Friday, November 20, 2009

Spiritual Disciplines - do they hurt?

This is last week's Sunday School lesson . . . .Spiritual Disciplines. . . .another of my favorites. When some folks hear the term “Spiritual Discipline,” their mind immediately jumps to the idea of a frail old saint who has been fasting for weeks while sitting on top of a pile of ashes wearing sack cloth. (found that phrase on someone else's blog - give him the credit!!) Most of us know that is not the case. As a matter of fact, we’ve studied Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline in this class, not just once but twice. I went to pull my book off the shelf and look how old it has become. As a matter of fact, there is a note written in the book in my handwriting that says, “Pack – Monday, October 16 at 7:00 p.m.” This wasn't a note to self to pack for a trip. Glenn was in Cub Scouts in kindergarten, first and second grade. He’s in grad school now and will be 23 this week. I started teaching in John Wesley around that kindergarten/first grade year so we must have studied this for the first time way back then. Sorry – I didn’t mean to get off on that but found it amazing!

What is the purpose of spiritual disciplines anyway? The purpose of spiritual discipline according to Richard Foster is not to make life miserable but joyful, not to put us in bondage but to set us free, not to confine but to liberate. The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths. We must not be led to believe that the Disciplines are only for spiritual giants and hence beyond our reach, or only for contemplatives who devote all their time to prayer and meditation. God intends the disciplines of the spiritual life to be for ordinary human beings; people who have jobs, who care for children, who wash dishes and mow lawns. God intends the disciplines for regular folks just like all of us. The spiritual disciplines are for each of us.

Spiritual Disciplines have been compared to the process a farmer goes through when he plants a crop. He cultivates the land, plants the seeds, and then continues to care for the seeds – watering, hoeing, etc – until they mature for harvest. The process of cultivating, planting and caring for the seeds allows the seed to grow into what they were meant to become. As Christians practice spiritual disciplines, we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us so that we may grow into what God means for us to become. (From Following Jesus book)

As we practice the disciplines, we allow the Holy Spirit to change and refine us into Christ's image and we will become the person whom God wants us to be. Using the spiritual disciplines is much more than going through an activity as part of a daily “to do” list. In the Baptist church where I grew up, our offering envelopes had a place to mark with a check -- "Daily Bible Reading" - I loved to mark that one off. But the disciplines aren't a check list. The disciplines are not an end in themselves or a way to earn favor with God. They are tools that help us seek God, get to know Jesus better and to live life as he taught.

Colossians 1:10 from the Amplified Bible says, “10That you may walk (live and conduct yourselves) in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him and desiring to please Him in all things, bearing fruit in every good work and steadily growing and increasing in and by the knowledge of God [with fuller, deeper, and clearer insight, acquaintance, and recognition].

We, as Christians, should be growing and increasing in the knowledge of God – head, heart and hand knowledge.

Just out of curiosity, why do you think that God didn’t make spiritual growth automatic? (discussion about working for something)

We’ve spent weeks on the disciplines before and this week, we are just going to do a quick run through. I’ve compared the list in Following Jesus with Richard Foster’s list and we are going with his. The two lists were almost identical. Following Jesus includes journaling and one other. Foster just divides his into such logical categories which makes them easier to discuss. Foster says there are The Inward Disciples of meditation, prayer, fasting and study. The Outward Disciplines are simplicity, solitude, submission and service. The Corporate Disciplines are confession, worship, guidance and celebration.

Meditation – The purpose of meditation is to enable us to hear God more clearly. Meditation is listening, sensing, heeding the life and light of Christ. Meditation is more about reflecting than studying, more about listening than thinking. In the midst of an exceedingly busy ministry Jesus made a habit of withdrawing to a “lonely place apart.” He did this not just to be away from people, but so he could be with God. Jesus sought out his heavenly Father and he listened to him and spent time with him. Christian meditation is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word. According to Richard Foster, this is an important fact to know. Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind; Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind with Christ. The two ideas are very different. One way to meditate is to take a verse or passage of scripture. Read it and then seek to live the experience by using all our senses. Smell the sea. Hear the lap of water along the shore. See the crowd. Feel the sun on your head. Touch the hem of his garment. We do a little of that in Disciple classes and I always enjoy it but I don’t tend to meditate much at home. Definitely a discipline where I need work. How about you?

