An invitation to my posting on the Uniform Series

Please let me have a moment of your time today to let you know about my postings on another part of my website.

Some of you who follow these posts know that I also post reflections on the International Sunday School Lessons (also called the Uniform Series). I post Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at http://lectio.discipleswalk.org. I title them “reflections” but my intent is not to offer my reflections but to offer some observations and questions to encourage the readers to engage with the Scripture. My hope is we can move at times from “reading” Scripture to “listening” for the Word behind the words.

The Scripture passages for February all address the subject of God’s call. If that interests you, please join me at http://lectio.discipleswalk.org .

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

What I’m Doing – Can You Help?

Have you ever noticed those lists of the most searched words on Google, Bing or DuckDuckGo? Apparently in 2022 the most searched word on Google was “wordle.” I wonder if the folks doing those searches are looking for … well, I haven’t played the game, I do know folks who play it, so I would be searching for the best way to play the game, or for “hints” on how to play it for the best results.

And that gets me to wondering what would the “Religious Word Search Engine,” or the “Church Word Search Engine” show us as the most searched terms.  Assuming of course such search engines exist. Maybe they do, but I am yet aware of them.

Let me offer my suggestions – “discipleship,” “formation,” and “discipling.”

I hear those words a lot in conversations (and sermons) about congregations and perceived “needs” of congregational members.

In fact, I almost fear they have become “buzzwords” and so overused they begin to lose meaning and folk want all talk and discussion of such to be dropped and for us to move on to more important things.

I still think they are not just important words but important and essential activities for individuals and congregations.

So, that is what has launched me on my most recent research project.

While I hear a lot of talk about discipleship and the need for intentional work in formation and discipling, I also see many congregations are at a loss on how to be intentional and consistent in such efforts.

There is material available and I have begun to explore some resources that are available and have been reported to offer us methods and structures for this work.

On my reading table there are nine books all claiming to offer direction in individual and group spiritual formation. 

I am starting by reading the nine books. Not “working” through them and doing the reflections and exercises they might suggest, but getting an overview of the content and methods in each.  I will return later to do the work each presents.

Five of the books come from Renovare. I have a lot of respect for all I see and read that Renovare publishes online and in print.  If you are not familiar with Renovare, go to your favorite search engine and do some exploration.

The four of the books have the subtitle, A Spiritual Formation Guide. They are titled, Connecting with God, Learning from Jesus, Prayer and Worship, and Living the Mission. The fifth book is A Spiritual Formation Workbook.

The other four books are all authored by James Bryan Smith who is director of the Apprentice Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation at Friends University and has a long standing involvement in the work of Renovare. Part of that involvement was his authoring the above mentioned A Spiritual Formation Workbook.

Smith’s other four books are, The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows, The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ, The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love, and The Good and Beautiful You: Discovering the Person Jesus Created You to Be

Of course, there is other material available. For example, to name only a few, Experiencing God, Disciple: Becoming Disciples Through Bible Study, and Education for Ministry

Now – How can you help?

I would love to hear if you have used any of these resources and what value you see in them.  Were they helpful or not? Did you use them in an individual or group setting? Would you recommend them and to whom?

Additionally, what other resources do you have experience with that addresses discipleship and formation?

Please feel free to leave a comment on the blog post or email me your thoughts.

As I spend time with these resources and others, I look forward to posting what I discover.

charles

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Do you Need a Break from Holiday Noises and Busyness?

We have just passed Thanksgiving Day and before some of us had time to take a deep breath the First Sunday of Advent was upon us.

Then there are all the emails and media noise about “Black Friday,” “Cyber Monday,” “Giving Tuesday” and the great things on sale this year that are “too good” to miss out on.

Does your schedule of daily activities get more and more crowded with appointments, meetings, parties and family, work or church events that you feel guilty if you do not show up for?

Do you need a break? Maybe a few minutes of silence and solitude? Or maybe a few hours?

I picked up John Ortberg’s book The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People the other day and in a chapter entitled “An Unhurried Life: The Practice of “‘Slowing’” I found him addressing the need to eliminate “hurry” from our lives and the need for solitude.

While there is much in that chapter worth our undivided attention, I want to share with you a format Ortberg includes for an extended period of solitude.

I suspect it would be very helpful for many of us to think about including such a day during this busy season where so many sounds, activities and persons ask for our attention. I bet the first thought of many, as I suggest such is, “That’s the last thing I have time for now!” And, maybe that is the first clue that such solitude at this moment is essential.

