I’ll admit scripture memorization hasn’t been my thing. In Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life he brings up how Jesus was able to stand the temptations of the devil by quoting Scripture. What he didn’t mention though was all the scripture Jesus quoted was from Deuteronomy. Think Deuteronomy is an old boring book of the Old Testament? Apparently there’s enough there to ward of the devil! Maybe you should reconsider reading it?
So much strangeness. Two weeks ago my Spiritual Transformation professor had a family emergency, and couldn’t make class. Last week he was out of town. This week the corona virus has got everything closed down.
I’m having a bit of a struggle internally/spiritually with what should the response of a church (any church really) be in light of what the government and health authorities have asked us to do. “Stay home. Don’t go out. Don’t be around people.” But we’re the church. We’re a community of believers, right? How do we be in community if we can’t be together.
Sure, there are other options. Online sermons. Email. Texts and messages and whatnot. But it’s not the same. And who is this God we get together and talk about each week? Did He say things like “be strong and courageous?” Didn’t he hang out with lepers? Are we doing “super important things” when we get together? If so, how can we toss it aside so easily? Boop. No church this week. No prayer meeting. No Sunday School. Shut it all down because someone might get sick.
Now saying that, I don’t want to minimize those with weakened immunity. Or the aged, or any other at risk group. Those people need to be encouraged to stay home. I get it. But how about smaller groups? How about 10 people at a time get together, sing a hymn, pray, have a devotion, and do church-y stuff–maybe for a smaller number of minutes with a smaller number of people–but still get together in community?
So I’m conflicted. And I will leave this here, a public testimony to not knowing what the right thing to do is. I’ll do know this much–I’m not happy about not being with my church community.
I’ve decided to write my spiritual transformation paper on my experiences with fasting. I’m going to compare/contrast abstaining from food (something I do somewhat regularly) and abstaining from speaking (something I’ve never done). I’m working on a plan for an 8 hour speaking fast, and trying to work some stillness and solitude in at the same time.
While walking the most perfect dog in the world this morning (that dog being Deuteronomy James Reed Batty), I had some thoughts about how this slowing/no speaking fast is going to work. Concerns is a better word.
How am I going to walk this dog without speaking to him? “Come on” is a word frequently used when walking a Labrador. One thought I had about how to not say “Let’s get going, Deut” is to slow down, and let him sniff for as long as he wants, at all the places he wants. That will cause me to be slow, for sure! I wonder how much time I should plan on adding to my walk if I let him take as much time as he wants.
Silence and Solitude is an interesting idea to me, and not a spiritual discipline I’ve participated in before. This morning, I’ve tried to do things a little more quietly, and a little more slowly than normal. And yet, I have a day ahead of me that needs my attention. Here are some quick thoughts I need to come back to.
- Let your yes be yes and your no be no. It’s better to not vow than take a vow and break it.
- When you fast, don’t let anyone else know about it. When you pray, don’t make a big show of it.
- How can one participate in silence when one’s livelihood depends on communication? If I were to all of a sudden go silent, surely people would notice.
Perhaps a modified silence? There are modified fasts. I’m thinking a “only speak if spoken to” day of silence.
I wake up at 4:30am. By 4:45 I’m out the door, walking the dog, listening to the previous week’s prayer meeting’s prayers on my phone. When I’m in the shower I’m listening to podcasts, probably RC Sproul or more recently NT Wright. On the way to work I listen to the gospels on the car radio from my phone. Before 8am, I’ve already listened to three different kinds of media, had a walk, a shower, prayer time, Bible reading, and school text book reading. I can pack a morning pretty good.
And so this morning, as I read about the spiritual discipline of slowing down, and of silence, I wonder. This idea isn’t practiced by me. I’m busy. I realize I’m too busy. I’ve tried to say “no” to things over the past few years, but it seems even though I’m saying “no,” the calendar just fills up.
I have to write a paper for my spiritual transformation class. It’s a pretty open ended paper. The professor is very flexible. He’s so open it’s almost scary; how do I write a 15 page paper on “spiritual transformation” in general? I’ve got to whittle it down somehow. And right now I think I’ll try some spiritual disciplines I don’t normally practice, and write about my results. I already have an idea for my first shot at silence/solitude.
Just a quick thought this morning. Is “love” a spiritual discipline? I think it may be. It’s a spiritual gift, for sure, a fruit of the Spirit. If I don’t have enough of it, do I need to “practice” it? Should I set time aside in my day to love people, just as I set time aside to pray and read my Bible? Is God less pleased with me if I skip my Bible reading time and instead send a card to someone who is dying, or offer some answers to a questioning brother? I know I don’t love like I should (1 Cor. 13:2). Wouldn’t it make sense for me to strengthen myself in areas where I am weak, rather than continuing to work in areas where I’m already fairly gifted? I’m leaving this here for further reflection. I’m now going to send a text to someone who blesses me and give God glory on their behalf, and to answer the message of a friend who is hurting. My school studies will wait.
For the past few years I’ve participated in some form of Lenten “fast.” While my church tradition (Baptist) doesn’t usually participate in Lent, I’ve found it a good spiritual discipline. I use it in two ways: 1) I give up something I like in an effort to spark attention towards more spiritually weighty matters, and 2) I try to pick up a good habit by spending the time normally taken up by item 1 with something better. For example, one year I gave up secular music* and podcasts. I didn’t listen to jazz or pop music, only to Christian music. I didn’t listen to Click and Clack or the Modern Drummer podcast or any of my other normal podcasts. I listened only to Christian podcasts. So I let go of something I liked, and replaced it with something more spiritually substantial.