Prayer – The discipline of prayer takes us right into God’s presence. In real prayer, we begin to desire the things that God desires and to love the things that God loves. Do you have a time set apart each day to spend time in prayer? There are so many different ways to pray. There are breath prayers – an easy one to remember is, “Jesus, son of God” as you inhale and then as you exhale, “have mercy on me” or “Jesus, son of God” “give me strength” or “Jesus son of God” “protect my children” – whatever your need is for that day. I also want to remind you that our prayers can be much broader than our own family. Our pastors and church services need to be bathed in prayer. Anytime someone tells me they are not “getting anything out of the sermons” I want to ask them, “are you praying for the preacher?” Then, "are you praying to receive something?" If not, don’t complain. I’m not usually bold enough to ask those questions but I always want to do so. If you are out and about during the week, the Mouat Chapel is open daily during business hours for prayer. When you have a minute, come by the church and spend some time in prayer. If you want to pray with someone else, Donna Burgess and Herb Griffin meet every Tuesday at 2:00 in the Mouat Chapel for prayer. They would love for you to join them.

Fasting – how many of you have ever fasted before? Mark and I have fasted a few times over the years. Mark fasted several years before I did and I must admit that he was mean as a snake that first time!! More than any other Discipline fasting can reveal the things that control us. Fasting can be done in many different ways – there are partial fasts, liquid only fasts, 12 hour fasts. Fasts can also be from things. One year, our family fasted from TV during Lent. I received an email from a close friend this week and she is fasting from critical words. Listen to this from a devotional she shared with me:
Fast Of Words: A Different Kind Of Fast
Time and again God brings me to my knees over my heart attitude expressed out of
my mouth. More than once, God has led me to fast of negative, critical, judgmental,
and complaining words. Why a fast of words? Is that a legitimate application of
fasting? The Hebrew word fast means to cover the mouth. For me, it is harder to
fast from words than from food. Abstaining from negative words may be as powerful
as fasting from food, because it is a particular battlefield for most of us.

Study – Romans 12:2 says, “2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” I love that verse. I also love the discipline of study. Study doesn’t involve just reading either. There are books and lectures and formal Bible studies. We can study the world of nature and events and actions and other people. Study involves four steps –The first is repetition. I know y’all think that I reuse stuff and repeat stuff a lot in this class, but we learn by repetition. Concentration is the second step of study. Comprehension is the third step. Comprehension is when the light bulb goes off. AHA! Then there is reflection. Reflection defines the significance of what we are studying or have studied. I highly recommend signing up for any of the studies we offer at Trinity. If I’m not teaching or taking a class, I don’t study. My Bible sits nicely on the dining room table waiting on me. I have to have the discipline of study in order to study.

Those were the inward disciplines – meditation, fasting, prayer and study.

Simplicity is the first of the outward disciplines we will discuss. The Christian Discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward life style. Matthew Sleeth came and spoke at Trinity recently about his book, “Serve God Save the Planet.” I think he probably practices the discipline of simplicity. Some of the church staff went to a workshop on Tuesday and we took a test which determined our style of worship. There were 9 different types and the author had signs around the room and as he called out your style, you went to stand under the sign. He came to one style which reminds me of simplicity - ascetic. And there was only one person out of maybe 100 who had that as his #1 answer after taking the test. I think that might be indicative of our society. The term ascetic describes a person who abstains himself from all the worldly pleasures. Sounds a little like simplicity to me.

I found this on a website while working on the lesson: The people who are ascetic can be said to do so for some higher goals they want to achieve in their life. They want to be the perfect embodiment of purity and spirituality and on the way to make a connection with God. Though the term is a part of the dictionary, it is almost impossible to get that kind of person in flesh and blood. The whole world is so much indulged in worldly pleasures that hardly anybody thinks about something to attain much higher than what he could not see with his own eyes but only can experience and that experience also comes after a lot of effort.

After the workshop on Tuesday and after reading this, I think that many of us might need to work on simplicity.

Solitude – solitude could actually be called the discipline of silence just as easily. We are so accustomed to relying upon words to manage and control others. If we are silent, who is going to be in control? God perhaps? We fear so deeply what we think other people see in us that we talk in order to straighten out their understanding. I’ve done that at least four times in the last two weeks. Silence is one of the deepest disciplines of the spirit simply because it puts the stopper on all self-justification. As Christians, we need to discipline ourselves to keeping our mouths shut sometimes.

