It’s only been in the last twelve months or so that I’ve realized the power of physical discipline for taking my spiritual discipline to the next level.
It should be obvious, yet for me it hasn’t been. Discipline the body, discipline the mind.
But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:27, ESV)
Because physical discipline yields tangible results, we begin to better understand disciplinein general, and can apply that knowledge to the spiritual realm. I recently starting exercising on a regular basis, and I’ve learned:
It takes less time than you think to start seeing the fruit of discipline, but more time than you think to completely uproot bad habits.
Start slow, don't bite off more than you can chew.
Community is essential for my success in being a disciplined person.
Being willing to learn from people wiser than myself is a non-negotiable.
Just showing up is half the battle.
Look, this guy:
Me, a couple of years ago.
and this guy:
Me, a couple of weeks ago
are two completely different people, physically and spiritually.
How do we become healthier physically, sharper mentally, and deeper spiritually? By disciplining the body, mind, and spirit.
By God’s grace I’m both the most physically and spiritually disciplined I’ve ever been. The two are much more intertwined than we’d often like to admit.
It was quiet outside the small, cylindrical building. Vividly green desert plants lined the bottom of the cement wall. Bright Arizona sun glinted off of embossed metal letters around the wooden door.
NOT LIGHT BUT FIRE
DARKNESS NOT CLARITY
PRAYER NOT READING
It was my first stop of the day. Not entirely sure what to expect, I breathed deeply, pulled on the door handle and entered.
It was dark inside, but hazy light filtered through some stained glass in the ceiling. Recessed benches lined the wall, and in the center of the room a pillar made of wood and glass rose from the floor.
The silence was weighty.
A small candle caused the pillar to glow from the inside and I approached with curiosity.
There was something else in the pillar, a silver container with a cross on top, and in an instant I knew what it was. Of course. This is the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.
Without another thought I fell to my knees on the smallprayer bench in front of the ciborium.
I was struck silent. My usually incessant internal monologue ceased and gave way to a particular kind of reverence and awe.
I think I experienced true holy fear for the first time.
Here in front of me was the consecrated Host. The Body of my Lord and my God. The personal presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit–somehow distinct yet also unmistakably one–was tangible to me.
The thick atmosphere that seemed to surround me wasn’t silence, it was the glory of the Lord.
When words came, I could only seem to manage these:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, have mercy on me, a sinner.
* * *
Jesus was present in that moment, in a dramatic and powerful way. That morning something else was impressed on heart: a reminder that Jesus is always present inside of us through his Spirit.
Learning to live in ever-awareness of this must be part of what it means to walk with Jesus daily.
Rachel Held Evans and others have been posting about the recent trend for Millennials (those currently in the 18-29 age bracket) to end up in the high church traditions–Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, etc.
After years attending and leading worship in the non-liturgical settings, I was nevertheless also strangely drawn to liturgical and sacramental life. I finally ended up in the Anglican Church1.
Here’s why I came to embrace the way of ancient Christianity.
1) It points me to Jesus.
The ancient liturgical traditions each have specific theological reasoning behind them. Each one, whether it be saying a corporate confession of sin, “passing the peace,” or even the style of vestments used are meant to communicate something about God. They function as a continual guide during worship back to meditating on Jesus.
2) It connects me with history.
The past matters for the high church traditions. We worship with prayers, songs, and actions that have been practiced since the Apostolic era. This connects us with with all those saints that have gone before us, keeping us grounded in what God has done and living in the reality of the “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1).
3) It fosters communion.
Not only do we actually have Holy Communion each week, but the liturgical way is in fact much more interactive than the typical “sing, sit, listen” pattern in mainstream Evangelical services. “Liturgy” means “work of the people,” and together we stand, kneel, join hands, make the sign of the sign of the cross, respond with written and spontaneous prayers. There’s a rhythm of back-and-forth in most liturgies that reminds us we’re all engaged in the work of worship, and brings us closer together as a community centered around the person of Jesus.
4) It gives me tools to grow.
The ancient traditions include robust devotional tools for daily prayer, meditation, and discipline. The most important for me have been the Daily Office (set prayers and appointed Bible readings for morning and evening), prayer beads, the Church Year, beautiful and ancient art, and of course the writings of the Church Fathers.
