Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Spiritual Place

Tonight I was watching Property Virgins on HGTV. Fantasizing about buying a home someday is one of our guilty pleasures. Our viewing tonight was especially interesting, because the prospective buyer was talking about finding a place that was "spiritual" for her. I found this interesting because her definition of a spiritual place was not anywhere near what any spiritual tradition would call a holy place. For the woman on the show a "spiritual" place was a place that was cozy, move-in ready, and at an affordable price.

This woman seemed to be a very flighty new-agey sort. But this snippet of her life showed her to be an example of much of contemporary America. I think many folks in the United States and the Western world are not that much different than this woman. We think of a place that ministers to our spirit as luxurious, comfortable, and aestetically pleasing. Christians build retreat centers in beautiful places in the mountains these days, or next to beautiful beaches to walk on. These places have wi-fi, laundry service, a cozy bed in a comfortable room, sometimes you even recieve a mint on your pillow.

Our contemporary idea of spiritual as comfortable, safe, easy, and cozy has nothing to do with what people have thought of as sacred spaces throughout history. The sacred places of Hebrew culture are barren wilderness one can die in, and remote mountains that most people were scared to climb. The Buddha left the comfort of the palace to embrace poverty and near starvation in order find spiritual enlightenment. Early Christian places of spiritual enlightenment were found in small "cells" in the desert of Northern Africa. The monasteries of Europe were drafty rooms in stone built structures, and beauty was only created in these places through the backbreaking work that accompanied monastic contemplation. Holy places throughout the world are dank and smelly barns and caves, in places that scared the average person, and made them overcome their longings for finer foods, temprate climates, and more jovial company.

In short, throughout religious history and tradition, from Islam to Christianity to the Native Spiritualities of North America, spiritual places were not comfortable places. They were places that required work and strength to survive in. They were places that inspired mystery and confusion. They required scarcity and relinquishment. Too bad we have redefined "spiritual places" as all-inclusive resorts, move-in ready homes with massive amounts of square footage, or a night at the Hilton with a bubble bath.

Best of What's Around

Don Miller's Post on Fatigue of Self

Eric Lundy's Manscaping Adventure for Charity

Amy Seeking Discernment

Becca on "Writer's Crushes"

Scot McKnight's review of Tim Keller's newest

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Book Review: A Million Miles in A Thousand Years

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is the latest offering by Christian lit rock star Donald Miller. I have read all of the books that Miller has put out (though I have avoided that expensive movie/DVD that is also out), and enjoyed each of them. Fans of Donald Miller should know this is BY FAR his best offering so far.

This memoir works on so many levels. The book begins with Steve Taylor and his movie making partner contact Donald Miller about making a movie about the book Blue Like Jazz. The problem with Blue Like Jazz....there is really no plot or direction. So they start making a story about Don for the movie that is partly fictional and partly real. He is uncomfortable with this at first, but then they tell him how much money he is being offered to have the movie be made about him, and he decides he will agree to the movie.

At the beginning of the book he wonders aloud if lives really have a plot, a clear direction, or if as Forrest Gump says, "we just float around accidental-like" with a few moments that really make what our lives about. Do lives have a direction, or are they just a mish/mash of experiences that are disconnected?

In Miller's life, he is challenged to gain direction for his life as he begins to recreate/edit his life story. He goes to a seminar to learn the elements of story, and learns a lot from the moviemakers Steve and Ben along the way. Slowly, as he begins to understand that he has the opportunity to write his life's story instead of just letting life happen to him, his life begins to change. He begins to deal with the difficult issues of his life through applying the tools of writing a movie to his life. He creates "inciting incidents" that force him to act. In the process, he begins the journey of reconciliation wiht his father he has not seen for thirty years, loses a bunch of weight because he commits to a hike in the Andes and commits to ride a bike cross country. And he finds that he can use some of the elements of writing a script to write the script of his life.