Submission – The discipline of submission has been more abused than any other. Jesus came to set us free from bondage, but as humans we are continually messing it us. The freedom that comes with the discipline of submission is the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way. Show of hands - how many of you like to get your own way? The obsession to demand that things go the way we want them to go is one of the greatest bondages in human society today. People will spend weeks, months, even years in a perpetual stew because some little thing did not go as they wished. In the discipline of submission we are released to drop the matter, to forget it. The biblical teaching on submission focuses primarily on the spirit with which we view other people. We are free to value all people. Submission comes from putting self out of the way and putting on Christ. Mark 8:34 says, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Service – Jesus lived out servanthood in such an example. Jesus then calls us to follow in his footsteps serving others. We need to discover our spiritual gifts that we talked about last week and then live daily using those gifts to serve. We must remember the difference between choosing to serve and choosing to be a servant. When we choose to serve, we are still in charge. We decide whom we will serve and when we will serve. When we choose to be a servant, we give up the right to be in charge. Mark and I are involved in the Emmaus community, as are some of you. When you are asked to serve on an Emmaus team, you are to be a servant. Someone else’s needs should always be before your own. That can be difficult because we are such an egocentric, “I want it” kind of culture. We are called to be servants.

The outward disciplines are simplicity, solitude or silence, submission and service.

Our last disciplines are considered corporate disciplines. They are confession, worship, guidance and celebration. Confession is a difficult discipline for us because we all too often view the believing community as a fellowship of saints before we see it as a fellowship of sinners. We cannot bear to reveal our failures and shortcomings to others. And when we do, sometimes the response is not what we expected. Not too long ago, I had to tell a small white lie to a church member. It was a very awkward situation. I struggled and struggled and I finally went to Dave Barnhart and said, “I need to confess something.” I shared my story with him and he was so gracious. He told me another ancient story about something similar. When we finished talking, I felt so much better. It doesn’t have to be a preacher though – a trusted friend will work. Praying about it should come first but sometimes just talking to another human helps.

Worship – one of my favorite disciplines. To worship is to know, to feel, to experience the resurrected Christ in the midst of the gathered community. This is a discipline that we can all practice at least once a week. Make coming to church a priority for your family. Coming to church should trump all other Sunday activities. We corporately gather to worship God not only because of who He is, but also because of what He has done. Worship at home or in private is good and does occur, but corporate worship is important. We are to gather together and praise God. If Sunday worship is not a discipline you practice regularly, I encourage you to start by setting your alarm clock each and every Sunday morning.

To me, it sounds funny to say that guidance is a corporate discipline. I think of guidance as one on one. But on Wednesday nights, we are studying Genesis and Exodus and God led the children of Israel out of bondage as a people. They were not just a gathering of individuals who happened to be going in the same direction; they were a people under the rule of God. That makes sense when we think of the Body of Christ and last week’s lesson on our gifts. When we all come together and pray for the common good of the church, our town, the world we receive guidance as a group. Dallas Willard states, “The aim of God in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons, with himself included in that community as its prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.”

Last but certainly not least is the discipline of celebration. Celebration is central to all the spiritual disciplines. Without a joyful spirit, the disciplines become dull, death-breathing tools in the hands of modern Pharisees. Without joyous celebration to infuse the other disciplines, we will sooner or later abandon them. Joy produces energy. Joy makes us strong. The decision to set the mind on the higher things of life is an act of the will. That is why celebration is a discipline. If celebration is primarily a corporate discipline, how is it practiced? One way to practice celebration is through singing, dancing and shouting. (woo hoo! - hands up!!) Well that would go over really big at Trinity wouldn’t it? At that same workshop I mentioned earlier – the one I went to on Tuesday – my native style of worship – the one that is hiding somewhere within me – is enthusiastic. To be honest, I’m not really surprised. I love a good celebration. We are moving into the season of commercial celebrations but we can celebrate our God during Thanksgiving and Christmas. What a novel idea.
Celebration gives us the strength to live in all the other disciplines. When faithfully pursued, the other disciplines bring us deliverance from those things that have made our lives miserable for years which, in turn evokes increased celebration.

The outward disciplines are confession, worship, guidance and celebration.
The spiritual disciplines give us the focus and direction that most of us need. As we discipline ourselves to consistently use these tools, we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit to change and refine us. When we practice these disciplines, we will grow in relationship with our Creator. Doesn’t that sound good?
(Lisa's note -- once again, I give thanks to God for writers like Richard Foster and Dallas Willard - they have much more education than I and they write in a way that is easy to teach. Many times I use their words exactly - I give them all the credit! I am thankful that they are open to God's leading and willing to share their teaching materials)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Birthday wishes for Glenn and Laura

23 years ago today, I was holding new born twins who had chosen to arrive into this world 6 weeks early. I'll never forget those hours. My water broke in the wee hours of the morning. We were pretty frantic. Bless our sweet neighbor's heart - we woke her up to ask her if she thought we should go on to the hospital. She had her doctorate in nursing so we figured she would know what to do. So . . . off to the hospital we went. The funny part of the story is that Mark was driving a company car and he did not want me to get 'ANYTHING' on the seats. So before I, a woman in labor, could get into the car, he had to put plastic garbage bags on the seats. I remember thinking and maybe even saying, "I think I've changed my mind." I don't think I want to have these babies. I also remember worrying about whether or not they would be ok. I was on modified bed rest and had been up and down all day ironing the curtains for the nursery. I would iron for five minutes and then lie down.