5) It reintroduces me to the Triune God.
Fully Trinitarian prayer is a beautiful thing. Without a high degree of intentionality, it’s quite easy to leave out certain members of the Trinity in our daily spirituality. This can sometimes be a especially true when it comes to the Holy Spirit. In the ancient ways of worship, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all addressed according to their function within the Godhead, and we are often reminded that they are together one God. This simple prayer has been incredibly influential on my spirituality:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Technically, the church I attend is really kind of "broad-church," that is, it incorporates elements of both very simple liturgy and more ornate rituals. We're between high and low church (with a preference toward high compared to most Evangelical services). We've got this cool casual-yet traditional, informal-yet-liturgical thing going on that I love. For instance, we ring bells to start the service (high church), but we sing Hillsong and sometimes the clergy wear jeans. ↩
Cemented in the Protestant doctrinal ethos is the great Reformation declaration, Sola Fide! We are justified before God by faith in Jesus Christ alone, not by any efforts or works of our own. Even this faith is a gift from God. Justification for most Protestants (especially those in Reformed circles) means the declaration before God that we are made right with him by virtue of Christ’s merits.
It is a forensic in nature…that is, it is an objective, legal pronouncement outside of ourselves that does not require any actual righteousness on the part of the one being justified.
For most Protestants, the natural implication of this is that the one that is justified is simultaneously saved and (it is often asserted) eternally secure in their salvation. Consequently, Protestant language about justification often uses the terms “justification” and “salvation” and their variations interchangeably. If one is “justified” they must also be “saved.”
Roman Catholics, on the other hand, see justification as an entire process. What many Protestant Evangelicals would separate out into categories (Justification, Sanctification, Glorification) Roman Catholics see as the journey of “being saved” in the present from all sin in their lives. It is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ.1
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that one may reject Christ and lose one’s salvation post-conversion. Because the RCC tends to emphasize right living as the fruit of a continual choice to follow Jesus, it can come across to Protestants that they practice a theology of “works salvation”–that they depend on themselves to earn or merit their initial justification and ultimate salvation. It is extremely unfortunate that this misunderstanding persists, among both self-identified Protestants and Roman Catholics.
Most Protestants identify the kind of the faith that saves as “living faith” that also produces good works.This is surprisingly close to the official Roman Catholic position. One RCC theologian says,
The faith that leads to salvation is an act of acknowledging our utter dependence on God and committing our lives totally to him…It is also part of Catholic teaching to consider “faith” as a way of life rather than a major decision that happens once, twice, or a few times in one’s life. Catholics realize the importance of the initial conversion…but they also emphasize the challenge of living out faith…by God’s grace…2
This is confirmed in Roman Catholic doctrinal statements. The Council of Trent, for instance, affirmed that we are
said to be justified gratuitously (i.e., by grace), because none of those things which precede justification, whether faith or works, merit grace itself of justification, for ‘if it is a grace, it is not now by reason of works, otherwise (as the same Apostle says) grace would no longer be grace’
It’s taken even further in other places:
We are therefore said to be justified by faith, because “faith is the beginning of human salvation,” the foundation and root of all justification; “without which it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6) and to enter the fellowship of his sons.4
This part sounds down right Reformed, if I may be so bold:
…far be it that a Christian should either trust or “glory” in himself and not “in the Lord”, whose goodness towards all men is so great that He wishes the things that are His gifts to be their own merits.5
Allow me to drive this home with one final quote from Catechism of the Catholic Church:
…the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit…Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion.6
I hope it is plain at this point that the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and her theologians do not advocate a “works righteousness.” Any “merit” that human beings have as a result of their good works is consistently understood to be attributed directly back to Jesus Christ.
Roman Catholics do teach strongly on the necessity of constantly choosing to follow Christ in order to persevere to the end, however this isn’t so different from what many orthodox Baptists, Methodists, and others have taught for generations.
Let’s leave the caricatures and generalizations behind us.