However it may strike you, take some time to look over this schedule and think about how you might incorporate a part or all of it into this season.

Ortberg presents the following format for an “extended period of solitude

Extended Solitude

  1. Find a place where you can be uninterrupted and alone, such as a park or a retreat center.
  2. Spend a brief time the night before to get ready, to ask God to bless the day, and to tell him you want to devote the day to him. This day is your gift to God, but even more, it is a gift God wants to give you. What do you need from the Lord: a sense of healing and forgiveness? Conviction for an apathetic heart? Compassion? A renewed sense of mission? Ask him for this.
  3. Arrange the day around listening to God. The following format is adapted from Glandion Carney’s book The Spiritual Formation Toolkit.

8:00 – 9:00 – Prepare your mind and heart, take a walk, or do whatever will help you set aside concerns over tasks and responsibilities. Try to arrange your morning so you can remain in silence from the time you awaken.

9:00 – 11:00 – Read and meditate on Scripture, taking time to stop to reflect when God seems to be speaking to you through the text.

11:00 – 12:00 – Write down responses to what you have read. Speak to God about them.

12:00 – 1:00 – Eat lunch and take a walk, reflecting on the morning.

1:00 – 2:00 – Take a nap.

2:00 – 3:00 – Set goals that emerge from the day’s reflection.

3:00 – 4:00 – Write down these goals and other thoughts in a journal. You may want to do this in the form of a letter to God. Prepare to reenter society. (pp 83-85)

What do you think about the scheduled nap? Does it strike you as a waste of time or a genuine spiritual insight regarding a certain balance needed in our interior and exterior life?

Give yourself some time to think about a period of solitude. You might find you want to do more than think about it. You might want to schedule it.

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Is Everything Ready for Thanksgiving Day?

Just a few days and it will be Thanksgiving Day once again.  

Is the menu planned?  Do you have all the fixings on hand? Has everyone received their invitations and replied? What else? Maybe something (or someone) has been left out?

With all that goes on this time of the year we can fail to be the “mood” for Thanksgiving.

This past Sunday we spent some time in the worship service I attended thinking about thankfulness and gratitude.  Allow me to offer two things that were shared.

First, Belmont Abbey published a short booklet entitled 10 Steps to Gratitude. You can signup for a copy at https://resources.bac.edu/10-steps-to-gratitude/ .

Step 4 is a practice of making a list of 3 things – 

From: 10 Steps to Gratitude

STEP FOUR: KEEP A “3 THINGS” LIST

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. (Acts 4:32)

As step four on our road to gratitude, I’d like to share a daily ritual my mom and I practice each day. It began at a time in my life when I was struggling with anxiety, and Mom suggested that we each share three things about our day in a quick email every night. The email itself could be as simple as a brief, numbered list, but the items – all three – should be blessings we’d enjoyed that day. They could be small things: getting a note on my desk, completing something I’d been putting off, or finding tiny wildflowers out by the mailbox. They didn’t have to be flashy or impressive, but Mom insisted that there were always three things (at least!) to celebrate by the end of the day.

So here are Mom’s “Three Things” rules, in a nutshell:

Keep track of blessings, large and small, throughout the day.
These don’t have to be big,
but there must be at least three. Share them!

It’s beautifully simple, but I’ve come to realize that, not only do I get better at noticing the many gifts throughout my day, I also find a fresh, added joy in sharing them. I love getting “three things” lists that are seven or eight entries long, then sending my own, manifold “three” back. By acknowledging and sharing our blessings, we enrich each other and cultivate a community of gratitude in our own, small way.

The monks have long understood this miraculous quality of community. While human communities certainly come with their challenges, they also fill our lives to overflowing with opportunities for grace and gratitude. Rather than having less room for our individual joys and griefs, we find our capacity for gratitude and comfort multiplied by those of our brothers and sisters.

So, for step four, ask a friend, spouse, or family member to be your partner in gratitude, and allow yourselves to rejoice in each other’s many gifts.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4: 6-7

Second, the following Thanksgiving Prayer comes from Diane Butler Bass’ book Grateful.

God, there are days we do not feel grateful. When we are anxious or angry. When we feel alone. When we do not understand what is happening in the world or with our neighbors. When the news is bleak, confusing. God, we struggle to feel grateful.

But this Thanksgiving, we choose gratitude.

We choose to accept life as a gift from you, and as a gift from the unfolding work of all creation.

We choose to be grateful for the earth from which our food comes; for the water that gives life; and for the air we all breathe.

We choose to thank our ancestors, those who came before us, grateful for their stories and struggles, and we receive their wisdom as a continuing gift for today.

