The Discipline of Celebration

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Stop Look and Listen

This is the last in our series on Spiritual Disciplines. It has been a great study. We have covered these spiritual practices:

  • Meditation (ruminate)
  • Prayer (talk honestly with God)
  • Simplicity (don’t love things)
  • Solitude (get alone and quiet)
  • Study (dig deeper)
  • Submission (not always your way)
  • Service (helping others)
  • Confession (admitting sin)
  • Celebration

We’re almost finished reading through the Gospels during Lent. You can find a reading schedule here.

This is another “corporate” discipline – one we do together as a group of believers. Celebration and joy are important parts of the lives of believers. Psalm 150 gives us a picture of our celebration of the Lord God:

Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heaven! Praise him for his mighty works; praise his unequaled greatness! Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn; praise him with the lyre and harp! Praise him with the tambourine and dancing; praise him with strings and flutes! Praise him with a clash of cymbals; praise him with loud clanging cymbals. Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord! Praise the Lord!

No one is exempt from this great call to praise: “Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!”

I think we as Christians sometimes get a little too reserved, even boring. Some of us take ourselves too seriously. And in so doing, we may be presenting the wrong impression of our faith to other people. We should be the most alive, joyful, exciting, celebrating people on earth! As Augustine said, “The Christian should be an alleluia from head to foot!”

There is a lot in the Bible about Celebration. Here are a few examples:

  • Exodus 15 – Israel was led by Moses and Miriam in a great celebration dance to celebrate their escape from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea
  • David in 2 Sam 6 danced and jumped before the Lord with all his might because the ark of the covenant had been returned, and led Israel in shouting and blowing trumpets
  • Jesus himself came with a joyful announcement, and even approached his suffering on the cross with a sense of eternal joy
  • Philippians 4:4 actually commands us to rejoice!

We shouldn’t be afraid of expressing joy and celebrating. The Bible not only is full of examples, but show us all kinds of ways to celebrate: singing, shouting, dancing, making noise, jumping, even laughter. So in this week’s service (April 5) our children and our worship team led us in a rather noisy time of praise and celebration. It was awesome!

Finally, celebration gives us strength – strength to live, strength to serve, strength even to suffer. Nehehiah 8:10 says “This is a holy day for the Lord your God – do not mourn or weep. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine..for this day is holy to our Lord, and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” Living for God will be easier when we are filled with joy and happy with our lives. Overcoming temptation will be easier when we are celebrating the goodness and greatness of God.

Don’t feel like rejoicing? Ask God to fill you with joy, and with his Spirit. Ask him to help you direct your mind and spirit to him and his beauty, so you can praise him! Look for reasons to celebrate this week, and then do it!

The Discipline of Confession

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Stop Look and Listen

So far we have looked at seven practices or disciplines:

  • Meditation (ruminate)
  • Prayer (talk honestly with God)
  • Simplicity (don’t love things)
  • Solitude (get alone and quiet)
  • Study (dig deeper)
  • Submission (not always your way)
  • Service (helping others)

We’re also reading through the Gospels during Lent. You can find a reading schedule here.

We now move to a more corporate kind of discipline: confession. Confession is simply the act of admitting your sin or wrong to God or to another person. Confession is necessary for the forgiveness of sins:

If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:9)

All of us sin, all of us fail. All of us come short of what God requires of us. Fortunately, we have a loving and gracious heavenly Father who will forgive us and make us clean. Since Jesus is the only Mediator between us and God (1 Timothy 2:5), we don’t need a priest or someone to confess to in order to be forgiven. However, the Bible still talks about confessing to one another. Why?

We read in James 5:16 this command: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. In church settings, often the only time we hear about the sins of others is when people are whispering about them. People are afraid to reveal sin or failure, so as a consequence we often present the image that we are perfect and have no problems. We don’t want to spoil the “perfect” Christian image.

But we all sin and mess up. And it is a beautiful part of church life to be able to go to one another, discreetly, and confess our sins, and to help each other become whole as part of the process. Yes, God readily forgives, but sometimes we need help to forgive ourselves, and to accept the gracious forgiveness of God. This is why James says that confessing and praying can help in our healing.

