Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Real Discipleship

I've been thinking a lot over the past few months about what a real disciple of Jesus looks like. When you look at his first disciples, you can't help but be amazed that these guys dropped everything in order to follow Jesus. Nothing else mattered but following him and doing everything in their power to become like him, doing the things that he did.

Rob Bell in one of his Nooma videos talks about the fact that Jesus' disciples had not been selected as disciples under any other rabbi, and that this meant that they were second-rate, not-quite-good-enoughs, B-team, ordinary. So for this rabbi Jesus to come along and call them to follow him meant everything to them. Suddenly they had a future. They were called, chosen, loved, valuable, and important. As a result, these guys would go to the end of the earth for Jesus.

And they found out that the kind of disciple that Jesus wanted them to be was one that died to himself, that valued serving over everything else, that insisted that losing your life was a necessary prerequisite to finding it. I have to think that this was just as hard for them as it is for us, yet they did it. Nothing else mattered but following Jesus and patterning their lives after his, becoming like him and doing the things that he did.

Part of learning to be a disciple of Jesus today means learning to lay aside everything else to follow him. But this kind of radical discipleship seems almost nonexistent. We tend to make space for Jesus, but not transfer everything to him. But when you think about it, what's so bad about dying to yourself, giving up your life for him? When you take stock of what kind of life you're living now, are you really going to miss it?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Attempt #1

Yesterday I took my first tentative steps into the disciplines of abstinence. I have fasted before, but it's been a while, so I thought that would be a good place to start. My experience was a little different than I expected. In the past, a one day fast has not been that big of a deal for me, and therefore did not really accomplish what it was supposed to. But for whatever reason, yesterday was different.

It seemed like whenever I got out of my car, I was near some restaurant that smelled fantastic. The worst was Super Buffet, a fantastic Chinese restaurant with a horrible name. I found myself seriously craving food, but I was able to stop and pray: "Lord, though my body needs food to survive, I need you so much more." By evening, I thought I had made it through, but sitting at home with all of the Christmas cookies and things around, again I started craving. And again I was able to redirect my thoughts, focusing on how much I need Jesus for everything in my life.

By this morning, I was feeling refreshed and excited about the day. This was a good experience for me, and I'm contemplating fasting one day a week. Historically, fasting has been such an important part of being a follower of Jesus that it seems silly not to try to be like those spiritual giants who have gone before me.
God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.
Matthew 5:3 (NLT)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I guess I'll give it a try

So I'm still reading Dallas Willard's book The Spirit of the Disciplines, and on page 158 of my version, Willard lists two broad categories of spiritual disciplines: disciplines of abstinence and disciplines of engagement. Here they are for your reading pleasure.

Disciplines of Abstinence

Disciplines of Engagement

If you're anything like me, you've done a pretty good job on the engagement side and a pretty miserable job on the abstinence side. Yet it makes sense, as Willard asserts, that apart from regularly practicing solitude, silence, fasting, and the like, the level of engagement with Jesus that we could experience is minimized. I'm going to make an attempt to try some of these other disciplines over the coming weeks and months and see what happens. You're welcome to join me and we can share our experiences together.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Happy Days

It's always an exciting day when someone buys you a new notebook...

Monday, December 19, 2005

When life is going well

It's amazing how your perspective on life changes when things are going well. After coming out of 6-9 months of incredibly difficult ministry, things have finally turned a corner. For the last year, anytime anything good would happen, something horrible would follow on its heels, but I'm actually getting to the point where I've stopped waiting for that other shoe to drop. Could it be that God actually wants to bless us and our ministry? I wasn't blogging this summer when my wife Lori and I were sorting through some of this, but just to give some brief highlights of what we've learned...

Walter Brueggeman (theologian) talks about the Psalms in terms of psalms of orientation, psalms of disorientation, and psalms of new orientation. I used that framework in my sermon series this summer. In June, I preached through 4 different psalms of orientation (life is happy, God is good, la la la la la). Then in July I preached on 4 different psalms of disorientation (where did God go, why has everything fallen apart, etc.). In August, I preached on 4 psalms of new orientation (oh, there he is...he came through in the end, but I'll never see him in the same way again). As we followed that pattern in church, our lives kind of followed the same pattern. So though things got fairly dark, in the end we've come to a place where we're confident in Jesus (to the extent that we know and understand him). We're confident in his calling on our lives. And we're confident that we are going to follow him no matter what, even when he decides that we need to go through the ringer.

So now after having taken a beating and stayed standing, we're finding ourselves more confident in Jesus, more hopeful in the future that he has for us, and even more able to trust him for whatever happens next.

And right now, whatever happens next looks pretty good. On Saturday night we had the party that I wrote about in my last posting. It was fantastic. These strangely different groups of people all melded together and had a great time getting to know each other. Everyone had fun, relationships were established, maybe even friendships. My wife, by the way, was incredible. She was really nervous going in because she has never been comfortable in a party setting, but she was having incredibly deep conversations with people all night long. I'm really excited about where the ministry to this very dark neighborhood goes next.