We choose to see our families and friends with new eyes, appreciating and accepting them for who they are. We are thankful for our homes, whether humble or grand.

We will be grateful for our neighbors, no matter how they voted, whatever our differences, or how much we feel hurt or misunderstood by them.

We choose to see the whole planet as our shared commons, the stage of the future of humankind and creation.

God, this Thanksgiving, we do not give thanks. We choose it. We will make this choice of thanks with courageous hearts, knowing that it is humbling to say “thank you.” We choose to see your sacred generosity, aware that we live in an infinite circle of gratitude. That we all are guests at a hospitable table around which gifts are passed and received. We will not let anything opposed to love take over this table. Instead, we choose grace, free and unmerited love, the giftedness of life everywhere. In this choosing, and in the making, we will pass gratitude onto the world.

Thus, with you, and with all those gathered at this table, we pledge to make thanks. We ask you to strengthen us in this resolve. Here, now, and into the future. Around our family table. Around the table of our nation. Around the table of the earth.

We choose thanks.

Amen.

May you find a time a quietness that opens you to the spirit of gratitude in this hurried season.

charles

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Takeaways from forgotten books

Over the past year or so I have been devoting some time to divesting of some of my too large (and too underutilized) collection of books. This has not been easy. And no, this is not a post about downsizing or simplifying one’s life (well, at least, not in whole). It’s in part a post about serendipity, discovery, and excavation.

And yes, I have downsized some. I want to claim I have downsized a lot but others might can judge that better than I. I have donated many, gifted some and sold a few.

And then there are the discoveries. Some books I wanted and didn’t know I already had. I have found multiple titles of others.

And there are others I didn’t remember I owned, didn’t know when or even why I might have gotten them.

But then as I opened a few, I began to discover why they were in my hand and opened for reading.

One of those that got me to thinking (and meditating) is The Devout Life: William Law’s Understanding of Divine Love by Martin Israel and Neil Broadbent.

I knew William Law wrote A Serious Call to the Devout LIfe and had read a few pages of it, but found it slow going at that time and put it aside.

The Israel and Broadbent book, by bringing my attention to Law’s later writings, puts in front of me contrasts between Law’s early and later writings.

They claim that in Law’s early writings you will find “unflagging rigiorism” and “the main characteristic of the earlier Law was his severe harshness.” Further they claim that “half measures would never have sufficed for Law.” (p 20) I would have to say that I did find those elements in A Serious Call but also passages that stood out with such vivid detail they were hard to forget.

Then Israel and Broadbent report that as Law encountered the writings of Jacob Boehme he was introduced to a “new symbolic language through which the narrow, severe intensity of his devotional nature was released into a new freedom of love, joy, and praise.” (p 22)

Law’s volumes The Spirit of Prayer and The Spirit of Love are representative of the “later” Law.

All three of these works of Law as well as Boehme’s The Way to Christ can be had for free at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (www.ccel.org)

This got me thinking – have I ever read anything (or heard anything) that has had such a profound impact on my life and thinking? What have I encountered that led me to “a new freedom of love, joy, and praise,” and away from “harshness”? Or even more important, do I yet come close to such freedom?

May I offer a suggestion?

Why don’t we take some time today and over the next several days, to review our spiritual journeys? Looking back over the years, what changes do we notice? Are the changes for our betterment or not? Can we identify any books, events, people or practices/disciplines that helped provoke those changes?

Take some time to explore your journey. It might even offer something of a “roadmap” for the days to come.

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Entering Scripture, one more model of Lectio Divina

Entering Scripture, one more model of Lectio Divina

Several months ago I offered a post on “Entering Scripture” via the steps of Lectio Divina. I intended for the following week to offer another method that is patterned on Lectio Divina but circumstances and time got away from me and it was never posted.

So, today, let’s try that again.

What I post below is found in The Message//Remix: Solo – An Uncommon Devotional, p 208.

What I especially like about his book is how it goes beyond being your typical “devotional” book. The intent is to teach us a method of praying deeply with Scripture; of slowing ourselves so we no longer merely read the words of Scripture but “Scripture reads us.”

Below I have taken one page from the volume that will show you the pattern followed in this way of listening to, and praying Scripture.

Try it out and see what you think. Don’t be surprised if you return to it several times and find depths you did not notice on the first readings.

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

READ
Read the passage slowly.

