith in God’s faithfulness begins to work. When we trust Him to take us or get us someplace, we can trust Him all the way. He is not a “half-way” God! We have to trust Him enough to “kick back from the wall of our doubt” and allow Him to show us His faithfulness manifold over and above what we ever thought it could be in our lives. This principle works; I have found it to be true over and over again… not that it is ever easy to “kick away” from a new wall, but it does get easier. See, when I finally kicked out, I floated almost weightlessly to the ground completely unharmed… just like the other people that were doing it. And here’s how we can take comfort with God’s leading us… surround ourselves by a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and travel alongside us, we see people being buoyed and carried from one faith milestone and life transforming moment to another. We watch them, we walk with them, we follow them, and we learn of God’s ways in our lives through them.
A Psalm and a Prayer
Lord, hear my prayer. And let my cry come unto you. Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God. May divine help always be with us.
Lord of the church, by your unfailing mercy you purify and guard your people. Since without you we cannot stand fast, support and guide us always by your grace.
2 LORD, my God, I cried out to you for help, and you healed me. 3 LORD, you brought me up from the grave, brought me back to life from among those going down to the pit. 11 You changed my mourning into dancing. You took off my funeral clothes and dressed me up in joy 12 so that my whole being might sing praises to you and never stop. LORD, my God, I will give thanks to you forever. (Psalm 30:2-3, 11-12 CEB)
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
12DEC2014—2nd Friday ADVENT Year B
Advent: Real Beginnings and Standing Firm
Scripture Reading: Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 31 ◊ Isaiah 7:1-9 ◊ 2 Thess. 2:1-12 ◊ Luke 1:46-55
All preparation has a starting point—a place of beginning. Advent, the coming of Christ Jesus is our beginning. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
“With all these things in mind, dear brothers and sisters, stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter.“ (2 Thess. 2:15 NLT)
I’ve been thinking about this idea of beginning places and starting points, how it relates to preparation. One idea I’ve had is that the starting point for my faith journey may not have been with the moment of the Incarnation. The preparation for my Christian experience was muddling around with a bunch of different spiritual experiments and concepts. I discarded this theory though, because all of those experiments failed. They were “sputter” starts and never really launched into anything significant.
“Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm.” (Isaiah 7:9 NLT)
I think my real starting point and preparation did begin when I looked to the Incarnation. When I really took Jesus at his word and began to model my life from the beginning point of His condescension (Philippians 2:5-7; John 12:24-26), my journey started. This beginning point was not a failure to launch, but has been met with real change having a true spiritual vision to realize Christ-like transformation. Joan Chittister holds a firm line in her belief that the Coming of Christ is the beginning point of the spiritual journey.
If, focused on the Christ Child at the very beginning of the liturgical year (Advent), we do not have the spiritual vision to see meaning there and to develop it within ourselves, there is nothing else on earth that will ever be able to supply it for us. -Joan Chittister; The Liturgical Year
A Psalm and a Prayer:
I take refuge in you, LORD. You are the rock that protects me; the strong fortress that saves me. You guide me and lead me for the sake of your good name! I entrust my spirit into your hands; you, LORD, God of faithfulness—you have saved me. I trust you, LORD! I affirm, “You are my God.” My future is in your hands. Bless the LORD, because he has wondrously revealed his faithful love to me. All you who wait for the LORD, be strong and let your heart take courage. (Psalm 31 CEB)
O Lord, my God, grant us your peace; already, indeed, You have made us rich in all things! Give us peace of being at rest, that Sabbath peace, the peace which know no end. O great God of Peace, sanctify me entirely; may You keep my spirit, soul and body sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because You have called me and You are faithful, I believe You will do this.
O Lord, mindful of Your Great mercy, grant that I might serve You without fear, in holiness and righteousness this day and all the days of my life. May it be so to Your glory and the coming of Your Kingdom Eternal. Amen.