John Sanford, a pastor and a writer, goes so far as to say “when we unburden our souls to another human being, there takes place a kind of catharsis. It is an extraordinarily healing experience. In fact, if we have never experienced this, our life is not complete.”

Another aspect of Confession is corporate confession. This is where believers who are gathered together, as in a worship service, confess our sins aloud and together. We did this on Sunday, where we read Psalm 51 together, and recited this confession (written by Scot McKnight) together.

The four steps involved in confession are:

  • Recognition of sin
    • Ps. 51:3 “I recognize my rebellion”
    • It is important to examine our consciences and our lives
    • Be specific
  • Sorrow
    • Ps. 51:4 “It haunts me day and night.”
    • We need to take sin seriously
  • Ask for cleansing and forgiveness
    • Ps. 51:7 “Purify me from my sins.”
    • Confession and forgiveness should result in change
  • Restoration
    • Ps. 51:12 “Restore to me the joy of my salvation.”
    • Confession results in forgiveness and healing!
    • The burden is gone!

They say that confession is good for the soul – the Bible says they’re right!

The Disciplines of Submission and Service

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Stop Look and Listen

We are continuing our series on Spiritual Disciplines. Here are the five practices or disciplines we have looked at, with a phrase to help us remember:

  • Meditation (ruminate)
  • Prayer (talk honestly with God)
  • Simplicity (don’t love things)
  • Solitude (get alone and quiet)
  • Study (dig deeper)

We’re also reading through the Gospels during Lent. You can find a reading schedule here.

Submission and Service are related, so we’re covering them the same week.

The discipline of submission involves the spirit with which we view others. It is an attitude of mutual subordination, where we give up our rights in deference to the rights of others. It is actually a form of self-denial.

Jesus said in Mark 8:34-35,

If you want to be my follower, you have to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.

Jesus was actually revolutionary when it came to treating other people with respect. In a time when women and children were treated as property, and men (especially rabbis) just didn’t talk to them, Jesus took women seriously, and talked to both women and children, shocking his own disciples.

The New Testament calls on all believers to submit to and love one another. The Sermon on the Mount talks about this kind of living, as well.

Jesus said that the way to go up is to go down.  He said,

If you want to be the greatest, you need to become the servant of all.

As always, Jesus is our great example. He also said this:

Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Our pride (the NT calls it our flesh) resists the idea of service. At the very least, it wants us to get recognition for our great service, turning it into a self-righteous act. But true service is content to be hidden, and doesn’t discriminate between great and small acts of service.

Everyone can serve, and no service is small or insignificant. It can be more than just something we do – it can be a way of life, and it should be. In fact, it is part of CrossPoint’s mission statement.

Here are some practical suggestions for to help us with these disciplines:

  • Ask God to change our hearts to be more like Christ in our service – to BE servants
  • Ask God to help us look at people through His eyes – as people of worth and people in need
  • Keep our service hidden
  • Small, simple acts of service are important and significant
  • Guard the reputation of others (don’t gossip)
  • Be nice
  • Learn hospitality
  • Listen
  • Bear one another’s burdens and sorrows
  • Learn to BE served

Let’s all ask God to help us see others as he sees them, and make us servants.

The Discipline of Study

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Stop Look and Listen

We are continuing our series on Spiritual Disciplines. Let me remind us of a few things:

  • These disciplines are simply things we do to place us before God so that He can do a work of inner transformation in us.
  • We are asking God to renew our minds (Romans 12:2)
  • We are replacing old destructive habits with some new life-giving habits
  • We are reading through the Gospels during Lent. You can find a reading schedule here.

The discipline of study involves reading, thinking and studying in order to learn about and understand truth. Many people are confused and hampered in their spiritual life because of ignorance of the truth. Studying helps us learn the truth of God.

Study is a discipline that involves

  • attentiveness
  • observation
  • thinking
  • writing
  • reflection
  • focusing

The Bible
The best thing we can study is the Bible, the Word of God. It is the Bible that is truth, and that has the power to change lives, give us faith, and make us clean. Colossians 3:16 advises us to allow the word of God to live richly in us.