Then yesterday at church, we had 6 families that were new or visiting again. For a church of our size, that was pretty incredible. The best thing is that these are not just Christmas visitors. These are people who are really hungry and looking for a church. Three single moms and 6 kids came together from another of the rougher neighborhoods in town and had a great time.

Then today someone from our church picked up a check for $190,000 from a work accident and is giving the church about $25,000 of it, so tomorrow the two of us are going shopping to replace my clunky laptop. Better, in about 9 months he'll be getting a bigger settlement check for somewhere in the $2,000,000 range which he has committed to tithing from to the church. Suddenly all financial worries have disappeared as well.

So does all of this mean that there's something really, really, really bad on its way? Maybe, but I'm hopeful that we're going to stay on this upward trajectory for a while.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Sensible Asceticism

Sensible asceticism is a phrase used by Dallas Willard in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines. He uses it to refer to Jesus' ability to combine rigorous and disciplined habits of prayer, meditation, and solitude with passionate living alongside prostitutes, drunks, and tax collectors.

We never seem to find that same balance that Jesus and his disciples possessed. Either we go crazy on the ascetic side - which results in some of the extreme behaviors of the monastic age. Or we go crazy on the "freedom in Christ" side and experience no essential difference between our lives as followers of Jesus and anyone else. Having generally lived more in the second world than the first, part of this journey is figuring out how these disciplines fit into my faith experience and practice.

This becomes a really practical question for me today. Tonight my wife and I are going to a party with a pretty crazy group of people (drug dealers, Wiccans, homosexuals, criminals of various stripes, pagans, and a few Christians). This party is an intentional attempt for Jesus followers from our church to connect with a nearby neighborhood through a mutual friend who lives there. There has been an incredible spiritual battle taking place as we've begun planning how to influence the people in this neighborhood with the love of Jesus. It has become apparent that without a strong foundation of prayer we are in big trouble.

But it goes farther than that. How do I place myself in a position to be able to, like Jesus, wholly commit himself to God's purpose and mission while partying with his "sinner" friends? I think that the mistake I have often made is to focus so much on building relationships that I have forgotten that Jesus also possessed spiritual power/discernment/compassion/love that could only come from his intentional time with his Father. Learning to be like Jesus...I suppose that's what being a disciple is all about.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Dreariness of Disciplines

Doesn't it seem like any discussion of spiritual disciplines immediately turns people, especially Christians, away? Maybe it's the word "discipline" that bothers people. If it sounds like work, we're generally not interested. Or maybe it's the evangelical/protestant theological heritage that says that we are saved by grace alone and spiritual disciplines sound an awful lot like works. Of maybe it's a product of living in our American culture where productivity and immediate gratification are important and the disciplines don't seem to accomplish anything.

Celibacy, fasting, penance, mortification, self-denial, humility, silence, solitude, and the whole train of monkish virtues: - for what reason are they everywhere rejected by men of sense, but because they serve no manner of purpose...A gloomy, hair-brained enthusiast, after his death, may have a place in the Calendar; but will scarcely ever be admitted, when alive, into intimacy and society, except by those who are as delirious and dismal as himself.
David Hume, 18th century Scottish philosopher
from "Enquiry Into Morals"

I think that the only difference between Hume's view and our own is that we might have a slightly more positive view of the disciplines. However, we would certainly see them as unnecessary extras to the Christian life...the things that Super-Christians do but are not needed or relevant to normal Christians who have so many more important things to be spending our time and energy doing.

So why do them? Why practice these disciplines of the deeper life in Christ? It's not to earn God's favor, to make him like us a little better. It's not to make us look more spiritual in the eyes of others. It's not to gain forgiveness for things we've done wrong. I think, and this is unverified speculation...I think that the disciplines are to help us know Jesus. We talk about how we are supposed to know God and to experience abundant life, whatever that means...but I don't think that any of that is possible without taking time to stop, turn off our racing minds, clear out all of the stuff that is bothering us and the things we need to do next, and learn to listen. What if Jesus had something important to say, something that would dramatically change what today looks like, but because I didn't stop and listen, I missed it. Whether it's opportunities to bless others, blessings for myself, missions to accomplish for him, there's no way to know without being able to listen to his voice and respond. My hope is that as I practice some of these disciplines of silence, prayer, etc. that I will experience a newfound depth in my relationship with Jesus that enables me to move with confidence and power in the world that he has placed me.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Hello all you millions upon millions of blog readers who have anxiously awaited the publication of this site. My name is Corey and I am the pastor of a church called the River in Chaska, MN. The reason for this blog is that I am going to begin preaching about spiritual disciplines in 2006 and decided that if I'm going to preach about them, I should probably practice them. One important discipline for me is that of reflection/journaling, etc. That's where this blog comes in. I've committed to taking daily time for reflection and meditation and will use this site as a place to record my thoughts. Please feel free to dialogue with me as it will hopefully help all of us to grow deeper.