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.