Friday, December 31, 2010

A Fresh Look at Spiritual Formation & Ancient Practices

Over the past several years, the topic of spiritual formation and spiritual practices (or disciplines) have begun to get more and more air-time. A number of books deal with the ideal of being conformed into the image of Christ, while others leverage into to the practices themselves. No single volume could possibly begin to even scratch the surface.

Thomas Nelson Publishing, in this series Ancient Practices Series, allot space and time to deal more comprehensively with not only the premise behind engaging spiritual practices, but also looking more in depth at seven of these ancient practices (fixed-hour prayer, fasting, sabbath, the sacred meal, pilgrimage, observance of sacred seasons and giving). In the first volume, Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices, Brain McLaren begins to masterfully approach the role of spiritual practices within the process of one’s personal transformation with fresh perspective. If you’re new to the subject of engaging spiritual practices/disciplines, this book offers a great introduction. If you’ve read the classics such as Celebration of Discipline, Spirit of the Disciplines, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, etc, this book offers much more than a mere rehashing of old rhetoric. I look forward to working through this entire series this upcoming year.

*I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Eliminating Digital Noise :: Ommwriter

We have to admit it. New technologies don’t exactly make concentrating any easier. Ichat, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, Messenger, Youtube... But it’s not just the programmes; when we work, we have loads of windows open at the same time. We’re busy writing emails, while finishing off a PowerPoint presentation, reading another email and drafting a complete document. Just like computers, people have had to become experts at multitasking.

Ommwriter is a new concept in text editing that isolates you from environmental and disjointed-thought noise and creates a private space where you can concentrate. It can serve as a great median for reflection, journaling and prayer. And, best of all, it's free...

Ommwriter by herraizsoto&co from herraizsoto&co on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Social Network Christmas

Family Devotion and Activity :: Fourth Week of Advent :: Love

Light the candles of Hope, Light and Joy. Now light the fourth Advent candle, the candle of Love.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

(John 3:16 NLT)

As we pause today in heart-preparation for this season, we once again look at another characteristic of God - Love. God is love. It’s not a feeling that He has, it is something that He is. This love prompted Him to give of Himself on our behalf. Just as love prompted action from God, so love prompts action from us. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can offer to others this season is the very gift of ourselves. The gift of attentively listening to another. The gift of inquiring with wonder and care into the life and soul of the person presently present before us. Love is expressed when we are able to resist the urge to interrupt, dismiss and overlook another. Love is alive when we slow down enough to notice the promptings of God and the disposition of others.

Only as we accept the God who is love into our life, are we able to truly love with the kind of love that is depicted through the words of Scripture. Advent is a time for kindness, thinking of others and sharing with others. It is a time to love as God loved us. As God loved by giving of Himself, so do we. As God is love, so let us be love.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Tragedy

Christmas, for many can serve to remind us of the tragic in our lives. Awkward family gathering, an estranged relationship, even the reminder of a lost loved one or ongoing crisis. It can become a long, dull and tiring string of gatherings and parties, not to mention the often self inflicted moments of guilt associated with gift-giving. To the extent that these realities are able crouch, they can easily begin to strangle the life out of Christmas. I love how Brennan Manning reverses all this in his book Lion and Lamb:

Christmas is a faith-experience that enables us to see beyond the tragic in our lives. It is a reminder that we need the laughter of God to prevent us from taking the world too seriously, the world of cerebral head trips played in dead earnest, the game of one-upmanship escalated to mortal combat, the illusions of self-importance. (Lion & Lamb, Brennan Manning, 158)
 May we engage this season, parties, gatherings and all from this perspective...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Family Devotion and Activity :: Third Week of Advent :: Joy

“At the birth of God’s Son heaven and earth danced.

For heaven and earth embrace.” 

Richard Harries

Relight the candles of Hope and Light and now light today’s Advent candle, the candle of Joy.  The Greek word for joy is chara, which means “rejoicing, gladness, enjoyment or bliss.”  In many ways it means “to celebrate.”  The birth of a new baby or the first sight of a new born seems to have a mysterious way of bringing joy to all who are near.

The Gospel of Luke tells of how the angel told the shepherds that the birth of Jesus would be “good news of great joy for all people” (Luke 2:10).  Scripture actually says, that at this angelic proclamation, there appeared a multitude of heavenly hosts that began celebrating and praising God.