THINK
Read the passage again, listening for the words or phrases that stand out to you, such as:

– “come to me
– “recover your life”
– “real rest”
– “walk with me and work with me”
– “watch how I do it”
– “keep company with me”

Notice the many different ways Jesus says, “Hang out with me.” Which one do you find most inviting? Why?

What would it feel like to walk with Jesus and work with him? It’s okay to be honest; “freely and lightly” may not describe what you think it would really be like. Instead you might think it would be forced and difficult. If so, what would you desire for it to be like?

Have you feared that a walk with Jesus might require heavy or ill-fitting things? What are they?

PRAY

Jesus speaks very personally and conversationally in this passage, using phrases like “Come to me.” In fact, I or me occurs eight times, and you occurs five times. So consider that Jesus has been talking to you. What is your reply? What do you need to discuss with Jesus today?

LIVE
Walk with Jesus, either in your mind or on an actual walk. As you do, turn these words from Jesus over in your mind: rest, unforced, keep company with me, freely, lightly.

What do you think? How did it work for you?

Does it take you more deeply into the Scripture? Do you see things that did not come into view before?

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Just in Case You Do Not Recognize Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Last week I mentioned I was putting together a Lenten mailing list to offer a practice that incorporated readings from Dietrich Bonhoeffer and realized I assumed “everyone” knew who Bonhoeffer was.

If that is not the case for some, let me offer a few thoughts.

First, let me offer a link to a very good overview provided at the The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute –  “https://tdbi.org/dietrich-bonhoeffer

That page includes most of what I considered including in this post.  Allow me to point out what I find helpful.

In most circles Bonhoeffer is remembered mostly for three books – The Cost of Discipleship, LIfe Together and Letters and Papers from Prison.

In The Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer tells us – 

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Given how often the word “discipleship” is dropped in many religious circles today, maybe it is time to revisit Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on discipleship.  More recent translations of the book bear the title Discipleship.

The small volume, Life Together, is drawn from material for the “underground seminary” Bonhoeffer directed for pastors of the German Confessing Church.  The Confessing Church was started by Bonhoeffer and others in opposition to the Nazi control of the German churches.  The Nazi’s eventually shut down the seminary.

And, Letters and Papers from Prison, is what what the title suggests – material written by Bonhoeffer while he was imprisoned by the Nazi government.  The imprisonment ended with his execution on April 9, 1945.  Eleven days before the Flossenburg prison was liberated by the Allied armies.  Bonhoeffer was 39 years old.

He was a musician, a writer, a pastor, a theologian, a spy, and a member of the German resistance to Hitler.

Given the range of his writings, he has been claimed as a champion by evangelicals and theological conservatives as well as those who consider themselves Christian progressives and at one time the “Death of God” theologians claimed him.

During Lent we will have time to sample a small portion of the writings he left us.  May you find encouragement and blessings in these readings.

charles

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

PS – 

If you are interested in some more resources on the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer you could look into the following – 

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Kendrix – an excellently done graphic biography (yes, graphic, as in graphic novel), 

Two well reviewed “traditional” biographies are, 

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance by Ferdinand Schlingensiepen

And not to left out is 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography by Eberhard Bethge and Victoria J Barnett (Bethge was one of Bonhoeffer’s closest friends and associates)

And the documentary by Martin Doblmeier, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Pacifist, Nazi Resister would be a excellent way to spend an hour an half learning about Bonhoeffer

How About Spending Time with Dietrich Bonhoeffer this Lent?

The Mardi Gras parades are well underway here in Mobile, Alabama, so Mardi Gras Day and Ash Wednesday will soon be upon us.

I’ve been thinking about Ash Wednesday and Lent for several weeks and wondering if there was a Lenten practice I wanted to take up this year or maybe share with others.

Several years ago I came across the book 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and mentioned it on this blog.  The more I think about that small book, the more I have become convinced Lent would be a good time to take up a daily reading from it.

While the selections from Bonhoeffer’s writings were not selected specifically with Lent in mind, I think it is always good to spend time with him and additionally this book offers a great pattern for a Lenten practice (or for that matter a pattern for any time of reflection).

Each day offers the following – 

  • A brief quotation from Bonhoeffer’s books Discipleship or Life Together
  • A verse or two from Scripture
  • Some “Questions to Ponder”
  • A few sentences from a Psalm
  • Suggestions for Journaling
  • A thought or two for prayers of intercession
  • A closing prayer 

What do you think about giving this a try?

I have created a mailing list and around midday (Central Time) each day of Lent will send out an email with the day’s reading.

