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3 Questions I’m Asking About Spiritual Disciplines

When Katy was about 5 years old she did something I thought deserved a “time out” so I told her to sit on the stairs. A few minutes later, I walked by and heard her mumbling something.

“What are you saying Katy?”

Scowling and with the most disgusted, put-upon tone she could muster she said, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, later on however it produces a harvest of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it!”*

So if “discipline” is unpleasant,  “spiritual disciplines” will be something I hate…a necessary burden to make me more like Jesus, right?  But then I read Matthew 11:28-30:

“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.”

And then there’s Matthew 15:8-9 where Jesus says:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’”

A spiritual practice is not an end in itself – not something we do to get spiritual brownie points, but rather, training we choose, like training for a marathon, that bit by bit, stretches our spiritual muscles, draws us closer to God, and transforms us into people who are more like Him.

In Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook,** she writes, “The simple truth is that wanting to keep company with Jesus has a staying power that ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ seldom have.”

So, three questions I’m asking myself:

  1. Where is my desire and longing? Where am I least like Jesus, but long to be?
  2. How do I want or need to be with God? (For example, I am an extrovert, so the discipline of silence and solitude has been stretching, but so fruitful)
  3. What spiritual practices might the Holy Spirit be inviting me to step into? As I do, they may be hard, but do they foster love and intimacy with the Lord, or resentment? Is this something I am doing with Jesus, or something that is ill-fitting and legalistic?

The post on fasting seems to have hit a nerve!  Some of you identified with my struggle, and some of you thanked me for being authentic, but you guys are way too shy about sharing your wisdom, insights and encouragement that could benefit everyone!  So many of you respond directly to me instead of posting in the comments. I thought you’d like to see some valuable thoughts that folks sent me or posted on FB:

I trained like you would for a marathon. I started out fasting from sugar . . . the next time I added bread . . . meat . . . vegetables . . . fruits . . . juice . . . until I could just drink water. One day a week. These days I am working on fasting from all electronic devices one day a week!

My husband and I have been regularly fasting over many years. It is challenging yes, but the benefits so outweigh the discomfort, that we actually enjoy it, especially the 21 day fast Daniel fast we do at the beginning of the year. The awareness of God, how He strengthens and enables us to go through is amazing.  Starting can be difficult but when it becomes a part of your life, it’s much easier. Drawing closer to God in this way is worth it.
Fasting? You have come to the right person!
When I became Orthodox I knew right away this was not something I was going to like. We fast on Wednesdays and Fridays — Wednesdays because it was the day Christ was betrayed and Friday because that was the day Christ was crucified. It is all done to remember our Lord . These are not strict fasts– only no meat or dairy but that is bad enough for a little fat person who loves her ice cream, yogurt, cheese and COOKIES. However I’ve discovered that Oreos are legal!
 
Seriously, I have grown to look forward to the discipline especially of the 40 day fasts of Nativity and Lent. Still only no meat or dairy for those. The process has drawn me closer to my Lord and His sacrifice. Easy? No but so worthwhile and beneficial to my spiritual growth. Forgive me for sounding”preachy” but the whole experience has has been an eye- opener for me and among other things has taught me that I am never too old to learn new helps in my spiritual life.
 
Disclaimers also come with these fasts– do not make anyone else uncomfortable by fasting ( as if invited out or there is no other food available)  Thinking of someone else always comes first.
 *Hebrews 12:11 which we had memorized as a family.
** Highly recommend this book! In it there is a chapter on fasting.
Some posts on this blog contain Amazon affiliate links – I receive a tiny commission on any purchases you make from links, but I’m not paid to recommend any particular item. I’d never include a link to anything I didn’t own or feel great about endorsing.

One Thing I Don’t Want to do to Be Like Jesus

Confession: I reeeeally don’t like discomfort. (shocking, I know)

I don’t like inconvenience, or pain, or sacrifice, or waiting.

Thus, I HATE fasting.

This means that I had a little problem Monday, because part of my devotional reading was from Mark 2 on fasting.

Just the fact that Jesus brought the idea of fasting to my attention again was soooo irritating, and then actually considering it, and rationalizing with all the reasons I shouldn’t do it was…well, really uncomfortable for me.

