Archive for March, 2008

Eva Cassidy

March 27, 2008

Eva Cassidy had one of the purest voices I’ve ever heard. This is one of my favorites.



Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines (part 4)

March 24, 2008

seedling4.jpg   In the last post I compared our responsibility in our own spiritual formation to that of a gardener in his garden. The gardener has plenty to do, but the growth itself he has very little to do with. All he can do is provide the most favorable conditions and care for growth to take place. The way to do that is to do the things that good gardeners have done for ages. He needs to learn and practice the wisdom of those those who know more about gardening than he does.

It’s the same for us who are trying to cultivate a life in Christ. Learn and practice the wisdom of those in scripture and those saints who’ve lived  in the two thousand years since. All the while remembering that what our efforts in the spiritual life do, as Henri Nouwen points out, is to create some space and some time in our busy lives for God to shape us into His image. 

The Disciplines

Most  Christians are pretty familiar with the disciplines of reading and study of scripture, prayer, fasting, worship, service,  but I’d like to talk about a few that aren’t so well known. My reason for choosing these and not others is just my own preference, and the way they have shaped my thoughts on the christian life.

Practicing the Presence

Apart from scripture itself, and then A. W. Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God”, Brother Lawrence’s classic “The Practice of the Presence of God” has probably affected the way I look at Christian spirituality more than any other writing. I recommend it (and “The Pursuit of God”) without reservation. It simply makes more sense, as a way of living, than any other book I’ve read outside of scripture.  

The simplest and most profound of his thoughts on the spiritual life is this. “That we should establish ourselves in a sense of God’s presence by continually conversing with Him.” I know, it doesn’t sound like much. But as I’ve thought about it I’ve realized what a revolutionary way of living it actually is, and how thoroughly biblical, both in doctrine and practice it is. I’ve also noticed how different it is to the way the average Christian I see, including me, lives.

One of the most basic ideas in scripture is that God is always, and everywhere, with us. There is no place where we could go that He is not already. Well, if that is true, then maybe I ought to start living like it is.

Some folks will object, not to the truth of it, but that it’s so elementary and basic. Surely there’s lots of stuff more important we should be doing.

Before you dismiss it though, look at a few things it can do.

  1.  It makes all of my life spiritual. All of it. From the grand to the menial, I now do it in the conscious presence of God. There is no sacred-secular divide.
  2.  It takes scriptures that sound very mystical and spiritualized and makes them ultimately practical. “Pray without ceasing.” is now a do-able reality, not a pious ideal. “Whatever you do, whether eating or drinking, do to the glory of God.” is now an ordinary meal shared with God, the provider, whom I thank for it. Not some special, religious ceremony I have to perform. 
  3.  I begin to see Him at work all around me. He feeds the birds of the air, not in some ethereal, poetic sense, but right there in my front yard. He clothes the flowers of the field. Each one of them. And then as we walk together, he shows them to me, if I will just pay attention. 
  4.  It broadens my very narrow understanding of prayer. In addition to prayer being a set apart, special time where I bow my head, close my eyes and talk to God, my whole life becomes prayer, an ongoing converstion. In fact, for me, one of the biggest benefits of this ongoing conversation with God is that I have to, at some point, shut up. Listening and watching have become much more valuable to me than speaking. (Not that I always do what is more valuable)
  5.  It makes the “contemplative” person one of the most practical, down to earth folks on the planet. If I am consciously living my days with God Himself, listening more than talking, paying attention to what he’s doing, and then doing the things he places before me in my ordinary life (for this is what a true contemplative does in my opinion) then I will love those around me in the most practical, humble and useful ways there are. A very real way of living life the way Jesus did. “I only do what the Father tells me to do, I only say what I hear the Father saying.”
  6.  It makes me honest. If God is right there with me, knowing everything I know, hearing and seeing everything I say, do and think, then it makes no sense to try and fool him. I can quit trying to “get right” before I can talk to Him (as if it were possible), stop pretending to be more holy than I am, and begin to be honest with myself and talking plainly with Him. 

Before you think that I have attained any competence in this, let me tell you that it is the most difficult thing I have ever tried to do. I just can’t do it consistently, at least not yet. Simple does not mean easy, as we sometimes think. But time after time I keep coming back to this simple practice as one I must keep on trying to do.

The next post I want to talk about solitude.

“No One Cares For My soul” Friday

March 21, 2008

It’s Good Friday. You may have noticed that I haven’t posted a “NOCFMS” Friday in a while. (click here to see what I’m talking about)

I haven’t forgotten, I just don’t post enough to spread them out. If I did it every Friday my blog would look like a long series of Friday posts with a few others occasionally mixed in.

So I’ve decided to do it once a month instead of every week.

Of all Fridays this one is best suited to remember, by Jesus’ example, that we are to love one another, and bear one another’s burdens.

So I’m askin, “How’s it going, really?”

Here Is A Short List Of Some (Hopefully) Helpful Links

March 17, 2008

UPDATE; Chris Giovagnoni from Compassion sent this link to the CI blog. If you have any question about the impact a sponsorship has on a child’s life read these 3 posts by a graduate of the program.  