The birth of the Christ-child brought joy to earth, but the joy doesn’t stop there. When a person begins to follow in the ways of Christ with a surrendered life, Scripture says that all Heaven joins in and celebrates.  As we enter this holiday season, let’s celebrate, really celebrate Jesus - the fact that He came to earth and the truth that He desires an intimate relationship with us. He is still Emmanuel - God with us.

Lord, thank you for the joy that you bring.  Today we celebrate You.

Make a list of friends and family members that you’ve not had contact with in a while. As a family, create a card for them. Perhaps each member of the family can contribute something unique - a photo, a picture drawn, a Bible verse, a memory, etc. Send these to them as a way of bringing joy to another during this Christmas season.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Family Devotion and Activity :: Second Week of Advent :: Light 

Read: Luke 4:16-21 & 18:35-43

Jesus came to open the eyes of the blind. The Bible talks about two different kinds of blindness. Some people are physically blind. They are not able to see the beautiful colors and lights of Christmas. They cannot see the things of this life. The other kind of blindness that the Bible speaks about is spiritual blindness. Spiritual blindness is the worst sort of blindness. People who are spiritually blind cannot see the truth of God’s word. They do not understand the things that are eternal.

At night, as a family, go into a room of your home and turn off all the lights. Try walking around without stumbling, tripping or running into things. It is hard to find your way around in the dark. Those who are spiritually blind also live in a world of darkness. They do not know or believe God’s Word so they do not understand how God wants them to live, what God wants them to avoid, or where God wants them to go. Those who are spiritually blind walk about in this life not able to see the things God wants them to see.

The Bible says that when we follow Jesus, we never walk in the dark, for He is the Light of the world (John 8:12). May we determine to always follow Jesus.

Today we relight the candle of HOPE. Now we light the candle for the second Sunday in Advent. This is the candle of LIGHT.

As we prepare for the coming of Jesus, we remember that Jesus is our hope and the light showing the way of salvation.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; 

on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned

~Isaiah 9:2

Suggestion: Consider lighting the candles at dinner with everyone gathered together. Allow the light of these two candles be the only source of light during the meal. At the end of the meal, spend a few moments reflecting back on Christ as the Light of the world. Take a few moments to pray together, thanking God for sending the Light to those lost in darkness and sin. Note: allowing children to be the ones who get to light and blow out the candles can be a great way to help them stay engaged.

Additional Family Bible Study
At another setting this week, read the Christmas Story from Matthew 2:1-15 with your family. List all the different people in the story. How did each welcome the Lord Jesus Christ? Talk about what it looks like for us to welcome Christ Jesus today?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Learning How to Read

Scripture never ceases to amaze me. I love how the Spirit of God can take a well worn passage and familiar story and bring it to life again - as if for the first time. This is the power of Scripture. Yet, there is a danger in coming to well worn and familiar portions of text. There is a tendency to come to the text as the teacher, rather than the student. If we are not careful, we can impose on the text what we already know (or think we know). In doing so, what we know may become the very stumbling block that keeps us from learning something we don't know (at least experientially). Therefore, we must approach the text as a student, as one who listens more than speaks.

The Nativity Story is one of these such passages - one filled with insight, power and relevance that can burst into our very present circumstances, but we mustn't assume we know what's going to happen. The more "familiar" a text has become to us cognitively, the more cautious and slowly we should approach it. Perhaps, as one would approach a dove - slowly, softly, gently, quietly - so as not to startle it and miss the close encounter that is at hand. I intentionally and prayerfully try to engage the text of Scripture in such manner, especially with passages that have become well learned (or at least well-heard) like the nativity passages.

On that note, I'm pretty excited about the new series we began last night called Nativity Reflections.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

do-it-yourself spirituality

"Any spirituality that furnishes a do-it-yourself kit plants the seeds of discouragement and disappointment. And this flowers into a winter of discontent that blooms in gloom, cynicism, and a subtle form of despair...

...It is one thing to know Jesus Christ loves us and another thing to realize it. In prayer we slow down to a human tempo and make time to listen. In prayer we discover what we already have. You start from where you are and realize that you are already there. We already have everything, but many of us don't know it and therefore don't experience it. Everything has been given to us by the Father in Jesus. All we need now is to experience what we already possess. The most precious moments of prayer consist in letting ourselves be loved by the Lord." ~Lion and Lamb, Brennan Manning, 159, 154