Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Celebration of the Disciplines

I stand and applaud Foster's great work on the spiritual disciplines.  He made a weighty subject light, a profound idea simple, and a difficult task easy.  Foster did what we all should do when we write: he shared the information in a manner in which the subject was the subject and the point was the point.  He did not tell us a story of his great accomplishments (which much of Christian writing today has become) or flex his own spiritual muscles to impress the crowd.  He shared with me some of the most important truths I have ever learned.

I have wondered for 13 weeks if I could or would actually make it through this process.  I admit there were times when I had to catch up in order to stay on track, but I did.  There were times when I didn't think I had anything worth saying, but I said it.  There were times when I wondered why I was attempting such a project, but I completed it.  And now I am finished, and I am glad I did it.

If you recall, the movie, "Julie & Julia," was the inspiration for Following Foster.  Last week that movie made it to our little town's discount theater.  I thought it ironic that it finished playing in my town at the same time I finished this blog.  I am grateful for that movie and this journey.  I am thankful for the wonderful book and the man who wrote it. 

In the movie, Julie wondered if Julia knew about her blog and then discovered that she hated it.  I must admit that I have wondered if by any strange means that Mr. Foster noticed as I walked in his footsteps.  Perhaps not, but I am forever grateful for his fine work.

Thank you for following me follow Foster down the path to spiritual growth.  God bless on your continued journey.  See you in heaven some day. 

His servant,


Monday, December 14, 2009

The Joy of Celebration

At a ministers meeting today, I was reminded of how cynical I have become.  I tend to be critical or cynical about most everything.  I am not negative although I would understand how someone might feel that way.  I just remain pretty realistic most of the time.

As we were sharing our woes, I thought about celebration.  This group has not celebrated together in years.  Granted, we usually have more to gripe about than cebrate, but that should not keep us from celebrating what God is doing in our churches, families, and lives. 

Next month, I think I am going to celebrate with them, for them, or at them.  Perhaps my cynicism can be turned to joy.  At least I hope so.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Service

Today was a good day to celebrate.  Our worship with our church family was joyous and . . .  As I try to find other words, I am stuck with little else to say.  The day was not great by any standard, but it was a good day to celebrate.

My son just brought home his first high school report card.  The grades were better than expected.  We are going to celebrate.  That is a big deal.  We are going to throw a party.  Why?  Because we have a reason to celebrate.

May we all find a reason to throw a party this week.  We need to lighten our load and focus on joy.  I hope you enjoy your celebration; I know I will.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Celebration and Service

Last week I preached a sermon about how Christmas was a time of celebration.  With too much on my mind and too many heavy objects on my heart, I found the sermon difficult and laborious.  I made it through it, but it felt like a marathon as I tried to just make it to the end. 

Celebration, like any of the other disciplines, must have our full attention.  The danger of practicing any discipline without our full attention is that we may do the actions but never practice the discipline.  On this occasion, I was guilty of going through the motions.

Last weeks discipline was guidance, and I struggled with celebration as I worked through guidance.  My prayer this week is that I can actually celebrate our loving God while still seeking guidance.

God guide me into celebration.

Celebrate, Jesus, Celebrate

Friday night was our annual Living Nativity at Kenwood Church.  We have stations that depict portions of the Christmas story.  We have Mary, Elizabeth, Joseph, the angels, shepherds, and even animals.  We have a good time and the community seems to enjoy the presentation.

My favorite part  of our event every year is the closing.  We all join together, have a prayer of thanks, and sing Silent Night.  I don't know if it was a silent night or not, but I do know that throughout our entire Living Nativity including the final song that Jesus is celebrated.  We may miss the baby because of the activity of the jolly old man in the red suit at other times but not on this night.  This may be my favorite night of the time leading up to Christmas.  Jesus is our reason for the season.

The joy felt by all is amazing.  We certainly love to be together in this endeavor, but the truth is that we feel such joy because we are practicing what we preach.  We are celebrating the Christ child.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Family Celebrations

How often does your family celebrate?  We celebrate birthdays, major holidays, anniverseries, but that's about it.

When my son was small, we celebrated everything.  I mean everything-the first step, the first word, the day we stopped buying diapers, Kindergarten graduation, you name it.  We liked to party.  We used to look for reasons to go to Chucky Cheese.

My son is now in high school, and we don't celebrate as often any more.  I seem to be on his case more than lifting up his spirits.  I spend more energy on arguing than congratulating.  I yell more at him than for him.  I need to celebrate the kid who means more to me than any other kid.  We need to celebrate.

Celebrate good times, come on.

Why Don't We Celebrate More Often?

Israel was commanded to celebrate 3 times a year.  I am sure they could have celebrated more, but they were required to celebrate at least 3 times a year.  How often do we, Christians, celebrate?

One of the most common uses of the word "celebrate" in the church is in reference to the Lord's Supper.  Do we really celebrate communion?  When I think about celebrating, I think of wedding receptions, birthday parties, New Years Eve, etc.  We use the term celebrate so often in the church that I think we have robbed the term of its meaning.

I think the sentiment is right.  We should celebrate the Lord's Supper.  In my tradition, we take the Lord's body and blood each week.  Is that too often to celebrate?  Can we really pull that off?

I think I am going to make celebration a New Year's resolution this year.  I want to celebrate more in 2010.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Chapter 13-The Discipline of Celebration

I have recently read "The Purpose of Christmas" by Rick Warren, and I am using it as the outline for my Christmas messages this season.  I was shocked when I contemplated Warren's first "purpose."  He states that Christmas is a time of celebration.  Don't get me wrong I know that Christmas is the time where we "celebrate" the birth of Christ, but do we really?

My congregation will host a living nativity this Friday where we reinact much of the birth narrative of Jesus.  We have a bunch of animals including my favorite-the little known Christmas llama.  We have gifts and goodies. Activities for the kids, wassail for us all, snow if God blesses, and carols galore.  But do we celebrate?

When I was a kid I can remember celebrating Washington and Lincoln's birthdays in February.  Once President's Day replaced those holidays, I rarely remember a commotion about the births of the men that day is set to honor.  Don't get me wrong.  I don't remember grand celebrations about their births, but I do remember that we celebrated them.

When was the last time you celebrated with your church family?  I can think of weddings, funerals, mortgage burnings, new building openings, but they are all connected with a specific event.  When was the last time that celebration broke out during worship? 

Where Do You Go From Here?

Guidance gives direction, but that does not always mean movement in that direction.  Guidance helps us to see the paths in front of us, but there is much more involved in following guidance.

In our everyday lives we need all of God's graces in order to transform guidance into action.  How many times have you felt led by God only to go nowhere?  How many times have allowed the guiding hand of God to become stalled by my lack of faith or willingness?  How many times have I tried to follow the direction of the Spirit under my own power?  How many times . . . ?

As I conclude this installment on the discipline of guidance, I am reminded of the times that God has graciously given me (us) direction that has led to His will.  I am grateful and humbled by His attention and care.  I am thankful.

Group Guidance

It is an amazing thing to watch as God works through a group of people.  My experience this weekend has reaffirmed my faith in God's ability to lead and our ability to follow.  I have a specific issue in mind where no answers have been determined, but I know God is involved. 

When was the last time you remember God being involved?  What made that fact so clear?  What tangible evidence do you have that He was involved in the process?

I know God was involved primarily because of the peace I have.  There is no other good answer for why I should have peace about that issue right now, but I do.  Secondarily, the group's perspective seemed  to shift during the discussion.  I don't mean there was a drastic shift; it was definite and deepened.  The thought and tenor of the discussion reflected the Father's concern over this issue.  It was wonderful participating in this event.

Guidance and the Community of Faith

Why are we so afraid of corporate guidance?  What makes us seek answers in dark board rooms behind closed doors?  Is it a fear of not having the answers?  Is it the need for control?  Is it an uncomfortable feeling to let others know we don't have all the answers?

My tradition puts the decsion making within the hands of a few men.  Would our decisions be different if the whole congregation were involved?  Would answers be easier or more difficult to come by?  Would differing perspectives become prominent if a different demographic were involved?

As you can see I have more questions than answers.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Leading as a Follower

As a minister, I am often expected to have answers to difficult questions about direction and decisions.  The early church seemed to look for answers as a group with God as leader.  Today we seem to want someone to tell us what to do.

Are we limited today because of our reliance upon human wisdom?  Do we lack power and victory because our source is not The source?  Do we look to our own ways rather than God's?

How is the guidance of God different than the godly wisdom of Christian leaders?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Corporate Guidance

I certainly need guidance.  If you could see all the stuff rattling around in my head, you would understand that I am in dire need of guidance. 

The idea of corporate guidance seems fanciful and utopian.  The notion that people can be guided together almost seems impossible to me right now, but I know it is no fantasy.  It is reality.  It is the community of faith.

I have been blessed  to have experienced the guiding hand of God leading a group of people.  From my D group in college to several congregations I have been privileged to serve, I have known the amazing grace of a divine leading for a group.