Like all spiritual disciplines, fasting is just a means to an end – to help us become more like Jesus who is love. When we I think of “love” I like all the GOOD FEELS, and the affirmation that comes from doing kind things – you know…what I get out of it. But practicing sacrifice by fasting in order to get better at loving sacrificially? Uh, no thanks.

Fasting in order to better identify with what Jesus went through to draw me into closer relationship with Him? Gosh, isn’t there another way?

Fasting in order to get rid of extraneous (??) stuff so we can just focus on Jesus all day? Puleeze! The last thing I’m thinking about when I’m hungry is Jesus.

FISH TACOS for Pete’s sake! This is more my speed…

But I’m such a rule-follower that Monday I though OK (heavy sigh), I’ll fast til dinner.

About 11 a.m. I grabbed a handful of Craisins from the fridge trying not to think about what a Losey McLoserson I am, while rationalized that I was doing other sacrificial things so I didn’t really need to fast, and after all, I can do it any time I have to. I just don’t have to right now.

Can you give a sister some help here?

What has your experience been with fasting (or other spiritual practices you don’t like)?

Me and Mr. Trump

Kellyanne Conway (Trump advisor) : “Judge Donald Trump by “what’s in his heart [not] what’s come out of his mouth.”

Jesus: “…out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”*

Some people are so easy for me to judge. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. I compare myself with them and feel comfortably self-righteous.

“Bam! I’m better than THAT!”

“Pow! I’d never say THAT!”

Their speech, like gangrene, is so ugly and offensive it’s easy to recognize that they must have heart disease.

But then I read more of my Bible and I’m reminded:

The heart is deceitful above all things …” Jeremiah 17:9 as in “MY heart is deceitful above all things…” There is hidden heart decay that I don’t want to face. And then…

“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23

That means I have heart a disease, and so do you. Even though my words may mask the condition of my heart more than others, there is pride and lack of love, and selfishness pumping through the chambers.

This weekend, John preached on the power of our words, and included an oral check-up. Some of these questions**may help you assess the condition of your heart, but then what? How do we do cardiac care?

Proverbs 4:23-24 says,

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Romans 12:2

We may hear this a lot, but do we really pay attention to it? It can be really uncomfortable, but what if we ask:

Will this…

movie…

relationship…

activity…

book…

Twitter/FB/Instagram feed…

contribute to my spiritual heart health or heart decay?

As a result will my heart be beating more in sync with the heart of Jesus and because of that will my words be more like His words? Or will I be more prone to crass language, gossip, criticism, cynicism…?

 

*Luke 6:45

**

  1. Would people say you talk too much or hold too much inside?
  2. Which is harder for you, receiving criticism, or offering it?
  3. Are you more about asking questions or giving answers?
  4. When is the last time you misrepresented/exaggerated/deceived/lied to someone?
  5. Sometimes we confuse swearing with bad language (gossip/anger/pettiness etc.) Which is more of a temptation for you?
  6. Words + faith…Is your faith a state secret? Do people see what they hear?
  7. When was the last time you resolved a conflict & strengthened a relationship?
  8. What would one who knows you say is truer: Grace over Truth or Truth over grace?
  9. In a typical conversation do you walk away feeling like the other person learned more about you, or you learned more about them?
  10. Who are the last 2 people you affirmed/blessed in a way they remember?

Cozy Soul Food for Cold Winter Days

Happy Friday!  Hope you all have a terrific weekend and get out to bike if you live where it’s warm, or cross-country ski like I’m going to try to do here in the frozen tundra, or just cuddle up by a fire with a bowl of soup. Enjoy a few things I’ve found this week.

 Bustle is an Instagram feed I like and this made me smile and groan in agreement the other day.fullsizerender-135

But then there’s Obama’s farewell that inspires, and there are videos like this that, in spite of the short days and winter stretching out looooong ahead of us, just give us hope.

 

I told you last week I was going to try this. Before I share, a couple disclaimers:

  1. I totally butchered the original recipe and basically made it up as I went along. Other than sautéing the onion first, I just threw it all together and let it simmer a long time.

  2. I cut down on the spice, but it was still a tiny bit spicy (we are TOTAL wimps in the spice department). However I liked it enough to pass it along.

