The Habits of Growing Disciples 3: God First

From the beginning of our spiritual heritage, we’ve been taught to put
God first. In fact, that’s how the Ten Commandments begin: “I am the
LORD your God, who rescued you from slavery in Egypt. “Do not worship
any other gods besides me…” (Exodus 20). And, Deuteronomy 6.4-6,
which we’ve been lifting up, instructs us to put God first as well:
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. And you must love
the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your
strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these
commands I am giving you today.”

Living the Kingdom of God Colossians 3.1-4
Kingdom living begins with putting God first, getting a God-focus for life! Through Jesus, we’ve been invited on a journey.

And whenever we talk about living the kingdom of God, we talk about
putting aside certain practices/habits and taking up new ones. What
kinds of things should we put away? What kinds of habits should be
break? Colossians 3.5-11

And if we really want to put God first in your life, if we want to live
the kingdom of God way, Paul gives us a snapshot of what our lives will
look like … Colossians 3.12-17

Jesus was always talking about the kingdom of God, and how we should live the kingdom here and now. Matthew 6.19-34

If you read this with the attitude of “it’s all about me,” you will
emphasize the “all these things shall be added unto you” part. But
that’s not the focus. Jesus is simply saying: “Get your priorities
straight!” “Don’t worry about anything, I’ll take care of you.” “Don’t
be like the people of who are building their own kingdoms and living in
the kingdom of this world. Don’t be like them. Live in my kingdom!”

So, how do we get better at putting God first?

Who/What are you worshiping?
Our word worship comes from the Old English word worthship, which means
“to attribute worth.” What does your life attribute worth to?
What do you value in your heart of hearts?

Who/What are you serving? Everybody serves something even if it’s your self?

Who are you living for? Who are you living to please?
Committed Christ-followers seek to honor God in every way. We’re not
always successful, of course, but we never stop trying. In fact, we
keep trying to get better and better at it.

Living the Kingdom of God is a journey
We’ve been talking about the Way of Christ, and how it is a journey.
I’ve thought about that this week as we traveled to and from Fort
Lauderdale, FL.

  • Expect delays (leave the timing in God’s hands)
  • Sometimes (many times?) things don’t go as you planned, and sometimes you stuck in the terminal
  • Expect turbulence (trust God)
  • Travel light (Hebrews 12.1)
  • Travel with friends

Are you on the journey?
Are you living the kingdom of God here and now? And, if you’re following Jesus, are you fully committed this journey?

When I think of commitment, I think about a lot of people in the
Scriptures. One person is Daniel. Daniel was incredibly blessed by God
and gained a lot of influence in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. So much so
that the other leaders were jealous and wanted to destroy Daniel. They
determined that the best way to trap him was to restrict prayer to
anyone except the king for a period of 30 days. The penalty was death
in the lions’ den.

I love what the Scriptures say about Daniel’s response: “But when
Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt
down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward
Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done,
giving thanks to his God.” (Daniel 6.10)

Yeah, it got him in trouble, and God miraculously protected him from the lions. But what commitment!

Jesus said, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9.62)

May God help us to keep our eyes on the horizon ahead of us and keep moving forward on the journey!

The Beatitudes: Blessed Are You!

Matthew 5.1-12-The Beatitudes

Seeking my father’s approval
I played on the newly formed girl’s volleyball team when I was in high school. Being a new team we weren’t that great. We sure didn’t have a winning season. But I had a pretty mean serve. My dad didn’t go to a lot of my school functions, but I finally talked him to going to a game. After the game I ran up to him, so excited that he was there and I was also excited that even though we had lost, I had put about 9 points in a row up on the board with my serves. So I run up to my dad and all he has is some snide comment about what a loser team we were. Wow, that popped my bubble big time. I was so disappointed. I felt like Dad could care less about my musical accomplishments and so I thought sports would be somewhere we could connect. And it didn’t happen.

What is blessing?
I was seeking my dad’s approval. I wanted to do something that would make him proud, something that would bring pleasure to him.

That is what a blessing is, it is finding favor with another, an act of approval.

What are the Beatitudes?
The Beatitudes are a series of blessings. This scripture passage is known as the Beatitudes, and a beatitude is a statement of blessing, or a pronouncement of blessing. This passage uses a standard literary Jewish formula: “It will go well with the one who… for that one shall receive…”

The Beatitudes are statements of God’s approval, the favor of God.

