Category Archives: Disciplines

Learn to read the Bible S l o w l y

15-07-26 PRAXIS- LEXIO.007In our Praxis series, last week we studied biblical meditation (or “Rumination.”) This Sunday we learned and practiced an old/new way to listen to God through the Scriptures. Also called Lectio Divina – or – Sacred Reading, our community found it to be a deeply worshipful and personal encounter with the Lord. The outline is below and you can listen to the sermon here. (the text was Mark 4:35-41) I hope you will learn to practice the way of Sacred Reading, personally as well as in smaller groups.


Sacred Reading (Lectio Divina)
Encountering God in the Bible

:: READING / LISTENING
Listen prayerfully to the text for the word or phrase that ‘speaks’ to you. What is the Holy Spirit drawing your attention to?

:: MEDITATING
Read the text again. Repeat and ponder these words in your heart. Where do you find yourself in this story? What is God saying  to YOU through this word or phrase?

:: PRAYING
Read the text once more. What is your response to God? And how could this affect your week ahead? Make it a prayer: giving thanks; asking for help; asking forgiveness. resting in God’s love…

:: CONTEMPLATING
Move from the activity of prayer to a place of stillness. Simply rest in God’s presence. Like Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant; let it be to me according to Your word.” Go with the delight and confidence that God is with you to live out what you have read.


Though often described as a practice within Roman Catholicism, it’s roots are ancient and modern Evangelical works on spiritual disciplines most always include some variation of Sacred Reading.

One article I recommend is “Step by Step Through Lectio Divina.

Why we have to learn how to Ruminate!

15-07-19 PRAXIS- Ruminate! copy.005
When I started blogging several years ago, I chose the title Ruminations. It’s still in the subtitle. It’s not just a graphic term for bovine digestion. It was adopted early in the church as a metaphor for the essential discipline of meditation. It means internalizing and assimilating the truth of God (specifically from Holy Scripture) into our spiritual bloodstreams. It runs counter to our frenzied culture but it’s the only way we flourish and mature in Christ-likeness! You can listen to the sermon here and I’ll include more below on the WHY and HOW of biblical meditation.


What is Biblical Meditation and why is it so important?

::  It has a vocal component: “to talk; mutter; whisper; muse; ponder; moan; sigh. It’s talking with God about His Word and your life.

::  It’s getting God’s truth from the ‘head’ to the ‘heart.’

::  It’s “the sister of reading, the nurse of prayer, and the guide of action;”  “the beginning of all good!”

::  It’s internalization God’s Word so as to transform our way of life. It’s not about emptying the mind as in some religions and spiritualities. Biblical meditation opens us to the “mind of Christ” and to God’s presence in the world.

::  It’s listening to God; giving attention (someone has said, “Inattention is the greatest obstacle to the life of faith!”)

::  It’s tuning into God with all the “antennae of the soul” (mind, emotions, imagination, and will.)

::  It’s spiritual digestion – or rumination! “Words and truths of God “eaten, chewed, received in unhurried delight” (Eugene Peterson)


So HOW do we Practice Meditation? Some suggestions:

Choose a verse, chapter, or story in the Bible – perhaps from your overall reading or a sermon or Bible Study. (You can also meditate on an attribute of God, like God’s justice; or a name of Christ, like the Good Shepherd or the Bread of Life)

1. “a.e.i.o.u.” is a way of “chewing” on the passage you are reflecting on. The vowels stand for:
Ask questions (Kipling’s “6 honest serving men” who taught him all he knew: What and Why and When; and How and Where and Who!)
Emphasize different words
In your own words, or paraphrasing
Other verses that relate and inform
Use, i.e. “Lord, how do you want me to apply this truth?”

2. Martin Luther taught a simple and practical way to meditate and pray:
Luther took for example, The Lord’s Prayer and using each petition, he wove “a garland of four twisted strands. That is, I take each (petition) first as a teaching, which is what it actually is, and I reflect upon what our Lord God so earnestly requires of me here. Secondly, I make out of it a reason for thanksgiving. Thirdly, a confession and fourthly, a prayer petition.” You can read more about his practice here from a past blogpost.


However you and I come to “ingest” the Word of God, let our prayer be with the hymn writer: “Beyond the sacred page – I seek YOU Lord!” *

Let’s be people who Ruminate on God and His truth!

(*from “Break Now the Bread of Life” – Covenant Hymnal, A. Groves, alt.)

The Why (and How) of Solitude + Silence

Neil's "frenzied heart" - now  settled!
Neil’s ‘frenzied heart’ – now settled!