If you already receive posts from one of my blogs or my email lists I will include you in this Lenten mailing list.  If you prefer not to receive these emails, contact me at charles@discipleswalk.org letting me know you do not want to receive the Lenten mailings and your email address will be removed from the list.

By the way, the emails will be sent to the list address lent2022@discipleswalk.org and will be sent from my charles@discipleswalk.org email address.

I hope you want to give this a try with me.

Charles

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Entering Scripture – Lectio Divina

“The Psalms acquire, for those who know how to enter into them, a surprising depth, a marvelous and inexhaustible actuality. They are bread, miraculously provided by Christ,to feed those who have followed Him into the wilderness.”
From: Bread in the Wilderness by Thomas Merton

I posted the above quote last week in The Lectio Room as part of our reflections on Psalm 149 and 150 ( http://lectio.discipleswalk.org/issl-reflections-october-31-2021-psalms-1491-5-150-post-3/ )

Merton’s phrase, “… for those who know how to enter them …” took me back to a post from last year, “Approaching Scripture.” My plan was to follow that post with several on “Entering Scripture.” For various reasons it did not happen at that time, so maybe it’s time we got back on that track.

Let’s start by thinking together for a few weeks about “Lectio Divina.” Whether we call it by its Latin designation, “Lectio Divina”, translate it as “Sacred Reading” or call it as some do, “Praying with Scripture,” we are thinking about a way of spending time with Scripture that takes us beyond a surface reading, or reading for information, but to one way of “meditating” with Scripture.

To begin our thinking about Lectio Divina allow me to share a quick overview by quoting from a brochure from Contemplative Outreach, http://www.contemplativeoutreach.ie/wp-content/uploads/lectio_divina.pdf .

Lectio Divina is a reading, reflecting, responding and resting in the word of God that helps one grow in relationship with God.

Listening to the word of God in Scripture (Lectio Divina) is a traditional way of cultivating friendship with Christ. It is a way of listening to the texts of Scripture as if we were in conversation with Christ and He were suggesting the topics of conversation. The daily encounter with Christ and reflection on His word leads beyond mere acquaintanceship to an attitude of friendship, trust, and love. Conversation simplifies and gives way to communing …. “resting in God.”

The brochure then has a brief explanation of the four steps you follow as you engage a passage of Scripture.

Moment One: (Lectio)
Read the Scripture passage for the first time. Listen with the “ear of your heart.” What phrase, sentence or even one word stands out to you? Begin to repeat that phrase, sentence or one word over and over, allowing it to settle deeply in your heart. Simply return to the repetition of the phrase, sentence or one word, savoring it in your heart.

Moment Two: (Meditatio)
Reflect, relish the words. Let them resound in your heart. Let an attitude of quiet receptiveness permeate the prayer time. Be attentive to what speaks to your heart.

Moment Three: (Oratio)
Respond spontaneously as you continue to listen to a phrase, sentence or word. A prayer of praise, thanksgiving or petition may arise. Offer that prayer, and then return to repeating the word in your heart.

Moment Four: (Contemplatio)
Rest in God. Simply “be with” God’s presence as you open yourself to a deeper hearing of the Word of God. If you feel drawn back to the scriptures, follow the lead of the Spirit

What do you think? Does this process make sense to you?

If you are so inclined, try this with a short passage of Scripture.

Next week, we will look at how this is described elsewhere.

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Do You Know a Good Story …

“Stories are verbal acts of hospitality.”
Eugene Peterson

When I read the above I immediately thought of Jesus’ parables. By calling them “parables,” let’s not forget they are stories. Some short, some micro-short, some longer but all stories in one form or another.

Did you ever wonder why Jesus so often told stories, rather than presenting theological discourses as many of us might be prone to do?

Could it be Jesus is the gracious host, not just standing at the door but opening the door so we can get a glimpse of what is on the other side? We begin to get a first, a partial look, at the landscape of the Kingdom and he invites us in. Yes, he shows such hospitality we are not only invited in, but offered a seat at the table.

He offers food, rest and even some work to do alongside him.

I often fear we have heard his stories so often, they have not only lost their freshness, but their surprises also. “Ears to hear that do not hear.”

How do we hear them as for the first time? Maybe I’ll try to watch Jesus and hear Jesus tell the stories instead of listening to what I think I know about his stories.

“Story is the most natural way of enlarging and deepening our sense of reality, and then enlisting us as participants in it. Stories open doors to areas or aspects of life that we didn’t know were there, or had quit noticing out of over-familiarity, or supposed were out-of-bounds to us. They then welcome us in. Stories are verbal acts of hospitality.”
Eugene H. Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology