Posts tagged ‘spiritual discipline’

What Are We Giving?

This week, my friend Michael Perkins wrote on consuming and contributing over at his blog Drip Jesus. Now let me be quick to assure you — as Michael himself does in his post — that this is not a post about tithing.

As we continue in this first week of the Lenten season, I’m struck by a couple of things that Michael writes. First is this:

We are a consumer driven society.

We consume, consume, and then consume some more.

  • We consume media. (Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter)
  • We consume art. (Books, Poetry, and other forms)
  • We consume church. (I just want to be fed. I don’t have time serve)

And we never give anything back. We never contribute.

  • We don’t add to the discussion.
  • We don’t create art.
  • We don’t pour ourselves into the lives of others.

I’ll be honest that my initial reaction to this was to think Michael was being unnecessarily harsh, but the more I reflected on this, the more I realized what he was getting at. If we call ourselves Christians, how can we possibly stand in a position in which we seek to be served rather than to serve others? To do so is to live life in opposition to the example and teachings of Christ, who was pretty clear on the subject.

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

So the standard is pretty clear: we’re created to give, not receive. And that’s where Michael hit several nails on the head with his post.

  • We’ve been created to give our lives. (To the One that created us)
  • We’ve been created to give our abilities. (To the One that created us and to help further the Kingdom)
  • We’ve been created to give our stories. (To others that they may be encouraged)

A few years ago Dr. Jesse Middendorf, a General Superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene, issued a challenge at our annual district assembly. “How deep is your “yes” to God?” He wanted those who heard this challenge to consider if they were truly giving their all: all of their heart, all of their soul, all of their everything to the Kingdom of God.

In years past, as we entered the season of Lent, I’ve decided on one thing or another that I was going to give up for Lent, and while I don’t regret doing that, I wonder at this point in my spiritual life if I’m not doing that more out of a sense of obligation than anything else. I begin to wonder if isn’t better to start something instead of giving something up, if it wouldn’t be better for me to begin a new spiritual discipline that I take beyond the 40 days of Lent. I wonder what I am truly giving to the Kingdom, and if it’s really all that I can be giving to my Lord Jesus. J.B. Chapman once exhorted Nazarenes to be all out for souls, and that is the life I would lead and all too often am afraid that I am not leading in the least. So during Lent, I will be considering what it is that I am giving to the building of the Kingdom, and what further I can give of myself for His glory.

What are you giving?

Blogging Hiatus

Lamentation at the Tomb, 15th century.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lent season, which begins a 46-day countdown to Easter Sunday. Although many associate Lent with Roman Catholicism, it is also celebrated by Protestant denominations such as the Church of the Nazarene, Methodists, and Lutherans. Lent is traditionally marked by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. As someone who grew up in a Jewish household, I find these traditions familiar. They remind me of the practices which Jews engage in during the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, as we daven (pray) and fast; they also bring to mind the Jewish practice of tzedakah, obligatory acts of charity.

Lent is more than simply traditions. Lent is a time which spiritually prepares us to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. Spiritual preparation can often come through exercising spiritual disciplines, practices which aim at bringing Christians into a state of holiness and purity. I think it is safe to say that throughout the history of the Church that such practices have not been necessarily easy to engage in, nor have they always enjoyed popularity. My friend David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus, has for years engaged in the spiritual discipline of reading one chapter from Psalms each morning and meditating upon it. I have tried this discipline myself on and off over the years since he first shared it with me, and cannot say that I have had the discipline to maintain it.

Growing to maturity as a Christian requires more than simply proclaiming oneself a Christian. One must engage in spiritual disciplines designed to focus one on Christ, rather than on the things of this world. John Wesley devoted his life to the practice of such disciplines in his personal life, and to teaching others to engage in such practices themselves. Among the spiritual disciplines Wesley practiced and taught were: public worship of God, regularly searching the Scriptures, regularly participating in the Lord’s Supper (communion), private and family prayer, fasting or abstinence, feeding the hungry, welcoming in strangers, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison, and sheltering the homeless.