Creamy Chicken Tortilla Soup

Meat
  • 1 1/4 lbs Chicken breasts, boneless skinless (I used rotisserie off the bone)
Produce
  • 1 (15 oz) can Black beans
  • 1 cup Corn, frozen (I froze a bunch of fresh last summer and used more than a cup)
  • 1 tbsp Garlic
  • 1 Jalapeno, seeded and chopped (1/4 cup) (I omitted)
  • 1 (15 oz) can Pinto beans (I omitted)
  • 1 (15 oz) can Tomatoes with green chilies (I used Mild Rotel)
  • 1 1/2 cup Yellow onion
Canned Goods
  • 1 (32 oz) carton Chicken broth
Baking & Spices
  • 1 tsp Chili powder
  • 1 Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Oils & Vinegars
  • 1 tbsp Canola oil for sautéing the onion
Dairy
  • 1 cup Cheese
  • 2/3 cup Heavy cream
  • 1 1/3 cups Milk
  • 1/4 cup Sour cream
I cut the cream and milk back, but used more (light) sour cream. I served it with tortilla strips on top and extra cheese and sour cream.
 Got scarves cheap to use instead of placemats for winter theme.
Lastly, I just finished reading A Place at the Table by Susan Rebecca White.

Note: This is a beautifully-written, thought-provoking novel, but is graphic in places and not always comfortable to read. It is about the intersection of three outcasts – an old African- american woman, a wealthy 40-something divorcee, and a young gay man, son of a pastor from the south. Most of the book focuses on the young man and I found his nuanced story very compelling.

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Some posts on this blog contain Amazon affiliate links – I receive a tiny commission on any purchases you make from links, but I’m not paid to recommend any particular item. I’d never include a link to anything I didn’t own or feel great about endorsing.

Two Truths and a Lie

1. My husband went to prom with a murderer.

2. I bungee jumped at Victoria Falls, Zambia

3. I received flying lessons as a wedding gift.

Two of these statements are true and one is not.* Ever play that game?

I think we play an unhealthy version of it in our heads every day.  Often we just rehearse a lie over and over again as IF it were the truth.

What should we do instead of listening to the tape in our head that says “Not good enough. Not valuable. Uninvited. Unforgivable.”?

Paul gives us some advice in 2 Corinthians.

 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

Here, “Stronghold”  is like a castle with a mote, but I picture it kind of like a hologram that you can walk through – it isn’t real. The Greek word for stronghold, ochuróma can mean: “a prisoner locked by deception”.  Satan is the father of lies and he may make his castle seem impregnable, but it’s not!

In another place I found this definition:  “A stronghold is an influence by the enemy … The strength of the stronghold depends on how long and how much influence a person has allowed over themselves by listening to what the enemy is saying concerning any given situation in which the stronghold has taken root.”

We see the truth of this emphasized in Proverbs:

Carefully guard your thoughts because they are the source of true life. Prov. 4:23 CEV

Craig Groeschel says:**

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So what can we do? Replace lies with Truth and then, practice rehearsing the Truth more than the lies. 

As you speak Truth to yourself, you’ll grow in the strength of God and His thoughts about you – yay!

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What if we rehearse the truth instead of the lie? What the mind repeats it retains, right?

Think of a negative phrase you have said aloud or thought to yourself that stems from a sense of shame rather than your identity in Christ as HIs beloved child.

Turn it upside down and say, in first person, present tense, an affirmation of your God-given value. For example:

I am unlovable. . . . I am infinitely loved.
I don’t have enough. . . . I have everything I need.
I am stupid. . . . I have the mind of Christ.
I am worthless. . . . I am precious in God’s eyes, I am honored, and God loves me.

So mine would be:

I am not good enough. I don’t add value…   I am uniquely gifted by God & He has prepared good works in advance for me.

So say the positive truth aloud like it is true several time. Then rest silently in the awareness that this is you – a unique, gifted, equipped child of God, made in His image.

* Write the most common lie Satan uses to trip you up in the comments and I’ll tell you which one is the lie. 🙂

**This is adapted from Life Church. For more on this, watch “Words to Live By” by Craig Groeschel, or read this synopsis.

The Small, but Important Shifts that Will Make You a More Effective Helper

My sister-in-law Susan, is a young widow of a year and a half.  She is outside trying to stay ahead of the fat, heavy snow that is falling fast and piling up faster. She struggles on her own to shovel her walkway with an injured back, when a neighbor and his young son walk up, with shovels in hand.