I like this book on many levels. First, it is a first hand example of what I believe about "narrative-driven" discipleship. Second, the story--besides being a fun memoir of growing spiritually--s actually a page-turning drama. The "meta" quality of the book is funny--it is a story about writting a story that becomes a story in and of itself. I kept thinking that the movie should be about this book. That they should make the movie about making the movie, and then throw in all the Blue Like Jazz stuff in flashback form.

I have been reading that Miller says that this is the last memoir he will write for some time. I certainly understand this. There is only so long you can talk about yourself before you just get bored with yourself, and feel like a professional, perpetual flasher of one's soul. But what so many of us love about Miller is this: he gives us a model of what is means to be a growing Christian. I shared Blue Like Jazz with our church book club, made up of midwestern conservative folk, most of whom are Republicans. They loved the book because they could identify with Miller, and because it left open the possibility for them to grow as Christians. The church that many of us grew up in has a culture that seems to encourage us to act as if we have it all together, and then wait to grow into what everyone sees us act like. Miller comes to audience as his raw and honest self, grows in the faith, and then gives his readers to live as an honest, raw, growing Christian who needs to learn and grow as well. There is something about a teachable spirit that speaks to many of us. And this book takes one from simply being a teachable Christian, to a Christian who is also purposeful and living on purpose. A Million Miles in A Thousand Years is brilliant and inspirational. A must read for anybody, but especially for those who feel stuck and wonder what is next.

Books I Finished

I had several resources as I worked on my recent study of the book of James. But the following two are books that I finished.

The Life Application Commentary gave me some good tools to pass on to the Bible Study I was listening. The commentary by Moo was full of good interpretive insights. Both were very helpful as I retaught the book of James, this time with Fowlerites.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My BCS Bowl-Playoff Hybrid

I have been thinking about how to resolve the playoff bowl controversy in NCAA football. I like the bowl system, but am sympathetic to the plight of non-BCS teams that deserve a shot like Boise State and TCU. Here is my plan:

6 BCS Conference get automatic bids--Pac 10, Big East, SEC, Big 12, ACC, Big 10

Best of 3 Independents if over 8 wins, Sun Belt, WAC, MAC, Mountain West, Conference USA, and 2-3 highest ranked at large teams playoff. These games will be played regionally.

Week 1--Dec 12

North--MAC v. Ind/At-large--@ Detroit (Little Ceasars bowl)
West--MWC v. WAC--in Alb, NM as the New Mexico Bowl
East--Conf. USA v. At-Large--@ St. Petersburg
South--Sun Belt v. At-Large--@ New Orleans (r and l carriers bowl)

Week 2--Dec 19

South v. East @ Eagle Bank Bowl @ DC
West v. North @ Las Vegas Bowl


Seed these teams for 10 Team BCS games


Seed remaining two teams after game for 8 team BCS

Why do this?

For Mid-Majors--Allows two weeks for mid-majors to climb in bcs rankings through games with stronger competition. Make more money through winning for your program.

For Bowl people--let your bowl games mean something!

For Independents--you will have at least one automatic bid out of three teams

For Conferences--Will not have to argue for your conference favorite vs. mid major schools. Will allow your second place conference team to prove itself and play in verses quality competition. Will allow second place team in conference to add money to its program

What this would look like today

BCS--Cincinatti, Iowa, USC, Florida/Alabama, Texas, Georgia Tech

Play in games--Dec 12
TCU v. Boise State
Central Michigan v Notre Dame
La-Monroe v Miami
Tulsa v Alabama/Florida

Dec 19
la-monroe/miami v. tulsa/alabama/florida winner
Central/ND v. tcu/boise state

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pac 10 pics
California at UCLA --UCLA in an upset
(5) USC at (25) Notre Dame--USC
Stanford at Arizona--Stanford
Washington at Arizona St.--Washington