This isn’t the post I promised not long ago with links to spiritual foramtion/spiritual discipline sites and articles.

This is a post about a very few links to sites that actually offer some do-able ways of coming along side “the least of these” that Jesus loves. 

Lately I’m being constantly reminded of those in real, physical need of what I too often think of as “my” treasure. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.

Check these folks out and then help me out. Send me links to sites you know about.  I’m embarrassed by how little I know about what’s out there. facilitates micro-loans to folks in the third world who need start-up, or expansion money for their businesses. You can loan as little as $25, or as much as you want.

Compassion International -I’ve posted a couple of times about my experience with Compassion. Don’t wait another day. Sponsor a child, or two….

Blood:Water Mission – $1 = one year of clean water for one person in Africa. That’s the simple equation that this organization is using to raise money to build one thousand wells and clean water projects on the continent.

World Vision  – (from their website) World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.

Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines (part 3)

March 12, 2008

seedling2.jpg    I just finished lunch with my friend Randy.

One of the discussions we have regularly when we get together is pretty common wherever folks are trying to live out the Gospel of the Kingdom. This discussion has several names (Grace vs. Law, Grace vs. Works, Active Spirituality vs Passive Spirituality, Quietism vs Legalism, etc…), but the same basic tension. It all comes down to, “How much of my spiritual life am I responsible for, and how much is God’s responsibility?”

It’s good for me to wrestle with this. Randy spurs me to move back toward a more balanced life. I can be pretty lazy sometimes, and tend toward a more passive approach to the spiritual life. Randy says it’s good for him too, coming from the other direction. So we’re gonna keep getting together.

Both sides have scripture and smart folks they use to back themselves up. Here’s a few quotes.

“There are very few people who realise what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into his hands, and let themselves be formed by his grace.” -St Ignatius

“Currently we are not only saved by grace; we are paralyzed by it. We find it hard to see that grace is not opposed to effort, but is opposed to earning. Earning and effort are not the same thing. Earning is an attitude, and grace is definitely opposed to that. But it is not opposed to effort.” -Dallas Willard

“The general human failing is to want what is right and important, but at the same time not to commit to the kind of life that will produce the action we know to be right and the condition we want to enjoy. It is the feature of human character that explains why the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” -Dallas Willard

“‘Rest in the Lord; wait patiently for him.’ In Hebrew, ‘Be silent to God, and let him mould thee.’ Keep still, and He will mould thee to the right shape.” – Martin Luther

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works so that no one may boast.” Eph. 2:8,9

“…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Phil 2:13

As with almost everything, you need a little context. No one who has studied Luther, at all, would label him a quietist, no one who has read, or heard Dallas Willard would call him a legalist. And anyone who would call the Apostle Paul a quietist…well, isn’t familiar with his travel itinerary. 

In the last post I talked a little about gardening as a metaphor for spiritual formation. 

As anyone who has tried to grow a garden knows, it’s a lot of work; planning, soil preparation, planting seeds, watering, weeding, fertilizing, pruning, harvesting. It takes daily care, and a lot of time, all to be done by the gardener.

On the other hand, there are a lot of things the gardener has no control of; late freezes, drought, bad seed, animals. Even if none of those things are a problem he still can’t make a seed grow. Jesus said this, “This is what the Kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” Mk 4:26, 27

Here is the picture I need to remember about my spiritual formation. I have lots of work to do to tend my garden. Good and necessary work. But I don’t make anything grow. I don’t even know how it really happens. All I can do is provide conditions that aid healthy growth.

Growth happens becuase the Spirit lives inside me. I don’t really understand how growth, or transformation happens, but I do see some results, though most of the time it happens so gradually I can only see it looking backward over time.

So, I’ll practice the disciplines, knowing that I have a part and a responsibility in my own growth. But also that life in the Spirit is a gift from God, and any growth is because of that gift.  

Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines (part2)

March 10, 2008

seedling1.jpg   In the first post of this basic discussion of spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines, you may have noticed that I failed to define my terms. That’s because the minute I try to put down on paper a complete definition someone -and if not someone else, I myself- will say, “Yeah, but what about ________?” And they’ll be right. 

To illustrate the futility of my attempting anything like a complete definition/listing of spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines, here is a list of disciplines, in no particular order, taken from just three books on my shelf (By the way, one of the next posts will be a resource list of books, articles and websites I’ve found to be helpful, so look for that soon):

Silence, solitude, prayer, fasting, study, worship, Eucharist/Communion, sabbath, meditation, contemplation, frugality, simplicity, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice, celebration, service, confession, submission, fellowship, guidance/spiritual direction, spiritual reading, lectio divina, thanksgiving, singing, praise, work/labor, hospitality, retreat, humility, forgiveness, journaling, tithing/giving, stewardship, witness, memorization.

That’s 36 of them, if you’re counting. Lots of overlap in that list, some pretty broad, some very narrow in scope, most affect multiple areas in our lives, all are means that God has used, and continues to use to shape us into the image of Jesus. So instead of “full” definitions, here are short, general, working ones.

Spiritual Formation is the process of becoming more like Jesus.

Spiritual Disciplines are practices/exercises we do, that God uses to shape us into that image of Christ.

