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Experimenting with the Disciplines

Experimenting with the Disciplines

by Tyler Sadlo

In Dallas Willard’s masterpiece, The Spirit of the Disciplines, he encourages the reader to approach “those activities that have had a wide and profitable use among disciples of Christ…in a prayerful, experimental way” (my emphasis added). Experimental? That was a word I hadn’t heard applied to the disciplines before. So, about two years ago, with that encouragement in mind, I decided to engage in the discipline of fasting. What follows here are reflections on my “experiment.” I hope they offer practical encouragement that shows the fits and starts of experimentation, but also the unexpected fruits. The spiritual disciplines need not be dry. Rather, they can be an entry point into the vibrancy of life with God.

I didn’t know what I wanted out of fasting when I began, but I knew that it was a discipline I could do without a lot of startup cost, and at the time I wanted to get started on what was within reach. I had two things in mind when I began: 1) I did not want to disrupt family dinnertime (this conclusion was reached through previous trial and error), and 2) I was compelled by Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline to fast for 24 hours each week over an extended period of time. Ultimately, that extended period added up to 20 consecutive months of weekly fasting (with maybe 1 or 2 “skipped” weeks).

 

An instructive journey

It began as most practices likely do: it was difficult not to eat; I was extremely low on energy; I made mistakes when ending the fast and sometimes hurt my stomach or my mouth (yes, the process of chewing food was actually painful). I’d like to say that I quickly learned from this, but it was an ongoing struggle to keep my post-fast meals light. Over time, my energy on fasting days increased, but the path was not linear. More than a year in there were still times when I had very little energy in the afternoon. But without question, I gradually became more skilled in the practice.

I learned early on that fasting was a considerable disruption to my schedule. I had to reshuffle priorities in order to make it work. But this was one of the great, hidden benefits of fasting: I was taking steps to build my life around the practices of Jesus rather than fitting some of them into my life where it was convenient. For example, my lunch hour on fasting days was free so I could walk, pray, and read. This eventually became the most appealing part of fasting, and the anchor that kept me coming back week after week. Nowhere else in my schedule was time set aside for extended prayer, which meant that fasting was helping create space to engage in another spiritual discipline. That benefit was unexpected, but I don’t think it was a coincidence.

I recall a conversation perhaps nine months into the practice when I tried to explain its benefits to some friends. I was very clear that I could not apply a direct relationship between fasting and any outcomes in character formation or the like. Usually there’s some direct connection between fasting and self-control that’s touted, but I did not experience it that way. I experienced being forced to slow down, both physically and mentally, and I enjoyed the freed-up time that was meant to be dedicated to one-on-one time with the Lord.

 

A change in the journey

Eventually, though, things started to lose their savor. For example, instead of replacing breakfast preparation with meditation and reading, I slept in. I had seen real progress toward becoming a more thoughtful husband, a more patient father, and someone who experiences God’s presence without interruption, but I had been focused on this specific discipline for so long that I had started hoping it would be a silver bullet for these benefits, benefits that one discipline was never meant to provide.

Multiple times in the months that followed, I contemplated pausing my weekly practice of fasting. The reason was simple: it was becoming stale. I was not waking up to take advantage of the mornings. I was running errands instead of praying and reading. I was not experiencing the transcendence that had sometimes accompanied fasting days in prior months. But could I really just stop? Staleness felt more like an excuse than a valid reason. I began to wonder if any reason could rise to the level of “valid,” or if they would all seem like excuses. It was important for me to realize that this language and thinking had a flavor of legalism and guilt, and I certainly didn’t want fasting to be built on that.

Enter Dallas Willard and his encouragement to approach the disciplines experimentally. He adds to that a reminder that what “prevent[s] them from becoming a new bondage…is [the] love of Jesus.” The disciplines are for no more and no less than moving us into deeper union with God. 

