Putting Discipline Back Into Discipleship

 

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“Have we been so accustomed to cheap grace that we instinctively shy away from more demanding calls to obedience?” Richard Foster, The Celebration of Discipline

Every Christian feels the pangs of this statement. We know we need discipline, but it seems so anti-cultural, doesn’t it? At my church, we’ve been walking through this book together during Sunday School. It’d like to say it’s been riveting, but it hasn’t. It’s been awkward and uncomfortable–like breaking in a new pair of boots. It has shed light on the areas of my life that I really don’t want to change. And those areas are beginning to throw tantrums.

The topic this last Sunday was fasting. I would like to offer a few additional thoughts on spiritual discipline and fasting here in this post.

While teaching The Celebration of Discipline, attendance for SS has increased by -7%.

Nobody likes talking about self-discipline.

Fewer enjoy hearing about it.

Studying about it just makes it invariably worse.

And actually doing it feels as if we’re ascending Mt. Mordor with Frodo Baggins.

Here’s the trouble…

Our spirit—born again, the new creature, the recently elected Sheriff—attempts to bring order to an outlaw town. It’s Wyatt Earp in Dodge City.

Our body—motto: “do-whatever-feels-good-regardless-of-consequences”—demands compromise at every turn. It is a masterful diplomat constantly negotiating for its desires. It skillfully seduces.

Our soul—the emotions, intellect, and mind—is like a 3-year-old child in the backseat of the car. It’s along for the ride. We change it and train it over time.

Our flesh wants a truce between its own desires and the spirit’s holiness. But peace with our flesh is a defeat for our spirit. There can never be a truce.

There cannot be two masters.

The flesh must become the slave.

And when we notify the flesh of the spirit’s intention, we see it transform into what it really is: a spoiled child. Spoiled children do not need indulgence, they need discipline.

Enter the role of fasting. For all intents and purposes, fasting is abstaining from food and nourishing liquids for a determined amount of time.

It tells our flesh, “no.”

It establishes a hierarchy in the God-intended order of our being; spirit, soul, and body. Not the way that most westerners think; body, soul, spirit.

We see this battle unfold in one of the most poignant moments in the life of Jesus and His disciples. He’s in Jerusalem with The 12 and He foretells to His disciples what is about to transpire. Peter reacts to the news and blubberingly tries to convince Him to not go through with it.

Jesus snaps.

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16:23 ESV

In this scene, you can see the camera pan away from Peter and Jesus as it brings the other disciples into focus. Their faces are struck with terror. The harshness of Jesus’ words is startling. But it’s a harshness aimed at the flesh–not at Peter.

Set your mind on things of God. Set your spirit in its rightful place. Tell the flesh no. And in doing so our hearts are centered on God. In doing so the things that cling to us and control us are revealed.  And when they are revealed we look them square in the eye and say, “no.”

We don’t fast to get skinny.

We don’t fast to gain political power.

We fast to see God clearer.

BTW, Foster’s definition of “cheap grace” is this: grace without discipleship.

I’d like to phrase it another way; grace without discipline.

Let’s put the discipline back into discipleship.

Matthew 6:16
Matthew 25:6
1 Cor. 9:27
Ps. 35:13
Luke 2:37
Acts 13:2
Ps. 69:10
Zech. 7:5
Isaiah 58

Thoughts? Comment? Maybe share it? Eh? Ehh?

Pastor Jared

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Passing on Compassion

The temperature was in the single digits as the brisk northerly wind screamed over the frozen tundra of the Mississippi River and onto the property of my church. The forecast said that over the next 24 hours the temperature was going to plunge even more and I knew in my heart that if I didn’t do it now, it wouldn’t get done for days. So I did it. I bundled up and marched outside to change the letters on the church marquee. The blood vessels in my hands immediately constricted causing them to look like the sunken hands of a cadaver as my exposed fingers fiddled with the thin plastic letters. It was a moment of martyrdom.

The sign read, “Christmas Events:” and listed off the times for our Christmas Eve and Christmas Children’s program. As I stood there in the cold, I began calculating how many more months we had before Christmas 2014. It’s practically February already, would people really notice if it were left up? The bitter cold said, “No. No they wouldn’t.” But the better part of me decided to grin and bear it.

So in the spirit of concise-ness and anti-hypothermia, I spelled out, “Gratitude on the inside, Compassion on the outside.” It’s not original to me. I stole it fair and square from another unsuspecting church. But hey,

“…and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” Acts 4:32

(That still swings, right?)

Let’s parse it.