We arrived at St. Vincent's hospital about 2:15 a.m. and were admitted and quickly whisked to a room. There was a TV on and Mark remembers that there was an old Rock Hudson movie on. Our doctor came in to do an ultrasound and kept watching the movie instead. I loved Dr. Lewis. He was the sweetest man. They checked the heartbeats and the heartbeats were identical - beating totally together. They hooked me up to a drip and did all that kind of stuff and checked on me, etc. Finally, around 9:00 a.m. they decided that one of the babies was in distress and they needed to do an emergency C-section. Back then, it wasn't all done in the same room. I was rolled down the hall to an operating/delivery room and Mark was sent in the other direction to get on a gown and get washed up. I received a "spinal" for my anesthesia and Mark said he heard me scream all the way down the hall. I have NO MEMORY of that scream!! They started the operation and Laura was born first. As a matter of fact, they nicked her face with the scalpel - she still has the tiny scar today!! Laura was not breathing. The cord was wrapped around her neck. Mark said that she was as "blue as a new pair of bluejeans." They worked on her and quickly hooked her to some oxygen. Glenn was next and all was well. Laura weighed 6 pounds and 3 ounces and Glenn weighed 5 pounds and 7 ounces. (and yes they were 6 weeks early)Laura was 19 inches long and Glenn was 17 inches long. (Now they are both very tall!!) I remember feeling so surprised that I had boy/girl twins. I had never considered that option. I had aunts who were twins and Mark is an identical twin so I just knew that I would have two of the same gender. After delivery, my blood pressure dropped drastically and they had to work on me a few minutes. Soon we were able to see our sweet babies. I remember feeling totally overwhelmed and under prepared. They would roll those carts with those babies into my room and I would say, "Could you bring them to me one at a time?" Doesn't that sound silly now? I also had such a hard time telling them apart while we were still in the hospital (Unless they were diaperless!!)

This middle-aged mom is so proud of both Glenn and Laura. They are 23 years old today and they are great young adults. They both have graduated from Auburn and are working on their Master's - Glenn in Auburn and Laura at UAB. The thing that makes me proudest is that they know Jesus. Actually, not that they "know" him but that they have an intimate relationship with Him. Maybe even more . . .is that they serve him by doing for others - leading Bible studies, etc.

Over the years, we've seen the pediatrician a million times, the orthodontist more times than you can imagine. We've seen speech therapists and oral surgeons. We've been to eye doctors. We've been to piano lessons and dance lessons and gymnastics lessons and Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts and guitar lessons and baseball and church league girl's basketball games. We've driven at least a million carpools. We've been on many wonderful youth choir tours together. We've had friends over. We've attended church and sunday school together every sunday of their lives before they went off to college. Looking back, I think we provided a good life for our kids. Looking back all those times were priceless.

Wow - I'm a middle-aged mom and they are 23 years old today. Thank you God for the gift of Glenn. Thank you God for the gift of Laura. Thank you God for this their special day.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A cat at our house? Surely not!

First, if you don't know me well, you might not know this. I am deathly allergic to cats. One of my worst nightmare blind dates was way back when . . .with a young doctor. We went to this wonderful home in Mountain Brook for an incredible party and they had cats. My eyes swelled almost closed and I was having trouble breathing . . . I thought the "doctor date" was going to have to take me to the emergency room. Needless to say, that was the one and only date with the doctor.

So for 23 years we have told our children, "No pets - Mom is allergic." Several years ago two feral cats came to our deck and we have fed them but they would never get close enough for us to pet them. We think that Blackie has died - he was on his 8th or 9th life already.

What a surprise when a new young cat showed up a few days ago on our deck. She (we think) is beautiful. She loves to be petted and loved on but is actually a little afraid of coming in the house. When she comes in to visit, we have to leave the door open. She seems to need an escape route.

I must admit that she seems to be a sweet kitty. We purchased litter and a toy or two and tried to coax her into the basement to sleep last night but every time we would go to close the door she would run back out. I believe she is a little wild
So for today, we have a new kitty sleeping on our back porch. I personally think she is an extra large kitty and I'm not sure she is fully grown. I said that she was not a kitty but not fully grown and Laura's response was, "She is a teenager!"