Which is why, about two months ago, I decided to pivot. I chose to skip just one meal a week, leaning into the draw of fasting that still resonates deeply: lunchtime prayer and reading. I affirm the value of fasting, and I honestly wish I could recapture some of the feeling (the transcendence, the feeling that I was moving closer to God, the eagerness to use the freed-up time) that I had before. For now, though, I’m hoping to remove some of the drudgery and legalism from the practice, and maybe re-sensitize myself to its benefits. 

I’ll conclude with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Breakfast of Champions, that crystalizes my mindset: “I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.” I look forward to continuing to engage in this and other practices in experimental, adventurous ways that grow both my obedience to God and my relational closeness to him and other people. I want to retain what brings me closer to God, and I will throw over my shoulder that which does not.

Five Practical Reminders for Financial Fitness

Five Practical Reminders for Financial Fitness

A number of years ago Forbes Magazine compiled their “Top 100 Money Quotes of All Time.” Here are a few of my favorites:

 
  • Too many people spend money they earned…to buy things they don’t want…to impress people that they don’t like. –Will Rogers
  • I love money. I love everything about it. I bought some pretty good stuff. Got me a $300 pair of socks. Got a fur sink. An electric dog polisher. A gasoline powered turtleneck sweater. And, of course, I bought some dumb stuff, too. –Steve Martin
  • Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery. –Charles Dickens
  • I made my money the old-fashioned way. I was very nice to a wealthy relative right before he died. –Malcolm Forbes
  • We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. –Winston Churchill
  • My formula for success is rise early, work late and strike oil. –JP Getty

However, lasting financial fitness requires more than pithy humor and insightful inspiration; it also requires a few consistent habits practiced over a lifetime. Every year in our Church for Monday class, we share these five practical reminders for financial fitness.

 

1 – Make a Plan

Whether you call it a spending plan or a budget, use cash envelopes or build your own custom, macro-laden spreadsheet, you will never experience consistent financial fitness without a plan.

A good plan will allocate money for regularly occurring expenses (groceries, gas, utilities, rent/mortgage, insurance) as well as periodic expenses (property taxes, vacations, Christmas presents, car replacement).

Identifying and then regularly allocating (read: saving) money for those periodic expenses is the real game-changer. Christmas comes on Dec 25 every year. It should never sneak up on us from a spending standpoint. Yet, how often do we rack up credit card debt in November and December buying Christmas gifts? If you spend $600 on Christmas presents each year, you can set aside $50 each month and have the money ready.

There are some great digital tools to help you manage a budget/spending plan including EveryDollar, Mint, and my favorite, YNAB

 

2 – Minimize Debt

While Christians have a variety of perspectives on what it is appropriate to use debt for — from nothing at all ever to only a mortgage to maybe a car or always for education or a business startup — biblical wisdom always favors keeping debt to a minimum. A general rule of thumb might go something like this: Avoid debt whenever possible. Only take on the minimum amount of debt when necessary. Pay back debt as quickly as possible.

For the best teaching on debt under 3 minutes, click here.

3 – Create Margin

Margin is the key to eliminating misery in your money. That’s Charles Dickens’s point in the quote from the Forbes list above. If you make $50,000/year and spend/save/invest $49,500, you feel great. If you make $50,000/year and spend $50,500, you always feel miserable and behind. 

It is that margin, that little bit of wiggle room in our finances that enables us to care for others, to be generous when unexpected needs arise. Creating margin is the key to having the capacity to help others in need. As Pastor Tom Nelson puts so powerfully in The Economics of Neighborly Love

“If we have compassion without capacity, we have human frustration. If we have capacity without compassion, we have human alienation. If we have compassion and capacity, we have human transformation. We have neighborly love.” (p. 16)

 

When we are moved to help and we have the margin to help, we get to experience a joy we would otherwise miss.  