What we have here are issues of semantics and emphasis…obstacles that are easily overcome if we approach each other with charity, grace, and the love of Christ.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
This petition causes no small amount of distress to self-identified Protestants and Evangelicals the world over. I hope I’ve already demonstrated that Roman Catholics are not engaged in worshiping the saints when they ask them for prayer, so that particular issue won’t be in view here. However, Marian devotion can still be confusing to those of us that have backgrounds in the free churches or conservative Evangelical traditions. What’s up with making such a big deal out of Mary? Have Roman Catholics elevated her to the status of (a) God? What do Roman Catholics think about the role of Mary in salvation?
Let’s get started!
First it’s important to establish that in Roman Catholic theology, Mary truly is of secondary importance when it comes to basic Gospel message. However, just like the nation of Israel, Mary has a special place in God’s plan to save the world through Jesus, and thus worthy of special honor. After all, Mary’s devotion and humble obedience to the Father meant that she carried the Incarnate Word in her womb. In her humility, she continually directed praise and worship back to the Father and her son, Jesus. Nevertheless the Scripture also records that she and others knew that all generations would call her blessed (Luke 1:46-48).
Evangelicals have at least something to learn here. Although many of us will disagree with the degree to which Roman Catholics honor Mary, if we only remember and honor her once a year (for a few days around Christmas) are we really being faithful to Scriptures? I think we have often over-reacted in our attempt to correct perceived excesses from our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.
As previously stated, I’ve already addressed prayer to saints, but many Evangelicals take note that for Roman Catholics, there’s a special emphasis on asking Mary for her prayers. Why? Not because she some sort of superhuman or divine being, but because her special maternal relationship with Jesus has implications for us also. If we are indeed united to Christ in a special way as believers (and for Roman Catholics, through the Church and the Sacraments) then Mary becomes a “spiritual mother” for us also. So among all the saints, there is a unique relationship between those Jesus calls a “friend and a brother” and his mother (John 19:26; John 15:15; Hebrews 2:11). For Roman Catholics, this is expressed (with all the saints in heaven) as a ministry of intercession for those Jesus loves. As an intercessor and the one who freely chose to bear Jesus, she is a source of grace (gifts), however this grace is understood to be ultimately from God the Father through Jesus the son.
Because of Mary’s special role in the plan of salvation and because of her ministry of intercession, some in the Roman Catholic Church have given Mary titles like “Mediatrix” (Mediator) or even “Coredemptress.” These kinds of words sound especially bad to us Evangelicals (they definitely rub me the wrong way)–after all, isn’t there only one mediator between God and man for salvation (1 Timothy 2:5-6)? To this Roman Catholic teachers and theologians give a resounding, “YES!" Yet God does use other human beings daily to show us his grace, love, mercy, and to pray for us. These are mediated experiences. Although Jesus is the One High Priest, the Bible also states that every Christian now has a priestly, intercessory role–God graciously allows us to share in the work of Christ (1 Peter 2:9). Only in this sense does Mary “mediate” between us and God.
The Second Vatican Council said it this way (emphasis added):
[The intercession of Mary] in no way obscures or diminishes the unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. For all the saving influences of the Blessed Virgin on men originate, not some inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. They flow forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rest on his mediation, depend entirely on it, and draw all their power from it. In no way to they impede the immediate union of the faithful with Christ, Rather, they foster this union.1
I’ve long been appreciative of the teaching of Tim Keller. I was first exposed to his work via The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, a book that played an important part in confirming my faith during a time of serious doubt and questioning. I was immediately impressed with Keller’s ability to communicate profound concepts in a concise and clear way, without oversimplifying.
Although clearly written from the Christian worldview, any married couple could benefit from reading The Meaning of Marriage. Indeed, any singleperson would benefit from reading this book, because it so deftly turns the tables on the conventional wisdom and deeply ingrained cultural norms regarding marriage. It should be required reading not only for those that are currently married (no matter for how long), but also for that are pursuing marriage and anyone seeking a deeper understanding marriage.
Tim and Kathy Keller tackle some really tough issues in this relatively short work (about 200 pages) but they’ve done the research. Their claims on what constitutes a Biblical marriage and how marriage has historically been understood are well documented and the notes in the back are very helpful.
I was particularly impressed with the brief history of marriage. The Kellers' assertion that humanity has rarely known a time when marriage did not exist primarily for the common good of the community is fascinating. Their discussion on how “old marriage” is actually more freeing than new cultural norms alone makes The Meaning of Marriage worth reading.