Today’s useage
~We bless when we sneeze.
~We bless our food.
~A benediction is a form of blessing.
~It is request for permission: to “gain your parent’s blessing.” Before a couple is engaged, a young man may approach the parents (father) of the young woman, asking permission to ask her hand in marriage. This is asking for the parents blessing (their approval) on their engagement and future marriage.

Blessing is more than happiness
Sometimes blessing is translated happiness. But that is a starting definition that does not encompass the whole meaning. Unless we go back more than 200 years ago and look at the definition of happiness from the 19th Century edition of Webster’s Dictionary:

The pleasurable sensations derived from the gratification of sensual appetites…

Let’s stop there a moment. That’s what many of us think of happiness. Basically that mean if I feel good, I’m happy. We sit down at the dinne table at Thanksgiving, that makes me happy (unitl I eat too much.) If someone asks you, “Are you happy?” What do you think. Maybe you think, "Well, I have a comfortable home, a family, good friends, a good steady income… yeah, I’m happy." Let’s look at the rest of the definiton.

The pleasurable sensations derived from the gratification of sensual appetites render a person temporarily happy; but he only can be esteemed really and permanently happy, who enjoys peace of mind in the favor of God. (from Unexpected Blessing, by Cameron Lee. Bold is mine.)

Webster in the 1800’s was a pretty smart guy. His definition of happiness is actually our true definition of blessing: the favor of God. Our degree of happiness is not weighed according to how we feel momentarily or what we have in life, whether it be relationships or possessions. Blessing is based on one relationship: our relationship with God.

Looking for approval; seeking favor
In the opening story, I told you of how I was looking for my father’s approval. I wanted to seek his favor. With God, we don’t have to look or seek. We don’t have to do some great thing. We don’t have to prove ourselves to God. God’s blessing is a gift of grace; it is freely given.

Remember we talked about the first four Beatitudes last week: poor, mourn, meek, hunger and thirst. We said that each of these were lacking something. They don’t have anything to give, they  come to God in want, needing something. And these are the ones God blesses. The pure in heart, the persecuted, what do they have to give God, but they have received God’s blessing. They only group that may have anything to offer are the merciful, but that’s Jeff’s sermon next week.

It’s when we come to God empty, it’s when we come to God knowing we have nothing to offer, we enjoy peace of mind in the favor of God; it is then we are blessed.

Being like children
Mt 19.13-15; Mk 10.13-16
You’ll remember how when Jesus, at the height of his ministry, as he was busy teaching and healing and delivering people from demons, he delighted in children. People brought children to him so that he could touch them and pray for them. The disciples in the meantime are trying to shoo the children away.

You see in this time and culture, children were given little regard. Roman law allowed children to be treated brutally. A father had the power to decide whether to keep a newborn or simply discard it. The Jews valued children as heirs of God’s promise yet also put them on the lowest rung of the social ladder as distractions and annoyances. Children were of little significance.
(from Unexpected Blessing, by Cameron Lee.)

This was probably the thinking of the disciples as they looked at these children as a distraction and interfering with Jesus’ “real” ministry. But according to Mark, Jesus sees the actions of the disciples and he is indignant – the only time this word is used to describe Jesus. Other passages, use this term to refer to people who take deep offense at the action of another. Jesus was offended that the disciples were not letting the children be brought to him and he scolded them for their actions.

Jesus tells the disciples:
14… “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  15I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Be like these children, Jesus tells the disciples. These children are brought by their parents. They have nothing to offer. And Jesus embraces them, accepts them, and blesses them.

We are called to come to Christ by that same example. Looking at the Beatitudes, young children are poor-they don’t own anything, they can’t buy anything. The very young let you know when they are hungry or thirsty! They can’t feed themselves. Jesus urges to come like these, and in so coming, we are favored by God, we are blessed, we receive the kingdom of God.

Blessed to be a blessing
Let me take a moment to further comment on the importance Jesus places on children. As the church, we, too, are called to model such gracious acceptance of our children. They are a part of us now; they are not just our future-they are the here and now. As God offers them as an example to live by, may we model some of their behavior. As Jesus takes them into his arms, may we embrace them, bless them, and favor their presence among us. After all, we are blessed to be a blessing.  (I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. –Genesis 12.2)

The Habits of Growing Disciples 2: Keeping Sabbath

As long as I’ve been following Jesus, I have been interested in spiritual growth and transformation. I’ve been interested in the ways that Christ-followers grow. This series is something of an outgrowth of this interest.

My goal is to be a spiritual leader (like the abbot in a monastic community) whose job it is to exemplify the spiritual practices. I want to see you develop the spiritual habits as well. Then, as we’re all growing in our spiritual journey, we will become the revolutionary spiritual community God intends for us to be! That possibility, to me, is incredibly exciting!

I recently read a statement that really emphasized the value of this series, for me: “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Today, I want to talk about “sabbath keeping,” observing “sabbath time.”

Questions about Sabbath

  • What was the original meaning of Sabbath, and how did that seem to change?
  • How do you think Jesus understood Sabbath?
  • Do you think Sabbath is a particular day (24 hour period; Saturday or Sunday?) or is quality of time during the week?
  • Is the Sabbath the same as “the Lord’s Day”?
  • What activities can you not do on Sabbath/Sunday that you can do on the other six days of the week?

Sabbath in Judaism (Old Testament)

Genesis 2.2-3; Exodus 20.8-11; Exodus 23.12; Exodus 31.13-17

The word “Sabbath,” which comes from the verb sabat, means “to cease, desist, pause, rest.” The root of Sabbath means “to catch one’s breath.”

“Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self.” (Rabbi Abraham Heschel)

“Sabbath—Shabbat—is the heart of Judaism. When Jews who have become inattentive to their religion wish to deepen their observance, rabbis tell them with one voice: You must begin by keeping Shabbat.” (Dorothy Bass)

Sabbath in Christianity (New Testament)
Among many Christians, “Sabbath” has become synonymous with “the Lord’s Day.” In fact, many Christians in the early centuries observed both the Sabbath and then met together for worship on the Lord’s Day, representing the day Jesus arose from the dead (at least until the destruction of the Temple in AD 70).

However, the New Testament doesn’t give any clear guidelines on continuing to “remember the Sabbath.” Paul wrote in Colossians 2.16b–17, “Don’t let them say that you must celebrate the New Moon festival, the Sabbath, or any other festival. These things are only a shadow of what was to come. But Christ is real!”

That said, I believe that sabbath time (daily and weekly time) is vitally important to our spiritual journeys. Personally, I can’t imagine my life without sabbath time! I remember in the earliest days of my spiritual journey, getting to know God intimately; if I missed my early morning sabbath time, I could literally feel the difference. I felt as if I was spinning my wheels.

So, what does it look like for Christ-followers to keep the Sabbath today?

1 – Feel the rhythm.

There’s a rhythm in the creation story (Genesis 1-2). God made the world in six days, and rested in one. That’s the rhythm God operated in.

Rhythm is about knowing when to play and when not to play. It’s learning when to be on and when to be off. It’s the difference between making music and just making noise. When we don’t have rhythm, our life is less and less music and more and more noise (chaos).

Ecclesiastes 3 says, “There is a time for everything …” And, God created the world with four seasons. Rhythm is built into the system!

What about Jesus? How did he keep the Sabbath holy?

“Jesus was accused of being a Sabbath-breaker, but the truth was the opposite: Jesus was a master Sabbath-keeper!” (Leonard Sweet)

There’s a rhythm to Jesus’ life In the Gospels. He’s giving, producing, serving, often surrounded by crowds of people with tremendous needs. Following those moments of intensity, Jesus gets away and observes sabbath time. Here are a few examples: Mark 1.34–38; Mark 6.45-46; Mark 4.35-36; Luke 5.16.

Jesus is trying to teach his disciples this rhythm. The disciples have also been out giving, producing, doing intense work, and Jesus invites his disciples, afterward, to rest.

I believe it’s important for us to create space in our lives throughout the week, and not just on the Sabbath or on Sunday.

“Sabbath does not come just once a week. Every day needs a holy hiatus. Every week needs to be well ventilated with sabbaticals.” (Leonard Sweet)

One way I like to think about it is with the phrase, “engage/disengage.” Like Jesus, we need to spend time engaging people, as well as time where we “abandon” (or leave) the crowds to re-group and focus on God. This rhythm is important!

“Rest and worship. One day a week—not much, in a sense, but a good beginning. One day to resist the tyranny of too much or too little work and to celebrate with God and others, remembering thereby who we really are and what is really important. One day that, week after week, anchors a way of life that makes a difference every day.” (Dorothy Bass)

2 – Focus on God

Sabbath: “uncluttered time and space to distance ourselves from the frenzy of our own activities so we can see what God has been doing and is doing.” (Eugene Peterson)

Observing sabbath time helps us to focus on God, and to remember that God is in charge of the universe and we are not. It’s a good way to remind ourselves that it’s not about us; but that it’s about God!

3 – Soak in the Scriptures

Scripture plays a vital role. We must immerse ourselves in Scripture – reading it, reflecting on it, meditating on it, until it literally becomes a part of us! The only way we experience true transformation is when we internalize God’s Word.

4 – Listen to God. Talk to God.

The order is intentional, putting the emphasis on listening: Listen, first, then talk. And it should be an ongoing conversation. I think that’s what it means to practice the presence of God, to pray without ceasing, to have a running conversation with God that never ends.

Several years ago, Leadership Journal interviewed Richard Foster and Henri Nouwen. They were asked about how they understood prayer …

“Prayer is first of all listening to God. It’s openness. God is always speaking; he’s always doing something. Prayer is to enter into that activity. … Prayer in its most basic sense is just entering into an attitude of saying, “‘Lord, what are you saying to me?'” (Nouwen)

“The problem with describing prayer as speaking to God is that it implies we are still in control. But in listening, we let go. … The spiritual life is not something we add onto an already busy life. What we are talking about is to impregnate and infiltrate and control what we already do with an attitude of service to God.” (Foster).

5 – Exercise faith

In Exodus 16, God told his people that he would provide manna for them six mornings every week. But on the sixth day, he would provide double the amount they needed so that they could store up enough manna for the Sabbath. It was an exercise of faith!

6 – Discover true peace

“For fast acting relief, try slowing down.” (Lily Tomlin)

“Peace is not something we find when your latest crisis is over. What usually follows stress, of course, is the next stress. Peace is not discovered; it is created. You don’t make less stress, you create more peace.” (Ben Lerner)

I believe that in order to truly experience God’s peace, we must practice sabbath time consistently in our lives!

Invitation to practice sabbath keeping …

“It is not so much that we ‘keep the sabbath’ as that the sabbath keeps us — keeps us whole, keeps us sane, keeps us spiritually alive.” (Leonard Sweet)

“Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.'” (Matthew 11.28)

One of the ways to describe our life with God is dance. In fact, a word used in the early centuries of the church’s life to describe the Trinity is “perichoresis”: peri (around) and chor (where we get choreography) — to dance around. It’s the picture of the Trinity circling in a dance, and through creation and salvation, we are invited to the dance. And keeping sabbath is a great way to practice the dance!

(We closed the service today by singing a wonderful Shaker song, “Lord of the Dance.”)

Community Lenten Service: The Road in the Wilderness

Deuteronomy 8.1-6, 15-16
Matthew 4.1-11 (The Temptation of Christ)

Have you ever felt like you were going in circles? Have you ever been lost?

Randy and I, not too long after we moved here, went to Greenwood Furnace and hiked up to the fire tower. On the way back we had the bright idea that when the hiking path cut across the gravel road, we would take the road back to Greenwood Furnace. Low and behold, as we descended the mountain we found ourselves entering Alan Seeger. We got much more of hike than we bargained for that day!

One can become weary in the wilderness. You can get thirsty, hungry, and your feet can begin to hurt. But you have no choice but to push on. Deuteronomy reads,

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

It is humbling to tell you the story of my wanderings. But there is one test, I want to pass. My journey through this world. At Christmas, Randy and I sent out a newsletter to our friends and family. A first idea for a title was, The Willis Wanderings. After some consideration we decided on The Willis Whereabouts, thinkng it sounded a bit more like we had some direction in life! But truth be told, sometimes this life can feel as though we are wandering. We don’t always know where we are headed. Life is full of twists of turns.