 

4 – Monitor Lifestyle Creep 

Lifestyle creep is what happens when we always increase our standard of living whenever we gain a new level of income. Sometimes when we get a better paying job, a raise, or simply a cost-of-living adjustment, every new dollar is absolutely necessary to meet basic expenses or pay back debt. But other times our current income is meeting our needs and the additional income puts a choice before us: Do we increase our standard of living? Do we buy a new car, a bigger house, nicer clothes, upgrade from only Aldi to only WholeFoods?

Increases in our standard of living are not necessarily bad. It’s good to celebrate and enjoy the good gifts we’ve been given. But we need to be aware of two things when increasing our standard of living. 

First, we should do it intentionally, not accidentally. It is so easy to just start spending more. If you’re going to increase your standard of living, do it on purpose. Think about it. Pray about it. Ask close friends for wisdom. Make sure you won’t end up making choices that make you marginless and miserable, just at a higher standard of living. 

Second, we have to recognize once you step up your standard of living it is really hard to step down. It’s harder to go back to driving an older car or living in a smaller house or taking less elaborate vacations, once you’ve upgraded. So be careful about going too big. 

 

5 – Start Giving, Increase Giving

​​Jesus said, “It is better to give than receive.” (Acts 20:35) A generous life according to Jesus is the best life. But how much should we give?  C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity

“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusement, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our giving does not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say it is too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot because our commitment to giving excludes them.”

A good rule of thumb rooted in the Scriptures and Christian tradition and practice is 10%. But what if you feel like there is no way you could give 10% and still make ends meet? Start somewhere? Could you give 6%? 3%? 1%? Start somewhere and then seek to increase. Likewise, we shouldn’t let 10% be a speed limit on our giving either. There’s no verse that says, “Thou shalt not give away more than 10%.” The goal is cultivating generosity and joy not fixating on percentages. 

If you feel stuck in your finances, reach out to one of your pastors. We would love to pray with you and connect you with resources that can help you experience greater satisfaction and freedom in managing, sharing, and enjoying the financial resources God has entrusted to you.

Learning to Trust (and Love) the Bible

Learning to Trust (and Love) the Bible

My relationship with the Bible has always been one of intense love…and at times almost crippling doubt. And it all began for me with a fairly lukewarm prayer.

Jesus, I’m going to try to take you seriously for a while. As best I can remember, these are the words I prayed down in the basement of my childhood home when I was 18 years old. It wasn’t a very poetic prayer, and it even seems a bit half-hearted, but it was enough. That night Jesus grabbed onto this reluctant convert and nothing for me has been the same since.

That moment set me on a path–a lifelong quest–to learn how to trust and love the Bible.

I’d grown up in church. My dad was a pastor during my formative years. I knew the Bible pretty well, and if we were doing a Bible trivia night, I could dominate. But it wasn’t until that lukewarm prayer that I began to hear God’s voice through its ancient pages. I could see God’s love for me. I could see myself in His words. A life and a love and a joy calling out to me from its pages.

Weird, right? As a senior in high school, unsure of my future, lonely and depressed, God found me and He used His Book to do it.

I couldn’t get enough.
Almost instantly, I couldn’t get enough of this Book. It was like food and I hadn’t eaten for years. I’d read it in the morning before school and at night before bed. Sermons (at Christ Community no less, vintage Pastor Tom) came alive. I began discussing it with friends and a few months later even began leading a Bible study with my peers. 

I wanted to know it and understand it and trust it and obey it and build my life on it. I wanted to know the One who’d made me and there He was on these dusty pages.

But then doubt settled in.
I don’t know if you know this about the Bible, but it is a hard book. Once you start reading (more than just the inspiring soundbite), questions surface. Brutal, sometimes seemingly unanswerable questions. And then, of course, doubt.

The next fall I headed off to Bible college (I told you, I fell hard for this book!), yet the more I studied and read, the more questions I had. In fact, the greatest season of doubt in my life (so far) happened while in Bible college and then seminary. Could I really build my life on a Book so old, so often confusing, so very difficult at times, with so little certainty?