Add to this a thoughtful, non-legalistic treatment of gender roles, a robust affirmation of singleness (an idea we can’t emphasize enough as a Church these days), frank discussion on the role of sex in marriage, and you get what I think is probably the most readable, comprehensive, biblical book on marriage that’s out there.
This is going to be my go-to engagement-slash-wedding gift.
You can read one of my favorite sections of the book, “You Never Marry the Right Person,” here.
I believe that God can and does use all circumstances to ultimately bring glory to himself. I am grateful for the prosperity and freedom I enjoy here in the U.S., however I am hesitant to elevate God’s purposes for America above his purposes for any other country for the following reasons:
Although governments and laws play a role in God’s plan (Romans 13:1-7), the church is God’s ambassador. She extends across national boundaries, ethnic lines and cultural barriers.
God’s blessing and favor on nations is contingent on their obedience to him, and is never lasts forever even if they turn away. If America as society has turned away from God we have no reason to boast in our current status.
God is clearly blessing and using citizens of many other nations for his glory as well (S. Korea, China) why say America enjoys privileged status?
The bible teaches that we are to live as aliens in a foreign land. That means our national affiliations can never become part of our core identities the way our allegiance to the Kingdom of Christ should be.
It is perfectly normal to sometimes feel as if you have been abandoned by God.
This doesn’t mean you are in some sort of grave sin.
It doesn’t mean you are going to hell.
It doesn’t mean you’re not a “good Christian” (whatever that phrase means anyways).
Listen to what the Psalmist wrote:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13, ESV)
The feeling that you have been abandoned–however frequently it occurs to believers at every stage of spiritual growth–is most certainly a lie.
And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. (Psalm 9:10 ESV)
The Psalmist knew these feelings well, and he also knew the antidote. He knew the key to fighting these terrible feelings was remembering the great things that God has done. No matter what happens, we can trust God, because he revealed himself to us fully in Jesus.
Jesus, who took nails and thorns and your betrayal, and turned them into something lifegiving…
Jesus, the man who endured death and came out the other side victorious over it…
All for the love of his people, those that would believe in him.
Do you feel abandoned by God? Remember that feelings are just that–feelings–and are not always reality. Continue to return to Reality.
I’ve often heard accusations against Roman Catholics of idolotry–even a subtle polytheism–because of the language that they often use of “praying to the saints.” It’s common to hear further allegations that Roman Catholics engage in “conjuring the dead,” an occult practice that is forbidden in the Scriptures.
In fact, Roman Catholics do not worship the saints, and are not engaged in occult practices.
Theologically, this is rooted in the reality of the resurrection and unity of the church. Believers do not cease to exist when their earthly life is over. Instead they depart to the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8), and are very much alive and still part of the Church as they await their new, resurrection bodies. Roman Catholics look to Jesus' words in Mark 12:26-27 (“He is not the God of the dead, but the living…") as well as the appearance of Moses and Elijah to Jesus to further support the idea that departed Christians (saints) are in fact alive (Mark 9:4).
Although there is a degree of separation between the living and the dead, it is at least suggested in the Scriptures that this “veil” may be thinner than we think (Hebrews 12:1).
Roman Catholics believe that we may ask departed saints for prayers, just as we might ask a living friend or family member to pray for us. A Roman Catholic might ask, “If it is helpful for our living brothers and sisters to intercede for us, wouldn’t it also be just as helpful (if not more so) to ask for intercession from one who is already united with the Lord in a deeper way?”
Roman Catholic theologian Alan Schreck admits, “The Bible says very little about the intercession of the saints in heaven."1 However, he points to images in the book of Revelation of departed Christians offering the prayers of those on earth to God as a sweet-smelling incense (Revelation 5:8). Roman Catholics also argue from early Church history that this has always been the understanding of the community of the faithful. They cite the writings of theological giants and church leaders like St. Jerome and St. Augustine, both of whom condoned prayer to the saints and spoke of it as a normal Christian practice.
Augustine simultaneously warned against worshiping the saints, seeing a clear difference between asking for intercession and offering saints the kind of worship reserved for God alone.