Lent starts this Wednesday, and I’m considering what to do this year. As I contemplate, the following scriptures keep coming to mind.
- A sacrifice must cost you something. You can’t give up something you don’t care about, and expect it to bring you a heightened spiritual awareness. I don’t normally drink alcohol. Therefore, abstaining from alcohol isn’t going to cost me anything. No big whoop. There will be no craving, and therefore nothing to trigger my brain; I can’t say “Man I wish I could have a beer, but I can’t so I’ll pray instead” because I’m not going to be wishing for beer. It’s not something I care about, so giving it up will be of no value. “I can’t offer the LORD my God a sacrifice that cost me nothing.” (2 Sam. 24:24)
- Make sure your Lenten fast, though sacrificial, is attainable. “It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.” (Ecclesiastes 5:5) Consider carefully what you say to God you will do. I’ve never given up coffee for Lent. Since losing over 100lbs 10 or so years ago, coffee has become my drink of choice: no calories. I can’t imagine not drinking coffee for over a month. I don’t want to make a promise I can’t keep. I shan’t be giving up coffee this year. Perhaps some year I’ll be spiritually strong enough to do it. Until then, I’ll choose to abstain from something that “hurts,” but I won’t pick something that I think is going to cause me to stumble in my vow.
- Don’t make a big deal about your fast. See Matthew 6:16 and following verses. Don’t try to impress people with your piety. Don’t make a show of it. When I’m fasting, usually no one knows by me and God. In fact, I don’t even usually tell my wife about what I’m up to. As you consider your Lenten fast, think about doing it in such a way that’s private in an effort to keep your pride in check. Or maybe it’s just me that struggles with pride. 😉
*As a musician, I gave myself a specific out clause on my music fast. If there was a gig I had to play, and I had to learn music I didn’t know, I allowed myself to listen to those particular songs for the sake of my livelihood. Other than that limited example, it was all Christian music and spiritual podcasts.
When God called Moses from the bush, Moses stopped what he was doing, and paid attention to where God was calling him. He “turned aside” from one thing in order to be present at a better thing.
Yesterday, I was talking with a new believing Christian friend. She admitted she was having a dry spell in her Bible reading, and that she didn’t feel as connected to God as she once did. I asked her where she was reading, and she admitted she was just poking around in the Bible, not really reading anything in particular. I told her maybe she should consider reading John’s gospel, and just meditating on that for a while.
This morning, I had an idea. How about I “turn aside” from my normal Bible reading (which right now is 1st Chronicles), and I read John along with her. I’ve pitched her this idea: I’ll read John, a chapter a day, Monday through Friday. That will get us through John in a little over a month. Each morning, after I’m done reading, I’ll send her an email with some basic thoughts and comments, and she can email me if she has any bigger questions. Let’s see how this goes.
And now, thinking about this, the time I’ll be using to write this email will be time I normally use to study for my Doctrine class. How am I going to make this all fit? Let’s see how God works through this, in her and in me. I’ll report back later.
Just yesterday I was bemoaning having to read the genealogies found at the beginning of 1st Chronicles. Today’s reading in chapter 4 brought me the Prayer of Jabez.
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I mentioned a few weeks ago that my Spiritual Formation and Transformation class required the keeping of a journal. Today, in my study time, the chapter for the class was all about the spiritual benefits of keeping a journal. Having kept a blog for years, the idea of journaling isn’t new to me, nor some of its benefits. Much of my Facebook posting (www.facebook.com/billyrhythm) is journaling, in a sense. In fact, I hope someday someone will make a tool that will allow me to export all that data from Facebook, and import it all here. I haven’t found such a plugin or software yet, though.
Anyway, during my morning study time, in addition to reading for my classes, I do my daily Bible reading. My Bible reading plan has been the same for years. First, get a Bible. Second, start at the front. Third, read through it until you get to the end. Fourth, start over.
It wasn’t too long though before I refined my plan some. After reading the King James version, I moved to the NIV. I’m not sure from whom I stole the idea, or if it came to me organically, but I decided to switch between “word for word” and “thought for thought” translations; first one, then the other. I also decided I’d read study Bibles, and in addition to reading the Biblical texts I would also read all the notes.
Currently, I’m reading the Reformation Study Bible in the ESV version. My previous pastor considers himself a reformed Baptist, and is a huge fan of John Calvin. I consider myself a traditional Baptist, and don’t hold to the TULIP theory. I decided to read the Reformation Study Bible though because of it’s copious notes, and because I wanted a better idea of the beliefs of Calvinists.
Five paragraphs in now, and here’s the whole reason I started this particular entry. In my Bible reading I just started I Chronicles. I never have issues slowing down in Leviticus; heck, I like reading Leviticus. But having read the Bible multiple times, I know I always feel like I have to slog through certain sections. The description of the new temple at the end of Ezekiel is a tough passage for me to get through, and the first nine chapters of First Chronicles. It’s the genealogy. Ugh. I admit, I find it hard to find the practical value of this portion of scripture. I’m reminded of something I learned in my homeletics class: “Preach Christ in every sermon.” When was the last time you heard a sermon from Chronicles? Have you ever heard a sermon from the the first part of Chronicles? I’m not sure I have. Why not? Probably for the very reason I have a hard time reading it: What’s the practical application for us today?
First Chronicles chapter two, here I come.