She doesn't meow. She has this scratchy sound coming from her throat instead of a purr. It is not a purr. We haven't heard her purr. She tried this morning. I can't imagine why she sounds the way she does - sort of hoarse?

So now when you come to visit at our house, you might just be greeted by Snuggles. I never dreamed that this middle-aged mom would have a cat!!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


(A friend of mine drew this cute picture and it goes well with today's post) This was the Sunday School lesson that I taught on Sunday in the John Wesley Class - we are a group of folks in our 40's and 50's (mostly). I used many things straight from Following Jesus by Carolyn Slaughter and I also used some of John Ortberg's stuff . . . word for word. I give thanks to God for writers who are so gifted. They really help out a Sunday School teacher!! After class, a friend came up to me and said that Fruit of the Spirit should be my signature - I've taught so many lessons on it over the years - I have a picture of the fruit hanging in my office - I pray for that fruit - I'm passionate about it!

At our age, I wonder how many tests we have taken in our lives? We’ve taken spelling tests and math tests. We’ve taken our test for our driver’s license. We’ve taken final exams in college. Many in this class have taken tests to become a doctor or lawyer or CPA and who knows what else. We’ve taken vision tests, tests to determine our strengths, tests for our cholesterol. We’ve taken lots of tests. John Ortberg says that “It’s possible for people to go through their whole lives and never really do an assessment (or test) of their souls, which are eternal.” We take all these earthly tests but what about our spiritual selves.

We are continuing on with our book, “Following Jesus – steps to a passionate faith.” The first week, we came up with all of our names for God. Then we talked about Jesus is Lord – Jesus is the boss of me. Last week, we discussed the Holy Spirit. This week we are continuing on with thoughts about how the Holy Spirit works in our lives. In a Christian’s life, there is an expectation that as we grow in our life of faith, we will begin to produce “fruit.” The fruit of the spirit is listed in Galatians 5:22-23. This is a letter written by Paul to the church at Galatia. “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” This fruit will be developed in our lives as we grow in Christ. As this happens, our lives will reflect Jesus to those around us. Lifestyle is an important issue in Christianity because of the far-reaching impact our lives have on others. Gandhi has been quoted as saying he was extremely attracted to the person of Jesus, but he never converted to Christianity because of Christians, who he experienced to be so unlike their Christ. The fruit of the spirit in our lives impacts our ability to influence others for Jesus. The fruit of the spirit is not something we receive. It is a cluster of fruit that is progressively produced in us through a life constantly yielded to the Holy Spirit. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, not something we produce ourselves. Our responsibility is to stay connected to our source of life and make conscious choices to yield and obey.

So back to the introduction about tests . . .Let me hand out these tests - we are having a pop quiz today . . .everyone needs a pen or pencil.

It is a multiple choice test on how you are allowing the holy spirit to produce fruit in you. Here are your choices:
"S" if you would say you are "Superior" in this dimension; "P" for "Pretty darn good"; "N" would mean "Needs improvement." You can use that scale or another if you want to. Just assess how your soul is doing. (thanks John Ortberg - great quiz - I combined with some other definitions)

Number One: Love – Love is the ability to unconditionally accept and love others; the ability to give ourselves in service to others without expecting anything in return. Love is doing the right thing toward another, even when you don’t feel like it. Some questions you might ask yourself are . . .
· How tender is your heart towards God and towards other people?
· Do you find yourself habitually engaging in acts of servanthood?
· Do you ever have a critical, judgmental spirit in your heart?
Rate yourself "S"- superior or "P" – pretty darn good or "N – needs improvement." How are you doing with love these days?

Number 2: Joy – Joy is a deep inner gladness that results from an intimate relationship with Christ. It is maintained through obedience and is renewed through service to others. Joy is not dependent on circumstances but is a result of our communion with God. Joy is not just happiness or feeling good. Joy is in all circumstances – even suffering. Here are some questions to jog your thoughts.
· What is your current "irritability factor?" (If you're not sure, the person next to you may be willing to give you a little help.)
· Are you more inclined to speak words of complaint or gratitude?
· How often did you laugh this week? How much fun did you have?
· Are you able to choose Joy in times of frustration or difficulty?
Do you find yourself, even now, rationalizing your lack of Joy? Write down your answer by number two.

Number 3: Peace – Peace is an inner harmony and sense of well-being based on our confident faith that God has accepted us, loves us and is in control of our lives no matter how turbulent our external situation might be. Peace does not require the absence of conflict or distress. With peace we know that no matter our circumstances, God is in control.
· To what degree are your heart and mind at rest in God?
· How consistently are you troubled or anxious and do you worry a lot?
· Would people who know you describe you as being contented or discontented?(Remember Andy's sermon - which tent do you choose -
con "tent" ed or discon "tent" ed?
How do you come out on Peace? Write down your answer.

