Devotional Life

Discipleship, Personal Growth

At the church where I serve we are currently focusing on growing as disciples of Jesus. We learned many lessons during the pressures and strain of the pandemic. One was a recognition of the resilience in our isolation of those who had already established patterns of personal growth and discipleship. That knowledge led us to a theme for the church called A Time to Grow. With that in mind, I want to share some keys for me that I have picked up from mentors in my own personal time with the Master.

Just do it.

So this first encouragement on personal growth and discipleship is not fancy. Simply put, just do it. One of my favorite passages about Jesus is His simple commitment to spending time with the Father.

But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. Luke 5:16 ESV

However and wherever you can, spend time with the Father. I am reminded if Jesus needed time alone with the Father, I for sure do! Before Jesus made His selection of the disciples, he spent time alone in prayer. Before Jesus made His way to the cross in the Garden He spent time alone in prayer.

Withdraw

It’s okay, check that, it is healthy to wall off time for yourself to be absolutely alone with the Father. To be poured out like Paul as an offering means you have to be filled up! True empowerment and full-fillment can only come through time ALONE with God. I love the images shared of Jesus going alone to “desolate places” the “mountain” or the “hillside” to be alone with the Father.

And pray

Spending, or rather I like to say investing time with God is key. What I mean is this is not simply a nature stroll, or time in the study contemplating life. This is not about emptying your mind. It is a time to talk with God. It is a time for God to speak to you. This may sound overly simplistic, but this simple step, this simple action can transform your life. God wants to spend time with you.

I love my wife. One of the ways you know I love my wife is, I want to spend time with her. A lot of time with her. I don’t care if I have to drive her to every fabric store and home decor outlet in the western hemisphere. I love my son. We like to chill and watch stupid shows, talk about jets and trains, fish and shoot. I love my daughter, we grab coffee. She is an athlete and it is a ball to get beat by her in any sport or simply watch her do her thing. You would know if I did not love them because I would be doing something else with my time.

I love God. I want to spend time with Him.

Don’t quit

This is all so simple, yet so deadly. Here’s the enemy’s plan. If he can convince you that spending time with God is not important he will, period. He does not want you to talk with your Father, read what your Father has to say, or listen to Him speak to you by His Spirit.

Here’s one of satan’s main tricks. You kick off having a time with the Lord daily. If you start, you are going to miss time with God here and there. But the enemy will say, “See, you know you couldn’t keep this up. You’re such a disappointment. Plus, this really doesn’t matter, God knows you love him.” And, you’ll quit. Listen, if you miss time with God for one day, two days, ten days, start right back where you left off.

Over time, and the enemy knows this, you will cherish this time. You will miss this time when disrupted. It will become one of the most important parts of who you are as a disciple.

Have you talked with the Father today?

With you and for you – Ray

Advent with Bonhoeffer

Discipleship

Tomorrow we will begin our annual journey toward the celebration of Jesus’ birth. My wife, Jennifer, bought me an amazing book recently. I am using it as a guide through Advent, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas.

For a succinct history on Bonhoeffer, let me suggest this Christianity Today article here. For a more in-depth read, enjoy Metaxas’ book, Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

Bonhoeffer prevailed through the horrors of World War II in a resolute and unflappable way, grounded in his faith and love of Christ. His own personal disciplines and devotion to following Christ were consistently lived out. He resisted the evil of Hitler and his regime courageously and stood for right. After years of this resistance, tragically his life ended just days before the surrender of the Nazi forces. This devotional guide takes excerpts from Bonhoeffer’s works and letters, and places them in daily readings that correspond with Advent and the Days of Christmas. I pray you find this guide refreshing and encouraging as we celebrate the Lord’s birth.

Merry Christmas!

Neighborhood Improvement

Discipleship, Personal Growth

Inspired by a movie…

The family is all home for Thanksgiving break. This is a new season for us with a son now away at college. With some time to have fun together, we selected a movie to see at the theater – choosing a movie about Mr. Rogers over a race-car movie. My expectation was rather low for either, simply happy to be with my family! But, to my surprise, the movie about Mr. Rogers was moving, and inspirational. This movie is literally thought provoking, or perhaps better said emotion provoking. As I walked away from that movie and disposed of an empty bucket of popcorn and teary napkins, I am better for being reminded of the following things as I work on my own Neighborhood Improvement:

People are valuable

The value of all people, right where they are, just as they are, permeates the movie. Rom 5:8 says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus focused the majority of His passionate anger toward the religious elite, the self-righteous. The elite looking to the outside – prestige, power, “success” – those who make those as connection points. But Jesus dialed into the heart. Most often He shared his ministry of connection with the broken, outcast, sick and abandoned. As we all know, regardless of our outward trappings each of us are broken, outcast, sick and abandoned. Ephesians says it more strongly as being “dead in our sins.” As Jesus accepts us as we are, I am not saying Jesus leaves us as we are, but he takes us as we are and shapes us and makes us ultimately to be like Him.

Be present

Often Mr. Rogers would avail himself to be available with people, or rather individuals. He did not multitask. Mr. Rogers did not speak so much to groups in conversation, but often zeroed in on one person even in those groups. He was present, and that person would know they were heard, understood, and accepted. It is fascinating that the premise of his television program was to speak into the camera as if it were to one person. Just as Nicodemas came to Jesus in the night to ask soul searching questions, or just as the woman at the well explored her life with the Master – both of these and many many more experienced the Truth personally.

No one is perfect

As shared by Mr. Rogers, while seemingly saintly, he was a jar of clay like us all. He met people where they were because he was also very familiar with his own shortcomings, in the past and present. But, he did work at it. 1 Peter 1:15-16 says,

“But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

and Paul declared in Philippians 3:12,

[ Straining Toward the Goal ] “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”

Impacting your own neighborhood

It is not uncommon for Neighborhoods to band together for clean-up, safety teams, and overall neighborhood improvement. What if we also took time to restore our neighborhoods relationally. Building and maintaining relationships today is tough. Our culture seemingly stokes and pits us against one another creating sides and divisions. Not to mention the fact that there is an enemy who prowls about seeking those he can destroy; individually, in marriages, families and communities. Chaos and anarchy are his MO, for all time.

Book – The Art of Neighboring

The staff where I serve recently walked through the book The Art of Neighboring. This great read gives some straightforward context and descriptors of neighborly life today, or rather the lack thereof. And then it turns to ways to combat our isolation. Obviously there is a goal of permeating our relationship with the Gospel, while living authentically and transparently with those nearest us, even if we live in ways that do not align. I confess I am not a perfect neighbor. I get tired of other’s Christmas lights being up too long, barking dogs, and cars going too fast with stereos too loud and the like. But, I’m guilty of not being present, not looking for ways to connect and help in my own neighborhood improvement. This is where the Lord planted me. The need to be a neighbor who cares is my responsibility.

It’s Thanksgiving, how will you connect with your neighbor?