I remember when I went to college, I knew exactly what my major was to be and exactly what I what I wanted to do when I graduated. And when I graduated I didn’t want to do that anymore. I knew God was calling me to something else. I wasn’t quite sure what, so I got I job in my field. And I waited. That felt like wandering in the wilderness. I worked, I served in my local church, and every day I asked God, “Where are you leading me?” and a bit impatiently I also asked, “How long do I have to stay here?”

I know now he was leading me to this place, to local church pastoral ministry. But that doesn’t mean I have all the answers. Again, every day I humbly ask God, “Where are you leading us? Where are you leading your people?”

The point is this is not our home. As long as we are here, we will be dependent upon God’s guidance. The Israelite’s wandered in the wilderness 40 years until God brought them to the Promised Land. We, too, await that Promised Land. Jesus fasted and prayed and was tempted 40 days, until the angels came and ministered to him. We, too, depend on God to minister to our needs.

In Deut 8.2, God allowed the Israelites to wander in the wilderness
to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

Jesus passes the tests that Israel failed
Jesus went in the wilderness and was tested, just the same as the Israelites, and the tests that they failed, Jesus passed.

Test 1
(Ex16) The Israelites lacked food and they complained, “we had all the food we could eat when we were in Egypt!” Jesus fasted and he withstood the temptation to use his powers to satisfy a personal need but quoting from Deut, “Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Test 2
(Ex 17) The Israelites lacked water and they quarreled with Moses. They were ready to stone Moses, blaming him for bringing them into wilderness to die of thirst. They tempted God saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” And Jesus was tempted to test God by placing himself in a life or death situation, by throwing himself off a cliff. Where Israel failed, Jesus once again resists temptation, quoting Deuteronomy once again, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Test 3
The Israelites failed many times the test of worshiping other gods. During their 40 years in the wilderness, we are all familiar with the account of Moses going up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments (and he is up there 40 days) and the Israelites get restless. They do not know what has happened to Moses and they build the golden calf to worship and say “This is the god that has brought us out of Egypt.” Here again, where Israel failed, Jesus passes the test: he does not bow to Satan, but quotes from Deuteronomy, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”

Where Israel fails, Jesus succeeds. Where Israel sins against God, Jesus remains pure. Where Israel disobeys, Jesus obeys, and we are called to obey.

Remember again, the reason for Israel wandering in the wilderness, in Deut 8.2
to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

Jesus passed these. He was humbled, choosing to gain the kingdoms of the world through his death on a cross. Rather than choosing the seemingly simple path, he chose the costly path. Jesus obeyed in the wilderness and he obeyed the Father choosing to die on the cross. Jesus did it all out of a heart that was pure, a heart that loved the Father and did not do or say anything that was not in agreement with the Father.

Called to the test
And we are called to a life that is humble, a life that includes testing so that God knows what is in our hearts and whether or not we will keep his commands.

The wonderful good news is that Jesus has passed this way before us. He has made a clear path through the wilderness for us. If we but follow him, trusting him, keeping our eyes on him. Jesus has gone this way in order that he might help us.

Hebrews 4.15,16
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Lent is a time of self-examination, a time to reorder our lives, a time to renew our dependence upon God. A time to ask God “what do you find in our hearts?”

The Habits of Growing Disciples 1: Followers of ‘the Way’

Deuteronomy 6.1–9

“We are at this moment as close to God as we really choose to be. True,
there are times when we would like to know a deeper intimacy, but when
it comes to the point, we are not prepared to pay the price involved.”
(J. Oswald Sanders)

I’ve been looking forward to this series for a long time. I had planned
to teach this series last year during Lent, but decided to do something
in correlation with the release of the movie, “The Passion of the
Christ.” So I am excited be be talking about the habits (disciplines, practices) of growing disciples (Christ-followers).

“Habits are to the soul what the veins and arteries are to the blood, the courses in which it moves.” (Horace Bushnell)

I want to begin by talking about why this is important to me, and why I
think this is important for us. And to do that I need to share a little
bit about my faith journey.