Number 4: Patience – Patience is the ability to exercise restraint and calmly persevere in waiting on God. Patience is the ability to walk through life long term, realizing God has a timetable for each process in our lives. Here are some good questions about patience:
· How do you respond when you don't get your way or you're frustrated?
· Are you able to wait gracefully? Would people describe you as a "peaceful, patient waiter?"
· How do you handle it when people aren't moving as quickly as you would like?
How are you doing on Patience? If you are looking at your watch, wanting me to move on to Number 5, give yourself an "N," because you need Patience! Write down your answer to number 4 – how are you doing?

Number 5: Kindness – Kindness is the ability to treat others with openness, sensitivity and love. Kindness deals not with our abilities but our attitudes. We can be extremely gifted in skills; yet our style, tone and volume of voice can be hurtful. I have to be careful with this one because of my tone of voice!! Kindness includes attitudes like compassion, mercy, friendliness and loyalty.
· How inclined are you to lend someone a helping hand even though you're busy, or you know you won't get credit?
· How are you doing at encouraging and affirming people? Do you consistently take the time to actually notice people and listen to them?
Write down your score by number 5.

Number 6: Goodness – some translations refer to this as generosity
· What portion of your time and material resources are you actually giving—not just thinking about giving—to God, to the poor, to other people?
· Do you ever find yourself wanting to give just the least amount acceptable?
· Is your heart to give growing or shrinking?
That's Generosity. Rate yourself.

Number 7: Faithfulness – Faithfulness is an unshakable loyalty displayed by being trustworthy, reliable and responsible; completely carrying out commitments to God and others. Faithfulness means following through and fulfilling promises we make. God is a God of covenant, or unbreakable promises and is willing to stick with us regardless. God promises to never leave us.
· Would people around you say that you are dependable?
· When you say you are going to do something, it gets done.
· Do you ever use words to deceive or to put a spin on things?
· Do you ever wrestle with procrastination?
If you haven't started your list yet, give yourself an "N" on this one!

Number 8: Gentleness – gentleness means putting my rights and strength willingly under God’s control in order to handle myself in a calm manner. Gentleness requires openness, humility and a teachable spirit, rather than the harshness originating from personal pride and selfishness. A gentle person is not a weak person, rather, this person has put his or her strength under the control of God. That bears repeating - A gentle person is not a weak person, rather, this person has put his or her strength under the control of God.
· How successfully do you speak the truth with grace?
· Do you ever get angry and inflict pain on someone just because it will feel good in the moment? Hopefully not physically, but how about with words?
· Over the last week, how often have you come along side somebody who was hurting to give them comfort? I watched Andy, our senior minister, as we served communion together this morning. Even in the midst of serving 500+ people, he stopped to lay hands on several and offer words of comfort.
How are you doing on Gentleness?

Number 9: Self-control – Self control and patience are two of my hardest areas – they would both have “n” – needs improvement. Self control is to take responsibility for myself and exercise discipline in order to avoid sin and live a life that pleases God. Self control is a choice to give God control over our lives.
· Do you have any bad habits?
· Do you ever give into an impulse?
· How's your mouth doing these days?
Rate yourself on Self-control. – S for superior, P for pretty darn good and N for needs improvement.

I want to ask you one more question. You don't have to write anything down. As we were walking through the Fruit of the Spirit, did anybody in here feel a little inadequate besides me? It's a funny thing: when we come to the Fruit of the Spirit, this is the core of what spiritual growth is about. People get all kinds of goofy ideas about what spiritual maturity really looks like.

Spiritual maturity—or spiritual formation—is defined at its core not by being busy with a lot of Christian activities, or knowing a lot about the Bible, or piling up spiritual accomplishments. The Pharisees did all of these things, and Jesus said they were the least fruitful of anybody. To grow in authentic Biblical love and joy and peace and patience—that's the center of the target! That's the kind of person that we want to be. But sometimes, I can look at that list of qualities, and I am overwhelmed by how far I fall short. And I'll tell you something else. Sometimes, I start violating the Fruit of the Spirit before I get out of bed in the morning. (Thanks again to John Ortberg)

So instead of getting all frustrated and thinking that we are never going to measure up, we are going to focus on another scripture for just a few minutes. This is John 15 starting with verse 4:
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. Apart from me, you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my disciples. As my Father has loved me, so have I loved you.