Our Executive Pastor, Neil Botts, just preached on “Loving Others Better Through Solitude and Silence.” Inspiring and intensely practical! You can listen here. Be sure to download his great resource, Practical Steps into Solitude and Silence.  Here is a summary from Neil…

We are bombarded daily with the demands and expectations to be “productive” whether at work or at school or at church. As a result, our sense of worth and identity are often entangled with a frenzied pursuit to “produce.” Add to that our skepticism that we can be truly known and still loved apart from what we “produce,” we then fill our lives with busyness and activity which hinders our ability to be present with people and to hear God speak into our loneliness. The spiritual practice of solitude and silence is a gift from God that opens the door to a new way of being productive and fruitful in relationships and in life. We are better in community (and for our community) when we are regularly in solitude.

The Helper has arrived!

HelpOur series on the Holy Spirit, Fresh Air, is exploring different images the Scriptures use to describe the third Person of the Trinity. In John’s Gospel, chapters 13-16 (the Upper Room Discourse) Jesus, on four occasions, announces the coming of the Paraclete. This word literally means, “One called alongside to help.” (connect to the sermon here.)

The sermon details the central truth that the Holy Spirit is a PERSON – the one who continues Jesus’s presence and ministry through his disciples. The Spirit is the Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, Helper! I suggest two ways we can live the Good News that the promised Helper has arrived!

Allow the Spirit to be the Helper in every arena of your life today: your prayers; your family; your personal struggles; your work; your ministry. This is what it means to be “filled with the Holy Spirit!” (Ephesians 5:15-21) and to “keep in step with the Spirit!” (Galatians 5:16-25).

Note: the book I referenced in this sermon is Jesus Continued: Why the Spirit inside you is better than Jesus beside you! by J.D. Greear.

Spring (training) is Here!

Ash Wednesday is today in the Western Church. It marks the beginning of the season of Lent – 40 days leading up to the Easter celebration of Christ’s Resurrection.

Tonight, 7 pm, I encourage you to gather for a service of worshipimage and repentance and the start of what we could call Spiritual Spring Training!

Those of us who profess taking our discipleship with Jesus seriously should be the quickest to long for deeper disciplines, fleeing from our sins, and uncovering our blind spots.

See our Christ Church website (www.ChristChurchEC.org) for all the ways we will seek to go deeper into the Great Story of Good News in the days ahead.

Day 22, The Ephrem Prayer (part 6)

prodigal-detail1We come to a turning point in  the Lenten prayer of Ephrem the  Syrian. We ask God to take from us four ‘diseases of the soul.’ Ephrem now turns to prayers for four Christ-like virtues that transform us.

O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of
apathy, despondency, ambition, and empty talk.
+++
But give rather the spirit of
purity, humility, patience, and love to Your servant.
+++
Yes, O Lord and King!
Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother or sister;
For You are blessed forever, to ages of ages.  Amen!
+++

Here is the commentary by Alexander Schmemann on PURITY (Chastity; Wholeness):

Chastity! If one does not reduce this term, as is so often and erroneously done, only to its sexual connotations, it is understood as the positive counterpart of apathy or idleness. The exact and full translation of the original words ought to be whole-mindedness. Apathy is, first of all, dissipation, the brokenness of our vision and energy, the inability to see the whole. Its opposite then is precisely wholeness or purity. If we usually mean by purity, the virtue opposed to sexual depravity, it is because the broken character of our existence is nowhere better manifested than in sexual lust—the alienation of the body from the life and control of the spirit. Christ restores wholeness in us…

A version of the whole commentary can be read here.

Lessons from a Modern Disciple

WillardOn three consecutive Saturdays, the Christ Church community celebrated and mourned at the death of beloved fellow-believers. Just prior to these weeks, author and fellow disciple, Dallas Willard died of cancer. Willard was known for his wonderful work of deepening the Christian Church’s understanding of Spiritual Formation and Discipleship.

In light of our fall series, I am a Disciple! I want to share some quotations from conversations and writings of Dallas Willard worthy of our serious rumination.

Disciples of Jesus are those who are with him, learning to be like him. That is, they are learning to lead their life, their actual existence, as he would lead their life if he were they.    (Renovation of the Heart)

The mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do in his or her place.

Willard taught me that a disciple is a student who sits at the feet of Jesus day in and day out. A disciple is someone who is with Jesus, learning to be like him, so that when we encounter the world around us, we do exactly what Jesus would do if he were in our shoes.

We cannot be Christians without being disciples, and we cannot call ourselves Christians without applying this understanding of life in the Kingdom of God to every aspect of life on earth. (The Great Omission)

When asked, “What is death? “ Dallas responded:
Jesus made a special point of saying those who rely on him and have received the kind of life that flows in him and in God will never stop living.

Willard also challenged us to take the Sermon on the Mount more seriously, especially the parts about seeking first the Kingdom of God.  He called it “The cost of non-discipleship,” referencing Bonhoeffer’s famous “Cost of Discipleship.”  He put it this way:

“If you think it’s hard being a disciple of Christ, you should try living the other way. Living to make a name for yourself or secure your own future is way too expensive. Stop now before you ruin yourself utterly. Jesus was talking in these stories about the cost of non-discipleship, and it’s breathtakingly high.” 