Often corporate guidance seems far fetched because my sense of personal guidance is lacking.  As I said before, I am awash in sensitive issues right now.  Work, family life, personal decisions, all seem overwhelming and too much right now.  This sense makes the concept of corporate guidance too distant and too . . .  I can't even think of a good word.  I guess I even need some guidance for that.

Are you in touch with the guiding hand of the Master today?  Or are you struggling along with me?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


I am still in the midst of needing a great deal of guidance. 

Ever since I started this project, I have noticed that the disciplince of the week has played a role in the activities of my week.  Now I don't know if that is because I am focused on this particular issue or God is helping me learn.

I am very glad that I have the hope of guidance because these situations are well beyond me.  Help me Lord.  Guide me where you would have me go.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Chapter 12-The Discipline of Guidance

It is no wonder the direction of so many churches is confusing.  The discipline of guidance is very much lacking in the Kingdom today. 

I ran into a situation today that called for divine guidance.  Actually there were two.  I strategized, considered, pondered, complained, vented, but I can't say that I looked for guidance.  Guidance as a discipline often gets forgotten.

I am going to spend some time tomorrow searching and seeking for precious guidance.

Monday, November 30, 2009


I believe an old English word for "worship" was "worthship."  This certainly denoted worth or value. 

If our worship demonstrates what God is worth to us, what would the perceived value be by those who watched you worship this week?  How much would you estimate God's value if that were to be determined by your quality of worship?

Worship and Humanity

I was a broken man on Sunday.  I had a fight with my son before church, as we were going to church, and when we arrived at church.  I felt absolutely out of control.  On this day, I felt hopeless and helpless.  I was perfectly prepared for worship.

I came to the Father that morning with a broken heart and shattered spirit.  I usually worship with scattered thoughts and lists of announcements and the task of memorizing visitors names.  I could only look to God for help on this day.  As I stumbled through my pastoral prayer I found myself without words, but I prayed.  As I began to speak, God gave me words beyond my preparation.  When I showed up, God did too.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Tomorrow I am going to try to practice the discipline of worship.  I have a tendency to think about everything that has to go into worship rather than practicing worship.  I am going to prepare for worship tomorrow and see if I find anything different.

Spirit and truth?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday

You might have noticed that I just posted my blog for Thursday.  That's because I cooked all day Thursday for our family feast and spent all night searching for Christmas presents on Black Friday.  My wife and I actually tried a new technique for our yearly jaunt into insanity.  We did Walmart and arrived before 11pm to pick up our goodies and wait until 5am to check out.  With this strategy we left Walmart by 5:07am and went to Best Buy.  By 6:04am we were in our car heading home.  Not a bad plan, but am I tired.

The number of people who showed up for the festivities was amazing.  We were the first two in our checkout aisle.  We got in line at 3:30am.  By the time 5am rolled around, the 32 checkouts had lines that stretched to the back of the store.  Hundreds and hundreds of people showed up for the big event.  It was amazing.

Do we have anything like that anymore in the church?  Do Christmas and Easter even come close?  Has materialism so taken over our society that our rituals of worship to that god have surpassed the worship of our God?

Perhaps I am making too much of this, but I did only get 3 hours of sleep today.


Thanks be to God, His love endures forever!

Thanksgiving should be a special time for us, Christians.  We have so much to be thankful for.  It troubles me that more of our worship services aren't filled with references to thankfulness.  Oh, we have the occasional "thanks" song, and perhaps someone will mention being thankful during communion. 

Why do we not mention thanks more in worship?  How grateful are we really?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Lesson on Worship

Many years ago I was taught an important lesson about worship by one of the young people in my youth group.  Laura Keiper had been sick during a great week of Summer in the Son.  SITS is a high school Christian youth camp held every summer at Kentucky Christian University.  When Laura finally joined the group after a couple days of illness, she sat solemnly during one of the most raucous, enjoyable worship services that I have ever experienced.

At the end of every evening, I would lead the kids in a debriefing of the day's events.  I asked the kids what God had done today in their lives and what they had learned.  Some kids said the concert was great.  Some exclaimed the worship was "rockin'."  Others mentioned this and that.  Then it was Laura's turn.

Remember-Laura had just started getting out of the dorm today.  She sat lifeless in worship.  She really didn't seem any better than the last time I saw her.  Then she dropped the bombshell.  Laura said, "Today I really felt like I learned what worship is all about.  It isn't about the good time, the mosh pit, the great sermon.  It isn't about me.  It's about Him."  Now I must confess (last weeks discipline) that those probably are not her exact words, but I will never forget that moment when the student became the teacher.

Our experience of worship is not worship.  Our level of enjoyment of worship is inconsequential.  Our interaction with the faith community is unimportant.  Worship truly is when He becomes everything, and nothing else is important.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chapter 11-The Discipline of Worship

Worship is a discipline.  Showing up is a discipline.  Actively participating in worship is a discipline.  Proper focus while one is worshiping is a discipline.  Offering appropriate service to ones neighbor during worship is a discipline.  Worship is a discipline.

On many Sundays I just show up for worship.  My mind is on my role.  My thoughts are on getting ready for the morning's service.  Rarely do I really worship on Sunday. 

I was told of a staff in Kansas that required each of its ministers to take a Sunday off a month to attend another church for worship.  I thought that sounded a bit extravagant.  After 20 years of ministry, I now understand why they followed this strange practice.  In my experience, ministers often serve but rarely worship.

Join me as we learn more about the discipline of worship.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I Had to Confess

I did make a corporate confession yesterday, and it fit the situation.  I confessed that I owned far too much stuff.  Now there is a back story to this confession.

I have been a faithful yard sale, Salvation Army, Value World (It's a Michigan thing.), and a "good deal" kind of guy.  I have amassed a relative fortune in stuff.  I have camping equipment for 4 families, but we don't camp.  I could outfit an army's kitchen, but there are only 3 in my family.  I have bought my wife a bunch of shoes, but she likes that.  I have a problem.  I have gotten to the point where a possible need equated to a purchase.  The hunt, the find, the deal became more important than the object itself.  I confessed my problem to my congregation during my sermon, Give It Away.

Along with the confession, I am beginning to part with the extra junk in my life.  My wife gave a big Amen in the service and is now waiting to see the fruits of that confession.  God help me and give me the strength.

Confession is freeing when followed by change.  I am on a quest to change, and all those around me know the truth about which I speak.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Practicing Confession

I have thought a lot about the practice of confession and its corporate implications.  I have tried to figure out a way to fulfill my goal of practicing the discipline during this project.  I am challenged at this point.  I cannot seem to come up with a means of confessing without it being contrived or utilized simply for this experiment.  That would be unfair and manipulative.

I am getting the sense that the practice of the disciplines must always be practiced within a community of faith that participates with one another.  Even the previous disciplines that were not earmarked as "corporate" have the need of a faithful community.  If there is one notion I have developed a greater appreciation for durin this exercise, it is that fact.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Could You Be A Confessor?

When people need someone to talk to, are you the one they go to?  When people need someone to listen, are you the one they go to?  When someone needs to get something off their chest, are you the first person who pops into their mind?  When someone needs to confess a sin, are you their "go to" person?

High praise is deserved by the person for whom others can bring their sin.  Indeed, that is a great compliment. 

Why would you be a good confessor?  Why would you be a bad confessor? 

What are the traits of a person who is good at taking other people's confessions?

What would it take for you to serve others in this way?

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Good Confession

Foster point out that a good confession begins with sorrow but ends with joy.  What a blessing it is to know that your sins are forgiven.  To move from devastation to exhilaration in a matter of moments is grace indeed.

Seldom do I seem to have that depth of despair or height of release.  I often stay in the middle where the sadness is rather mellow and the joy is far too sober.  I tend to see my sin as "not that bad" and my forgivenss as "not that big of a deal."  I am caught in the lukewarmness of complacency.

Father, show me the terror of my sin and the blinding amazement of my forgiveness.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Confessional

I would have been a good Catholic.  I like order and requirements and formality.  I need structure that is so often lacking in the modern Protestant tradition of America. 

I am perhaps my own best critic, but it would be nice to be able to cleanse my inner being and share my own self-inflicted wounds to another human and receive absolution and needed penance.  Our notion of personal confession often pushes sin deeper into the interior rather than catheterizing ones soul.  I need a community of faith to hold me accountable and to help me recover from my tendency to beat myself up. 

I need a confessor.  Anybody up for the job?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Confession Is Good for the Soul

Confession may seem to be an act of admission of guilt, but on another level confession is a mementous "shout out" to the God who forgives and loves.  Personally, confession is cathartic; corporately, confession is liberating.  The company of the forgiven must always share in the combined glory of sins forgiven.  We convene not because we've "got it" but because we need it.  We gather not because we are now superior but because we have all fallen.  We join together not because we are high and exalted but because He was lifted up.  We are just as much a community of miserable sinners as we are glorified saints. 

We cannot celebrate our salvation with out dealing with our need for forgiveness.  We cannot revel in the new birth without lamenting our death to sin.  We must not live our lives as if their was no price for our freedom. 

