BLOG – Training Smarter Not Trying Harder

Last year, John Ortberg (my favorite preacher), preached a sermon, "Feasting as Fasting" that wrecked me wonderfully.

 

In it he said:

How many of you could go out right now today and run (not walk, run) every step of a marathon? I'll put it a second way. How many of you could go out right now and run (not walk) every step of a marathon today if you tried really, really hard? Not many more.

Now my guess is a lot of us, maybe most of us, could eventually run a marathon if we did one thing, and that is to train. What does it mean to train? To train means I arrange my life around those activities that enable me to do what I cannot now do by direct effort. We tend to overestimate what we can do by trying really hard and underestimate what we can do by training. As a general rule (this is just wisdom about the human condition), transformation involves training, not just trying.

This is true in athletics. It's true of music or intellectual life. It is no less true of character formation or spiritual life. This is why Paul says, "...train yourself to godliness." This is why Jesus says, "The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher." So now the spiritual disciplines are practices or activities that train us or give us power to live in the goodness of the kingdom.

I know. Words like discipline or training are awful words. They just sound really unattractive. Who wants to do that? This is really key. Spiritual disciplines are not necessarily unpleasant. What discipline you need to practice depends on for what you're training. If you're training for a race, you will need to practice running. If you were training for a pie-eating contest, what would you need to do? You would need to practice eating a lot of pie. If you eat a lot of pie every day, a year from now, you'll be able to eat much more pie than you could today by trying really hard.

Please watch the whole thing or read the transcript if you want to be encouraged and fall in love with the Spiritual Disciplines.

As I ruminated on that insight, God showed me an incredible correlation between the Fruit of the Spirit and the Spiritual Disciplines.

According to Galatians 5:22, the Fruit of the Spirit are:

  • love, 

  • joy,

  • peace, 

  • forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 

  • gentleness

  • self-control.

Are you experiencing the spiritual fruit in your life?

Which ones are not coming?

Why are these fruit not coming?

  • Are you a Christian? Do you have the Spirit?
  • Are you cultivating the fruit of the flesh?
  • Are you cultivating the fruit of the Spirit?

Are you trying harder or training smarter to partner with Jesus to grow these fruit?

 

1 Corinthians 9:24-27, the Apostle Paul writes:

"Do 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. 25 Everyone 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. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."

The Apostle Paul wants us to train ourselves and order every area of our lives to cultivate the Fruit of the Spirit. I am not saying that we can produce the fruit any more than a farmer can make plants grow - ONLY GOD CAN DO THAT. But every good farmer still tills, fertilizes, waters, and tends while depending on God to provide the increase. We do the same spiritually. The tools, rhythms, or training exercises the Bible lays out for us are often called Spiritual Disciplines.

Here is a non-exhaustive list.

Spiritual Disciplines:

  • worship
  • study
  • prayer
  • service
  • evangelism,
  • fasting,
  • stewardship,
  • silence
  • secrecy
  • sabbath
  • solitude,
  • journaling,
  • learning.
  • confession,
  • accountability,

 

  • celebration,
  • affirmation,
  • meditation,
  • singing,
  • simplicity,
  • submission,
  • worship,
  • guidance,
  • hospitality,
  • gratitude.

Worship, Prayer, Study, Service – are basic assumed practices that inform all the fruit. But just as in atheletic training there are exercises that target certain muscle groups, so too in the spiritual realm there are certain exercises to target certain spiritual muscles (fruit). Let's briefly work through each Fruit of the Spirit and identify training exercises I can imploy to allow God to conform me to Jesus. 