I grew up in a Christian home that was very active in the life of the
church. My grandfather was a preacher who was dedicated to God and the
church. During my teenage years, however, I drifted away from God and
my spiritual heritage. It was my mom’s death when I was 19 years old
that became a turning point in my life. I immediately returned to the
church, and within months had recommitted my life to Christ. And I have
been following Christ ever since!

Those early years of following Christ were especially passionate, and
the spiritual growth was quick and intense. Thankfully, I grew up
around people who were extremely passionate about God. Some of these
people were willing to go wherever God led them, and to do whatever God
called them to do. They were passionate people — passionate about God!

Now, my passion is to know God, and to lead others to know and follow
God, too. I want to travel with passionate, revolutionary
Christ-followers on this amazing adventure we call life. It is in this
context that I begin this series of talks on “the habits of growing
disciples,” which seeks to answer the question: “What kinds of habits,
disciplines, spiritual practices do passionate Christ-followers live
out?”

The Torah
From the time of Moses, when God gave the Law (Torah), the Torah
was been the centerpiece of life for God’s people. In those days, most
people had the Torah memorized. The Torah is not just a collection of
rules and regulations; it was called “the Way.” If you wanted to know
the best way to live, you went to the Torah.

Habits for Followers of ‘The Way’

As we begin, I want to emphasize the importance of guarding against compartmentalizing our lives — work, worship,
recreation, play, and so on. In the Hebrew language (the language of the Old Testament), there’s no word for
“spiritual.” Using the word “spiritual” implies that some things are not spiritual. And for
followers of the Way, everything is spiritual. IOW, God can be
worshiped in anything, by doing it to honor God!

John Wesley’s 3 General Rules …

  • Do no harm, avoid evil of every kind
  • Do good of every possible sort
  • Attend upon all the ordinances of God (i.e. practice the spiritual disciplines)

“Cultivate only the habits that you are willing should master you.” (Elbert Hubbard)

1 — Love God
This should sound familiar. This is the most important
commandment, according to Jesus. Disciples love God in everything they
do.
We express our love to God in many different ways — worship, prayer,
honoring God in any way we can. The ways of loving God are endless!

2 — Internalizing Scripture
For early followers of the Way, internalizing Scripture usually meant
memorizing the Torah. For us, it means getting as much Scripture in us
as possible, through reading, meditating, reflecting, listening, and studying.

I love Deuteronomy 6.6-9 in The Message — “Write these
commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get
them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about
them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk
about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall
into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder;
inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.”
3 — Pass on what you’re learning
Not only get Scripture inside of yourself, but also inside your kids
and your family. Passing onto others what we are learning and
experiencing is an important part of our growth.

4 — Ooze the things of God all the time

In fact, don’t just get Scripture inside you and your family, but ooze God and the things/ways of God all the time.

5 — Love people
Though the text doesn’t specifically say, “Love people,” I think it’s
implied. If we’re going to pass on the ways of God, we must love
people! We pass on
the things of God to benefit and encourage others.

6 — Find ways to keep our focus on God

For early followers of the Way that meant writing Scripture on pieces
of parchment and tying it to their clothes. For us it could mean
listening to the Bible while we’re traveling, or writing out a passage
of Scripture and posting it on the refrigerator or on the door so you
see it when you go out into the world.

It takes commitment
Follow the Way with all your heart, all your soul, and all your
strength. It takes commitment and dedication! Now, we all have habits.
As Christ-followers, we need to work at developing the habits that will
help us grow in our walk with God.

That may involve neglecting some things, even some good things. Someone
once asked a concert violinist in New York’s
Carnegie Hall how she became so skilled. She said that it was by
“planned neglect.” IOW, she planned to neglect everything that was not
related to her goal of being the best violinist she could be. If you
and I are going to be the most devoted Christ-followers we can be, we
must learn to neglect a lot of things that distract us from our goals.

“Good habits result from resisting temptation.” (Ancient Proverb)

Why develop the habits? … To build character

“’Reputation is what folks think you are. Personality is what you seem
to be. Character is what you really are.” (Alfred Armand Montapert)

“Sow an act and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny.” (Unknown)

Let’s finish with six question from “The Disciple-Making Church” (Glen McDonald) …

6 Questions

  1. Who is your Lord? (everyone serves someone or something)
  2. Who are you? (who has God called and gifted you to be?)
  3. Who is your Barnabus? (who is your encourager?)
  4. Who is your Timothy? (who are you mentoring)
  5. Where is your Antioch? (small group)
  6. Where is your Macedonia? (mission; where is God calling you?)

