Near the Cross: Prayer and Perseverance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 3:12-16.

Spiritual Discipline ~ Service

Discipline Scripture ~ John 13:1-5, 14-15.

During the Season of Lent, Christians through the ages ‘try on’ different spiritual disciplines as a way to lean into their life of faith in a new, deeper, or fresh way. Each week during Lent, I will offer a reflection – including thoughts by the renowned Richard Foster – on a different spiritual discipline as modeled for us by Jesus.

In our Discipline Scripture text this week we read of Jesus serving his disciples by washing their feet. His service ends with instruction, as it so often does. In John’s Gospel Jesus applies The Golden Rule, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (Jn 13:14-15). We, who follow Jesus, are called to serve. Called to humble ourselves. Called to honor one another. We are called after the example of our living Lord.

As we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we learn more deeply the differences between Self-Righteous Service and True Service:

  • Self-Righteous Service
    • Comes through human effort
    • Is impressed with the big deal, meaning impressive gains
    • Requires external rewards
    • Is highly concerned about results
    • Picks and chooses whom to serve
    • Is affected by moods and whims
    • Is insensitive, meaning meeting the need even when to do so would be destructive
    • Fractures community
  • True Service
    • Comes from a relationship with God deep inside the individual
    • Finds it almost impossible to distinguish between the small service from the large
    • Rests contented in hiddenness
    • Is free of the need to calculate results
    • Is indiscriminate in its ministry
    • Ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need
    • Can withhold the service as freely as perform it
    • Builds community

Says Foster, “True service quietly and unpretentiously goes about caring for the needs of others. It draws, binds, heals, and builds.”*

Through service we lean into the radical role reversal that Jesus taught – that Jesus incarnated. That the last will be first. The least will be greatest. The weakest will be the strongest. Jesus did not seek position or title. Jesus served with a towel. Jesus served at the table, excluding no one. Jesus served on the cross, becoming sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.

Recall a time when you were served. What was the circumstance? How did being served make you feel? How was your relationship with the person that served you transformed by that encounter? How has this or how can this experience shape your future service? How has serving rather than being served changed your life for the better? Share your answers with a friend. I look forward to serving you in worship this Sunday.

For further reading, see Celebration of Discipline pages 126-140.

Prayer: “And through these days of penitence, and through thy passiontide, yea, evermore in life and death, Jesus, with us abide.”** Amen.

*Celebration of Discipline 128-130.

**“Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days,” The United Methodist Hymnal 269.

Near the Cross: Prayer and Sacrifice

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 3:1-11.

Spiritual Discipline ~ Solitude

Discipline Scripture ~ Luke 5:16.

During the Season of Lent, Christians through the ages ‘try on’ different spiritual disciplines as a way to lean into their life of faith in a new, deeper, or fresh way. Each week during Lent, I will offer a reflection – including thoughts by the renowned Richard Foster – on a different spiritual discipline as modeled for us by Jesus.

Our Discipline Scripture for this week is one of many texts that describes Jesus practicing outward solitude. Jesus spent forty days alone in the desert before starting his professional ministry. Before selecting the disciples he spent time alone. Upon learning of John the Baptist’s death he drew away by himself. After feedings and healings and teachings he sought time alone. Seeking outward solitude was a regular practice for Jesus; so should it be for us.

Inner solitude is also to our benefit. Foster says that inner solitude is what sets us free from loneliness and fear. Inner solitude is not just a time of being alone and being quiet; it is a time where we have a develop a heart that is keenly listening for God’s voice. Listening for God’s voice leads us in when to speak and when to keep silent; without God’s voice guiding us, we will miss the mark every time. Foster writes, “We must seek out the recreating stillness of solitude if we want to be with others meaningfully. We must seek the fellowship and accountability of others if we want to be alone safely. We must cultivate both if we are to live in obedience.”*

It is true that silence can make us feel helpless. But rather than feeling helpless, I like to think of silence as an invitation to trust – for God to speak for us, for God to speak into us. Rather than fill the world with words that grasp at straws or that do not truly reflect our heart, through solitude and silence, we welcome God to be our justifier rather than alone having to explain ourselves.

To practice solitude, Foster recommends identifying and observing the moments of solitude already present in your day – like the quiet moments in the morning when you just wake up or when you are stuck in traffic – let’s face it! – anywhere in South Hillsborough County! You can also seek to create moments of solitude by completing an assignment and then pausing in reflection or taking a walk outside.

The fruit of this work is increased sensitivity and compassion, towards ourselves and towards our neighbors. And I think we would all agree that our world could definitely benefit from increased sensitivity and compassion. Solitude is the threshold to cross to lead us there.

For further reading, see Celebration of Discipline pages 96-109.

Prayer: “As thou didst hunger bear, and thirst, so teach us, gracious Lord, to die to self, and chiefly live by thy most holy word.”** Amen.