“Can we help?” asks the little boy.

The father gently corrects him. “No son, remember, that’s not what we say. We say “We’re here to help!”

What a brilliant shift!

If someone says, “Can we help?” what’s our go-to response?  “Oh no, that’s ok.” Right?

But in the face of an enthusiastic “We’re here to help!” it becomes a community activity.

It’s fascinating to me how little tweaks in what we say can make a big difference. 

Most of us have had someone ask “How are you doing?” in a season when we want to hurl things at them and scream “I’M A HOT MESS OF PAIN HERE AND WANT TO DIE, CAN’T YOU SEE THAT???” However, it’s so natural, we ALL ask the question without thinking about it. When you know people are going through a hard time, consider alternatives like:

  • “I’m so glad to see you (or to hear your voice).” Then stop and just listen.
  • “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you, but I’d like to better understand what you’re going through.”
  • “I love you.”
  • Give them a hug and say, “I’m here. I can’t imagine what this is like for you, but I’d love to take a walk and listen.”
  • “What’s on your plate for today?” Often if you ask people what they’re doing, they’ll tell you how they’re feeling.
  • After someone dies, over the long-haul when others have stopped asking, say “What do you miss most about ________?”

And sometimes it’s not the words, but the silence that matters.

I’ve written before on some other practical suggestions, and if you want a terrific book on this, check out What Grieving People Wish You Knew about what really helps (and what really hurts”).

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Soul Food for a Holiday Hangover

One of the things I hate about post-Christmas is the disappearance of shiny things. I texted my daughters that I wish twinkle lights were appropriate decor year round. Maggie replied that if I lived in a dorm room they would be.

Since I don’t, I like to try to think of what will cozy up our home after Christmas and not leave it looking so bare.  Candles, soup, snowmen, mittens, fires in the fireplace… I’ve collected plaid scarves on sale to use as a runner down the middle of my table, and cross-wise instead of place mats.img_2203

Tonight I’m trying a recipe for Creamy Chicken Tortilla Soup. If I don’t kill anyone I’ll share it next week, but for now…

I didn’t ever try brussels sprouts til a couple years ago, but I adapted a recipe at Thanksgiving and could probably live on it alone all winter. Here you go, and you’re welcome!

Bacon Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

  • 6 Slices Bacon
  • 1 lb Brussels sprouts
  • 3 cloves Garlic
  • 1 tbsp Rosemary, fresh
  • 2 shallots chopped
  • 1/4 cup Olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. On a large baking sheet, season brussels sprouts, bacon, and garlic with salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil and toss until combined.
  2. Bake until brussels are tender and charred, 30 minutes.
  3. Drizzle balsamic glaze over roasted brussels sprouts and serve.

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We saw several movies over the holidays, including Lion, based on the true story of a boy in India who gets separated from his family as a 4-year-old. It is intense and slow towards the end, but also very moving and beautiful. Michael Gerson wrote a fantastic article here on the story and its parallels to spiritual homecoming.

I’m trying hard not to buy as many books this year, so one of the eleventh-billion books I got on reserve is Wonder.

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Loved this book that is really probably for pre-teens, but is amazing – about a 10 year old boy with a facial deformity. One of my favorite quotes from this book is:

“Everyone deserves a standing ovation once in their life.”

Another book I have on hold at the Library (that I’m still waiting for) is Chip and Joanna Gaines, The Magnolia Story.

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I loved this blog post that Chip wrote about living a restoration story!

If I misjudge people and am wrong, I want to be wrong having assumed the best about them. Chip Gaines

I wrote Tuesday (?) about my One Word for 2017. If this is something you’d like to explore further you might take a look at the YouVersion 4 day Bible reading plan around discovering your word for the year.

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One Word 2017

I’m pretty type A. I like goals. I like lists. I especially like crossing things off my lists.

But for the past few New Years, instead of focusing on goals or resolutions, I’ve prayerfully chosen One Word that is both aspirational in a way, and also helps me to focus on the work of God in my life.

“Our lives move in the direction of our strongest thoughts.” Craig Groeschel

As I choose One Word each year I look back over where God has brought me, what I think He’s been birthing in me, and what lies ahead (as much as I know).

What of God’s character have I counted on?

What does God want to teach me?