The Roman Catholic Church, no doubt, has seen much superstition and ungodly folk practice come from the abuse of this belief. However, Protestants are not immune from the corruption of even the most godly doctrines (think: the distortions of the doctrine of God’s provision in the Prosperity Gospel movement). Abuses of a doctrine or belief do not automatically relegate such thinking to the realm of the occult.
On the contrary, it becomes clear as we make the effort to understand the Roman Catholic point of view that official Roman Catholic doctrine has not left historic Christian orthodoxy on this secondary matter of faith.
The most-repeated exhortation in the New Testament is “do not be afraid."
Fear is the antithesis of spiritual formation, because spiritual formation is ultimately about becoming more like God, and God is love. The spirit that he gives us is one of love, not fear (2 Tim 1:7).
The Apostle John writes that perfect love (John 15:13; 1 John 4:18) casts out fear. Fear keeps us from abandoning ourselves to Jesus, yet, because of what he has done our behalf we no longer have any cause for fear, even as we share in his suffering (Phil. 3:10). We are not afraid; instead we have great hope and confidence (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
The Good News of Jesus means we are now free from all kinds fear, to live in faith, hope, and love.
The same way that our natural bodies need more than one nutrient to remain healthy and grow, our spirits are also nourished by multiple sources. This means that even though you may be very disciplined in Bible study and prayer, it is not enough. You also need to fast and practice solitude.
This holds true for more than the disciplines. You might be very involved in a small group, but still need to pursue a mentoring relationship. You appreciate your pastor, but have tuned out all other voices for spiritual guidance.
No one practice, person, or even group can provide for us the entirety of our spiritual formation.
I have failed at being consistent with daily devotions. I have failed a lot.
I have for the past year been attempting to pray the Daily Office, an Anglican tradition of daily prayer in the morning and evening. Prior to that, I had been reading through The NLT One-Year Chronological Bible, a fifteen-minute per day plan.
Some days and weeks and months are great; others make me feel as if I’ve forgotten the very meaning of the word discipline. Still, I’ve generally been able to pick up where I left off after a day or two and keep going.
An important truth that I’ve begun to see in this process is that something is better than nothing.Just like some exercise is better than no physical activity, even taking the time to just read one chapter or a simple three-minute pause to listen to the Holy Spirit is better than simply doing nothing when you forget your normal quiet time or unexpected events shift your schedule during the day. Consider saying the Lord’s Prayer as you get ready for your day or mediating on a Bible verse you have memorized on your lunch break.
Remember, too, that we do not exist in a legalistic relationship with God. This doesn’t mean we abandon discipline, but it does mean we should approach God as a loving, grace-giving father. We needn’t allow guilt over not meeting our devotional goals on occasion keep us from seeking the Lord at every opportunity.
I’ve found it interesting–and disconcerting–that in many evangelical circles there is a high degree of suspicion regarding Roman Catholicism. “Are Roman Catholics even Christians?” I’ve heard some ask, “Isn’t the Roman Catholic Church kind of like a cult?”
I’ve noticed quite a few misconceptions about Roman Catholic belief and practice among my friends and acquaintances, so this series will be an attempt to set the record straight and establish that yes, the Roman Catholic Church is indeed a Christian Church1, and Roman Catholics are Christians. We will also examine some of the more misunderstood and/or controversial Roman Catholic doctrines together.
As human beings, we naturally tend to be afraid of things that are unfamiliar or that we do not understand. We must not allow fear to play any part in our interactions with any person or group, whether they are Christian or not. Fear has nothing to do with love! “Perfect love casts out fear” (John 4:18). Coming to this and all conversations with humility and charity is key to honoring our Lord Jesus and fellow human beings made in the image of God.
I enter into wholehearted agreement with Alan Schreck when he says, “Satan as been able to use…lack of understanding (both among Catholics and others) to divide Christians from one another and to divert their attention and energies away from proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and advancing his kingdom on earth."2
A few myths that need to be dispelled right off the bat:
Roman Catholics don't believe that Jesus is raised from the dead (some people mistakenly think this because of the prominence of the crucifix in Roman Catholic piety)
Roman Catholics worship Mary and other saints
Roman Catholics believe they can save themselves apart from the work of Christ
Roman Catholics believe that only Roman Catholics are saved
In reality, evangelicals and Roman Catholics have these basic beliefs of Christianity in common:
The historical reality of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ
Salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone
There is one God existing as a Trinity comprised of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Over the next several weeks we will look at some of these issues in more depth.