Pro Pics
Kansas City at Washington (1:00 PM--Washington
Detroit at Green Bay (1:00 PM)--Detroit
Houston at Cincinnati (1:00 PM)--Cincinatti
Carolina at Tampa Bay (1:00 PM)--Carolina
St. Louis at Jacksonville (1:00 PM)--Jacksonville
N.Y. Giants at New Orleans (1:00 PM)--New Orleans
Baltimore at Minnesota (1:00 PM)--Minnesota
Cleveland at Pittsburgh (1:00 PM)--Pittsburgh
Arizona at Seattle (4:05 PM)--Seattle
Philadelphia at Oakland (4:05 PM)--Philadelphia
Buffalo at N.Y. Jets (4:15 PM)--Jets
Tennessee at New England (4:15 PM)--New England
Chicago at Atlanta (8:20 PM)--Atlanta
Denver at San Diego (8:20 PM)--Denver
(RECORD 7-6 with one game left)

Monday, October 12, 2009

The week that was

The weekend that was:
On Saturday, I slept in a little bit. Then I worked on reading through our book club book. Our book club book was Leaper: Adventures of a not-so necessarily superhero. It was good. I liked it better than most of the Christian lit I run into. The plot was not extraordinary, but he describes people I might have run into before. Especially in downtown Colorado Springs, or an employee of Barnes and Noble somewhere.

On my to-do list this week:
Powerpoint presentation for regional gathering about the Backyard Mission Project (My little part anyway).

Figure out my next book study for Wednesday Night Bible Study. Student suggestions were Proverbs and Hebrews.

Clean bathrooms.

Prepare for visiting missionaries

Procrastinating about:
Getting all of my thank you notes and birthday cards written and sent

Fixing the windows in the house so that they shut completely

Books I'm in the midst of:
A Milliom Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller--A brilliant book about a group of people who come to write a movie about his life, and end up editing his life in order to make it watchable. (I think the Steve in the book is Steve Taylor)

Scouting the Divine by Margaret Feinberg--I love this book because it helps me understand the Bible in a deeper way, and doesn't make me feel dumb for not understanding things as well beforehand.

Music that seemed to catch my attention this week:
I'm Alive--(Kenny Chesney and Dave Matthews)--interesting song and interesting combination.

Good news from last week:
I finished three books, two of which I had been working through for a long time. I had a couple of good visits with seniors from our church, which was a blessing. Book club went well. Was a fun week for Jennifer and I. Had a nice phone conversation with my sister.

Bad news from last week:
Attendance was down at church. After running well for a couple of months before October this was discouraging. Darn hunting season! Also had some hits on a personal level.

How I am feeling about this week:

It will be very busy, but I am feeling good about it.

Football Pics Overview

14-4 this week, with a perfect record on my Pac 10 pics. WOO HOO.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Book Discussion Guide on Leaper by Geoffrey Wood

Book Discussion on Leaper:

The Misadventures of a Not-Necessarily Superhero


  1. If you could have a "superpower" what would it be? Why do you choose your power?


  2. If you were to rate this book on a 1-5 scale, one being the worst book you ever read and 5 being the best book you ever read, what would you rate this book?


  3. Do you have any favorite sections of the book or passages in the book? Why were these sections or passages your favorite?
  • Clint's favorites
    • pp. 114-115
    • pp. 149-150
    • pp. 285-287
    • pp. 296-298


  1. In what ways could you empathize with James, feel for him, or identify with him?


  1. How are our gifts and skills like James' gift of leaping?
  • What is the purpose of the gifts, skills, and abilities we have been given by God?
  • In what ways can a skill or ability that you have be used to help others?
  • In what ways do we misuse the gifts and skills that God has given us?

In what ways can our skills and gifts be a burden to us at times?

Sunday School Lesson: Thought some of you might find it interesting

Hearing God Through Others

The Bible makes it clear that one of the many ways that God speaks to us is through other people. Let us look at Scriptures that teach us just how he does that.

  1. God speaks through our actions and other people's actions

    35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."—John 13:35

  • How does this verse talk about how actions speak?
  • How has someone been used by God to teach you something simply by what they do?


  1. God uses us to keep one another accountable

         17 As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.—Prov. 17:17

    15"If your brother sins against you,[a] go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'—Matthew 18:15-16

  1. 37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"  38Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.—Acts 2: 37-38

  1. 15 The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.—Proverbs 12:15

  1. 2You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody.—2 Corinthians 3:2

  1. God speaks through your willingness to hear what he says through others. Be teachable! God can speak through those you least expect!