“So then, whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord!”  (Romans 14:8)

HAVE YOU CONSIDERED THE ‘COST’ OF NON-DISCIPLESHIP?

Praying with power

And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness….  (Acts 4:24-29)

~~~~~~~~~

The Bible does not leave us to our own ideas about how to pray!

Last Sunday, our “Mind the Gap” series challenged the whole way we look at prayer.  The sermon explored principles from Acts 4 when the early church was facing increased opposition.

They didn’t “pray their anxieties” or ask for protection from tough situations. Instead, they prayed according to the Power of God’s attributes, the Promises of God in His Word, and the Purpose and Mission of God that they were called to join.

I’ve also compiled a list of previous posts on prayer as “continual Communion with the Lord.”

Q: Are you and I learning to follow the words of Paul, “Pray without ceasing!” (1 Thes. 5:17)

‘Housekeeping’ as a spiritual discipline?

housekeeping1I actually enjoy some parts of “keeping” the house. I’ve always shared the tasks whether growing up, or in a house of guys or with my own family. (I have a running joke with a friend of mine who consistently stops by when I’m cleaning or vacuuming, troubled that I’m making him look bad!)

Haven’t you noticed a measure of satisfaction – or even a “smile” from God when the house (or car) is shining, or your office desktop becomes visible, or you just clean up your own mess? There is something about housekeeping chores that “keeps” US grounded and helps push back laziness, apathy, and self-indulgence.

This all became more alive for me as I was reading a chapter in a book on early Christian spiritual life by a local Brown professor, Susan Ashbrook Harvey. (It’s called To Train His Soul in Books: Syriac Asceticism in Early ChristianityHarvey is an Orthodox Christian and scholar in the exploding field of Early Christian Studies. I met with her a few years back, so when I spotted it in the new books section of the URI library, I checked it out. The title of her chapter is Housekeeping: An Ascetic Theme in Late Antiquity. Here are just a few excerpts:

“My purpose is to ask how housekeeping as opposed to housebuilding – contributed (to) … sustained self-maintenance (in the Christian life.)

The Scriptures frequently use household imagery (e.g. 1 Cor. 3 & 6.) The human body is spoken of as the Temple of God – “a holy place in which the Holy Spirit should dwell, and which ought accordingly to be kept clean of defilement and worthy of its purpose.” Jewish writers spoke of adorning and preparing our “house” for God in greater ways than we would for the entertainment of Kings!

The texts of the early Church Fathers and Mothers stressed continual discipline often using the household images: “The housekeeping cited in these texts is not the light maintenance work of daily dusting and sweeping, but rather the hard drudgery of a thorough spring cleaning. It represents the periodic effort to take serious stock of one’s condition: to take everthing apart in the cleaning process in order to put it back together again with shining freshness. The ascetic self, engaged in a daily discipline, could yet acquire the buildup of unwanted sentiments or emotions or passions. A thorough, harsh cleaning scrubbed the ascetic back to a fine and proper dwelling for divine habitation. (p.152)

One comment noted in the essay: John Chrysostom (4th cent.) challenges male monks and celibate households to do their own hard work of housekeeping rather than hire women to do it for them!

[NOTE: A somewhat more accessible and similar read is by Kathleen Norris – The Quotidian Mysteries. It’s short and is also included as a chapter in her larger book, Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life.

Q – How may God want to use the daily, ‘housekeeping’ activities in  your life to draw attention to the disciplines of discipleship?

How to strengthen your stewardship muscles

STEWARDSHIPImagine a community of people unattached to their stuff? 
Living creatively, responsibly, generously in the world
so that everyone can see the living God who is giver of all good things?

We are called to live joyfully surrendered lives as ‘stewards,’ not ‘owners’ of our time, talents, and resources. The last two sermons from the Mind The Gap Series  last Sunday speak to the broader principles of stewardship. I’m also revising a previous post about the dangers of consumerism and the biblical stewardship of our money and possessions.

Consumerism has been called “The Cult of the Next Thing.”  The essay by Mark Buchanon and is available here. In Matthew 6:19-24, Jesus calls us to check our hearts and our eyes as it relates to possessions and Kingdom priorities . If Money is one of the idols – or gods of this world, then Jesus wants us (in the words of Dale Bruner in his commentary on Matthew) to become the real atheists to the secular gods of consumerism, successism, pride in possessions, self-serving, overspending, and indifference to needs…”  

The antidote to terminal consumerism is generosity: both the tithe principle of regular, planned giving and offerings of what we have that come from a heart of compassion in the face of urgent needs.

Randy Alcorn has written extensively on stewardship, especially of our money. As with any author, we may not agree with every emphasis, but Alcorn covers the questions thoroughly and with a heart of Christ-centeredness. His books, The Treasure Principle, and Managing God’s Money are short works and Money, Possessions, and Eternity is his more comprehensive treatment.

Q – How will having a more clear role of ‘Steward’ instead of ‘Owner’ change how you use your time, talents, or resources?