As we continue to discuss those things we have in common with Roman Catholics as well what does separate us, remember the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus, “that they all may be one” (John 17:21) and the Apostle’s words,
"There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:4-6, ESV)
No, I'm not converting to Roman Catholicism. Yet, I am passionate about unity in Christ's church. One of the most divisive and hurtful things we can do to our other brothers and sisters is "de-church" them because we do not fully understand their beliefs, even when they stand within the boundaries of historic Christian orthodoxy. ↩
As a parent it can be so frustrating just to get a child to sleep. You’ve worked all day, had some time with the kids, battled your way through bath-and-bedtime. Now you’d just like a few moments of silence to unwind, maybe some adult conversation with your wife or husband. But…
Your precious little one just…Will. Not. Go. To. Sleep.
You bounce, you rock, you pat them on the back. You tell stories and sing songs. You’re exhausted and you realize this is taking an hour. You’re not going to get to watch that movie, read that book, finish that project. Relaxing for part of the evening is definitely out.
This is the fifth night in a row your little one has refused to go to bed. You’re exhausted, bored, frustrated. This is the life of a parent of small children. There have been seasons where this has been every night with my daughter.
Finally, she starts to calm down. She settles into my arms. I keep rocking, afraid to breathe too loudly. Her eyes stop darting to and fro and rest on mine. I wonder what this little person could possibly be thinking. I remember how beautiful she is and pray for her as we continue to gaze at one another. I still don’t know her thoughts but somewhere deep inside I feel that she loves me.
“I love you, baby girl,” I whisper as softly as humanly possible.
Her tiny hand slowly loosens its grip around my thumb as she finally succumbs to slumber. I keep rocking her for a few minutes, because now I don’t care about doing the dishes or writing a blog post.
I just know that in this frustrating, exhausting, mundane moment, there’s also a measure of love that is worth it all.
There’s a lot to be excited about regarding Donald Miller’s new project, Storyline. I just finished the process and I am filled with many emotions: relief, release, energy, gratefulness. Most importantly I have increased focus and clarity about the things I need to do going forward. For a guy like me with a million competing interests, passions, and responsibilities, this is a sort of Holy Grail.
In a nutshell, Storyline is a process by which you examine your own life as story…specifically, a subplot in God’s grand narrative. I love the God-centeredness of this.
One of the best things about the Storyline process is how it gives you useful constraints. For instance, during one module you will examine the different roles that you play in life. This might be husband, wife, leader, mentor, artist, etc. According the psychology behind Storyline, you can really only be concentrating on five roles at a time. This alone was incredibly freeing as I made hard choices about the roles I need to be playing and that I believe God wants me to be filling.
The most important aspect of the process for me was discerning (along with input from my wife and others) my “life theme” or the way God has been consistently working in my life to equip me to help others. This element serves as a help to make decisions (is this action consistent with my life theme?) and can serve as a filter to focus projects (how will my next musical endeavor help others in a way consistent with my life theme?)
My life theme was “To find my identity in Jesus and help others do the same.” If you’re interested, you can see my stories here. This marks the second time that Donald Miller has changed my life for the better.
The spiritual disciplines are means by which individuals and communities can very literally “practice” their faith. They are tools by which Christians seek to know God, yield to the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying power, and surrender to the Divine Will in their lives. The disciplines can be instrumental tools as we seek to “tune” ourselves to God’s desires and see his kingdom as he sees it. These holy actions have been practiced by believers since the earliest times, and are firmly rooted in Christ’s commands and examples in the Gospels.