Gratitude on the inside

Gratitude is the prelude to worship. If this one characteristic could be at home in the heart of every Christian, most problems within the walls of the church would be immediately resolved. Gratitude and anger cannot co-exist. Gratitude and a sense of entitlement cannot co-exist. Gratitude and bitterness cannot co-exist. Let it define you. And as it defines you, it will define your church.

Compassion on the outside

There are a few books that I re-read on an annual basis. One is The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.  In the chapter on prayer he addresses the times when our prayers are seemingly ineffective:

“Often our lack is not faith but compassion. It seems that genuine empathy between the pray-er and the pray-ee often makes the difference. We are told that Jesus was “moved with compassion” for people. Compassion was an evident feature of every healing in the New Testament.”

Let me sum up what Foster was trying to say; Compassion is the soil of effective ministry.

Compassion is not a Christian elective. It’s a Christian distinction. We can’t take a pass on compassion.

How do we nurture compassion in our lives? Here are a few ideas:

1) Be humble. Think less of yourself and more of others.

2) Be broken. Feel the wounds of love and never let them heal.

3) Be vulnerable. Ministry hurts. Pain will be felt. Remember, Jesus chose Judas.

4) Be merciful. Remember God’s mercy for you and pour it out for others.

5) Be available. Ministry happens at inopportune times. The Kingdom life is never convenient.

Stay warm.

Watch the video below and comment, comment, comment, share, share, share…

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Come Home to the Kingdom

I can’t get enough of Jesus.

Not in a forgive-me-more-of-my-sins kind of way, but in a deeper way.

There’s something about Jesus that hits me the way a freight train hits a farm truck on a country railroad crossing. It’s devastating.

And He’s very unapologetic about it.

This Kingdom He brought isn’t candy coated nor does it have one of those looped handles that prevents choking like those suckers the pediatrician hands out.

It was meant to choke us. It was meant to draw dire contrast between how God has ordered His world and how we have learned to function within our world.

It stops us in our tracks like an old guard dog with raised hackles staring you down on a gravel road. You’d best change your route.

We have no example of a Disciple, Apostle, or willing bystander who was caught in Christ’s vortex of salvation who went on to live a life that was safe and tidy.

The Kingdom life is a mess. It’s mess because it demands that we dive into the crevasses and hidden folds of people’s lives. We touch their darkest areas. We lay our hands on rotting wounds. Our eyes sting with the sulfur of demonic deliverance. We’re surrounded by corpses whose hearts beat with the hope of life. These are our companions that accompany the Kingdom life.

If we are unwilling to touch a person at their worst, we will never see them at their best.

Be at home here.

To find ourselves at home within the Kingdom–and we should–we have to acknowledge that we are not at home here among a world that strives for riches, influence, and power.

Worldly cares take second place. Or third. or tenth.

Here in the Kingdom, we speak a language of compassion that when melded together with faith, creates a conduit for the power of the Holy Spirit to flow into the lives of the least-of-these.

“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Matthew 10:38-39 ESV

To embrace Christ is to embrace His life. And as we embrace His, we slowly lose ours. Then, incrementally, we find ourselves where we were always meant to belong; firmly planted into the Kingdom of God.

-Pastor Jared

 

As always, I invite you into a conversation. Share and comment.

 

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Advent Family Readings Week 4: Love

Download PDF version here

Sunday, December 22nd Reading: Is. 7:10-14

Immanuel means, “God with us”. It’s an incredible gift that God has given us. Because of Jesus, we have the Spirit of God living inside of us–at all times. We never have to feel lonely or scared or frightened. How have you sensed God with you?

Monday, December 23rd Reading: Matthew 1:18-2:2

The story of Jesus’ birth is great! It affected many people, even those who were not from Israel. The wise men were the first sign that God’s love and salvation was reaching outside of the Jewish people. How did the wise men react when they saw the baby? Can you spend a minute worshiping Jesus around the table tonight? Maybe sing O Come Let Us Adore:

“O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come, ye, oh come, ye, to Bethlehem
Come and behold Him, born the King of Angels

O, come let us adore Him. O come, let us adore Him.
O, come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord we greet thee. Born this happy morning
Jesus to thee be all glory given.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing

O, come let us adore Him. O come, let us adore Him.
O, come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

Tuesday, December 24th Reading: Luke 2:1-7

It seems as though Jesus was born without a party. Not many people seemed to notice. Bethlehem didn’t have a parade for Him or name a park in his honor. That’s how Jesus enters our lives. Quietly. But don’t be confused by his quiet entrance. He comes with enough force to change our lives from the inside out. He teaches how to love and worship God and live a life that helps those around us. All He wants from us is to ask Him to be King over our hearts and to live a life with Him. Have you done that? It really is the best decision you will ever make. Merry Christmas!