Love:

  • Service – act lovingly until you love
  • Community – learn to love real people in all their messiness and be loved. Be in real enough community that you know annoying habits and love anyways
  • Evangelism – Supreme gift of love to share the gospel.
  • Worship – let God love you, so you can love others.
  • Hospitality -

Joy:

  • Celebration – Music, food, people, parties, celebrate every little thing
  • Gratitude – make a gratitude list
  • Worship – Enjoy God
  • Feasting – the world is more delicious than it has to be

Peace

  • Solitude – be alone with God.
  • Silence – Don’t speak, just let God speak.
  • Confession – guilty consciences know no peace
  • Prayer – carry all anxiety to God in a fear inventory

Forbearance

  • Accountability – intimate community of carrying one another’s faults and pushing one another alone. Covenant fellowship.
  • Confession – Admit your own faults to another human being to humble yourself when you want to judge others
  • Silence - hold your tongue regularly so you can hold it when angry
  • Community – carry other’s burdens.
  • Prayer – resentment inventories

Patience

  • Fasting – wait on food, you can wait longer than you thought
  • Service - intentionally put others ahead of you in checkout lines and parking spaces. Delay yourself to convenience others.
  • Silence – hold your tongue, save your words, quick to listen, slow to speak
  • Mediation – Stay open, listen without presenting requests to God.

Kindness

  • Service – Do something gracious and unseen
  • Stewardship – set aside money, so you don’t have an excuse not to bless someone
  • Affirmation – Speak life over others. Call out their God given gifts. Bless them.

Goodness

  • Accountability – Push one another towards godliness, set standards of life and hold one another up
  • Submission/Guidance – invite a wiser Christian to help you examine your shortcomings and grow you in Godliness.
  • Confession – name failures
  • Study – study God’s goodness, know his holiness, hide his word in your heart that you might not sin against him.

Faithfulness

  • Community – 90% of life is just showing up
  • Stewardship – Keep your commitments
  • Accountability – keep your word
  • Truth Telling – Yes/No

Gentleness

  • Submission/Guidance – Submit yourself to someone who is gentle and learn from how they respond to your mistakes and when you make them angry
  • Journaling – process your emotions before you speak and try on the words you will say
  • Silence – train yourself to hold your tongue

Self-Control

  • Fasting – say no and depend on God. You will not die if you do not sin.
  • Simplicity – live below your means
  • Stewardship – Give it away so you don’t have it.

 

Since Spiritual Disciplines are not regularly taught or trained, it maybe helpful to now define in brief outline what these disciplines are. For a further treatment PLEASE READ CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE BY RICHARD FOSTER or RUNNING ON EMPTY BY FIL ANDERSON.

Brief Explanation of Each Spiritual Discipline

  • Corporate worship– This is time in regular worship with others. IT involves singing, preaching, prayers, and fellowship. I never follow Jesus alone, and being with others trains me to defer to others’ needs and preferences, while forgiving and confessing faults.
  • Bible Study– We must schedule time to study God’s word. A simple method involves reading and writing a verse of Scripture and then answering the questions – What does this teach me about God? About humans? What command should obey? What example should I imitate? A more thorough Bible Study is called Inductive Bible Study and resources are available on our website and others to train one to study the Bible closely.
  • Prayer– Prayer should happen all the time, but I learn to pray spontaneously by praying regularly. I schedule time to pray often beginning and ending the day and at mealtimes. A simple recipe to structure our prayers is P.R.A.Y. – P.raise God; R.epent for Sin; A.sk for Others; and Ask for Y.ourself.
  • Service– In service, I intentionally serve other people, putting their needs above my own. I force myself to do things that are “below me” or menialto humble my pride and bless other people. I might take out the trash, clean the bathroom, or do the dishes.
  • Evangelism– Evangelism is the discipline of sharing God’s message with others. I train myself to do so by practicing telling my story and telling God’s story. I train myself to see opportunities to bring up Jesus in everyday conversations around my home, office, and play. Often these will come as I am honest about the ways Jesus has changed me.
  • Stewardship– In stewardship I budget my money as God’s money. I intentionally set aside God’s tithe and my offerings first. Then I set my savings and finally I delibertately prioritize my money to reflect God’s and my values and needs.
  • Fasting– Fasting is simply abstaining from food for a set period of time, during which I use my natural hunger pangs as an alarm clock for prayer. Everytime I get hungry, I remember I need Jesus more than I need food. I also replace my meals with times of Bible Study during which I feast on God’s word. I calculate the money I saved by skipping meals and give this away to the poor.
  • Silence– Silence is scheduled time without speaking or excess noise. These can be a few hours on a hike or a few days on a retreat. During periods of silence, I do not talk unless necessary, and I don’t turn on music or podcasts or use my electronics. This gives me room and time to hear God speak to me. I train myself to listen to others and to God. It trains me to value and measure every word I say.
  • Secrecy– Secrecy is the doing nice things without seeking others approval. I do so by doing acts of service or devotion that no one will ever know I’ve done. I can give in secret, study in secret, pray in secret or serve in secret because I am doing it for God and not for the approval of humans.
  • Sabbath– Sabbath is regular scheduled time of rest during which I refrain from my professional endeavors in order to be refreshed spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, and relationally. I am refreshed spiritually by extra time in Bible Study, prayer, and worship. I’m refreshed physically through sleep and relaxed schedule. I refresh emotionally by joy-giving recreation. I refresh relationally by either scheduling time away from people or with people depending on whether I am an extrovert or introvert.
  • Solitude– Solitude is not avoiding people, it is time spent with God. It is time scheduled to be alone with God, to give God my full attention. I can do this in a deerstand for a few hours or in a cabin for a few days. It is time, where I disconnect from others to plug into God. It is often helpful to disconnect from technology as well, though listening to worship music, sermons, or books can be powerful.
  • Journaling– There are a thousand ways to journal, but the two most common for Christians are to journal God’s Word in prayer or to write a letter to God. When journaling scripture, I write a verse and then start to write my associations with the words, imagines, and meaning of the verse. I journal questions about the verse to God and try to answer them witht the help of the Holy Spirit. I can journal “What does this verse teach me about God? About humans? What commands should I follow? What examples should I imitate? When writing a letter to God, I will parse my day, feelings, and thoughts before God. It can be helpful to follow the P.R.A.Y. recipe – P.raise; R.epent; A.sk for others; and ask for Y.ourself.
  • Learning– Learning allows me to make a plan to gather more information or training related to a particular area of my life. I might read a book or attend a conference or enroll in a class, but I set up a specific way I will learn more about Jesus, theology, history, or spiritual living.
  • Confession– Confession is telling God and another human being the exact nature of my faults. If I have wronged another person, I coness that to them and another in order to make amends.
  • Accountability– Accountability is a covenanted relationship among a small group of people to regularly confess sin and report on progress towards spiritual goals. This takes immense trust, because I cannot hide anything from these people.
  • Celebration– Celebratoin and feasting are times when I deliberately party to enjoy the Joy of the Lord. During times of Celebration, I eat good food, listen to good music, and do fun things to remind myself of the lavish generosity of God. I practice wonder and awe by attending to the beauty, flavor, and music of the world.
  • Affirmation– Affirmation is telling myself God’s promises and my God-given identity regularly to fight the lies I’m tempted to believe that I am worthless, stuck, and alone. I can write these messages on my bathroom mirror or Post-it notes, or I can memorize them and recite them daily.
  • Meditation
    1. Pondering/Chewing – In Western Spirituality (Judeo-Christian) mediation is pondering the Bible or a devotional slowly, savoring it like a meal. I roll it around in my mind like a gem in a rock tumbler. This is often less structured than Bible Study.
    2. Mindfulness – In Eastern Spirituality (Buddhist and Hindu) meditation is a self-emptying exercise or a mindfulness exercise used to train me to be aware of my emotions and thoughts in a nonjudgmental space. For Christians, I am never alone, and so mindfulness meditation is about cataloguing my emotions and thoughts before God, who does not judge me but empathizes with me. prayer, fasting, study,
  • Simplicity– Simplicity is intentionally living without things I can live without. It may mean eating less decadent meals, wearing less conspicuous clothing, driving a used car, or simply not buying the newest, baddest whatchamacallit. Historically Christians might cap their income at a comfortable living wage and give all money above that figure to the poor. Though an international spiritual superstar, John Wesley gave away all income above $30,000.
  • Submission– Submission is yielding to the leadership, direction, and judgment of another. The closest modern equivalent might be 12-Step Sponsors, who give advice and set schedules and even make decisions for someone in spiritual recovery. I yield to my mentor in all matters as a way of dying to my will and surrendering to God’s will.
  • Singing– Singing is a discipline. I train myself to worship God with my whole body whether I like it or am skillful. Singing trains me to do uncomfortable things for God’s glory and not the approval of others.
  • Guidance– Proverbs says that the “fool listens to his own counsel and thinks himself wise, but the wise submits to counsel and becomes wiser still.” Before big decisions, I consult more mature people who love God and love me.
  • Hospitality– Hospitality trains me to welcome others as if they were Jesus himself. I put their needs and comfort above my own. I can do this by hosting meals, housing travelers, or fostering children. I welcome them because they are loved by God and that is a big deal.
  • Gratitude– A gratitude list is a common means of inculcating a thankful heart. Everyday I write down 3 things for which I am thankful.