Can we really trust (and love) the Bible?
Well, no surprise, I’m going to say yes. Let me go ahead and name my bias. Big shocker that a pastor says we should trust the Bible. But it has never been easy for me. Doubts still surface. Regularly. As I said, my relationship with the Bible has been one of intense love…and at times almost crippling doubt. To some extent, that remains true today (though thankfully less debilitating).

I know that there is nothing I could say to instantly make you trust and love the Bible. Faith is still required. But I want to share with you why I believe. Or perhaps more importantly, why I keep believing. Why do I keep returning to this beautiful, difficult, mysterious, ancient Book? Here are the three most important reasons for me personally: the person of Jesus, the character of God, and the testimony of its pages.

But first, a few warnings.
This is not meant to be exhaustive and it should be noted that everything here has been the subject of countless blogs and books. There are people smarter than me if you want to dig deeper. I also want to acknowledge that my reasons can easily be questioned. I don’t have any unassailable arguments and some of what I’m going to say is clearly circular in its reasoning. (Trust the Bible because the Bible tells you to trust the Bible–it’s great logic, I know.) 

Here’s the deal. If you don’t want to trust the Bible, there is nothing I can say to convince you. Faith is still required.

That is exactly right. My goal is not to convince those who don’t want to believe but to encourage those who do.

The Bible is a difficult book. It’s ok to admit that. Yet being difficult to understand isn’t the same as being untrustworthy. There is a lot I still don’t understand about the Scriptures, and a few things I just don’t like. But I keep coming back for these three reasons.

  1. The Person of Jesus

Everything in my faith comes down to the person of Jesus. Everything! I answer each of my doubts with this: did Jesus rise from the dead or not? If He didn’t, I’m out. But if He did, everything changes! If Jesus actually rose from the dead that is the most important truth the world has ever known, making Jesus the most important person. You see, one day I’d like to rise from the dead as well. So if He did, I want to hang on every word He said and all He did. 

There is good historical evidence (not just the Bible tells me so) supporting the validity of the resurrection. While much could be said, until someone more compellingly answers the following questions, I will continue to believe Jesus did come out of the grave alive. 

Questions like:

  • Why was the tomb empty and why couldn’t anyone find the body?
  • What about all the eyewitnesses who saw Him alive?
  • If it was a legend, why would the inventors make women (who couldn’t even testify in court in that time period) the first eyewitnesses? And why would you make all the men doubting cowards?
  • How do you explain the transformation of the eyewitness, from doubting cowards in hiding to literal martyrs for their faith that Jesus was alive?
  • Where did the church (and this crazy movement of His followers) come from, in the midst of so much oppression?

If Jesus rose from the dead, then it doesn’t matter if you like what He said or not or whether or not you find Him personally compelling. If He rose from the dead, He wins, and I’m listening.

Jesus believed the Old Testament.
And Jesus believed the Old Testament. I struggle with the Old Testament. I love the stories and poetry, but I find it much harder than the New Testament. Not only did Jesus believe it, He loves it! He quotes it and makes references to it constantly. You can’t even really understand Jesus without understanding the Old Testament.

He said things likeScripture cannot be broken (John 10:35), referring to the Old Testament. In His most famous sermon, considered to be a kind of summary of His main passions, He says: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:17-18).

He even referred to Himself as the center of the Old Testament Scriptures and the key to their understanding. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me… (John 5:39).

...beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself… Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead… (Luke 24:27, 45-46)

The one who defeated death believed, taught, loved, obeyed, and even revealed Himself as the focus and fulfillment of the Old Testament. I’m siding with the One who defeated death—every time.

Jesus commissioned the New Testament (sort of).
It also seems like He commissioned the writing of the New Testament through the work of the Apostles. The people who knew Jesus best were the ones who wrote these things down for us.

Jesus told them: I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:12–15).

It is reasonable to believe that Jesus wanted His Apostles to write these things down, and promised that His Spirit would guide them in it.