What has been your biggest life lesson over the last year?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Football Picks for the Weekend

Pac 10 Schedule

Oregon at UCLA (3:30 PM)--My pick is Oregon. 35-28
Arizona St. at Washington St. (5:00 PM) --Arizona State by at least 10
Stanford at Oregon St. (7:00 PM) --Oregon State pulls off the upset
Arizona at Washington (10:00 PM) --Washington with the win


Oakland at N.Y. Giants (1:00 PM)--NY Giants win
Tampa Bay at Philadelphia (1:00 PM)--Philadelphia
Pittsburgh at Detroit (1:00 PM)--Pittsburgh
Washington at Carolina (1:00 PM)--Washington
Minnesota at St. Louis (1:00 PM)--Minnestota
Cincinnati at Baltimore (1:00 PM)--Cincinatti
Cleveland at Buffalo (1:00 PM)--Buffalo
Dallas at Kansas City (1:00 PM)--Kansas City (UPSET)
Atlanta at San Francisco (4:05 PM)--Atlanta
Houston at Arizona (4:15 PM)--Houston
Jacksonville at Seattle (4:15 PM)--Seattle
New England at Denver (4:15 PM)--Denver
Indianapolis at Tennessee (8:20 PM)-Indianapolis
N.Y. Jets at Miami (8:20 PM) --Miami

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Law of the Teeter-Totter or What goes up must come down

This was a disappointing day. And the disappointment deserves some reflection.

Three weeks ago at the church we had a Backyard Mission Project
. It went wonderfully. People from churches all over the state came to support us as we served our community. We served around 30 people. We took on over 30 projects. Not a bad weekend for a church of 30-40 in worship attendance, half of which is over 70. The coffee shops were buzzing about it. People were discussing it at city hall. The local newspaper had a wonderful article about it.

And since the week of afterglow that followed the project, it seems like there has been one discouragement after another. The downstairs bathroom wall was torn out and the pipes were replaced after a leak was unearthed. There have been complaints about a renovation project I worked with the church on for 6 months, and they have undone much of the work on the project through a vote while I was on vacation. Close friends in the church dropped a surprise note in my box to resign their leadership positions in the church, and asked me not to discuss it with them.

I imagine there are some people where these kinds of downs do not follow a very good moment, but it almost always happens with most of us. What goes up must come down. Like a tetter totter, the exileration of the emotional and spiritual high is followed by the nauseating, gut-busting low. It is in that moment you have to get your feet on the ground, your hands dirty, and get back to the scrapy, dirty work that lead to the success you have had so far. Such is life.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Flannery O'Connor quotes

Perhaps one of the best Facebook fan sites is that of Flannery O'Connor. Occasionally the administrator shares quotes. Here are some I enjoyed:

"Any criticism at all which depresses you to the extent that you feel you cannot ever write anything worth anything is from the Devil and to subject yourself to it is for you an occasion of sin." Letter to Betty Hester, November 15, 1960, "The Habit of Being"

"I measure God by everything I am not." Letter, 2/4/61

"All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it." --Letter, 4/4/58


The last two years have brought a lot of changes in my life. I changed from being a single person to being a married person. That change has required me to adapt quite a bit. I had to learn to share my life instead of live it simply for myself. I had to learn to adapt my ministry style to allow for more family time. I had to learn to be comfortable with less privacy and less of a sense of control. They have been good changes, but they still have been challenging changes.

Following getting married I quickly had a few other changes to adapt to. Changing from apartment living to living in a house was more challenging than expected. It has brought some benefits. It has also brought some unexpected differences. More space to use and fill. More things to worry about. More things to be responsible for. Even though we are living in a parsonage and not home owners yet.