BLOG – Ash Wednesday and Giving Up Something for Lent

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which starts the season of Lent leading up to Easter. Practically that means for the next 6 weeks you’ll hear lots of people complaining or humble-bragging about “giving up ____.” You’ll be at the office and offer someone a homemade chocolate chip cookie, only to hear, “I can’t I gave up chocolate for Lent.” You’ll go to lunch meeting and someone will order a salad because, “I gave up meat for Lent.” People will moan about all kinds of things from Diet Coke to cussing, but what is Lent?

Lent and Ash Wednesday are not in the Bible, but for two millennia, Christians have found it helpful to take the 40 days before Easter to focus on Jesus by starting, restarting, or emphasizing certain spiritual practices, such as Bible Study, Private Prayer, Generosity, Celebration, Meditation, Journaling, Serving, Secrecy, or Silence.

Each of these exercises, also called disciplines, is a routine built into the rhythm of life to cultivate a love for Christ, a faith in Christ, and a character like Christ. The exercise of Bible Study floods my mind with messages from Jesus teaching me how Jesus feels about me. The exercise of Secrecy, in which I do kind things or spiritual things without anyone knowing about them, teaches me humility and helps me die to my constant need for approval. The exercise of Generosity, fights my innate greed, while training me in compassion and growing my faith as I find God is faithful to take care of my needs.

Likewise, the phrase, “giving something up for Lent”, and the accompanying practice is really just the cultural remnants of an ancient spiritual exercise called Fasting. Fasting is the crossfit of spiritual disciplines. Simply put, when I fast, I don’t eat and then I use my hunger to remind me to pray because I need Jesus more than food (discipline of Prayer). When I fast, I use my meal times for Bible study to feast on God’s Word (discipline of Study), and I give the money I did not spend food to the hungry (discipline of Generosity). When I fast, I don’t tell anyone I am fasting (discipline of Secrecy), and when asked if I’m going to eat, I simply respond, “I already ate before I came,” because I feasted on Jesus’ Word.

During Lent i.e. the 6 weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter, Christians will commit to one or more of these practices to remind them to talk to Jesus and savor his resurrection. They will get up early for a devotional or they will serve one day a week at a soup kitchen or they will simplify their diet by giving up chocolate or they will abstain from all food for one day a week. Whatever their commitment, it is best if it is regular, scheduled, and quantifiable. The goal is not suffering, but increased spiritual awareness.

I strongly encourage you to practice some new or old disciplines and routine this Lent. You can learn more about spiritual disciplines and Lent on line or in my favorite book, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. If you don’t know where to start, “Giving up something for Lent” is not a bad place. Every time you want that thing, crave that thing, or go without that thing, instead of complaining to your friend, talk to Jesus about what is going on in your day and all he has done for you.