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Advent Family Readings Week 3: Joy

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Sunday, December 15th Reading: Luke 1:5-13

Joy is being able to see our hopes come true. Most of us wait all year long to see presents under the Christmas tree. We hope for them throughout the year, but to actually see them sitting there all wrapped up brings us a sense of Joy. We know our hopes are coming true! How much Joy do think Zechariah and Elizabeth had that day when God promised them the present of a son?

Monday, December 16th Reading: Luke 1:14-17

Do you know who this new baby is, yet? It’s John the Baptist. After John is all grown up, he’ll set the stage for Jesus by helping people grow their hope for Jesus. Israel had been waiting for Jesus for thousands of years. Imagine their surprise when they finally hear He is coming. Have you ever waited long for something? Did it make the moment more joyful when you experienced it?

Tuesday, December 17th Reading: Luke 1:18-25

One version says Zachariah’s tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth. Can you try to talk with your tongue stuck to the roof? It’s near impossible. When God tells us something great that He wants to do for us, it’s best to respond with Joy and Faith. What are some things God wants to do for you?

Wednesday, December 18th Reading: Luke 1:39-45

Can you imagine little baby John in his mom’s belly jumping up and down with Joy? It’s a funny image to have. If a tiny baby acts like this about Jesus, how excited should you be about Him?

Thursday, December 19th Reading: Luke 1:46-56

Mary was overcome with joy to the point that she began to praise God. When we allow the Joy of Christ to fill us, we will naturally begin to praise God. Praise is thanking God for what He has done for us. Can you take a minute and praise God for the things that He has done for you and your family?

Friday, December 20th Reading: Luke 1:57-66

The women didn’t want Zachariah and Elizabeth to follow God’s plan. But Z & E named him John as the angel had ordered them to. God needs for us to be faithful in His plan for our life. When we are faithful to God, people will notice and respond. (v65) What would you guess that God is calling you to do in your life? (It’s ok to let the kids dream a little)

Saturday, December 21st Reading: Luke 1:67-80

Prophecy is when God gives us things to say to other people to encourage them and help them. John’s dad prophesied over baby John. Do you think he was a proud dad? Sometimes when we pray, God will show us someone and then make us feel as though we need to speak to them. Can you take a few moments right now and each say something encouraging to someone around the dinner table?

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Advent Family Readings Week 2: Preparation

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Sunday, December 8th Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10

This passage is full of images of lions and lambs eating straw together and babies playing with cobras. What makes these images so special? Jesus brings peace and safety. In preparation to welcome Jesus, can you think of some things that cause you to be scared? How would you want Jesus to change your feeling?

Monday, December 9th Reading: Zechariah 6:12-13

The old prophets talked about Jesus as a royal King sitting on a throne in golden splendor and adornment. Do you think they would have been surprised to see how their royal King actually came to into our world? How do you think they imagined Jesus arriving?

Tuesday, December 10th Reading: Micah 5:2-4

God always works in ways that surprise people. He makes great things come out of small things. Jesus was born a poor baby in a small town much like Saverton, but God had a plan for Him that made Him “great to the ends of the earth.” God has a plan for you, too. A part of preparation is allowing God to make great things out of us–to allow Him to surprise us. Have you ever been surprised?

Wednesday, December 11th Reading: Malachi 3:1-6

Have you ever taken a bath and thought, “I can get away with not washing my hair?” But afterwards, your parents saw that you weren’t squeaky clean. Your parents weren’t mad, they just want clean kids. God likes squeaky clean kids, too–not just our bodies, but our lives. Are there areas of your life that you need God to scrub and clean for you?

Thursday, December 12th Reading: John 1:1-8

Like a parent opening the bedroom door in the morning to awaken us is the way God sent Jesus to be a bright light in a dark world. He is the Light. In preparation, we must allow more of God’s light into our lives. How can you open the curtains of your heart wider to let more light in?

Friday, December 13th Reading: John 1:-9-18

In Advent, we remember the coming of Jesus as a child born in a manger. But we also know that we are waiting for Christ to come again, a second Advent. The greatest way for us to prepare for His second coming is to make sure we are Children of God. How do we do this? By believing in Jesus and living our lives in a way that says, “God is my Father.” What else can you think of that would show others that you are Children of God?

Saturday, December 14th Reading: Mark 1:1-3

Have you ever tried skateboarding over gravel or ridden a bike over a fallen branch? What happens? In that same way, if we do not clear away the stones of sin and chunks of distraction from the road of our lives, it will be hard for God to do what He wants to do in us. What’s laying in your road?