What do I need more of?

What should I remember?

What do I want to learn more about?

As I look back over the trajectory of 2016 there was movement from discouraged and uncertain to stronger in Jesus. I feel grounded, equipped, empowered as I head into 2017 and I want to continue to learn more about the strength that comes only from God and isn’t blown about or vulnerable to the recognition or disapproval of others.

As I wrote yesterday, I preached on Joshua Sunday and was reminded of Joshua 1:9

“Haven’t I commanded you be strong and courageous? Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you may go.”

So I look forward to 2017 embracing my One Word – Strong.

What about you? Have you chosen a word for 2017?

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A Faith that Carries Out

It’s New Year’s Day weekend and everyone in ministry is very tired. Every parent is tired. Every salesperson is tired. Maybe everyone everywhere is a little tired and ready to get back to a predictable routine. We love the sparkle and special of the Christmas season, but we’re ready to cross over into 2017.

Even if we may feel a little bit like this:

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Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at our church and I loved diving into the story of Joshua leading the Israelites across the Jordan river in Joshua 1-4.

We all have Jordan moments and we’re all at a crossing of sorts as we go into 2017. There is lots to learn from Joshua in this account, but one thing l thought I’d share with you is from Joshua 4:2

When the whole nation was finally across, God spoke to Joshua: “Select twelve men from the people, a man from each tribe, and tell them, ‘From right here, the middle of the Jordan where the feet of the priests are standing firm, take twelve stones. Carry them across with you and set them down in the place where you camp tonight.’”

After they have prepared,

after the Ark, representing the presence of the Lord has gone ahead

after the waters of the Jordan have been pulled back,

after the Israelites have crossed over,

God sends them back to carry out 12 stones. He has them pile those 12 stones as a memorial – a faith that points back to God’s faithfulness.

Think about what you are carrying out of 2016. 

Think back over each month. What might God want you to go back and remember to take out?

Resilience? Trust? Patience? Strength?

Are there experiences that could be millstones that God wants to make into stepping stones?

Are there things that could be stumbling blocks that God wants to make into building blocks?

Are there things you may have a tendency to trip over that God wants you to triumph over with His help?

Maybe talk to Him about all these stones. And embrace a faith that carries out.

Who’s Your Birthing Coach?

Last night the candles were lit, yummy bakey smells wafted room to room,  the twinkle lights were doing their twinkling, and my house was filled with girlfriends I love.

Read: it was lovely, loud, laughy, and there were lots of words!

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Studies say that women average 20,00 words a day – 13,000 more than men. Last night I think we skewed that average high.

Think about when you get together with your best friends – talking over each other, finishing each other’s sentences, laughing at shared experiences…

This is how I imagine the meeting between the newly pregnant Mary and the last trimester Elizabeth.

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Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly,

Picture the hills. The first time I visited I was surprised at how steep and hilly this area is, and I was surprised at the pine trees. Did Mary run? Was she out of breath? Sweaty? Did they hug and start talking immediately?

If I had written this next part of the Bible I’d put in a lot more exclamation points! 🙂

You’re so blessed among women,
    and the babe in your womb, also blessed!
And why am I so blessed that
    the mother of my Lord visits me?
The moment the sound of your
    greeting entered my ears,
The babe in my womb
    skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed what God said,
    believed every word would come true! Luke 1;39-45

What an unlikely pair – an unwed pregnant teenager, carrying Jesus, and an old, post-menopausal woman carrying John the baptist!

I love it that these two women visited during what was probably the hardest trimester for each of them. I can hear them peppering each other with questions…

Can you even? You? Me? Us??!

Have you had morning sickness? Want to sleep all the time?

Have you felt him kick?

How has your family reacted? What about Joseph? How are you holding up?

(And just imagine Zacharias in the corner, unable to speak at all!)*

Here are two faithful, amazing women through whom God is birthing something new. Something beautiful for the world.  And He gives them to each other, almost like birthing coaches.

This is you too. Whether you’re a mom or not God is birthing something beautiful through you. The labor and delivery can be hard, but He gives us to each other.

As I looked around at the women last night I thought how often they have encouraged me to breathe,

or to hang on,

or have said “Me too” at just the right time.

Who are the women in your life who are birth coaches, affirming the beauty that God is growing in you?

*Luke 1:20

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