Jesus says, "I'm the vine. You're the branch." There's just one thing that a branch is supposed to do. Did you catch the word that kept coming up? "Remain." I like the old translation of this word: "Abide." From one moment to the next, keep receiving this unceasing flow of life and nourishment and love from God. And if I do that—if I abide—the fruit will come. I can't stop it. But if I don't abide—if I don't stay plugged into God—then I'll never be fruitful. I will never change. Transformation will never happen. I can't do it on my own!

This is part of why Paul uses the language that he does. Some of you know that in Galatians, Paul is setting up a contrast. He says, "I don't want you to be characterized or marked by (what he calls) the works of the flesh." And then he lists those: immorality, envy, jealousy . . . the list goes on. Don't be characterized by this, but do be characterized by . . . and then we would expect him to say by "the works of the Spirit." He doesn't do that, because for Paul "works" has the connotation of effort and strain and self-righteousness, and that is not the kind of people that God wants to produce. So He says instead, "Be marked by the fruit of the spirit."

There's one more thing that would be good for all of us to know. Often, in churches, people talk about the "fruits" of the Spirit, because there are nine of them, but if you look at Galatians 5, Paul doesn't say the "fruits." He uses the singular "fruit," and there's a reason for that. He's not listing nine character qualities that you're supposed to exhaust yourself trying to add to your "character repertoire." It's just the "fruit" that is inevitable when anyone abides in the spirit of Jesus. So the good news is: you just have one job, and that is to be with Jesus all the time—just stay in the Vine. Easy, right?

Do you know what the most frequent promise in the Bible is? We've talked about this before in another study by John Ortberg. It's not the promise of forgiveness of sins, although that's a good one. It's not the promise of life eternal, although we cling to that one. The most frequently issued promise in the Bible is just God saying, "I'll be with you. I'll be with you. Don't be afraid. I'll be with you."

The primary story of the Bible is not the story about people's desire to be with God. It is the story of the desire of God to be with people. And Jesus is saying, "Now you have the Holy Spirit. Now everything is possible. Abide with me. Talk to me all the time. I don't care when. I don't care what's going on. Listen to me, because the Spirit will really be at work in you, prompting thoughts and ideas."

Be ruthless about saying, "Yes" to it. When you're happy, when you're sad, when you're discouraged, when you're depressed, when you're tempted—every moment. Jesus says, "Just stick with me." And a wonderful thing will happen. There will be fruit that will be born, and it won't be your fruit!

In today’s original scripture passage from Galatians the fruit is mentioned. What are the first three elements in the fruit of the spirit? The first is Love. The second is Joy. The third is Peace. Now listen to this. Jesus says, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love." Whose love are we to remain in? Jesus' love. Jesus goes on two verses later, "I have told you these things so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete." Whose joy are we supposed to live in? Jesus' joy. Just before Chapter 15 (John 14 v. 27), in the same talk that he is having with his friends, Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives." Whose peace are we supposed to live in? It's his love, his joy, his peace. And as we abide in him, it just flows in the way that life flows into a branch from the vine.

An interesting thing about when Jesus says, "I am the vine." The image of the vine is frequently used in the Old Testament. If you go back and look at it, the image of the vine and the vineyard almost always stands for Israel. When Jesus used those words, those would have been shocking words for his listeners. We tend to skim over that part. Anybody listening to him would have known that he was radically redefining connectedness to God. Remember last week, we talked about how the Holy Spirit was available to certain individuals for a certain amount of time in the Old Testament? Now it comes through Jesus, and it is available to anybody. It is available to each one of us. It is available to every single person in this room.

It doesn't mean doing a lot of new activities or trying really hard. Mostly, it means doing the things we already do and learning to do them with Jesus. He's already right there. I imagine that all of us in this room are already on the vine! At this point, we don't have to DO something to get to the vine. We are already there if we are a follower of Jesus. So we just need to do the things we normally do, but start doing them with Jesus. I'll walk you through a few categories of the day.

For example, you have to wake up. You're going to wake up one way or the other! How many of you are morning people? Show of hands!! There are two kinds of people in our world: there are people who love to wake up in the morning, and there are people who hate people who love to wake up in the morning! So, tomorrow morning, when you wake up, just wake up with Jesus. Maybe that will make it easier for those of you who aren't morning people - wake up with Jesus.