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Advent Family Readings Week 1: Hope

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Sunday, December 1st Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5

How do you think the Israelites felt that aſter years of horrible suffering at the hands of foreign enemies God was going to bring them comfort, peace, and forgiveness of sins? Are there situations in your life where you are waiting in hope for God to rescue you?

Monday, December 2nd Reading: Isaiah 52:7-10

What made the people in this Scripture so happy that it caused them to sing for joy? Have you ever been so happy that you’ve sung for joy? This is why we sing praises when we come to church.

Tuesday, December 3rd Reading: Isaiah 40:9-11

Isaiah called Zion a “Herald of Good News.” Can you think of some newspaper headlines for this Good News?

Wednesday, December 4th Reading: Genesis 3:8-15 (also vs 16-24 with discretion)

When Adam and Eve sinned, we know that they were banned from the Garden of Eden and they were made so that they would eventually die. What else did they lose? How do you think God felt about this? What would Adam and Eve have hoped for? What would God have hoped for?

Thursday, December 5th Reading: Genesis 15:1-6

The word “righteousness” means someone is made right with God. There sins are forgiven. We see that with Abraham, God is beginning his plan to make people right–it is a plan He had all along. How do you think you fit into that plan?

Friday, December 6th Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-19 (Acts 3:18-23)

God hinted about Jesus a lot throughout the Old Testament. Every hint helped grow the Israelites’ hope. Why were they so hopeful about Jesus?

Saturday, December 7th Reading: Psalm 89:1-4

God loved King David very much, so much so that He caused Jesus to be one of David’s great great great great great great great great grandsons. God rewards faithfulness. That’s something we can hope in.

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Making an Adventure Out of Advent

adventI was tired of Christmas feeling like a drive-by shooting; a loud bang, then all of a sudden I feel really tired and have an overwhelming sense of having been robbed.

But there’s a different way, an ancient way, to make the moments of the holiday season more meaningful, more present.

Instead of just celebrating a baby born in a manger, we baptize ourselves into the awkward hope of mankind in waiting for a Wonderful Counselor. A Mighty God. An Everlasting Father. A Prince of Peace.

For four weeks leading up to Christmas day, we become captive Israel on the cusp of deliverance.

In Advent we find the whole story of a world in anxious and unsettled anticipation of redemption. On Christmas we find redemption.

It’s classic tension and release.

On our dining room table, we have very simple wreath with 5 candles stuck in it very precariously. 4 around the ring; 3 purple and 1 pink. And one white candle in the middle.

The wreath stands for the eternal faithfulness of our God. The 4 candles in the perimeter stand for the weekly themes; hope, preparation, joy, and love. The center candle is the Christ candle to be lit on Christmas Eve.

So as a family, every night starting December 1st, we gather around our dinner table and light the week’s candle. Then, we read a small portion of Scripture, discuss, and pray. 3 minutes.

And in doing so we find that Christmas walks in through the front door. It is welcomed into our home and sits down at the table with us as an invited guest. We spend time with it.

It’s not in a hurry.

We may miss a night or two or three and maybe not understand a Scripture here or there. But that’s ok.

Advent serves us. We don’t serve Advent.

It’s a journey. It’s an adventure. It is not about ritual or works. It’s about Christ, our soon coming King.

If you would like to celebrate Advent along with us at Saverton Community Church, download the weekly readings here. If you are in the Hannibal area, consider worshiping with us. Sunday School is at 9:00AM and Worship is at 10:00AM. We have ministry for all ages. For any more information, use the contact link above. God bless and Merry Christmas!

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Christian Immigration

ChristianImmigrationI use the term “God-life” a lot. I’m not sure where I picked it up. It’s a bit awkward in how it rolls off the tongue.

I think it means the life that God has called us each to live. You’re doing what you’re supposed to do. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. And together, we all find blessing and contentment in the God-life.

Paul hit on it when he said, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.”

The problem is, most of us aren’t. We don’t like life-long assignments, especially ones that are ingrained. If we drive on a road too long and too far we start looking for exit ramps. It’s too constricting. It feels too “Matrix-y”. We want to have a voice in how our life plays out. And all-too-often that voice says “no.”

Haggai states it well when he says,

“Take a good, hard look at your life. Think it over. You have spent a lot of money, but you haven’t much to show for it. You keep filling your plates, but you never get filled up. You keep drinking and drinking and drinking, but you’re always thirsty. You put on layer after layer of clothes, but you can’t get warm. And the people who work for you, what are they getting out of it? Not much – a leaky, rusted-out bucket, that’s what.” –The Message

Another version says to “consider your ways”

So consider your ways.