This sermon on Fasting and the Spiritual Disciplines is one of the best things I have heard in a long time. Please take time to download it and listen to it.

 

Forget Yourself | Fasting | John Ortberg from Menlo.Church on Vimeo.

Recent Book Recommendations

Lately, I've recommended several books from eh pulpit. Reading has historically been one of the great tools for spiritual and theological growth in Christian lives. In fact, Christians historically supported and even provided public education to insure every child learned to read and write, so that they would have access to the incredible riches of the Scriptures and the Church's writings. While our culture is no longer the print-based society it once was, reading and meditating on that reading is still an awesome way to grow in the knowledge and faith of Christ. One of my first mentors used to ask me every time we met, "What are you reading?" Too which, he'd always follow up, "If you want to be a Spiritual Leader, you've got to always be reading." I was 18 at the time and hated reading, but slowly, I plodded through. 
So here are the recommendations, I made recently. 

Books for Lent

The Prodigal God

The Prodigal God is an extended meditation on the Parable of the Prodigal Father and Sons found in Luke. This is an incredible book for anyone looking to deepen or clarify their understanding of the Christian Gospel. Timothy Keller is clear, concise, and compelling; often swinging convicting sledgehammers of truth followed by soothing balms of gospel healing. I've read this book 4 times in the last year (3 times in 6 months). 

Prodigal-God-large

Celebration of Discipline

This book is a Christian Classic designed to teach Christians the skills (disciplines) they need to grow in grace and faith. This really is a primer for the basic practices of the Christian life, including prayer, fasting, study, meditation, simplicity, solitude, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. I love how Richard Foster surveys the Biblical verses, Church history, and modern practices to show the benefits of each discipline and the ways we can apply them in our lives. If you want to grow in PRACTICING your faith, in living it out, and in your personal relationship with Jesus, this is the book. 

51hs2cALpAL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_

Acorn – September 2015

Download the Newsletter and Check Out:
1.  "Touching the Filthy" a letter from Pastor Andrew
2.  Bible101 - How To Study the Bible
3.  Hear from Students that attended Camp Albemarle
4.  Check out all that is coming up this fall - Homecoming, New Members' Desserts, Sign Me Up (A Course for Youth), Stop Hunger Now, Fellowship Supper, etc. 
6.   A Glimpse from the Past by Shirley Watkins
7.   "Without Praying, You're Starving" by Kitty Nappen

Adobe PDF Logo

SERMON – Matthew 6:1-18 – The King’s Speech – Lost Treasures and Their Hidden Rewards

 

Matthew 6:1-18 - The King's Speech (Part 4)

Lost Treasures and Their Hidden Rewards

Preached by Andrew Ruth

In this sermon we discuss the lost treasures of the spiritual disciplines, especially alms, prayer, and fasting. Jesus assumed we would do these things, and we see in Acts 15, that when the church at Antioch did this things, God gave them a mission and a willingness that changed the world. We fast and pray because we want God to use Oakland like he used Antioch, to start a missionary movement that rocks the world and spreads the gospel to people not yet aware of Jesus' love and saving death.

Weekly Bible Reading Plan – July 19 – July 26

Matt 6.19-34 - Reading Slide - The Kings Speech (part 5)

 Questions to Guide You:

  1. Which verse in Matthew 6:19-34 grabs your attention? Which verse will you memorize?
  2. What does it look like to store up treasures on earth? In heaven? How can you better treasure Jesus this week?
  3. How are worry and faith related? How are money and worry spiritual problems? What does worry reveal about us and our relationships?
  4. Why do Matthew and Hebrews tell us not to worry and not to love money? How do you know when you’re in love with money?
  5. Americans are among the top 10% of wealthiest people on the planet, so we should pay attention to what the Bible tells “rich” people. What does Timothy tell the “rich” people in the church? What about James? Why the different approaches?
  6. How can you be a better rich person in the world and in the church?
  7. Both Proverbs 23 and Psalm 127, worn us about wearing ourselves out, how are you feeling right now? You are especially vulnerable to temptation when exhausted, so how can you rest and savor God’s goodness this week?