The way I try to do this is just to get alone. The spiritual moments in the morning are so huge in terms of the way that your day is going to go. As a matter of fact, this morning in my prayer time, I said to God, "Are you listening? Do you really hear me?" Before the service, Dave and I were talking about where I would be serving communion. He said, "You will be with Andy in the middle." We both laughed and he said, "Sounds like a sitcom." I said, "Yes, Malcolm in the middle." Andy got up to preach and the first sentence out of his mouth was about "Malcolm in the middle." That early morning prayer time is so important!! It can be tempting to feel overwhelmed or burdened with "all I have to do" or "my own inadequacy." Just get alone and say, "You know, Jesus, I know that you're right here. I want to go through this day with you. And I want to be open to you. So, Jesus, let's do this day together." This summer in our short term study, one of my favorite quotes from the series was “As you wish” – that is a great way to start the day. Start off by saying, “Good morning, God. This is the day that you have created. I have all these plans and lists BUT since this is your day, I’m going to say, “as you wish.” “As you wish” allows us to abide in him. It's as simple as that. We can abide in the vine.

Maybe it would be helpful for you to write down the fruit of the Spirit—Love, Joy and Peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness faithfulness and self-control - actually, you could take your little test sheet home and put it on your mirror and everyday you can look at those words early in the morning, and you remember "That's who Jesus is and the Holy Spirit in me produces this fruit." And then, if you're a newspaper reader, go ahead and read the newspaper, but read it with Jesus. Do you ever see something in the newspaper that troubles you when you read it? Just say, "Jesus, here's an area where people need help." Read the paper together with Him.

Tomorrow, when you get in the car to drive carpool or go to work, what would it look like if you were to drive with Jesus? Would you need to drive any slower than you usually do? Would you need to speak differently to people driving other cars around you than you normally do? Would you stop shooting the bird at folks if Jesus were in the car with you? What would it actually look like for you to drive "abiding" with Jesus with Him right there with you?

When you go to work, what would it be like to work "abiding" in the vine? A problem comes up, and instead of getting overwhelmed or panicking, you pause for a moment and say, "God, I don't know what to do about this, but you'll help me. So give me help, give me strength, give me patience." When we are on the phone talking to a customer, and the thought comes to us, "This is not just somebody I'm just trying to make a sale to, this is somebody God loves. Jesus, bless this person." We can do that. When the boss asks us to do something that we know is not right, what would “abiding” on the vine look like?

When we come home at the end of the day, and we are tired and grumpy – does that happen to anybody else besides me?. I should say, "Jesus, help me do this the way you want me to. Let me abide in you."

When we get to the end of the day, and we lay down in bed, we can take a moment to do it with Him. We can look back over the day and say, "You were there. You were there. You were there. Now Lord, be with us tonight while I sleep, and be with us again when we wake up in the morning." What a sweet way to go to sleep and get a good night's rest. Mark and I pray together at night right before going to sleep. We are taking another moment to remind ourselves that we abide in Jesus.

Each one of us is on our own journey. Each of us demonstrates the fruit of the spirit differently and will grow at different rates. But each one of us can abide in Jesus. It is important for us to stay attached to Jesus in order for us to ripen and mature into the people God wants.

So this week, let's simply abide in Jesus. Abide in Jesus.

*sources are following jesus by carolyn slaughter, sermon and books by John Ortberg and other internet sermons -- thanks be to God for those who write and who are willing to share with Sunday School teachers like me

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Baby Magnet

Isn't she pretty? That is my baby girl. Not the actual "baby" but the other one. Let me tell you something about her. She is a baby magnet. Actually I have often called her the Pied Piper. Kids love her. We are so proud of her. She is working on her Master's Degree in Education at UAB. She is going to be a teacher. What a wonderful career for someone who loves children. The icing on top is that the children adore her. We are so proud of her. (She may kill me if she ever reads my blog!!) Isn't the baby girl precious? She is the baby of a friend of ours. Two pretty girls!!

Trick or Treat?

I love Halloween and one thing I really miss is brainstorming for costume ideas and making the costumes. Over the years, I have made princess dresses and a sheep costume and an unbelievable power ranger outfit! When our kids were younger, there were lots of kids on our street and on Halloween evening you could hear the laughter and talking and the doorbell rang continuously. Everyone on our street grew up at the same time. This year we only had two trick or treaters. So sad!! But I am so blessed to work in a church and our church has a special class and also a mother's day out program and an all day care facility. They all get to have a parade. This year, I went to the smaller of the parades - the special class and mother's day out. Here is the special class getting ready to lead the parade.

Here they are as they walk around the gym leading the parade. The bleachers were filled with parents and as always there was lots of noise. Cameras were flashing and children were crying! Perfect!!

There were some cute costumes. One of my favorites was a little lamb (riding in the bye bye buggy and I didn't get a picture). I heard that the big sister was Little Bo Peep. What a great costume idea.

So on Halloween, this middle aged mom was a little sad that there were no little folks running around in cute costumes. BUT this middle aged mom certainly did enjoy the parade at work.