I think it’s interesting to note that some of these disciplines directly benefit us in our walk with Christ, while others of the disciplines seem to directly benefit others (feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, etc.). Perhaps the message in that is that it isn’t about us, rather that it is about Jesus and doing the things He did, and treating others the way that He did. As Lent begins, I am beginning a fast from social media such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as placing this blog on hiatus. God has laid some exciting ministry opportunities (or may they are challenges) before me recently, and I choose to take Lent as a time to remove distractions in order that I might focus fully on Him, and on preparing myself to celebrate the Resurrection of His Son.

Whether you fast during Lent or not, I pray you too will engage in some sort of spiritual preparation. See you after Easter!!

My Favorite Five

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is the final day of 2011. Another year has passed, and it’s been a great year for this little blog of mine. I am blown away by the growth in visitors in just one year, and grateful for the growing number of people who find enough worth in what I’ve been doing here to actually subscribe. I thought I would take a moment to look back and reflect on my personal favorite posts of the past year. These are my favorite five, in chronological order of their original postings.

1. Corporate Prayer. Almost a year later, I continue to devote lots of thought to how congregations can move beyond being local bodies full of people with individual prayer lives to being a body with a communal prayer life.

2. Phoebe Palmer and Entire Sanctification. This is perhaps my favorite post of 2011, because it represented my entrance into a new level of theological pondering on my part considering the holiness movement in America. That it turn led to a major paper written for one of my graduate courses at Trevecca Nazarene University. I later modified that paper and turned it into a series of posts, which can be found at the page titled Altar Theology or Altered Theology? Whether you’ve visited A Heart That Burns previously and never read these, or are visiting for the first time, please peruse these for my thoughts on the identity crisis I believe the Church of the Nazarene has faced for some time, and what I see as the solution.

3. Serving or Surviving? This post sparked a meaningful discussion on the question of whether the life of Nazarene churches are oriented towards the service of those outside the doors of the church, or oriented towards the survival of the church (and by extension — with an insight that has come since the original post — the specific traditions and sacred cows of a particular church).

4. God Never Gives Up on People … Should We? There are some things I write that the most human and selfish part of me resists every step of the way, because of how vulnerable and exposed they make my heart. This one burned — and still burns! — like battery acid. Although I stand by what I wrote here, oh how I wish that things could be otherwise when it comes to broken relationships.

5. Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Success. Although this wasn’t the lengthiest of posts in the past year, it just might be the one that has caused me to return over and over to consider the question I myself raised: am I achieving success by God’s standards?

BONUS POSTS: This year I had two guest posts,  both of them by pastor friends of mine. These were fantastic posts that addressed important topics.

1. About Banners by Herb Halstead. Herb addressed the unity that occurs when churches chooses to focus on the mission God has given the Body of Christ, and to set aside the banner of a particular denomination or doctrine.

2. Zombie Land by Jeff Skinner. Leave it to my friend Jeff Skinner — a truly creative preacher and church planter — to come up with perhaps the most unusual post on this blog all year. Don’t let the title of the post fool you … this one had some depth to it.

Poll on Spiritual Disciplines

I am interested in learning about the spiritual disciplines others engage in. If you wouldn’t mind taking a few short moments to take this poll, I would appreciate it.

More Thoughts On Serving or Surviving

I received some feedback on my post Serving or Surviving that surprised me. Several people who are close to me reflected that they are in survival mode rather than serving mode — despite the fact that in at least one case, I know that person to be serving others in a valuable yet unseen way. Some questioning from me revealed that these individuals recognized that their church was in serving mode, but they felt that they were personally in survival mode. While my original post was about whether churches were serving or surviving, I thought I would post some further thoughts about this question of serving or surviving when it comes to the individual.