Here are some suggestions for when you study the Bible:

  • Ask God to meet you as you study the Bible
  • Study with an open and humble spirit – allow the Word to change you
  • Use repetition and memorization
  • Concentrate and focus
  • Take notes
  • Use other books to help interpret the meaning
  • Reflect and ask the Spirit of God to apply the truth
  • Study a book of the Bible all at once

In all your study, ask the Holy Spirit to guide and help you. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his book Life Together,

“Often we are so burdened and overwhelmed with other thoughts, images, and concerns that it may take a long time before God’s Word has swept all else aside and come through…this is the very reason why we begin our meditation with the prayer that God may send His Holy Spirit to us through His Word and reveal His Word to us and enlighten us.”

When we study, let’s ask God to saturate us with his truth and transform us.

Simplicity and Solitude

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Stop Look and Listen

This is the third week in our series on Spiritual Disciplines. This week we are looking at two spiritual practices: simplicity and solitude.

‘Tis the gift to be simple,
‘Tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

– Shaker Hymn, 1848

The discipline of simplicity helps us guard against having too much. We live in a materialistic society. We are taught to crave things we don’t need. Society recognizes and defines people by what they earn, produce, accomplish, and look like. The Bible warns us against an idolatrous attachment to wealth.

  • Psalm 62:10 – If your riches increase, don’t set your heart on them.
  • Tenth commandment: Do not covet

Jesus said that we can’t serve both wealth and God at the same time. He also warned us not to store up treasures on earth, but rather in heaven.

Simplicity is having the right priorities and right ways to look at material things. We should understand that everything we have comes from God – they are gifts, and we should be willing to share them.

Here are some suggestions on how to live in simplicity:

  1. Buy things for their usefulness, not for status
  2. Reject things that cause or fuel addictions
  3. Learn to give things away
  4. Recognize and refuse society’s propaganda
  5. Develop an appreciation for God’s creation – it’s free!
  6. Use plain, honest speech (Matthew 5:37)
  7. Shun anything that distracts you from seeking God’s kingdom first

Adapted from Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline

The discipline of solitude helps us guard against doing too much. Most of us are surrounded by a constant flurry of activity and noise. Our TVs are always on, we have personal music players on all the time, and our cell phones are never out of reach. Besides this, we all seem to be in a big hurry.

As a result of the barrage of activity and hurry, we seldom spend time alone, in silence. Jesus knew what it was like to experience the demands of constant activity and ministry, and he dealt with it by spending a lot of time alone, away from the crowds. He asked his disciples to do the same: Come away with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest (Mark 6:31).

Spending time alone helps us recharge our spiritual batteries, helps us love and appreciate God and others, and gives us a fresh perspective on life. I believe it helps us hear and discern God’s voice better, too.

Here are some suggestions on how to practice the discipline of solitude:

  1. Make time for silence and solitude
  2. Take advantage of short times of solitude
  3. Find or make a “quiet place”
  4. Try going a few hours without talking!
  5. Several times a year, get by yourself for a few hours
  6. Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life!
  7. Ask God to speak to you and teach you during your alone times

Adapted from John Ortberg’s The Life You’ve Always Wanted

Other sermon resources

Meditation and Prayer

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Stop Look and Listen

This is the second week in our series on Spiritual Disciplines. Many of you are joining me on this journey during Lent; reading through the Gospels, giving up something, and learning the disciplines. This week we are looking at the two inward disciplines of meditation and prayer.

Unlike the meditation taught by eastern religions, the meditation taught by the Bible doesn’t empty the mind but opens it to the work and presence of God. Richard Foster says that “meditation creates the emotional and spiritual space that allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary in our heart.”

The two Hebrew words used for “meditation” in the Bible are hagah (ponder, groan, sigh, utter), and siyach (talk about, contemplate, muse, rehearse). The book of Psalms talks a lot about meditation. Psalm 1:2 says that we are blessed when we meditate on God’s law day and night.  To meditate is to think about, mull over, rehearse, and contemplate God, His Son, His creation, His word, and His work in us. It is actually a time of fellowship with God that He desires to have with us, and that He can use to transform us through his Spirit.