If God is looking at your marriage, your job, your children, your relationships, your finances, your management style, your ethics, can you hear him say, “How’s that going for you?”

If your answer is sheepish, good. Being dissatisfied with how your life is playing out is the first step towards the God-life. Your appetite has to diminish for the cumbersome world you’ve created, and it must increase for the world of God’s grace.

Then, repent.

Repentance is not an emotion. It’s not feeling sorry for your sins.

It’s a decision

Of repentance, Eugene Peterson says,

It is deciding that you have been wrong in supposing that you could manage your own life and be your own god; it is deciding that you were wrong in thinking that you had, or could get, the strength, education and training to make it on your own; it is deciding that you have been told a pack of lies about yourself and your neighbors and your world. And it’s deciding that Jesus Christ is telling you the truth.

Repentance is our permission for God to bring us home.

I spoke on this this past Sunday and I called it Christian Immigration—which in hindsight is about the most boring title possible. (Confession: I don’t title things well. If I had to write an article on the new Ferrari FF, I would probably title it, “Car”. Or if I felt creative, I would go for “Cool Car.” I’m called the Great Understater.)

If the exodus was Israel leaving their bondage and slavery and wildly inaccurate view of the God-life, then Christians have a similar exodus to partake in. Our slavery isn’t at the hands of Egyptian taskmasters, but rather in our culture’s rapacious grip on our minds and souls. We’re busy and competitive and we let the culture lull us into a self-satisfaction wrought with our own hands and a few credit cards. The American dream is to buy what you want then get stressed out in working to pay for it. And our churches have followed suit. Go, go, go. More, more, more.

Consider your ways.
Count the cost.
Change. Repent.

Seriously. Stop it.

We all feel the pull of the God-life. It’s a life lived in simple attention to God. Simple attention turns into simple obedience. Simple obedience turns into deep satisfaction.

I’m going to have a follow up to this post later this week, but I’ll hold here for now.

Before I go, let me quote a unicorn. From one of my favorite children’s book, C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle,

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”

We need the voice of this unicorn in our life often. God has provided that in the form of a pastor.

If you have no pastor, I would like to submit myself to you for consideration. And while you are considering things, please consider Saverton Community Church as your home.

As always, comment and share, por favor.

Love,
Pastor Jared

 

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The Maple Syrup Sabbath

syrupI’ve recently commandeered the breakfast duties in my home. And today I thought I would try a french toast recipe. I’ve never made french toast before. Two hours later I regretted it.

The directions said to take them off the skillet–who’s temperature settings were a pure demonic lie–and put them in the oven for 8 minutes to make them puff.

Puff.

They never puffed. I didn’t know french toast was supposed to puff.

So they were eventually done-ish and we plated them and I began the glorious task of drowning them with copious amounts of maple syrup.

Our bottle of syrup isn’t one of those fancy glass bottles in the shape of an antebellum woman with a turban on her head, rather it’s one of those 25 pound bottles you get at the local bulk foods store. In the winter time, people put these things in the back of their pickups for more weight for better traction. Seriously.

So I grabbed it by the handle and held it upside down over my 2 pieces of french toast and the syrup began to flow thick and fast. “Great,” I thought. “If it flows like this, I won’t have to squeeze it with the force of a garbage compactor and make it come out any faster.” It was a beautiful and efficient stream of manmade nectar.

Then a funny thing happened.

As I finished filling up one syrup pond on my first piece I moved it to the second and noticed the flow became slower. And thinner.

I did nothing different. I was still holding it by the handle. Still exerting the same amount of energy.

My maple syrup wasn’t flowing the way it was.

Curious, I turned the bottle upright and as I did, it took a big gloppy breath.

A breath.

It inhaled.

I turned it back over and it once again started pouring with the same magnitude it had at the first. I was overjoyed.

Then I began wondering how many times in life I was being poured out and my torrent of a river ebbed to a trickle. My efficiency deteriorated and my effectiveness became all rusty.

I was tired, mopey, and depressed.

Maybe I wasn’t using the right technique. Maybe I needed to squeeze myself more to work harder. Maybe it was my wife’s bad attitude. Maybe the lunar cycle was off kilter. Maybe if my kids were more obedient. Maybe if I finally got that raise…then I would flow the way I used to.

Or maybe–like the giant bottle of syrup–I just need a breath. A gloppy inhale of God’s life causing a quick and snappy reorienting of my life.

Maybe I need a regular Sabbath, an invitation into God’s rhythm of rest and life.

Maybe you do too.

And yes, I just wrote a blog post about maple syrup.

I may need another cup of coffee.

I like leisurely conversation, so please comment below and share, share, share.
Love, Pastor Jared

 

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