Meditation - focusing on God and his will (Phil. 4:8)
Fasting - a reminder of the source of all nourishment (Luke 5:35)
Study - careful attention the the reality that God reveals to us, especially through Holy Scripture (Luke 2:46)
Disciplines of Service to the Body of Christ (Outward)
Simplicity - seeking God's Kingdom first (Matt. 6:33)
Submission - placing God's will above one's own (Luke 22:42)
Solitude - withdrawing from the world to spend time with God (Matt. 14:23)
Service - supportive action toward others (Mark 10:45)
Disciplines of Service with the Body of Christ (Corporate)
Confession - acknowledging one's sin with and to others in the community of faith (James 5:16)
Guidance - giving and receiving direction from others along the journey with Jesus (Acts 15:8)
Celebration - taking joy is what God has done (1 Cor 5:8)
Worship - giving God glory through attitudes and actions (1 Cor. 14:26)
The disciplines can help move our perspective from a naturalistic point of view to one that is more holy.
The Natural Man
is ignorant of God's ways
is arrogant concerning his place in the universe
is busy making his own plans
constantly invites noise into his life
denies his sin
is attracted to idols
All of this obstructs our view of Jesus, the one who is worthy of attention, honor, praise, and worship, because of who he is and what he has done.
The disciplines can help clear the path and bring us back into line-of-sight with the Savior.
Examples of How Real Change Happens
The Disciplined Christian can know God's ways though study...
He or she spends time soaking in Scripture, becoming intimately familiar with its message, learning the history of God's church, and gaining understanding of the practical implications of theology.
The Disciplined Christian is reminded of the source of all blessing and sustenance through fasting...
Abstaining from food, time commitments and distractions, from anything that takes focus from Jesus brings clarity, focus, and humility.
The Disciplined Christian can slow down through simplicity...
Seeking the kingdom of God first ultimately causes the believer to cast aside anything that is not holy. The pursuit of wealth and power are the antithesis of the kingdom that Jesus models.
The Disciplined Christian can hear God's voice more clearly through solitude...
Alone time with God helps provide room for silence, waiting on God, and hearing the sometimes still, small voice of his Spirit.
The Disciplined Christian is grieved by sin through confession...
Personal and corporate confession provide a way to confront, admit, be convicted of, and deal with sin in the context of a supportive community and ministers of grace.
The Disciplined Christian puts God in the highest place through worship...
The believer joins with others in praise and thanksgiving, placing Jesus in the supreme place of honor in his or her life.
These 12 spiritual disciplines help to combat the sinful nature and our naturalistic world view. They can bring the believer into a mental, emotional, and spiritual state of higher awareness of God, his nature, and his kingdom. These tools are one way for individuals and communities to begin to bring their focus back to the Holy One and seek his will.
Buy Foster’s book, The Celebration of Discipline, on Amazon
God does use tradition to communicate his will and make his voice known. Tradition is any teaching, thought, or practice that is handed down or passed on. It could be a ritual, interpretive framework or a specific view on what a passage of Scripture means. The Bible itself is an example of God working through tradition (cf. 2 Thes 2:15), along with the development of doctrines derived from the Bible like the Trinity.
Christians evaluate all traditions (Col 2:8; 1 Thes 5:21) and it is the Holy Spirit that reveals to the community of faith whether or not a tradition is from God. Historically we see the church working in a communal and conciliar way to hear from the Holy Spirit on controversies of faith, from the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-21) onward.
The first serious breach of this approach resulted in the Great Schism of 1054 between the Eastern and Western churches, and the decay of unity–along with the proliferation of many innovative and competing traditions–has continued ever since1.
This is why I continually return to the catholic2, conciliar faith and practice of early Christianity as my baseline for evaluating any later decrees or doctrinal developments.
For historical timeline that visualizes the main splits within Christianity, see this graphic. There are now hundreds, if not thousands, of groups that adhere to basic Christian orthodoxy but separate from one another due to other doctrinal differences. ↩
"Catholic" means "universal." The doctrinal decrees of the Undivided Church represented the consensus of leaders in the Church, the "catholic tradition." These decisions carry serious and binding authority as long as they do not directly contradict the teachings of the Apostles in the New Testament (cf. Hebrews 13:17). ↩
Christian parenting isn’t easy. Several books I’ve read or skimmed recently speak of reminding our children of who they are in Christ…something I’ve not put a lot of thought into until recently. Once I did actually think about it for a bit, it made sense that this is an essential part of discipling our children, just as it’s an essential part of training all who are seeking to grow in their Christian faith.