Halford Luccock, an American Methodist minister who taught homiletics at Yale’s School of Divinity, once remarked:

The best-preserved thing in all human history is an Egyptian mummy. The surest way to make a spiritual and intellectual mummy out of yourself is to give all your attention to preserving self.

I think that all of us, at some point or another, kick into survival mode when life seems to jerk the rug out from beneath us. That’s natural — we humans have a self-preservation instinct built into us. When we’re in this mode the last thing most of us are likely to think about is being of service to others, because let’s face it: when you’re worried about paying the bills, it’s hard to think about whether anyone else can pay their own. Such a survival mode shouldn’t be the norm for us, though, and I don’t think being in this  mode precludes serving God or others. I can personally attest that finding some way to serve has been the key to exiting survival mode.

In the 17th century, a young man faced disappointment because he could neither sing nor play an instrument. An older friend of his family offered him the advice that there were many ways to make music, and that what mattered most was the music in one’s heart. So the young man became apprenticed to this family friend of Amati, and began learning the craft of building stringed instruments. Out of such a beginning the young man — Antonio Stradivari — became the most famous violin-maker in history. Despite not being able to sing or play, he turned his talents to service by consummately crafting instruments for those who could.

W.T. Purkiser once wrote,

The building of the spiritual house of God is a task for which some are given special talents. They stand at the front and work directly at the task. But the labors of those who build are possible only because others, less gifted in some ways, fashion the tools and supply the materials.

Consider how what Purkiser wrote fits in with the Apostle Paul’s admonition to his fellow Christians in Corinth:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ … Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?  (I Corinthians 12: 4-12, 27-30)

If you feel stuck in survival mode, let me encourage you. There is some way that you can be of service to God and others. Perhaps it is simply writing encouraging notes to others in your church, letting them know they are being thought of or prayed for. I have been in congregations where one individual stayed after the service to sharpen pencils, or straighten chairs, or clean up discarded bulletins. Perhaps you can serve in the way one sister I am friends with delights to do, and walk the sanctuary before church begins, praying over each seat and the one who will occupy it. Start small, and you may find that your opportunities for service grows larger as you cease to merely survive. Remember that Jesus Himself told us something very important when it comes to service:

“But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” (Matthew 19:30 NLT)

Scripture for First Sunday of Lent

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”   (Mark 2:18-22)

The Best Laid Plans …

I had intended to dive right back into regular posts to this blog after my recent move and surgery. I definitely had planned originally to post on Ash Wednesday. Fast forward past a couple of bumps in my recovery, and getting used to a radically new shift at work, and here I am.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent, the beginning of a roughly 40-day countdown to Easter Sunday. Although many might associate Lent only with Roman Catholicism, it has also traditionally been celebrated by Protestant denominations such as the Methodists, Lutherans, and my own Church of the Nazarene. Lent is often marked by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I have previously  posted on the importance of Lent as a time of spiritual preparation, getting Christians ready to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.

Confession: every year, I struggle with choosing what I should fast from. Due to medical reasons, I am not permitted to fast from food, so I have tried to fast from things which can be a big part of my life. One year it was T.V. I failed miserably on that one. Last year it was Facebook, at which I fared only slightly better. This year, I made the decision that rather than trying to fast from something, I would instead concentrate on my prayer life.

Curiously (or maybe not so much), I am finding that focusing on doing something seems easier than not doing something. In just four days, I have found that increasing the time I spend in prayer is having the unforseen result of drawing my attention away from the things which distract me from God. This is precisely what I always imagined fasting to accomplish. It occurs to me that perhaps the Apostle Paul would not have been surprised by this.

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth …” (Colossians 3:1-2)

This was a sentiment that Thomas a Kempis echoed in his classic devotional, The Imitation of Christ.

“Fix your mind on the Most High, and pray unceasingly to Christ.”

As I discipline myself to intentionally set aside time for prayer, I experience God responding to me. Will you join me in seeking Him during the Lenten season?

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