Scripture talks a lot about spiritual formation. Stories and metaphors of growing, farming, building, maturing, wisdom gaining, sojourning, waiting and exile are recorded for us to read and re-read. The whole idea of story itself serves as a reminder of process that is so important to our understanding of becoming like Jesus. It’s not an instant kind of thing. In each of our stories there is a beginning, a plot, characters, conflict, struggle, failure, hope, heroes, villains, and ultimately resolution.

Much of that scripture talks about growth. After “Creator of the Universe”,  God’s next job title could easily be listed “Master Gardener”. “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden….” (Genesis 2). The first job description of man is that of “Assistant Gardener”, (also Genesis 2).

I think we’re supposed to pay close attention to that idea of gardening, and the way things grow. If we do, we begin to see parallels all around us. Not quite like Chauncey Gardiner, in Being There , but we still ought to pay attention.

Here’s one of my favorites. “He [a righteous man]”, the psalmist says, “is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season.”  Man,  like a fruit tree, is planted, grows and matures, yielding fruit in season. A process of growth and maturity.

Peter Leithart says this about maturing into Christ-likeness, and its place in scripture;

“Maturation is not only a major focus in individual stories but a major theme of the Bible as a whole. As Paul describes the story of the Bible, it moves from the “minority” of Israel to the “maturity” of the church. Under the Old Covenant, Israel was under tutors, guardians, and managers (Galatians 3-4), but now that Jesus has come we have come to mature manhood. Through Jesus, many sons have been brought to glory. This does not mean that they have been brought into heaven. It means that sons have been glorified, brought to full humanity. This is as much the goal of the work of Jesus as our deliverance from sin.”

One more thing I’d like to touch on in that definition of spiritual formation. Like the process of growing anything, be it a garden or a child into an adult, it can be painfully slow and sometimes even look counter-productive.

 Enough for now, I’ve got to go pick up the kids from school. More later.

Eugene Peterson Interview

March 6, 2008

Here’s a rare interview with Eugene Peterson. Watch, and I think you’ll see why he’s one of my favorites. (HT; Internetmonk)

Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines (part 1)

March 4, 2008

Seedling     This is an introduction to a series of posts I hope to write about spiritual formation, and more specifically, about some (not all) spiritual disciplines. This isn’t meant to be a very in-depth, or advanced acedemic/theological treatment of the subject. There is nothing new here, only things I’ve read and heard many times before (as I’m sure you have too), and maybe more importantly, stuff I’ve learned from my own attempts to live some of this way of life. Since I have no original thoughts, I’ll be using a bunch of quotes. But bear with me, I need to hear these things again. Maybe you do too.

Spiritual formation and spiritual discipline are two of the more trendy phrases heard these days. I’m typically pretty skeptical of trendy anything. Maybe it has to do with the fact I’ve never really been part of the “cool” crowd. Maybe it has something to do with the old photos of super-fashionable leisure suits and platform shoes that have a way of resurfacing every few years. But whatever the reason, sour grapes or lessons learned from hindsight, I stay, at most, on the trailing edge of anything trendy. But I’ve been interested in spiritual formation and the spiritual disciplines for many years, proving only that this is the rare occurrence of me being out in front of something. Maybe those leisure suits and satin shirts will ….nah!

 I’ve read many books about the subject, sat under some really smart folks’ teaching, and practiced most of the disciplines I’m aware of. I’m no expert, but I know a little about this stuff. In trying to live out a life faithful to Jesus and His ways, I’ve known some successes, and I’ve known more failures. I have many problems when it comes to living a disciplined life. Two come to mind pretty quickly, and I’ll bet I’m not the only one  with these. Remember this is just two of several.

One, I forget much of what I’ve learned. I often feel like comedian Steven Wright when he said, “Right now I’m having amnesia and deja-vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.” I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve started well with a particular discipline and drifted off to the point where I no longer even remember it. Until a couple of months later when I suddenly think, “What happened to that?

Two, I don’t practice enough of what I do remember. In this I am clearly among those about whom Columbanus said, “We desire to know all; we tire of doing all we know, hoping that words can count instead of deeds. Perhaps here below they may; for above they clearly cannot in God’s sight, since there it is not he who has spoken, but he who has acted, that shall be saved.”  In this there is the old tension between how much is for me to do, and how much is God’s province. Incidentally, I find that much of the spiritual life consists in holding things in tension.

This brings us to the purpose of a spiritual discipline. I’m with Henri Nouwen on this one.

“Discipleship without discipline is like waiting to run in the marathon without ever practicing. It is important, however, to realize that discipline in the spiritual life is not the same as discipline in sports. Discipline in sports is the concentrated effort to master the body so that it can obey the mind better. Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God’s guidance. Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God. Solitude requires discipline, worship requires discipline, caring for others requires discipline. They all ask us to set apart a time and a place where God’s gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to”.

Disciplines are means, not ends. They are not skill sets that we become proficient with. They are the paths that God uses to bring us into conformity with Him. And make no mistake about it, His purpose is to make us into His likeness, and He will not quit until we are. “One day we will be like Him.”

Part two soon.