Jesus reveals the character of God.
Jesus also shows us who God is. Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9). And what does Jesus reveal to us about God the Father? 

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection show us that God wants to rescue. God wants to love and be loved. God wants a really big, beautiful, diverse family. God wants a relationship with His creation. Our God wants to be known. That doesn’t prove He gave us the Bible, but it does give us a motive. Jesus shows us that it is God’s heart to communicate with His people. 

Hebrews begins with these words, making a similar connection: Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… (1:1-2) The Apostle John does the same when He refers to Jesus as the Word of God (John 1).

If God so wants to be known that He would send His own Son, it’s at least plausible that He would find other ways to reveal Himself as well. I trust the Bible because I trust the person of Jesus.

  1. The Character of God

I also trust the Bible because I trust the character of God. Jesus shows us the character of God, but so do the Scriptures. You cannot read the Bible without the overwhelming sense that God wants us to know Him. The reason we exist is to know God and be known by Him. Here are just a few such scriptures:

Exodus 6:6-8: I am the Lord… I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians… I am the Lord. 

Psalm 46:10: Be still, and know that I am God. 

Proverbs 8:17: I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.

John 17:3: And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Jeremiah says it perhaps most beautifully. What is the most important thing any human can do? Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (9:23-24)

And what is God’s goal for humanity? I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

God wants to be known. This doesn’t mean the Bible is His Book but it does show us a deep motivation for self-revelation.


God cannot lie.
It’s also important to note here that God cannot lie. He wants to be known and, as God, He has the power and creativity to reveal Himself. But how can we trust Him? We can trust Him because He can only be truthful. He can only be faithful and honest. 

1 Samuel 15:29: The Glory of Israel [meaning God] will not lie.

Numbers 23:19: God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

If God is real and if He wants to be known, He will reveal Himself accurately and honestly. I trust the Bible because I trust the character of God. 

  1. The Testimony of Its Pages

I also trust the Bible because I trust the testimony of its pages. If the Bible is not God’s Word, it is perhaps the most arrogant, self-confident, full-of-itself book ever written.

If it is not God’s Word, it is not just a nice book with nice stories and nice morals. If it is not God’s Word, it is evil, because it claims to hold the very words of God, and to be the greatest, most important, most sacred book ever written. Trust it or trash it.

The claims it makes.
Listen to just a few of its claims:

2 Samuel 7:28: Now, O Lord God, You are God, and Your words are truth…

2 Samuel 22:31: This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true.

Psalms 12:6: The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.

Psalm 18:30: As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the Lord is tried…

Psalm 19:7: The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

Proverbs 30:5: Every word of God proves true.

2 Timothy 3:16-17: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 

2 Peter 1:19-21: And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 

Revelation 22:6: And he said to me, “These words are faithful and true”; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place.

The Story it tells.
The Story it tells also nudges me toward belief. I can’t tell you if its words are true, and perhaps I’m only speaking from my own experience, but the Story of Scripture has a ring of truth about it. Yes, it is easy to get lost in the details or all the individual stories, but when you see its grand narrative, many of our questions and longings find compelling answers. The grand Story can be summed up in four chapters: Creation, Fall, Redemption, New Creation.

Creation. The world had a beginning. It was made with purpose and significance, with humans made in the image of God. Regardless of what you believe about how or when God made the world, the fact that He made it answers so many questions. It compellingly explains why we live as if our lives matter, why beauty touches us so deeply, why love and relationships are so essential, and why, even now in the 21st Century, we just can’t seem to shake our longing for a Maker. The Bible shows us how we were created with these things in mind.

Fall. But everything is broken. We hurt the people we love. We run from God. We choose self-destructive paths. We break the things we touch. And despite all our effort, we can’t fix it. Then add to that cancer, viruses, tornados, infertility, pain in childbirth, loneliness, depression, anxiety, terrorism, war, racism, trafficking, and eventually death. We know in our bones the world shouldn’t be this way. The Bible tells us why.