Then we moved. We moved from a suburban sprawl of 500,000 people to a small town of 1200 people. I think adapting to some of this is harder for Jennifer than it is for me. I have lived in small towns before. She has lived in smaller places, but towns that were suburbs and bedroom communities to larger towns surrounding it. Nevertheless, it has taken some adjustment to living life in the fishbowl that is being a small town pastor. In a small town, it is always a challenge to deal with the sense that if you are new in town people are watching you and making judgments and observations about you. But the "fishbowl" effect is amplified when people are watching you and your wife and making judgments about you as the "Baptist preacher and wife".

The adaptation from being an associate pastor and youth pastor to being a "preacher" pastor has also required changes. I have chosen to get on a more sane schedule in doing my work instead of being the nocturnal creature I was as a youth pastor. Which means choosing to get up earlier and work more in the mornings. I still have a reputation, I sense, among some of the more old fashioned folk, of being the type of guy that sleeps later than the average person. But late has meant arriving in the office by 9am instead of noon, and usually being done with work before 7 pm.

One of the most difficult changes for me, surpisingly, was the addition of a dog. It was the situation that made me most frustrated, depressed, and angry. To this day I don't know why, except maybe it was a tipping point. I thought as a man who married later in life, I would retain a little of my more freewheeling single spirit. The dog meant that I lived in the house, worked on the same property, and then had a dog that further tied me to the homefront. Maybe I felt domesticated once we got a dog. But, I think that the bigger issue was that getting the dog was a small issue that forced me to confront and emotionally deal with all of the change I had to deal with in the last year to that point. So I would relunctantly walk the dog and vent while I walked. Dog walking became the obligation that focused all of my negative emotions that I bottled up everywhere else, and it became the reason for any and all emotional and personal difficulty with all of the changes I was experiencing. Strange, I know. It got bad enough I had to take a break from dog walking for a while. Now I am eager to get back in the routine.

The change is pastoral role has also changed expectations of who I am and what I do. I get to do less of being the one that pushes and challenges and stirs the pot for change, and I do a lot more of accepting things the way they are and being more patient and methodical with change and my attitude toward change with the congregation.

I have had to return to work in a collegial relationship with other ministers. This has been a blessing in many ways. In other ways, it has been one of my greatest challenges to self-control. Our community has a strong ministerial alliance, which allows us to work together and accomplish things we might not have been able to accomplish apart from one another. Yet, there are certain collegues and cultural factors which bring a controlling element, and make me feel demeaned, looked on as the "new young pastor", and give me the sense that our church and I personally are thought of as less of than other pastors and churches in the alliance. I have not figured out a way to deal with this.

Perhaps one of my biggest disappointments with myself is that in this rapid transition I have let several habits that sustain me emotionally and spiritually to be put on the back burner. Those habits include a focus on developing my writing skills and thinking skills via this blog, a commitment to reading for spiritual and theological growth, a loss of professional connection with collegues through being tied in with the blogging world, and a commitment to healthier living through exercise and healthier eating habits.

More changes are sure to come. More commitments to different cooperative ministries. More changes for our family. I have considered the possibility that it might be time to quit blogging, or to kill this blog in favor of another blog that will allow me to journal and write in a different direction. I have decided against that for now. For now, I am going to try and be more faithful to this blog with the way that it was intended. Although it will still include some of the picture share, youtube, sermons and random thoughts it includes now, I will be working toward getting back to some sort of regular writing routine that will include theological reflection. This has become harder as my personal life and reading audience have put me in a position where I have to be a little less "raw" and transparent about my thoughts and feelings, but I will do my best to write and think more through this blog.

I am going to try and get into a routine that looks like this (with flexibility):
Sunday: Sermon share
Monday: all things cultural (and not ministerial), review of the last week (or weekend)
Tuesday: Thoughtful spiritual reflection
Wednesday: Quotes, stats, and borrowed stuff
Thursday: Thoughtful spiritual reflection
Friday: At least until February, all things football
Sat: Notes, random thoughts, etc.