For a printer-friendly copy of this reading plan, including sample questions to augment your study of Scripture, Download the PDF. 

 

Weekly Bible Reading Plan – July 12 – July 19

Matt 6.1-18 - Reading Slide - The Kings Speech (part 4)

 Questions to Guide You:

  1. In Matt 6:1, Jesus warns us about practicing our religion in front of folks, but in Matt 5:16, he says let your light shine; what’s the difference?
  2. What assumptions does Jesus make about the role of giving, prayer, and fasting in our lives?
  3. What are alms? How should we give so that our left hand doesn’t know? To avoid ostentation?
  4. What do we learn about God and prayer from the Lord’s Prayer?
  5. How should you act while fasting? Who should know you are fasting?
  6. 1 Kings 18 and Neh 1 give us OT examples of prayer. What do you notice about how these men pray? Do they pray like Jesus? What relation do you see between fasting and prayer?
  7. Phil 1 and Col 4 are NT Prayers, pray them for someone in your life.
  8. Jesus assumes we will do these things. So, what time of day will you regularly pray? Maybe put a reminder in your phone. What day of the month will you give away money to the poor? Maybe put a reminder in your calendar. When will you fast next? Reminder?

For a printer-friendly copy of this reading plan, including sample questions to augment your study of Scripture, Download the PDF. 

 

A Call to Fast

Today at worship, Pastor Andrew called for a day of prayer and fasting to ask God to send us a worship leader and to use Oakland to do something amazing in Cleveland. Specifically, we’re asking all who are able are asked to fast from dinner on Sunday (7/5) to dinner on Monday (7/6). Those available are invited to an impromptu time of worship tomorrow night at 6PM, where we will break our fast with leftover pancakes and sausages. If you cannot make it, simply enjoy dinner tomorrow night with extra gratitude.

Strictly speaking that means not eating at breakfast and lunch tomorrow, though you may drink, in order to make time for prayer and scripture study. Remember the goal is not to “obey the rules” but to increase my mindfulness of God and my attentiveness to his plans. So those who cannot fast or choose not to, may choose some other way to encourage themselves to pray more throughout the day, such as eating simple meals, wearing a rubber band on their wrist, setting hourly timers on their phones, etc.

Fasting is not as common as it once was and so can be little known and often misunderstood. So let me finish this post with a few quick tips and then a link to a sermon I preached a while back on fasting.

Quick Tips:
1. The goal is Jesus – we do not fast to punish ourselves or to earn God’s favor. We fast because we need Jesus more than food, and this reminds us of that. 

2. Let hunger be a call to prayer – every time you feel hungry, start to pray. At meal times, when you would be eating, find some quiet space to read the Bible and pray. I find it especially helpful to write my prayers as letters to God, so that my hands are busy and my mind is focused (cause hunger can be a distraction). Pray specifically for a worship leader at Oakland, the Leaders at Oakland, Pastor Andrew, pray for families you know at Oakland, pray for members of your family, pray for people in your neighborhood, pray for neighborhoods, schools, and other churches in Cleveland by name. Pray for our nation. Ask God to use Oakland to increase our love for Jesus and Jesus’ fame in Cleveland. 

3. Fasting, doesn’t change God, it makes us more sensitive to God. So while praying spend sometime in silence listening to God. Sometimes I close my eyes and just listen to the sounds around me, the pictures in my head, and the words I just read in the Bible. It is amazing what will stand out. If you get distracted easily, try “spiritual doodling.”

4. Drink water and juice or gatorade through the day. I find these taste better, when I am fasting.

If you want more information about what Fasting is and isn’t, how to do it and why we do it, HERE is a sermon I preached a few years ago. If you want even more information about this and other spiritual disciplines, I strongly recommend Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline (it is AWESOME).