Redemption. Yet we long for things to be better, and we work to that end. We strive toward self-improvement and we long for it in the people we love. We celebrate stories of forgiveness and reconciliation, rescue and redemption. These things are hard-wired into us by a God who offers them to us, and we see them on display through the climax of this Story in His Son. The Bible explains these longings.

New Creation. One day things will finally and completely be made whole. We want utopia. We want to live forever. We want to be reunited with the people we’ve lost. We want to see God. All these longings find fulfillment in the Story of Scripture.

No, none of this proves the Bible is true or that this grand narrative is the narrative we’re living. Yet, it gives me just one more piece of confidence in believing. It tells a compelling Story.

The way it speaks.
And if you thought that last point was too subjective, you’ll hate this one.

The way this Book speaks to my heart reinforces its veracity. When I read it I can almost hear God’s voice. I feel comforted in my heartache, convicted of my sin, and exposed at my deepest level. I don’t just read this Book. It reads me! It knows me and speaks directly to me. I trust the Bible because I trust the testimony of its pages. 

So what now?
So what are we supposed to do with all this? I want to end with three action steps.

  1. Bring Him your doubts

First, bring God your doubts. I know I didn’t answer your questions and I realize there are fair reasons to doubt the Scriptures. Don’t sweep your doubts under the rug. Take your doubts seriously enough to look into them.

Sometimes people say things like “the Bible is full of contradictions” without actually looking at any supposed contradictions. Or sometimes we reject the Scriptures not because of any logical argument, but simply because we don’t like what it says. I don’t want to obey this so it must not be true. There are also times when we assume the Bible must be false simply because we haven’t taken the time to properly understand it in its cultural context.

Instead, take your doubts seriously enough to do some of the work to really understand. I discovered early on that many of my doubts had more to do with a lack of understanding or an unquestioning loyalty to my own cultural assumptions than with anything inherent in the text. Do the work. Bring Him your doubts.

  1. Trust that God knows better

Second, in all matters, trust that God knows better. Easier said than done I know, but if God has spoken, trust that He has spoken for our good. His Word is for your good. I love how the statement of faith for our denomination the Evangelical Free Church of America summarizes what we believe about the Scriptures. Pay close attention to how it ends.

We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.

Believed, obeyed, and trusted. Not just read or studied or proclaimed, as important as those things are.

Jesus said: Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24-27)

Trust these words. Obey them. Build your life upon them. They are for you from God. Trust that He knows better.

  1. Make this Book your food

And finally, eat this Book! Make it your food. It is strange to me how regularly the Bible refers to itself as a kind of food, sweeter than the best dessert and more satisfying than the richest feast. For Jesus while fasting even chose God’s Word over bread. He said, quoting the Old Testament: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).

 So eat up, Church! Read it regularly and systematically. Memorize it and meditate upon it. Learn to study it and dig deeply into it. Know it so that you can trust it, love it, obey it, and build your life upon it.

Where else can we go?
I love this Book and I want you to love it too. It has been twenty-three years since that half-hearted prayer in my parent’s basement. Twenty-three years and I still feel like I’m just barely at the beginning, still struggling, still doubting, but still growing.

Whenever I’m wrestling with my faith (which is more often than I care to admit) I often think of one of my favorite stories from the Gospels. Jesus was at the height of his popularity but then preached a really hard sermon. After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…” (John 6:66-69).

I often feel like Peter. For I am often burdened by doubt and unanswered questions, tempted, like the crowds, to walk away. But where would I go? Jesus has the words of eternal life! So here I am, learning to trust (and love) the Bible.

Opening More than Open Here

Opening More than Open Here

From the beginning, Christ Community has sought to not only share information about Jesus but also be a catalyst in spiritual formation toward Christlikeness. Core to our DNA is the longing to multiply whole disciples, not just inform the masses. 

Open Here has been a helpful tool for church-wide discipleship into the habit of daily Bible reading for the last several years. The purpose has never been about content or quantity (though those are important), but to form a spiritual habit.