Confession is a constant reminder of the perpetual presence of Jesus' cross in all of our affairs.  Confession keeps us real and keeps our heads out of the clouds.  Confession reminds us that we are all sinners saved by grace, amazing grace.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Chapter 10-The Discipline of Confession

Today we venture down a different fork in the pathway to spiritual growth.  Turning to the discipline of confession moves us into the corporate disciplines.  A vast expanse of darkness looms over this discipline for many of us from pedestrian protestant traditions.  I am intrigued, scared, and excited about prospect of studying and practicing confession.

During the next four chapters, I am going to have to figure out how to practice these disciplines due to their corporate nature.  I can certainly comment on them, but unfortunately I don't have a community of faith that practices these on a regular basis.  That fact makes this exercise difficult and somehow sad.

While I have appreciated the comments of my readers, I must admit that the solitary nature of this adventure has exposed the limits of practicing the classic disciplines alone.  The celebration of the disciplines was certainly intended for us to practice them together.  This road was never meant to be walked alone.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Serving and Being a Servant

Foster reminded me today that serving is not the same as being a servant.  I can serve my son, or anyone for that matter, and still retain a high position.  The discipline of service can only be practiced when I live as one of the least of the brothers.

The difficulty in the execution of my goal for this blog is summed up in this thought.  Even in the midst of  practicing the discipline, I may be doing the act but not practicing the discipline.  I have found my task difficult, but I may just now be learning the way of the disciplines.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Service With A Smile

As I was serving my son today, I found myself wondering what it should feel like to serve someone else.  Business values tell us that we should gladly serve our customers.  What does our Christian heritage teach us.?

"As you have done for the least of these my brothers you have done it unto me."  How would I serve my Lord?  Would I wear a smile?  Do it with a frown?  Hate every minute of it.  Wish my mind away to a more pleasant time.

I am going to serve my son tomorrow with a smile.  I really don't know what he will think.  Probably something about me being crazy.  You know he's probably right.  Well, here goes.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Serving My Child

I am struggling with the notion of serving my son.  He is difficult and demanding.  He knows only self.  He is arrogant and rude.  He expects to be treated with the utmost of care whle delivering vile and venom to others.  He is obnoxious and pig-headed.  He pushes my buttons and enjoys my weaknesses. 

He is the perfect person for me to learn service.

I love my son.  I don't like how I struggle with him.  I need to give this aspect of my life over to the Lord.  God, please help me.


I had to go get turkeys for our Thanksgiving outreach at the church.  It was a small task, but I had to take some time out and find them.  White meat or dark meat? 

This year in order to serve our community we chose to allow people to "shop" for their dinners.  We gathered many different items for people to be able to choose what they wanted.  We have given Thanksgiving baskets for years, but we have always just given people what we chose.  We felt this year that we would honor the people by giving them some choices. Allowing others to keep their dignity and honor as we serve them should always be our goal.  If we are to serve, let us serve well.


I spent a good bit of the day going to hospitals on Thursday.  I was in the car for about an hour and a half.  As you can tell I am writing this on Saturday instead of Thursday.  That means that my week sort of exploded on me.  I didn't even realize that I hadn't done my blog in 3 days.

What I realized in the car was that service is not always simple or convenient.  Service simplifies our lives by making our way easier by taking away our need to control or place value on others.  Service is totally for the other.  Time in the car isn't really such a big deal.  I actually like being alone in the car.  I guess it isn't really all that bad.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Servant of All

For almost 9 years I asked an early childhood professional if she would help with our growing children's ministry in our church. For 9 years, she told me that she prayed about it but did not feel like God was calling her to that ministry.  Nine invitations to serve; nine refusals.

How many times have I not served because I didn't feel like I should?  The reason doesn't really matter.  The fact is that I chose not to serve.  In Mark 9:35, Jesus instructs that we should be "servant of all."  Our call to serve trumps our need to feel the calling.  Foster says, "The service disciplines the feelings rather than allowing the feeling to control the service."

The call to serve all frees us from the ups and downs of our internal feelings.  It removes all political and personal motivations for our actions.  It puts everyone on the same plain-one who should be served.  God, I ask you to show me how I can be the servant of all.  Open my eyes that I may see. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chapter 9-The Discipline of Service

When ones job is to serve, how does one further explore the discipline of service?  Don't get me wrong, I don't believe that I have the whole service thing down.  But how do I endeavor to deepen my service?  That is the question.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Submission to the Natural

The past week has been a giant practice of learning to submit to nature.  My wife was diagnosed with H1N1, and the only thing we could do is deal with it.  My son threw up this morning before school, and all we could do was deal with it.  On the day my wife was diagnosed with swine flu, I performed the funeral for a woman who died from it, and all we could do was deal with it.  All we could do was deal with it.

Sometimes we are so deluded into believing that we control everything around us including nature itself.  Rain, snow, hot, cold, tornado, drought, flood are all out of our control.  We can fight against the wind, but we will never win.

I am getting older, and every day I learn that in another way.  I can fight this change of life, or I can submit to it and find freedom.  I think I might try a little freedom on for size.  Wish me luck.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Submission Training

I have decided that my son has been the perfect trainer for submission practice.  He can be very difficult right now and very demanding.  Everything within me just wants to yell him down over everything.  I find myself examining my own motives more than his. 

Today, I came home from church at about 2:00 pm.  It had been a long day, and he had not dealt with the leaves in the front yard as he had been instructed.  There were lawnmowers, an electrice cord for a leaf blower, a rake, and a lot of leaves sitting in the front yard when I finally got home.  Usually I would have started yelling at this point.  Today I thought I would find out what he needed.  My need was to have the leaves gone; his was a question mark to me. 

I helped him get through his "I've tried" phase, and we moved on to productive discussing to help him get the work done.  More often than not, my confrontation would have led to escalation and little work.  Because I subordinated my need to have it done already, we were able to communicate and see the task completed. 

My son is a pretty good teacher.  If anyone would like to borrow him for some submission lessons, he is available for rent most any day.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mutual Submission

I am performing a wedding today.  One of the topics I discuss with couples in their required premarital sessions is the joy of mutual submission. 

Submission is often seen as negative because our society has taught us that "having it your way" is the only way.  Submission is understood to be the task of the weaker individual in the relationship.  Submission is too passive; they say.

Well, I see submission as very active.  Submission as an act of choice exalts the other person.  It does not demean the submissive.  Submission that is not an act of choice is slavery.  Mutual submission insures that both parties needs and desires are accomodated.  Only with mutual submission can a dominant/submissive dynamic be negated. 

Our two male cats like to play like they are fighting.  Both will stand up on their back haunches and spar until one flops over on their back and plays the defensive cat.  One after the other, the two cats will take turns being the offensive and defensive cat.  Both are happy with their little game.  Both get to play both roles. 

If young couples could learn the joy of their partner getting their way, more marriages would make it past the uncomfortable fight for dominance that many couples get caught in.  Here's to mutual submission!

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Limits of Submission

"The limits of the Discipline of submission are at the points at which it becomes destructive."  Foster points out that when the practice violates Jesus' law of love then the discipline has morphed into something very different.

Martyrdom and "playing the martyr" are opposite sides of the same coin.  We must always remember that the act is not the discipline. The act combined with the proper attitude and the will of God sanctifies the action.  The Discipline of submission must always begin with submission to God.  That is the starting place for all of the Christian disciplines.

Oh, that more of us pressed the limits of the Disciplines.  More often than not, the only extremity pressed in my practice of the disciplines is how little time and energy I can actually put into them.  God give me the grace to do as I should.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A New Attitude

The discipline of submission demands a new attitude.  Giving in can be passive-aggressive.  Forgoing our rights may be submissive.  Like many of the disciplines, a simple action cannot be equated to the actual discipline.  Especially with submission, a new attitude is needed.

My wife and I are trying new strategies with our son.  Last night went better.  Perhaps there is hope. 

I tend to lead my son with a constant dose of lordship.  The notion that I need to be submissive (not passive) to him has changed much about the way I look at parenting.  The goal really has never been just to get him to do what I want.  The goal is for him to be able to do what he needs to.  That is an act of choice.  I can force many things, but I cannot force choice.  My new submissive parenting style has some promise.  It's amazing how godly actions bring about good results.

Pray for me.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Challenge of This Book

The challenge of Celebration of Discipline lies in the following through with the discipline in order to reach the corresponding freedom.  The freedom connected with submission is freedom from having to have your own way.  The cure for being spoiled is the practice of submission.  Discovering you are not the most important thing in the universe is the key to peace with the universe.  The discipline is not the goal; the discipline is the means to the goal--the corresponding freedom.

I am learning that submission sometimes plays itself out in strange ways.  My son, as I mentioned earlier, is struggling with authority and responsibility.  I am learning that part of my submission is in allowing him to "reap what he sows."  If I break in and take on his responsibility, I am not being submissive.  I am controlling.  I am attempting to change an outcome. 

Today I am trying to be submissive as a parent.  I don't feel free yet, but I do feel like I am doing the right thing.  And that is freeing in itself.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Chapter 8-The Discipline of Submission

Submissive, suberviant, subordinate, all sound negative.  What has us so convinced that getting our way, being number one, top dog are all so wonderful?  The truth is that few of us can ever claim to be the best, top, lord of anything.  At best, we appear to be the big fish.  We may have been a contender, but we are mostly just pretenders.  If this is the case, then why do we fight against the submissive life.

My son is fighting against almost everything right now.  He doesn't want to do what we say.  He doesn't want to do what his teachers say.  He doesn't . . .  He doesn't know that fighting is harder than giving in. 

What is it that makes us like that wild stallion that doesn't want to be broken?  What is it that presses us toward autonomy no matter what the price?  What is it that pushes to get what we never really wanted in the first place?  What is it? 

The undisciplined life that's what.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Solitary Confinement

I spent about 90 minutes in my office with no one else around.  The phone rarely rang.  The peace and quiet were nice.  I actually progressed in my mission to prepare my preaching calendar for 2010.  I have 18 weeks left to fill.  That is good work for 90 minutes.

Honestly though, my mind was racing in the silence.  My solitude was sabotaged by the sound of my many thoughts.  Primarily they are focused on my 14 year old son who is struggling with life.  He is at that point where autonomy and authority are vying for their proper places.  I am struggling as much or more than he is.  I would love to "fix" him, but that is a big part of what his struggle is about.  We, his mother and I, can no longer solve his problems.  He wants us to, but he doesn't want us to.  He is too old and too young at the same time.  The ebb and flow of life keeps on while I struggle for silence.

The discipline of solitude is a great challenge in our age.  Complexity breeds noise.  Noise distracts.  Silence lingers just out of reach.  Solitude escapes.  Discipline is lost.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Sound of Silence

I have worked on my yearly sermon calendar since 1996.  The year I started preaching on a weekly basis I started putting my sermons together annually.  I planned on listening this weekend to see what I could hear (Did I really just say that?).  I don't know that I heard a word. 

Now what does that mean?  Does God not want me to preach next year?  Does God not want me to change my method of determining my preaching schedule?  Does God want me to work at it harder?  Am I just really bad at this or what?

Tomorrow I will probably try my old method and see how that works.  I probably should try the solitude thing again before I move on to the next discipline Tuesday.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

When Solitude Becomes Multitude

Yesterday was filled with unexpected visitors.  My nice work free afternoon became crowded with extra trips to here, needed work there, and on top of all that I felt like I was getting sick.  My choice for a solitary existance turned into an afternoon of multitary demands.  The demand that went unmet was my planned yearly sermon prep time. 

I am going to try to get some solitary time tomorrow.  Today has too many demands of which a nap for me is my personal priority right now.  I should have some time following church tomorrow where I can get away from everything.  Say a prayer for me.

Friday, October 30, 2009

I'm Going to Get Some Solitude Today

I should be able to get a little solitude in today.  I have a few things to do in the morning, and then I am off for some solitude.  I worked real hard to get most of my day off today.  It is crazy when you have to schedule solitude.

I am going to spend some time in silence listening to God.  During this time of the year, I work out my sermons for the next calendar year.  I am going to listen to see if I can hear any clear messages.  Won't you spend a little time in solitude with me this weekend?  Just listen.  Just stop.  Just quiet yourself long enough to possibly hear something other than the noise around you.  God bless.  See you tomorrow.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


How do you get the noise to stop?  There is noise everywhere.  Voices, sounds, cries, rattling, TV, radio, machines, etc.  Noise is everywhere.

I lock myself away every now and then to get something accomlished.  The last time I did that the phone rang, my cell went off, someone came to the doorl  It was crazy. 

I am going to go look for some solitude today and spend it in silence.  Why don't you join me?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


The outward disciplines ironically make great demands upon the inner person.  Solitude has an outer appearance that demands an inner practice for continuity.  The integrity of the experience cannot be judged by the outward reflection only.

Solitude may have the appearance of being alone, but it may only be aloneness.  The actions of the hermit may be counter to solitude and may just be a separation from society.  Solitude and silence may be the opposite of the disciplines they are connected to. 

In one of my favorite roles of Tom Hanks, he portrays the challenge that many of us feel as we find ourselves alone.  Cast Away demonstrates the human tragedy of being completely alone.  Forced to live alone, Chuck had to find a way to survive.  Chuck learned to survive but never found solace in the solitude.  He was always bent on leaving. 

I have trended toward Chuck.  When I find myself alone, I tend to try to find any means possible to not be alone.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chapter 7-The Discipline of Solitude

Solitude and silence elude me.  I want to be alone, but I hate being alone.  I like the quiet, but I need the noise.  I am around people all the time because I hate to be alone.

During the early years of my ministry life, I worked all the time.  I was at home only to sleep.  For years, I fooled myself into believing that my commitment alone pushed me, but the truth is that some of it was fueled by my inability to be alone.  I found no comfort in my own presence.

Over the years, I have discovered that being alone is not that bad.  My ministry in TN left me alone in an office for many hours.  My current ministry affords solitude when my other staff member leaves for the day.  I still long for companionship and the company of others, but now I can spend time in a solitary manner without running for the first place to find another human.

What do we fear about being alone?  What challenge is offered in no one else's presence?  What are we afraid will happen?  What might we do?  What might we hear?  What?

It's Really That Simple

My family is still in the midst of simplifying.  We are trying to get rid of excessive choices in our life.  We are trying to limit our complexity.  Yet, we still seem to become more complicated every day.  The more we try to simplify, the more the system seems to fight back. 

This outward discipline is not a momentary one.  Some of the disciplines can be exercised for a few moments and then repeated somewhere else down the road.  Simplicity is a discipline that is born out over an expanse of time.  Small moves now must connect with others in the tomorrow of our lives.  This discipline cries out for a lifetime of action. 

Maybe on my tombstone the words will read, "He enjoyed a simple life."  Maybe.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Simplicity and Human Relationships

Complexity oozes from most relationships.  Complicated situations and confusing issues make human interaction more difficult.  Conflict only makes matters more complex, complicated, and confusing.

In our range of human experiences, I wonder what percentage of relationships would be considered simple.

I am blessed with a few simple relationships.  What you see is what you get.  There is little or no pretense.  You do not have to wonder where things stand.  You just know. 

Oh, for more simple relationships.  Oh, for simpler days.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Nothing Is Simple

Our congregation was giving away coats to people in need today.  We gave away around 600 items.  It is a wondrous thing to be able to help neighbors.  This summer we gave away 8,000 pieces of clothing.  It is such an honor to help God with His humanitarian efforts.

I was surprised at how many people asked us if they needed ID or proof of government assistance.  People called asking how they could qualify.  Others were prepared to give name and address.

All we wanted to do was give them a coat, hat, gloves, and a scarf.  That's all.  That's it.  Nothing more.

Why can't things be more simple? 

Friday, October 23, 2009

Seek First

Foster's take on "seeking first the Kingdom of God" is an interesting concept.  The notion that one must "seek" prior to moving into the simple life is quite profound.  Many of us could give things away, but that does not necessarily demonstrate the inner change necessary for the simple life.  Simplicity could easily be equated with asceticism if it were not for the "seeking."  God does not desire poverty but simplicity.

On the other hand, I have known a few wealthy people who seemed to have a simple life.  They had not given all away, but they had developed a Kingdom first mentality that kept their heart in the right place.  Perhaps that is the sum of it all.  It's the heart and treasure thing.  Find the treasure, and you will know where the heart is.

"And all these things shall be added unto you."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Finance and Simplicity

When my family lived in TN, we had very little.  We lived in a doublewide.  We had just enough to get by.  While living in MI, we have been blessed with a lot.  We make a good living.  We need a lot more money here.  All in all, I felt better in TN, financially speaking.  We made little, but we needed little.  Here, we make more, but we need more.  

I long for simpler times.  Stuff clutters our lives physically and financially.  Paula and I are working to unclutter our lives.  We are looking at all options. 

We long for simplicity.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Yesterday was one of the most complicated days of my life.  There was a big blow up with my son.  There were doctors appointments.  There was work.  There was family.  There was working out the family dynamics.  There was . . .

I had an AT&T guy try to switch us over to their phone, tv, internet service for an hour.  I couldn't have him sit down in the living room because we have a bunch of stuff to sell sitting in there.  He couldn't sit at the dinner table as he came to the door as we were finishing dinner.  I decided then and there that, although I have been decluttering my life, I have not gone far enough. 

The clutter of life distracts from the important stuff of life.  Have you ever noticed that clutter clutters and time wasters waste time.  I am ready to be free of all that.  I have tried to make the move surgically.  One little bit at a time.  I think I am going to throw the baby out with the bath water and just cleanse.  After parent/teacher conferences tonight, I am going to purge!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chapter 6-The Discipline of Simplicity

The first of the "outward" disciplines is such a paradox.  Simplicity is far from simple.  The least cluttered and complicated of the disciplines, simplicity is perhaps the most difficult to practice.

The "inward" disciplines of the last 4 weeks are practiced in the privacy of ones own closet.  The "outward" disciplines are on full display for everyone to see.  Everyone can pick out someone who practices simplicity or, for that matter, someone who doesn't.  Which one are you?

I tend to be a complicator.  I tend to make my world more complex.  I tend to collect.  I tend to hold onto.  I tend to not be simple.  I so want a simplified life.  And honestly, my family and I are working toward that end.

We have gone through just about all of the house (garage and basement are still on the list) and shared many of our possessions with others who need them.  We are continually asking the question "Do we really need this?"  17 years of accumumlated family stuff can amount to an awful lot.  It can also complicate life, and it has. 

I think I am going to clean the office computer desk at home tonight.  That sounds simple. 

Monday, October 19, 2009

Two Paths

I recently realized one of the reasons why Bible School can be challenging for adults.  The two approaches to studying Scripture vary greatly.  Exposition tries to discover "what the passage is saying," and devotional study attempts to find "what the passage is saying to me."  For some, straight exposition is to bulky and cluttered with references to history, linguistics, and foreign cultures.  For others, devotional study seems too subjective and fuzzy.

As a teacher, I have felt the angst of the students as they desire the opposite they are receiving.  "You need to give us more meat," they might say.  Or "So what does that have to do with me," others might remark.  Keeping a balance between textual and personal can be quite difficult.

In a class I am currently teaching, I am trying to develop an environment that will allow for both.  The students have material that covers both sides of this balance.  I believe that some will gravitate toward both.  Having the material before them, they will choose which is most important to them.  Perhaps this format will give the class an opportunity to discover where they would like the balance to be.  I'm just going to hang on and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Crumbs for the dogs"

My Bible School class studied the passage from Mark 7 that talks about the woman who needed her child freed of a demon, and Jesus tells her that she needs to wait her turn.  I have read this a thousand times and have always felt sorry for the woman.  It is as though Jesus brushed her right off, or that's how I have always reacted to the story.

Upon further study this week, I discovered a wonderful word in Jesus remarks to her.  It was the word "first."  Jesus told her that the children get the crumbs before the dog, but He never told her she couldn't have some.  God's plan was to take the message of salvation to the Jews first; then to the Gentiles. 

Jesus is amazing.  He made His point several different ways.  He was in Gentile country telling a Gentile woman that she would have her turn.  Wasn't that what He was saying merely by His presence.  He had come to her (them) but not until He had gone to Israel.  He was demonstrating His concern for her by that same presence.  He had no reason to be there other than to bring Himself into their proximity.  He demonstrated His point as He was making His point.  What a wonderful teacher!!!!!

I think the Syrophoenician woman was probably OK with the crumbs she got that day.  God give me just the crumbs you have left over.  Bless me with much with just what is left over.  Thank you for the crumbs.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Nonverbal Books"

Foster makes a lot out of "nonverbal books."  By that, he means almost anything else that can be studied that is not in written form.  These are the events of life, history, art, nature, relationships, etc. 

I was thinking about my wife's 5 cats.  They love my wife.  They love being with my wife.  They wait for her, look for her, and . . . (fill in with any needy kind of thing).  That kind of love or dependence is what I imagine God looks for from us.  Longing, affection, desire, need, exhiliration, joy, contentment, etc.

There might actually be something I could learn from my wife's cats.  Well, I guess they are good for something.


Studying for my sermon this week, I ran across an interesting concept.  Rom. 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  I must have read and studied this passage a hundred times.  The "and" finally caught me this time.

Are the two concepts "have sinned" and "fall short" two separate issues or a consequential truth.  Did we all sin and then fall short, or did we sin and therefore fall short?  I don't think the end result is different, but the point could be.  I am sure that I fall short of God's glory even when I don't sin.  My perfection is even less than the glory of God let alone my sin.

God thank you for your grace.  I need you when I am bad and good.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Studying My Nose

I had a minor procedure done on my nose yesterday.  I had a plastic surgeon remove a subaceous hyperplasia from the end of my nose.  My family doctor has removed many over the past several months, but she wanted a plastic surgeon take care of this prominent one.

I don't consider myself a vain person, but when the bandage moved a little and I saw the 5 stitches instead of 1 or 2 as told before the procedure, I felt a little self-conscious.  To be honest the bump on the end of my nose has been visible for several years, but I was more concerned about the potential scar from the work of a pro.  That seems a little odd.

I have never been good with surprises or changes.  In fact, I have many times acted like a real jerk just because I "was not prepared for _______."  I have made a mess of surprise parties, unexpected changes in plans, unforseen circumstances, etc.  I need to let go of control and learn to live with life.

I think my nose is going to be OK.  I had the bump removed because I wanted it gone.  It is gone.  That is good right?  What do I have to complain about?  I need to go apologize to some people.  Looking at yourself under the microscope of study isn't as bad as I thought.  Now doing something about what I have seen . . . now that's another thing all together.  I'm going to apologize to some of my favorite people in the world.  They deserve it, and I need it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I love school.  I could go to school for the rest of my life.  I tried it once.  Five years of seminary that were only supposed to last two.  In fact, I am planning on beginning my DMin within the next two years.

I study a lot.  Sermon prep, ministry books, theoretical physics, and as much church history as I can find.  But I cannot tell you the last time I studied our world or national situations or events in the Far East. 

Foster challenges the notions of study by including nonverbal "books."  I am always intrigued when I read this section, but I am rarely moved to explore this region of study.  I think I am going to study nonverbal "books" as my first action of studying tomorrow.  I will let you know how it went.  Have a great day.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chapter 5-The Discipline of Study

I love going to school.  I love studying.  I love my nose pressed into a good book or even a bad one.  I live for new ideas and challenging concepts.  I like to master new fields.  I enjoy the process of discovery.

Foster aptly points out his four steps of studying-repetition, concentration, comprehension, and reflection.  I profoundly agree that we too often never reach the stage of reflection.  This life-change component of understanding is so frequently overlooked and so desperately needed.

I am going to attempt to practice the discipline of study this week with a slant toward reflection.  I will study books and events.  I will start tomorrow with a Bible passage that I will be preaching from this weekend.  I hope you will join me as I venture into the Book of Romans.  I will use Romans 1:1-3:20 as the broad text for this sermon.  Hope you join me in those pages.

My Brother Said This Would Happen

My brother told me that a blog would get difficult.  Well, I have found it challenging over the past few days.  I have consistently stayed a day behind. 

This is the final blog on fasting.  I will intro the new discipline later today.

The pace of life has made this attempt at practicing the classic disciplines hard.  I originally thought the disciplines would make this project difficult.  I now believe that my life makes the disciplines difficult.

My family is going through a decluttering phase.  We have cleaned rooms.  Emptied closets.  Given away bags of clothing.  We are cleaning out the garage.  We are getting rid of stuff to make room for life.

I believe that I need to do that in my spiritual life.  I need to declutter so I can make room for life.  I need to rid my life of some stuff so I can put better stuff in.  I think I'll go and clean a closet or two and then try to figure out how to do that in my life.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Not Enough Discipline

I am just now remembering why the disciplined life is so difficult.  Discipline always demonstrates the need for more discipline. 

My life has been crazy over the last many weeks.  This project is one of many that I am currently involved in.  I thought this exercise would be a good break from everything else, but I am realizing that this project is the perfect opportunity for me to see the lunacy of my life.

Discipline cannot be added to a hectic life.  Discipline brings order to the crazy schedule.  I have up til now just tried to add this project into the mix.  Some disciplines can just be thrown into you day, but others life fasting demand more attention. 

My 36 hour fast will not happen within this week, but I still learned a lot from not being able to do it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Forgetting, again.

Yesterday was a very long day.  Our church had a work day at two sites on Saturday.  We were landscaping a school and painting a pregnancy center.  We started early and worked all day. 

When I finally arrived home, my son was using the computer.  When he stopped for the evening, I went about my business (resting mostly) and then went to bed.  Needless to say, I forgot to do this blog.  I remembered this morning as I was waking up,  but yesterday had already passed.

Discipline is more than just wanting to do something.  Discipline is the positive habit we form by choosing a good action.  I may have forgotten yesterday, but I still choose the disciplined life.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fasting and Forgetting

I don't know that I failed at my fast, but I struggled none the less.  I didn't fail because I ate something; although, I did.  Last night as a warmed up my son's pizza, I took two bites of bacon left on the warming tray.  23 hours in, I was at the church helping a young lady's family prepare a spaghetti dinner as a fundraiser for her upcoming mission trip, and I was offered a key lime tart.  Not thinking, I enjoyed it all.

I failed this attempt at fasting not because I ate but because I could not focus.  For the past day, life and work have been demanding.  I have run here, been interviewed by a radio station, ordered mulch for a church project, went to a meeting, grocery shopped, and a vast assortment of other important things.

I forgot that fasting and solitude are an excellent pairing.  Fasting is much more than not eating.  Fasting is about focus and attention.  I lacked both over the last 24 hours.  The food thing was no big deal.  I guess that is why fasting is difficult and not eating is only inconvenient.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fasting Tomorrow

As I prepare for my fast, I am trying to quiet myself and get mentally ready.  The 24 hour variety offers time to reflect and an attainable finish line.  I will eat a light meal this afternoon and end the fast tomorrow at supper time.

The uncomfortable part of fasting by yourself when you are in a family is the uneasy of not participating with your family at mealtime.  We really like to be able to spend time around the dinner table.  With a 14 year old, my wife and  I enjoy the little time we get with our son.  I will just have to focus on our experience even though I will not be sharing in the meal tonight.

I hope you will try fasting with me.  The experience for many of us is more liberating than we imagine and is not as difficult as we might think.  Good luck not eating.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Celebrating the Disciplines Together

Spiritual discipline as a corporate event has become an endangered species.  The disciplines have been relegated to the domain of the individual.  I believe our overvalued sense of individualistic self-actualization has wiped out most of the community aspects of American life.  We are so into the self that we have forgotten about the importance of the gathering of ourselves.  This impact has been profoundly detrimental to the practice of the spiritual disciplines.

Fasting as an individual practice has disappeared from many corners of our society because we have lost the corporate dynamics that allow for learning across the generations.  Pressing the disciplines into the realm of the individual has moved these practices into the underground recesses of the person.  The who, what, when, why, how questions no longer have a public forum in which to be uttered.  As such, fasting has now been adopted and secularized by a populace that understands little about the spiritual dynamics of this marvelous discipline.

I find it interesting that this discipline has such a long history of corporate practice.  Most recognized religious groups understand the value of fasting.  Both Jews and Christians have had community practices that pressed for regular weekly fasting.  Within the Christian spectrum today, one would have a difficult time finding any group practicing a weekly fast.  I find this amazing and saddening.  I need to do something about this.  Well, perhaps that is what this blog is all about.  Maybe, just maybe.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chapter 4-Discipline of Fasting

A word about this project.  If you are just now joining me on this journey, I would like to make it very clear that this blog is not a platform for me to herald my great devotion and outstanding virtues as a Christian minister.  The entire purpose of this work is to share with others my personal experiences and feelings about the classic disciplines.  My goal is to help us all understand how a disciplined devotion can draw us closer to our God.

I have just learned in the last many months that eating can be enjoyed.  I have always eaten as though my life depended upon it.  I don't mean eating in general, but eating this meal right now is the most important thing in the world.  I have always eaten like I grew up in the Great Depression.  Every morsel was taken in as if there might not be another meal.  While I have known times of want, I can't ever remember going without.  Even with that in mind, I have always eaten as if the goal were to consume as many calories as possible.

Recently, I discovered that I could eat until "full" and everything would be OK.  For most of my life, leaving the table meant a feeling of "overeating."  I have lost about 18 pounds recently just by stopping when I am full.

How is it that so many of us find comfort in food?  I would eat when depressed.  I would eat to show I could eat "that" much.  I would eat when the food was bad.  I would eat and eat and eat.

I am looking forward to the discipline of fasting.  I think I am going to do a 24 hour fast and 36 hour fast during the next week.  I will let you know more tomorrow.  I'm going to look for a Twinkie.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Prayer for Fasting

Prayer is overwhelmingly simple and frustratingly complex.  Enough said.

As I look forward to the next chapter, I feel that it is appropriate to ask you to pray for me as I getting closer to the next discipline, fasting.  I want my time in the project to be productive.  I really want to fully experience each of the classic disciplines.  I have fasted before, but I want to dig deeper this time in order to share with you my experience.

I hope you prayed with me this past week.  I hope you will join me in fasting this week.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


During a time of prayer during services today, I asked people to pray for someone on our prayer list and someone I mentioned.  Did I do that so we could make sure and inform God or keep everyone involved?

Prayer is understood as very imporant and very complicated.  I don't know if I pray because I trut God will help, or if I pray because I'm afraid He won't.  Do we pray to receive or do we pray because we might not.

I don't have the answer, but I am going to pray anyway.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pray Without Ceasing

I remember as a kid hearing that we should "pray without ceasing."  If Foster is right and praying is as much or more listening than speaking, then I can imagine prayer "without ceasing."  It is hard to imagine consciously lifting everything before God, but listening without ceasing seems absolutely possible.

When I first became a father, I discovered that I could hear my son's cry even while in a deep sleep.  I am a very hard sleeper, but I could always hear my son.  It was as though I was always listening even when preoccupied with sleep.  I was listening without ceasing.

If listening is the primary purpose of prayer, then praying without ceasing somehow seems possible for the first time in my life.  43 years of life and I finally learned something.  Pretty good, heh?

God help me as I'm listening. 

Friday, October 2, 2009

Prayer & Life

I had a professor wax eloquent one day and say, "To pray is to breathe."  A similar sentiment is found in this chapter.  I have found that praying is more like breathing pure oxygen.  I have only known that experience a few times, but it was so different than my normal experience of breathing and somehow exhilirating.  I pray often, but I am seldom lifted up into the Holy Place.  At times, it actually seems to take my breath away. 

Actually, prayer seems like the first breath of a newborn babe.  Necessary, burning, strange, lifegiving, profoundly unfamiliar experience; yet after a while soothing, empowering, and absolutely necessary.  Perhaps as we peak through the vale of the eternal we are getting our first breaths of air from the other side.  Maybe our connection to Somewhere Beyond Here brings strangeness, disorientation, and even fear.  Could it be that we don't pray because we are too familiar with here and afraid of there.

When my son, Caleb, was born, he turned a nice shade of purple before he really started breathing oxygen.  We remember this quite well because his dad, me, had the video camera running while Paula was having the C-section.  (Should I mention that was against hospital policy?  I was being honest when I told the doctor the camera wasn't on: "it was just flashing."  Oops, my bad!)  Going from one world to the next certainly can be traumatic.  Why am I at times willing to turn purple before I inhaling the air of the other side?  I'm not sure I have a good answer for that.  By the way, I don't think Caleb had a good answer either.

Breathe deep!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Foothills of Prayer

"We should never make prayer too complicated."  Wow, that's what I do best.  I make things complicated.  I can always imagine ways to make things harder than they should be.  I am learning to appreciate simplicity though.  I am just now learning that parenting isn't as hard as it seems.  The complicating factors I add make the situations much more difficult.  When I deal with a situation with simple action, results can easily be seen.  

Prayer is simple, but simple does not mean easy.  I struggle at the vastness of the need for prayer.  Someone had a stroke.  Someone else is going through a divorce.  Iran is developing nukes.  A friend is struggling financially.  My mid-life crisis is growing like a weed.  The planet is in peril.  I have the sniffles.  I desire a profoundly healthy prayer life, not an easy one. 

God, help me talk to you.  By your grace, free me from me and draw me to you.  Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Prayer of Faith

Not surprisingly, the most "effective" times of my prayer life have been when I was the closest to God.  I have realized that for years, but I now think I understand why.  I have usually thought of that connection in the sense that I was "more righteous," and God listened more.  Or I have felt that my prayer had more power then.  Now I believe that the times of effectiveness were merely a reflection of the fact that my closeness with God was the key, not my superior spirituality of the moment.  I saw results because I knew the Father's will.  I was praying for what God wanted.  I had been changed, not God.

My senior year of college I had the opportunity to lead a D-Group.  This discipleship group for a bunch of freshman guys turned into a prayer meeting where we saw outlandish answers to dynamic prayers.  We prayed because we knew God's will.  Incoming freshmen and an outgoing senior focused on Him, and our prayers reflected that. 

I long for those days.  There are times where praying seems like trying to solve a Rubic's Cube.  Some people are masters, but most of us have never really taken the time to figure out how the thing works.  My life and mind are often so crowded with needs, demands, concerns, worries, and fears that the will of God is often relegated to the "I wish I had time for" pile.

I also realize that I am better as a member of a group rather than a solo artist.  I think I am going to look for a new D-Group.  I wonder where all the freshmen have gone.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chapter 3-The Discipline of Prayer

Ah, a more familiar discipline.  Meditation is cloaked in so much mystery.  Prayer is just hard.  Familiarity doen't necessarily make something easier.  I know my limitations.  I know my struggles.  I know my short comings. 

"To pray is to change."  This seems to me to be the heart of the issue.  We often think of praying as a means to change someone or something else, perhaps even God.  I really think that prayer is about changing me.  How often have I prayed for someone to meet the need that I can meet?  How often have I asked God to send someone to help my neighbor when I could help?  How often have I begged that He would send a messenger when my mouth remained silent?  How often should the answer to my prayers have been me?

This discipline underscores the essential connection between the disciplines and our God.  We cannot pray as we ought on our own.  We can only pray as we should through the power, direction, and will of the Father.  God help me to pray as I ought!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Our Times

Meditation on the events of the day overwhelms me.  The news we receive today is so vast and "big" that I don't even know where to start.  Missile tests in Iran, floods in the Philippines, Roman Polanski arrested in Switzerland.  Pain, misery, and heartbreak seem far too common.

Perhaps that is what I should see--the pain of the world and the hopelessness. 

Father give me eyes to see and ears to hear and hands to help.  Amen

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Consider the lily

Meditation of the creation takes me back to a moment in time back in 6th grade.  Sitting on a boulder in the middle of a stream deep in the Smokey Mountains, I met God in a very personal way.  That occasion was with my 6th grade class and was not a Christian retreat.  We were there to learn about nature and ourselves.  I learned about both.  I found that I loved the solitude, and I saw God everywhere.

Tonight as a listened to the evening voices, I was astonished at the variety of God's creation.  There are so many of us, and He understands each one of our languages.  I don't know cricket, or owl, or bat, but I do know One who does.

I am humbled by the fact that He loves us in a way that far exceeds the rest of creation.  There is a sense in which Christ's sacrifice will bring redemption for all things, but Jesus took  Calvary for me.  That bullet had my name written all over it, and He gladly took it for me.  With all the beauty and amazement within creation, He chose to love us in a profoundly intimate way. 

Thank you God for your incredible gift.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's Getting Late

Meditation demands a cooperative environment.  Or maybe when you get good at it the environment doesn't matter.  Well, to me, it certainly does matter.

I did "palms down, palms up."  In this exercise you tell God about the things you need to let go of and then say, "Palms down."  You then sit in silence.  Following a period of time, you tell God about the things you are willing to receive.  At the end of this time, you say, "Palms up."  This symbol of reception is followed by another period of silence. 

I was practicing this form of meditation when my son finally rigged my old turntable to his amp.  Meditation is tough with Kansas' "Carry on my Wayward Son" playing in the air.  He then moved onto Motown's Greatest Hits with "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."  During palms down, I had to give that old turntable over to God.

The last two days have reminded how difficult silence is to find today.  Cell phones, turntables, cars, etc. all offer little room for silence.  I can say this.  I think I like silence, but I'm not familiar enough with it to really know.  I think I am going to go look for some tomorrow.  See you then.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wow, was that hard

What a day for meditation?  I just pulled in to the office parking lot at 3:25pm.  I thought, "I have plenty of time to get ready."  I prepared my Bible, water, and phone (countdown mode), and I was ready.  I was turned to John 21:15-21, and then it started.

I read the scripture and placed myself within the story watching as Nathanael or one of the two unnamed disciples.  I imagined the sound of the surf, the smell of the cooked fish and salt in the air, the light reflecting off the water, the taste of the fish and bread, and felt the cool morning breeze from the water. 

I could feel the discomfort of Peter as Jesus asked the same question 3 different ways.  I noticed the formal way Jesus spoke Peter's name.  I felt the angst of Peter as his master asked him about his love/like.  I understood the tension "in the room" as Jesus told Peter to take care of his little ones even though he answered poorly.  I got the sense that Jesus had pulled Peter aside as to not embarrass him but kept him close enough to feel uncomfortable.  I heard the "Follow me" clearer than ever before. 

I got all of that . . . in 7 minutes.  I couldn't believe it.  Eternity could be found in 8 verses.  Time seemed to stand still.  Then my phone rang with 17 minutes to go.  Then the phone rang again with 11 minutes to go.  I decided to add verses 1-14 to the mix.  That gave my mind some more to think about.  Finally, eternity ended.

During this event, I was reminded that the disciplines are not difficult, but that does not mean they are easy either.  Learning to tune out and turn off are skills that most of struggle with.  Our fast paced world demands immediate response and immediate action.  The discipline of meditation vies against all of that in us.  I enjoyed this time because I had the sense that I was in a sacred moment.  I hope to expand that moment as a result of these exercises.

Join me tomorrow as I try "palms up, palms down."  See you later.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Time to Meditate

My brother, Rich, called yesterday and asked if I was going through an "existential crisis."  Unsatisfied with my answer, he later asked my wife if I was having a crisis of faith or mid-life crisis.  Well, at 43, I think I have hit all of those recently, but this blog is not the product of any of that.  I really see this as a positive disciplinary action for any of us.  I feel an accoutability in my efforts.  I also need structure to help me in life. 

Tomorrow I will spend 30 minutes in meditation upon John 21:15-22.  This form of meditation asks the participant to place themselves within the story and utilize their senses within that context.  Meditation like this attempts to internalize and personalize the Scripture.  I have a Great Lakes Christian College Board of Trustees tomorrow so I will conduct this exercise around 3:30pm.  I'll let you know how it goes.

The rest of the schedule will look like this--"palms up, palms down" on Saturday, meditation on creation on Sunday, and meditation upon the events of our time on Monday.  On the day following a form of meditation, I will give an account of my experience and set up the scenario for the next day.  Thanks for walking the path with me.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Thought about Blogging

My wife astoutly pronounced by blog yesterday as too . . . well, difficult to read.  I must confess that my writing style can be hard to follow at times.  I tend to write like I speak.  Phrasing and insertion of secondary thoughts are an important part of my speaking style.  I must admit that I did not spend a great deal of time editing yesterday due to a tight schedule, but that is no excuse.

A thought about blogging becomes an insight into meditation.  Meditation is about simplicity and clarity.  Meditation is about basic structure and slowed minds.  Meditation is detaching from the craziness and attaching to the Still One.

I am starting to get a more clear picture of this project.  With four forms of meditation described in this chapter, I can go one of two routes.  I could pick one and "try" it for a few days, or I could attempt all of them.  I am going to opt for the completion of all four.

My thought is that this blog will serve as a demonstration of starting to practice the disciplines.  Like someone trying new painting styles to see which one fits, I will try them all and see what seems to fit.  In so doing, I will only be able to share the first thoughts of one traveling down the spiritual path and not the great depths of the devotional masters.  But let's not kid ourselves, I am no spiritual master.  I am merely a child crawling on the path.

I will let you know tomorrow my schedule for the four forms of meditation on Friday through Monday.  I hope you will crawl on the path with me.  See you later.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Chapter 2-The Discipline of Meditation

"Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God's voice and obey his word. It is that simple."

I have taught my way through this book several times.  Invariably there is at least one person in every group who decides that it is entirely too mystical because Foster begins the segment on the Inward Disciplines with meditation.  I can't tell you how many people have yelled, screamed, and whined about the inappropriate content of this book based on some imagined connection to Buddhism or some other eastern religion.  Has the notion of Christian meditation become so lost that we see it as taboo?

Hearing and obeying is the simple way that Foster describes Chrstian meditation.  "It is this continual focus upon obedience and faithfulness that most clearly distinguishes Christian meditation from its Eastern and secular counterparts."  Perhaps our modern notion of a workless, grace-only faith has left little room for a discipline that calls us to obedience and faithfulness.  Modern American ideas of faith often have a noetic quality that dissects faith from faithfulness.  With little attention paid to faithfulness, meditation certainly becomes a strange practice indeed. 

The inward disciplines cry out for a physical manifestation of our inward condition.  Meditation takes the information  in our heads and the movements of our hearts and brings them into alignment like the sprockets of a watch.  Head and heart running without synchronicity make for an unusable whole like that broken watch in my dresser.  Meditation attempts to bring head, heart and hands into a working union.  My head knows; my heart decides; and my hands work.  I work, neither to earn nor impress, but to simply reflect my inner truth. 

This weekend I will be setting aside some time to meditate.  I will let you know my schedule later so you can join me if you would like.  I will continue with "The Purpose of Meditation" tomorrow.  See you then.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Genuinely Changed People

I have often said, "I believe that people can change.  They just rarely do."  This cynical statement is meant not only for those I observe, but for me as well.  It seems like the times I have pressed hardest for the presence of the disciplines in my life have also been the most legalistic times of my life.  I must.  I should.  I have to.  To mandate the disciplines is certainly "the way of death."  The judgment of the law is always the sentence of death. 

Failure with the disciplines is sure when "I have to" or "I must" or even "I should" are the guiding inclinations.  The "I can" of the humble heart empowered by God is the only source of real power when it comes to the disciplines.  The "I can" when it is accompanied by "through Christ" and not "I can because I can" releases the power of God in my personal universe.  Through Christ I can!!!!! 

One of my favorite quotes in this book is "Our world is hungry for genuinely changed people.  Leo Tolstoy observes, 'Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.'  Let us be among those who believe that the inner transformation of our ives is a goal worthy of our best effort."

Over the next 12 weeks I am going to give my best effort to allow God to change and transform my simple life through the disciplines.  I hope you follow Foster with me as we move into the "inward disciplines" tomorrow.

See you on the path.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Disciplined grace

The writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenge me greatly.  The Cost of Discipleship is a wonderful reminder of the need for personal interaction with the free gift of God's grace.  Grace is neither cheap nor free.  "The grace of God is unearned and unearnable, but if we ever expect to grow in grace, we must pay the
price of a consciously chosen course of action which involves both individual and group life."

Avoiding the pitfalls of antinomianism and moralism is not easy.  Too much effort or too little will most definitely sink our collective ships.  Making it to the "virtue is easy" point, is, for many of us, the holy grail of spirituality.  It is the goal of what we seek, but it can never be the goal if we are to find it.  "Virtue is easy" only happens when we allow God to work in us and through us.  Only then can virtue become "easy."  The harder we try; the farther we are from our goal.