    I am grateful that I’m not on the journey alone. There are many
    others traveling with me — Barnabuses to encourage and
    spur me on; Timothys to encourage to continue on the
    journey; and, Macedonias to go to, to do God’s work. So, I’m
    grateful for your companionship on the journey. And, I’m grateful for
    God’s presence on the journey as well. I’m glad it’s not dependent on
    my strength, but on God’s grace!

    The Beatitudes: Yearning for God

    Job 1.13-22; 2.7-10

    Matthew 5.1-12 – The Beatitudes

    A college student wrote the following note home:

    Dear Mom and Dad:
    I’m sorry to be so long in writing. Unfortunately, all my stationery was destroyed the night our dorm was set on fire by the demonstrators. I’m out of the hospital now, and the doctors say my eyesight should return — sooner or later. The wonderful boy, Bill, who rescued me from the fire, kindly offered to share his little apartment with me until the dorm is rebuilt. He comes from a good family, so you won’t be surprised when I tell you we’re going to be married. In fact, since you’ve always wanted a grandchild, you’ll be glad to know that you’ll be grandparents next month.

    P.S. Please disregard the above practice for my class in English Composition. There was no fire, I haven’t been in the hospital, I’m not pregnant and I don’t even have a steady boyfriend. But I did get a D in French and an F in Chemistry, and I just wanted to be sure you received this news in the proper perspective.

    Things don’t always go the way we want them to go in life. And sometimes we have some tough things to touch our lives. The first four of the Beatitudes speak of such times:

    3Blessed are the poor (in spirit),
    4Blessed are those who mourn,
    5Blessed are the meek,
    6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst (for
    [Luke does not include the parenthetical.]

    Lacking what we want or need
    Many times we find ourselves in situations where we don’t have what we want.
    Being poor is not having the money or possessions we want. Being poor in spirit is knowing our reliance upon God and his grace.
    Mourning is have lost something/someone of value: loss of a loved one, loss of income (job, demotion), loss of health/activity, even the empty nest syndrome when the last of the children have moved out of the house and all is quiet.
    Meekness is to be lowly, to not have status, admiration, respect, approval; at the extreme, pride, arrogance, self-importance.
    Hunger and thirst is lack of food, the very necessity of life; hunger and thirst of righteousness is a longing for justice, for things to be made right.

    Desiring these characteristics
    These groups seem to represent less than perfect situations, but Jesus lifts them up as desirable.

    You could say they are desirable because if you have them, then you get good things:
    the kingdom of heaven; comforted; inherit the earth; will be filled.

    Perspective, Attitude, Response
    I think the little story I opened with, the letter from the college student, very much points us in the right direction. It is all about perspective. It’s about attitude. It’s about how we respond to the bad things that happen in life.

    Romans 5.3-4
    3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope.

    The benefits of suffering
    Suffering can accomplish something in our lives, if we let it.
    ~If we choose to persevere through the tough times (the ability to handle pressure),
    ~our character will be developed (character is what the Beatitudes is about, who we are inside, about being reliable)
    ~and we will have hope. Hope is about having Christ, relying on his strength and power.

    And in the Beatitudes it’s about those good things: the kingdom of heaven; comforted; inherit the earth; will be filled. There are promises attached.

    Many of our troubles are only temporary. And we act as if it is the end of the world. We can choose to complain or get angry, or grow bitter. Or we can choose to persevere, knowing that God is with us and knowing that he will bring good of this situation. And we will bring good of every situation, even if our suffering is not temporary.

    Now, I am not diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, nor do I have any physical challenges, so I don’t speak from personal experience; but, even in that kind of suffering or trouble, God does not desert. God is there and at work in your life, if you allow him. If you persevere. Someone with cancer voiced his basic attitude as one of if he beats this cancer thing, great and if not he knows where he’s going. Paul’s words (in the midst of his suffering) came to mind, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.”