Why focus on the habit of Bible reading? We believe that reading the Bible daily is an astounding place to glean truthful information. The Bible informs God’s people (John 17:8), and we want to know who God is and what He has done through His son Jesus.

In addition to being a source of truth, we believe the Bible sanctifies God’s people, or grows us in godliness (John 17:17). More pointedly, the time spent in consistent Bible reading is where the Holy Spirit goes about His work of transformation. We see how the Bible powerfully transforms God’s people (Ezekiel 37:1-8) into more whole and holy people, and we want to dwell in the source of His transformation.

Needless to say, we love the Bible at Christ Community, but our hunger to grow in Christlikeness and equip our church to do so together has sparked a desire to expand our focus into additional disciplines. We want to grow in prayer, fasting, meditation, and more! The spiritual habit of reading the Bible, while extremely important, is not to be the only spiritual habit in the lives of Jesus’ apprentices. 

Therefore, the month of December is the last Open Here Bible reading plan. While that will no longer be a resource we provide, our goal of spiritual formation will take on new life. We are hard at work creating a new resource that still engages the Bible, but will also further equip our church with a more robust list of spiritual habits informed by Jesus. 

We are excited about who God is forming us to be as a church together. Head over to theFormed.life to sign up for this new resource. We believe it will help us all become more formed into a people like Jesus. 

If you would still like to follow a Bible reading plan, here are a few exceptional options to consider for the new year:

  1. The Bible Recap
    The Bible Recap “Chronological” reading plan follows the story of Scripture as the events occurred. This one-year plan corresponds to The Bible Recap podcast (available wherever you listen to podcasts). We recommend listening to the corresponding podcast episode after you do each day’s reading.
  2. Read through the Bible Chronologically
    The Blue Letter Bible “Chronological” plan is compiled according to recent historical research, taking into account the order in which the recorded events actually occurred. This is a fantastic plan to follow if you wish to add historical context to your reading of the Bible. If the schedule provided is followed, the entire Bible will be read in one calendar year.
  3. Read through the Bible Canonically (as laid out in most English Bibles)
    The Blue Letter Bible “Canonical” plan goes straight through the Bible — from Genesis to Revelation. You will be supplied with reading for each day of the week as a steady guide toward finishing the entire Bible in one calendar year.
Lessons from My Elbow

Lessons from My Elbow

 

About a year ago I seriously injured my elbow when I slipped and hit it on a door frame at a local restaurant. A normal human being with a level of intelligence just slightly higher than a dung beetle would have realized the need to rest in order to heal from such an injury. I clearly did not possess said level of intelligence. 

Not only did I refuse to go to the doctor for several months, I continued to go to the gym, lift weights, and work on finishing our basement. All of that served to compound my elbow problems to the point that I developed lateral epicondylitis, otherwise known as tennis elbow. And yes, I had to google that.

The pain had reached such a level that I had to stop exercising and take a break from the basement project. This was not easy for me to accept because I had to face the fact that I had limitations and that I couldn’t do everything. And that is a hard lesson for someone who has an inflated ego and an exaggerated view of their capabilities.

My desires and attempts to work through the pain were not driven by necessity. They were driven by self-sufficiency. In other words, I didn’t need to remain on my exercise routine, and I didn’t need to finish the basement right away.

I did feel as though my worth and identity was wrapped up in my accomplishments. My aim of validating my significance through my achievements is what resulted in me being forced to rest.  

During this time of “forced” rest, I remember reading in Romans 4 and I came across a verse that felt like it was bolded, underlined, italicized, and highlighted just for me. They were words I had undoubtedly read several times throughout my life, but somehow I saw them for the first time. The context is Paul speaking about the faith of Abraham and he says:

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:19-21)

There was something about that phrase in verse 19 that just struck me afresh. Yes, Abraham was fully aware of God’s limitless power and unshakable promises. But he was also fully aware of his own limitations and deficiencies. He knew how old he was, how impossible the promise of a son was, and how incapable he was to accomplish any of this. Yet this was precisely what allowed him to see his life and circumstances in a way that didn’t lead him to despair. 