The mystery is not that spiritual discipline can exist but that it does.  Extraordinary people all over the planet know God in deep and meaningful ways.  They are high and lifted up not by their effort, good looks, charming ways, endless funds, or birth rite.  They are lifted up because they have humbled themselves.  They have conquered their demons because they found they could not defeat them.  They have gone where angels dare not tread even though they do not know the way.  They are extraordinary even though they know there is nothing special about them.  The are extraordinary, different, strange, excentric, and weird because they know the truth.

The truth-"Let go and let God."  Simple yet profound.

I think I'm going to let go of something today.


Saturday, September 19, 2009


"Willpower will neer succeed in dealing with the deeply ingrained habits of sin."

There is nothing so challenging as the word never.  I have always been the kind that would take on the never.  In high school, we had to make a time machine.  I don't mean a Back to the Future kind, but a time keeper.  I came up with the idea of using gravity as my timepiece.  A waterfall set up with an electric pump with a tipping point for the water could produce an effective time keeper.  With the proper saline solution and a syphon tube, you could make it work without electricity.  I never got it to work right, but the theory was good.  I have often thought of conquering this 10th grade assignment as a middle-aged adult.

"Heini Arnold concludes, 'As long as we think we can save ourselves by our own will power, we will only make the evil in us stronger than ever.'" 

I can attest that (like my time keeping experiment) just because you know something can be doesn't mean that failure isn't almost certain.  The sad fact is that if we overcome sin by will we are only failing.  We may have "beat" that particular sin for the moment, but we have only set ourselves up for inevitable future failure.  When I overcome sin on my own, I become my own savior.  Unfortunately, there is no resurrection for this savior when he falls.  We cannot save ourselves.

If sin is the notion of self-reliance or destiny control or "I am my own god," then willpower is only a sinmaker.  {new word}

"'Will worship' may produce an outward show of success for a time, but in the cracks and crevices of our lives our deep inner condition will eventually be revealed."

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Slavery of Ingrained Habits

I am always amazed when I go back to unproductive and unfulfilling living.  I have a tendency to put things off, and I know that only makes life difficult.  But I go back.  I get depressed when I feel like I have put the last ounce of my energy into something, and people act as though that is the least I can do.  But I go back.  I get frustrated with my son, start the fight, and regret the cost.  But I go back.

Ingrained habits are hard to deal with and rarely effectively dealt with by our will.  I have counselled so many people who have "decided" to stop this or that only to find themselves doing this or that within the next few hours.  I have also failed with my heartfelt decisions more times than I can count.

I believe in transformational moments.  Critical moments (good and bad) when the timing is just right for us to make caterpillar-like transformations.  I am experiencing one in my personal life.  Paula and I are discovering a new way to live with and love each other.  The old ways seem so close and familiar and new ways still awkward and unsure, but I know that we have faced our transforming moment and have headed off into the wonderous unknown.  In one blinding moment of clarity, I received words of life my wife had for me.  The transformational moment was there, and I was recepitve.  We were receptive.

I have "short circuited" so many transformative moments in my life.  I have tried too hard or too little.  I have considered the "aha" moment the climax.  I have traded in intimacy with God for service to His church.  I have "gotten the point" of the moment to only miss "the" point.  I have counted my chickens long before they were hatched.

There is a receptivity necessary for transformation.  The old stuff will continue to come out unless we fill our void with that which can be received from God.  As Jesus warned about the number of demons that can come into the exorcized life, we must allow God to fill our receptive hearts in that critical moment.

I cannot help but live out my ingrained habits, but a transformed me doesn't have to.  A new me does not have to live like the old me.  Newness--what a grand thought.  I can be new.  I haven't felt like that in a long time. 

"Walk in newness of life." (Rom. 6:4)  I think I'm going to go for a walk.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I failed, again!

I did not run last night.  Disappointment, an open house at my son's school, and just outright laziness sunk my good intentions again.  The funny thing is that I enjoy running.  I like to be out there giving it my all.  The truth is that I really enjoy the way I used to run.  When I run today, it seems all too difficult and exhausting.

I long for the days when prayer was easy, when fasting was a simple response to the demands of life, when spending time with God was enough.  The noise of life has long since convinced me that I can't have that again.  It will take too much for me to get "back there" again.  I'm just not the man now that I was back then.

Part of the problem is that I have become both subject and object of the disciplines.  I have to do them, and I do them for me.  What a sad commentary.  In a real sense, God should be both subject and object in the realm of the discipline.  We do them for Him and through Him.  He is the one who gives me strength to reach Him.

Foster says, "The life that is pleasing to God is not a series of religious duties.  We have only one thing to do, namely, to experience a life of relationship and intimacy with God, 'the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change' (James 1:17)."

I've learned in the last week that loving my wife takes more than good intentions as well.  17 years of marriage would seem like enough time to figure out the answer to "How do I love thee, let me count the ways . . ."  For so long, I have stumbled and bumbled my way through trying too hard and listening too little.  Paula, you have had more patience with me than any other person in the world. 

I finally "heard" her the other night as she told me that she didn't feel cherished.  Ironically, a few days later I would meet with a couple I am marrying in November and tell them that couples should work on communicating what their spouse needs to hear.  I had them do homework on what the most important quality they wanted in their marriage in the next 5, 10, 20 years.  As I told them about their need to find ways to communicate that to their future spouse, I was hit by what I had heard from Paula just the week before.  I am working hard to make sure she knows every day for the rest of her life that I cherish her.

Running and loving have more in common with the practice of the disciplines than I had realized.  The effort isn't the point; the end result is.  God isn't to be found at the finish line: he is the race.  Love isn't how I feel.  Love isn't how hard I try.  Love is the connection between the head, heart, and hands.  Knowing, being, and doing come into harmony when I love. 

The discipline of my hands is viable only when my heart and head are right.  Perhaps that is why I have diffiuclty with the disciplines.  Maybe I have tried knowing, being, or doing and have not combined the 3. 

God, change my head and my heart and my hands.  Bring them into unity so I can know you, be with you, and serve you.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


"Joy is the keynote of all the Disciplines." 

Of all the words to use concerning the disciplines, joy would not be my first choice.  Challenging, frustrating, or hard come to mind long before joy.  I have made it a habit to add the disciplines at varying intervals in my life.  Usually, I make a decision to try and then I try and then I quit.  Life, personal insecurity, busyness, and reliance upon will do me in long before I can find the joy.

"In one important sense, the Spiritual Disciplines are not hard."

In my experience, I have not found that sense.  I think I struggle with the Disciplines as an outgrowth of my own will.  I find them more akin to running than brushing my teeth.  My parents helped instill the brush your teeth every morning thing, and I have always struggled to keep the running thing in my life.  I do realize that running gets easier as I run more.  Perhaps that is one of the keys of the spiritual disciplines as well.

I'm going to run tonight.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Beginning: A Good Place to Start

Hi, my name is Todd.

I have never gone to a movie and left there feeling like I needed to do something. Well, actually, after seeing Star Wars as a kid, I did go home and try to make a lightsaber, but, as an adult, I have never left with that notion. A good movie to me means holding my wife's hand, a good seat, and an entertaining couple of hours away from everything else in life. I don't usually go with any other goal in mind.

After watching "Julie & Julia" (which was a very good film especially for foodies like my wife and I), I thought, "What a great idea! I want to do that." So, I started thinking about doing a blog and here I am today. Writing my first blog post.

I am going to venture through Richard J. Foster's "Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth" in 13 full weeks, starting today. I will be using my trusty 1988 "expanded and revised" version along with the "Richard J. Foster's Study Guide for Celebration of Discipline." I am still working on the exact formula, but I think I will read a chapter on Tuesday, discuss the content of the week until Friday, practice the discipline over the weekend, reflect on Monday, and start with the next chapter on Tuesday.

I guess I need to let you know why I am going down this rabbit hole.

I am a middle-aged man who suffered from grand delusions as a young man. I thought I would change the world. I thought I would have all the spiritual depth of a saint by now. I thought my zeal and good intentions would propel me on to depths and heights never imagined.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think I have a wonderful life. I love my wife more now than ever before, and our marriage is growing more recently than the sum of the last 17 years. I have a 14 year old son that I adore. I admit there are times when I struggle to show him that, but . . . I do love him. My family life is only getting better.

My real struggle is in my vocational life. I have been in the same career path for 20 years. I spent 4 great years at Kentucky Christian College (University now) and 5 years at a fabulous seminary, Church of God Theological Seminary in Cleveland, TN. I have a double major in Bible and Christian Ministry, a Master of Divinity degree, and 30+ hours following my MDiv in Christian Education and leadership. I have worked with big suburban churches and small rural churches.

With all that said, I still feel like I have so far to go on my spiritual journey. At times, I feel like the kid in school who kept being promoted on to the next grade who can't read. My struggle is not with my job but the core of my job, my spiritual life in Christ. I have not fallen away, but I am not the man I imagined I would be when I started this journey almost 30 years ago.

So . . . I am going to follow Foster down the path to spiritual growth. Hopefully someone will follow along with me.