Some suggestions:

  • Set aside a time of quiet and solitude
  • Center your attention on Christ, and on God’s glory in His Son
  • Meditate on God, His attributes, His glory, His works
  • Meditate on a passage or verse of the Bible
  • Ask God to help you internalize the passage

We often associate prayer with desperation and crisis.  When things are going well, we tend not to pray as much. But prayer is actually one of the most important ways that God uses in our spiritual formation. It is a conversation, a relationship with God.

God wants His people to pray. Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus modeled a life of prayer.

What is prayer like?

  • It is simple, not complicated
  • It should be direct and honest
  • We should pray in faith, believing in God’s ability to answer
  • We learn to pray by praying

This week’s application
Here’s how I’d like us to implement these two disciplines this week:

  • Find a time and a place free from distractions
  • Start with 10 minutes a day (meditate for 5 and pray for 5)
  • Possible things to pray about: CrossPoint, family, against evil and suffering, for protection, for our nation and other nations, or whatever is on your heart
  • Possible passages of the Bible to meditate on: Matthew 13:44-46 and Matthew 18:1-5 (these are in our Lent readings this week).
  • If you miss a day, don’t worry or try to catch up – just start the next day
  • Let me know how this is all working for you!

Pastor Mike

The Spiritual Disciplines

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Stop Look and Listen

This is the first week in our series on Spiritual Disciplines.  In Psalm 42 the psalmist gives this description of his desire for God: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? …Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls.”

There is a lot of superficiality in our culture today, and in our churches. Maybe you have heard the call to something more with God…something deeper. I’d like to take you on a journey with me – a spiritual journey of transformation – using the spiritual disciplines.

Spiritual Formation
It is God’s will that we as Christian believers grow in our walk with God, and in spiritual maturity. There are many names for this: spiritual formation, sanctification, spiritual growth, deeper life, spiritual discipline. No matter what you call it, it is advancing, growing, and dedicating ourselves to God. It is the Lord transforming us into his likeness or image; into the fullness and maturity of Christ.

The Spiritual Disciplines
For thousands of years, believers have used various spiritual disciplines to help them know God better. These disciplines are based on the Bible, and on things that godly men and women, along with Jesus himself, used in their walk with God.

The spiritual disciplines require us to:

  • STOP. There are things in our lives, both sins and just plain hindrances, that get in the way of spiritual growth. Hebrews 12:1 says “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us.” We’ve got to slow down, and even stop some things as we engage together in the spiritual disciplines.
  • LOOK. The spiritual disciplines make us look inside, and be introspective. As Socrates put it so well: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
  • LISTEN. The spiritual disciplines help us to listen to God, and to connect with him.

Purposes of spiritual disciplines

  • They are not ways to get on God’s good side, or religious duties or rules that must be performed. Nor are they formulas that automatically make us more spiritual.
  • Instead, the spiritual disciplines put us into the position before God so that he can transform us. They open the door for the Spirit’s work in our lives. We prepare ourselves, but God does the work.
  • The twin goals are intimacy with God and inner transformation

What are the spiritual disciplines?

  • Also known as the classical or ancient disciplines, they include inward disciplines like prayer, meditation, fasting, and study. The outward disciplines include service and simplicity. The corporate disciplines include confession, worship, and celebration.

Join me

  • So I ask you to join me for the next 7 weeks as we engage ourselves in studying the spiritual disciplines, and in doing them
  • Each week I’ll talk about one or two of the disciplines, and then suggest ways that we can engage in them during the week.
  • I’m asking you to join me and get involved, but it’s entirely voluntary! This should be a blessing, not a curse or drudgery. I simply want us to see the transformation and growth of our inner, spiritual lives through the power of God’s Spirit.

Ash Wednesday is February 25, and it begins the time known as Lent. This is traditionally a time of preparation and prayer, and sometimes fasting and confession, that helps believers focus on Christ and his work for us.  There are three things I’d like to suggest that we all do during Lent:

  1. Put the spiritual disciplines into practice during the weeks I talk about them
  2. Give something up…maybe a type of food or a habit
  3. Read through the four Gospels. You’ll find a reading plan here.

Our goal is to be transformed more and more into his glorious image, and be drawn closer to God.

Pastor Mike