He knew what he could do and he did it faithfully. He left his home, he followed God, and obeyed his commands. But he also knew what he couldn’t do and he trusted God to fill in the gaps.

If we only look to ourselves or rely on our own abilities, skills, and talents, then this will either inflate our ego to where we say “I got this” or deflate our joy to where we ask “what’s the point of this?” In my life these two are closely related. My joy deflates because I try to do everything and I quickly learn that I can’t. That is why we have to look at our limits and God’s promises simultaneously.

Knowing and leaning into our limits and limitations is not a practice of self-pity that leads to failure and frustration. It is a practice of self-discovery that leads to faithfulness and fruitfulness. Leaning into our limitations is an opportunity for us to trust God and watch Him bring life from barren wombs, so to speak.

When it comes to rest, we will learn how to do it the easy way or the hard way. We will either rest through establishing intentional habits and rhythms, or we will rest out of sheer necessity due to exhaustion of some kind. Our limitations will either prime us to receive God’s gift of rest, or they will cause us to push forward until we are forced to rest.

Which way do you want to learn how to rest?

Better to Read the Bible Every Day than Every Year

Better to Read the Bible Every Day than Every Year

Have you ever attempted to read the entire Bible in a year? There are lots of great plans out there that can help you do this. Two of my favorites are the Read Scripture plan from The Bible Project and the Robert Murray M’Cheyne plan. 

If you’ve never read the entire Bible before, it’s a great thing to do. We believe that ALL of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments are “God-breathed,” inspired by the Holy Spirit. If you haven’t had the joy reading all those God-breathed words at some point in your life, you’re missing out.

However, sometimes attempts to read the Bible in 365 days leave us feeling hurried in our reading or frustrated when we fall behind. 

This is why it is better to read the Bible every day than every year. Reading the Bible in a year is a goal. Reading the Bible every day is a habit

In the end, our habits shape us more than our goals. Indeed, it is our habits that ultimately enable and empower us to reach our goals. This is how James Clear, author of Atomic Habits and one of the best contemporary writers on the topic of habits, puts it:

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. Your goal is your desired outcome. Your system is the collection of daily habits that will get you there. This year, spend less time focusing on outcomes and more time focusing on the habits that precede the results. 

What if this year you gave your greatest energy not to getting through the entire Bible, but in establishing a habit, a system, a routine of reading the Bible every day? No matter what. Come hell or high water. (Do people still use that expression?) You read the Bible every day. 

The Bible is mediation literature. Read it every day, and soak in it. Reflect on Psalm 1. 

1 How happy is the one who does not

walk in the advice of the wicked

or stand in the pathway with sinners

or sit in the company of mockers!

2 Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction,

and he meditates on it day and night.

3 He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams

that bears its fruit in its season

and whose leaf does not wither.

Whatever he does prospers.

4 The wicked are not like this;

instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand up in the judgment,

nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.

Be like a tree this year—read the Bible every day—see how long you can keep the streak going. Worry less about completing a certain amount of reading. Instead, focus on establishing the habit of reading. 

If you happen to read the Bible in a year because you installed the habit of reading the Bible every day, that’s wonderful. But even if you don’t read the whole Bible this year, I can promise you that if you read it everyday—with a posture of seeking to know, love, and obey Jesus—your life will change. 

The change will probably be imperceptible at first. But it will happen. And you will find deeper joy as the roots of your life soak up the nurshing, refreshing, fruit-enabling waters of the Word. 

Take the Next Step

If you’re looking to start this habit but don’t know where to start in your Bible or what to read each day, Christ Community’s Open Here reading plan is a great place to start. It gives you a short passage to read each day that relates to the current sermon series.