    Hope is knowing the whole story. It’s knowing that there is more than this life. Hope is knowing that even when health alludes us in this life, there is an eternity where we will be well. That even if I am treated unjustly in this life, there is an eternity, where all will be well. I may be sad for a period here, but I can rejoice, because there will be a time when there will be no more sadness.

    That’s keeping perspective! And that influences our attitude and response to the troubles we face today.

    The story of Job
    Job was a good and righteous man. He lost all that he owned: all his animals and servants (representing his livelihood and wealth); he lost his sons and daughters, and then his own health. His own wife said “curse God and die.” But Job retained his integrity. At the end of the book, in chapter 42 we read:

    5 My ears had heard of you
         but now my eyes have seen you.

    Even a righteous man like Job, had something to learn from his trials and suffering. He emerged from his suffering closer to God, seeing God more clearly, gaining perspective in life.

    Jesus instructions in the Beatitudes is for us to develop this kind of character: poor, mourning, meek and to hunger and thirst.

    “This is what you should be like…”
    I have never heard anyone set out to be in poor in life. We used to laugh at my little cousin, he was an unexpected baby, and when he was probably as young as 6-7, he would say he was going to be rich. Our society respects and honors success.

    And I am not telling you to go try to be poor. Jesus’ words remind us that we have nothing when we stand before him. Maybe a better way for us  to understand is to ask ourselves, “What makes us rich?” “In what do we place the highest value?” “What or who do we yearn for?”

    Emptying ourselves and yearning for God
    Lent is a time of emptying ourselves of the things of the world. It is a time of to “Give up and Take up” as is stated in Bishop Jane Middleton’s Lenten letter. We give up the things of the world to take up spiritual things. Fasting is giving up physical food, so that we realize that we “don’t live by bread alone.” So that we might yearn for God and be filled with spiritual food.

    In reading Marva Dawn’s book, “A Royal Waste of Time: the splendor of worshipping God and being church for the world,” I was challenged to give up tv for Lent. And already I am reaping the benefits. There are spiritual benefits and also it is more quality time with my spouse.

    This Lent, don’t just give up something this year, take up something, something that will nurture or awaken your yearning for God. Seek to be poor, [to mourn], to be meek, to hunger and thirst … after God.

    Covenant Renewal

    In today’s worship time, we conducted John Wesley’s Covenant Service. It was a special time where Christ followers committed (and/or re-committed) their lives to God! We experienced God’s presence in a special way, and I pray that it was indeed a defining moment for each of us personally, and for us a community of faith.

    Scripture reading in the service included: Isaiah 43.1–7; Jeremiah 31.31–34; and Hebrews 8:4-13

    We’ve been talking about “revolutionary discipleship.” I believe discipleship is either revolutionary or it is nothing. Revolutionary disciples are ordinary people who have responded to Christ’s revolutionary call to follow.

    We’ve also been reflecting on those awesome words – perhaps the most awesome words in Scripture – “Follow me.” In spite of what we’ve done; in spite of who we are, God still invites us to follow, to have a personal relationship with God, and to walk with God at all times.

    1 Peter 2.9–11

    Covenant

    When we respond to God’s call, and follow God, we make a covenant (agreement) with God. Throughout history, God has made covenant with people. One example …


    Joshua 24.14-28

    And God continues to enter into covenant with people. Jesus said, “You did not choose me. I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last” (John 15.16).

    Are you following Christ today? Are you following Christ with all of your heart? Are you a fully devoted, passionate follower of Jesus?

    In the book, “The Disciple Making Church,” Glen MacDonald lists the marks of a disciple:

    • A heart for Christ alone
    • A mind transformed by the Word
    • Arms of love
    • Knees for prayer
    • A voice to speak the Good News
    • A spirit of servanthood and stewardship.

    Do you look like that? Are you growing so that you’re looking more and more like Christ each day?

    At the end of our worship time today, we read through the “reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant” and “the great thanksgiving,” and concluded the day by kneeling, praying, and signing our covenants at the altar, then “remembering our baptism” at the baptismal font, and celebrating communion. It was a powerful time.

    Afterward, I read those awesome words at the end of the reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant: “The Holy Spirit work within you, that having been born through water and the Spirit, you may live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

    I am excited about the things God will do through these water—and Spirit-born revolutionary disciples of Christ here in the Juniata Valley!