Core to Christian discipleship is living into one’s new identity as a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). It’s something we need to be reminded of often, and I think we forget that our children need these reminders as much as we do.
This is something I’ve been trying to implement with our (rather strong willed) three-year-old son, Jensen. He has a habit of disobeying us and coming out of his room at bedtime, sometimes talking back to his mom in the process. A few times before bed I’ve taken him aside and said
Son, I you know you can make good choices or bad choices tonight. I know that you are the kind of boy that wants to make good choices, and I believe you can make good choices.
I've noticed real improvement of behavior as result of voicing positive expectations.
We’re also working with him on saying nice things vs. mean things. Sometimes we’ve said, “Jensen, our family is nice to each other–that’s just how we do things.” I’m anxious to take it a step further as I have opportunity, maybe saying something like,
Son, we treat other nicely because that's our family acts...do you know why our family treats each other this way?
Because we are in God’s family…and that’s who we are."
It’s hard for me to believe that it’s taken me this long to pick up and read Richard Foster’s classic on essential tools for spiritual growth, Celebration of Discipline. Although I’ve studied the disciplines for quite some time and have read other books on spiritual formation that took cues from Foster, I finally got around to diving into the original. It’s clear why this book has been such an influential work on so many.
Foster writes with eloquence and practicality, eager to challenge the reader but never pressing too hard. There’s a certain pastoral sensitivity in his prose that is a joy to read Foster’s progression through the inward and outward disciplines is logical and thoughtful, thorough without becoming verbose.
I loved this book and plan on re-reading it with some frequency. Some of my favorite thoughts and quotes:
When we despair of gaining inner transformation through human powers of will and determination, we are open to a wonderful new realization: inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received...the demand is for an inside job, and only God can work from the inside. (p. 6)
The Spiritual Disciplines are intended for our good. They are meant to bring the abundance of God into our lives. It is possible, however, to turn them into another set of soul-killing laws. Law-bound Disciplines breathe death. (p. 9)
Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God's voice and obey his word. It is that simple...It involves no hidden mysteries, no secret mantras, no mental gymnastics, no esoteric flights into the cosmic consciousness. The truth of the matter is that the great God of universe, the Creator of all things desires our fellowship. (p. 17)
Service as a substitute for worship is idolatry. Activity is the enemy of adoration. (p. 161)
In the spiritual life only one thing will produce genuine joy, and that is obedience. (p. 192)
If you were to read only one book on growing in your faith as a disciple of Christ, this is the one.
Is the kind of “radical” Christianity advocated by the likes of Francis Chan and David Platt just another way for Christians to rely on and emphasize their own efforts over the grace of God? For Anthony Bradley at WORLD the answer may be yes. For those of you that are interested in the new wave of “taking Jesus seriously” I highly recommend reading the article.
Bradley offers two valid criticisms:
1) There’s a lot of “shaming” going on around “radical” living. Some of the popular books can come across as a guilt trip. While I think this critique holds weight, I’d hate to see the Christian culture throw out what is of value in writings of Platt and Chan.
Although these books are pretty reactionary (as the author notes) they do address what I perceive to be an issue for many Christians: an unwillingness to follow Jesus even when it means being unsafe.
In my own life I’ve been challenged by this thinking. If living in a “safe” neighborhood is outside my means, should I live there? If it is within my means, but would prohibit me from being able give generously to those that hungry in my community, should I live there? These are not questions with black-and-white answers, of course, but they are questions that need to be asked, and I’m afraid many Christians never ask them, much less consider the risky answer as viable. Books likeCrazy Love remind us that our faith is not that is adverse to danger and sacrifice.
2) The push to urban centers weakens the Church elsewhere. We need Christians in cities, no doubt, but I agree with the author that this shouldn’t mean we act as if this is a higher calling than rural or suburban Christian life.
The author talks about a possible solution to the pendulum swings between “comfy Christianity” and “radical Christianity” is a recovery of the doctrine of vocation. Learning about the Lutheran view of vocation was huge for me personally a few years ago, so I get where he’s coming from. I think it has to be part of a larger push toward renewed discipleship in the church at large, though. A doctrine of vocation won’t do it without understanding all of the teachings of Christ along with their implications for doctrine and community life.