All week: Be thinking more about sharing my exercise and diet routine for accountability
Be writing down things that I think of that I dont want to forget
Pictures of fun stuff when I get them

Monday, October 05, 2009

Top 7 Republican Candidates for 2012 election

1. Mitt Romney--Probably the top candidate, but he needs to do something significant in the next couple of years

2. Lindsay Graham--His stock is rising. This shot toward the fringe right is carving out a spot to run as a mainstream conservative

3. David Petraus--If he is running, he will leave the military in the four months

4. Mike Huckabee--Not sure he has a shot, but he will command even more power in the party than last time he ran

5. Ron Paul--same as huckabee, different demographic. Don't be surprised to see him run Libertarian

6. Mike Bloomberg--Will run on his efficient managment of New York Economy as well as his financial acumen

7. Sarah Palin--Above all, her resignation of governor after not finishing her first term will keep her from winning. More than losing respect through the last campaign, she lost trust by how she behaved afterward

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Sunday October 4 Sermon

Training vs. Trying


Every year, around the time Easter rolls around, I look outside, and I look at the back porch, and I decide that it is time for me to rediscover my golf clubs. This is how it works. I turn on the television, and on Easter weekend I see the green grass and the beautiful flora and fauna of a little golf course in Georgia. I see these golfers grab their clubs, and hit 300 yard drives off of the tee, pitch and put for birdies, and contend for the Masters championship. I watch Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jack Nicolaus in years past, and I tell myself that what these professionals are doing does not look all that difficult. As a matter of fact, I am confident that although I am not as good of a golfer as they are, that I am capable of replicating what they do on a simpler course, like perhaps Cottonwood Links. So I find time to go out and golf.


Strangely, my golf game does not go as I imagine it. I can't hit my driver straight. The putt that looks simple I misread. Those short irons seem to go the right distance but I cannot hit the green. I mumble to myself and pout. I try really hard not to cuss, because nobody wants to hear a preacher cuss. Most of the time I am at least successful at controlling my tongue, but that is only because I catch myself after the first syllable. And I try not to throw or ground my clubs, but deep in the recesses on my mind, I know my father would be disappointed if I did that. I tell myself I was raised better. I have to wrestle against my temptation to give myself a 10 foot putt as a "gimme". And my afternoon of glory, beauty and accomplishment has turned into an afternoon of frustration, temptation and disappointment.


It wasn't that I didn't try hard. In fact, I put a lot of effort into golfing and golfing well when I went out and played. I put effort in warming up, practicing my putting, checking my stance, analyzing my swing, swinging hard—and on and on and on. But there is a huge difference between training and trying.


This seems fairly simple, but a lot of us have a hard time noticing this. I can go out and see a piece of land and try and build a home on it. And it may come time to do the wiring and electrical work. And I could look at two electricians to do the job. And if one said that he had no training in electrical work, and the other said he was a master electrician, I would choose the guy who had trained to be an electrician over the guy who had not done any of the training necessary but promised to try really hard.

What is true of the rest of our life can be true of our spiritual life as well. As I shared in a children's message several months ago, it is important to train and not simply to just try. Let's look at what the apostle Paul says about this in I Corinthians 9: 24-26 First in our pew Bible, since I promised to use that when I preach:


24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.
26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.


I know the training is hard to hear there. But remember verse 27, where it talks about disciplining his body and bringing it into subjection so that he is prepared for the race. That is where Paul compares being a disciple to being an athlete. And as Paul speaks, he begins talking about an athlete that not only tries hard, but trains, conditions, and practices his craft so that he can be the one that finishes the race and receives the prize. What this is telling us in part is growing in Christ is not simply a matter effort. If we want to grow in Christ we need to train, discipline and condition ourselves spiritually if we are to grow. Listen to how the NIV states the same passage, which better gets the gist of what the apostle Paul is trying to say here:


24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.


One of the reasons we have spent 6 weeks on the Lord's Prayer this year is to help encourage us and strengthen us to train in righteousness. That is also part of the reason we have been looking at different pathways to growth in recent weeks. Being still and silent before God is a kind spiritual training that helps you grow stronger in your faith when you practice it. Serving one another is a way of spiritual training as well. We choose to worship because it trains us to look at God as our example and as the one we give praise and priority to, and that trains us to be more like Jesus. When we are sharing our faith and our testimony, like we did during the worship service on the backyard mission project, it helps us to grow as well. So does our attitude, and what we choose to make our top priority. Even the habit of coming to the table, examining ourselves, and recommitting to follow Christ once a month is part of the training we put ourselves under to be more like Christ. That is why we are looking at each of these habits, and I am encouraging you to adding these "spiritual training" techniques into your toolbox for spiritual growth.


This is not the only place where Scripture talks about spiritual training. Listen to these other verses

7Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (I Timothy 4:7-8)


All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:16)


13Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:13-14)


10Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:10-12)


    So we don't just practice these spiritual practices that we have been learning about in Sunday School and in the sermons because they make us feel better about ourselves or because they are a part of some system that works. We learn about these things and live them because they help us become like the master teacher, who is Jesus.




The word disciple describes a person who has a certain kind of relationship with someone else. It comes from the same word as discipline, which is what someone does when they choose to train. A disciple is someone who finds a master teacher, and wants to be just like them. So they go where the teacher goes, and they seek to do what the teacher does, just the way that the teacher does it.

For example, if you knew someone who was a master fly fisherman, and you wanted to be a good fly fisherman yourself, you would do well to figure out how to imitate him. You would try and learn how to cast like him, set a hook like him, you would learn how to discern where the good fishing holes are, and you would learn why kinds of flies in what kinds of environments he used. And you would try to do the same as that fisherman did.

In other words, when we chose to follow Jesus we choose to be his disciple. And when we choose to be his disciple, we choose to train to be like him. Being a Christian, in a sense, is being an apprentice to Jesus. We become the spiritual apprentice, and Jesus is the master teacher. We learn to practice the habits he taught and lived. We learn to trust his way of doing things. In process, we learn to do things like him.

But in order to be like Jesus, we have to be with Jesus. We have to be connected to him, to spend time in his presence, to hear his voice and know what he would do.

Our ways of learning today often get away from this model. If you wanted to, you could find a way to get a bachelor's degree, master's degree, and doctorate and never leave your home. I think. We think learning is a matter of gathering facts and being able to spit them out. This is not a biblical model of learning. A biblical model of learning is about an apprentice not only figuring out the technique of the master, but about doing what the master would do because they have spent enough time with them, been connected enough to the master, that they know what the master would do.

This is why Scripture tells us in farming terms how important it is to be connected to our master teacher as Jesus' apprentices. To be connected to Jesus. As a matter of fact, Scripture commands that disciples abide with, or live with Jesus. This is what John 15 says,


1 "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away;[a] and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
5 "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will[
b] ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.


So, let us recap. First, Scripture really calls us not simply to try hard if we are to grow, we are commanded to participate in spiritual training. Like an athlete we are challenged to be train in a way that will help us to grow and get stronger spiritually. That training means practicing certain habits, or disciplines, that will make us stronger in our faith. Those habits include things like prayer, service, worship, and evangelism that we have looked at, as well as other habits we will look at in the coming weeks.


And now we learn, as a Christian who is training to be like Jesus, we need to be in the presence of Jesus. These techniques of training are not the goal of training. The goal of training is to be in the presence of Jesus so we can be like him. And as we seek to learn from him and follow him by being in his presence and doing what he says, we find that we grow, we learn, we mature spiritually. We not only want to know what Jesus does, we want to know how he does things, what his heart is like, what he thinks, and how he feels. We want to be like the master in those intangible ways as well.


So we come to this table. And we come here to examine our hearts. We come here to recommit ourselves to being apprentices to Jesus. We recommit to going where he goes, doing what he would have us to do, and following his training regimen. We remember HIS love, and commit to train to love a little bit like him. We remember his sacrifice, and we remember to offer our lives as living sacrifices. We remember his grace, and we remember to accept his grace. We come to this table, and we remember Jesus, and we take this time to be near to him. To remember that our life is in Him. His blood shed for us. His body broken for us. That he offers us life, and life more fruitful and abundant than we could ever imagine.


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