*Celebration of Discipline 97-98.

**“Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days,” The United Methodist Hymnal 269.

Near the Cross: Prayer and Formation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 2:12-30.

Spiritual Discipline ~ Study

Discipline Scripture ~ Luke 2:41-51.

During the Season of Lent, Christians through the ages ‘try on’ different spiritual disciplines as a way to lean into their life of faith in a new, deeper, or fresh way. Each week during Lent, I will offer a reflection – including thoughts by the renowned Richard Foster – on a different spiritual discipline as modeled for us by Jesus.

In our Discipline Scripture this week, we read of Jesus in the Temple as a child. He and his family travelled – as was the custom – annually to the Temple to worship, to repent, and to give their offering. His parents started their journey home, but Jesus was not with them. He stayed behind in the Temple, listening to the scribes and asking his questions. Jesus took that opportunity to study, and he availed himself to that opportunity throughout his life. Luke 2:52 says, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”

Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2). Foster says, “The mind is renewed by applying it to those things that will transform it.”* There is no greater transformation in this world than the one that comes through a relationship with Jesus. Knowing Jesus exposes us to the truth, and as we grow in that truth, we gain knowledge of the love of God, and that knowledge will set us free.

Foster observes that study involves four steps:

  1. Repetition – regularly channeling the mind in specific directions in order to ingrain habits of thought.
  2. Concentration – the centering of the mind on what is being studied.
  3. Comprehension – understanding what is being studied.
  4. Reflection – defines the significance of what we are studying, and specifically, to see things from God’s perspective.

That turn – to see things from God’s perspective – alerts us that study demands humility. Foster writes, “Study simply cannot happen until we are willing to be subject to the subject matter. We must submit to the system. We must come as student, not teacher. Not only is study directly dependent upon humility, but it is conducive to it. Arrogance and a teachable spirit are mutually exclusive.”**

I had a teacher in undergrad that every student called Dr. B. He taught business classes; we have him to thank for much of my church finance savvy. One of Dr. B’s most important lessons was wait to I-ize – meaning do not move too quickly from interpretation of what is being studied to application of what is studied. Foster agrees with Dr. B. We must first interpret – know what a lesson means – so that we can discernably apply what the lesson means for you (for me).

This week select a text and explore it through the four steps Foster identifies. Seek an interpretation of the text before an application. Share your insights with a friend. In this way, we try on the example set for us by Jesus – of listening, of asking questions, of living a life set towards holiness.

For further reading, see Celebration of Discipline pages 62-76.

Prayer: “As thou with Satan didst contend, and didst the victory win, O give us strength in thee to fight, in thee to conquer sin.”*** Amen.

*Celebration of Discipline 62.

**Celebration of Discipline 66.

***“Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days,” The United Methodist Hymnal 269.

Near the Cross: Prayer and Service

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 2:1-11.

Spiritual Discipline ~ Fasting

Discipline Scripture ~ Mt 6:16-18.

During the Season of Lent, Christians through the ages ‘try on’ different spiritual disciplines as a way to lean into their life of faith in a new, deeper, or fresh way. Each week during Lent, I will offer a reflection – including thoughts by the renowned Richard Foster – on a different spiritual discipline as modeled for us by Jesus.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus provides clear instruction as to how we are to give alms, pray, and fast. Concerning fasting, we are not to look dismal or disfigure our faces. Changing clothes or wearing ashes were common signs of mourning and repentance. To separate those acts from fasting, Jesus directs us to wash our faces.

When we fast, we are not to attract attention because fasting is for spiritual purposes, not attention. Fasting is a between the individual and God.

Jesus does not command us to fast; rather it is a discipline that we can use as an offering to God. Remember, Jesus says “whenever you fast” not “you should fast.” Jesus upheld this discipline and anticipated his followers would as well.

Foster writes, “ Fasting reminds us that we are sustained by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Mt 4:4). Food does not sustain us. God sustains us…We are told not to act miserable when fasting because, in point of fact, we are not miserable. We are feeding on God and, just like the Israelites who were sustained in the wilderness by the miraculous manna from heaven, so we are sustained by the word of God…”*

If you choose to try on fasting, progression should be observed. Be sure to check in with your primary care physician before starting a fasting routine. Begin with a partial fast one day a week, staying hydrated with fresh fruit juice and water. Try this for a few weeks and then you can either extend the hours you fast and/or increase the number of days you fast. Remember, “fasting can bring breakthroughs in the spiritual realm that will never happen any other way. It is a means of God’s grace and blessing that should not be neglected any longer.”**

For further reading, see Celebration of Discipline pages 47-61.

Prayer: “Lord, who throughout these forty days for us didst fast and pray, teach us with thee to mourn our sins and close by thee to stay.”*** Amen.

*Celebration of Discipline 55-56.

**Celebration of Discipline 60.

***“Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days,” The United Methodist Hymnal 269.