Category Archives: Christian Faith

A Rule of Life

Several years back I participated in a continuing education effort that introduced me to the idea of a rule of life. I did some reading around the origin of rules among the Early Church Fathers. I also joined a clergy group in visiting a Benedictine monastery where we learned more, first hand, about the Rule of St. Benedict. As a dyed in the wool Protestant – Baptist at that – these were new discoveries for me. But I found I was drawn to learn more.

St. Augustine is reported to have been among the first to develop and write out his rule for those whom he mentored and guided in the faith. St. Benedict developed what has become the most known of the monastic order rules. My copy of The Rule of St. Benedict in English is 96 pages long. It covers such things as praying the hours, guidelines for brothers living in communal quarters, and very practical things such as “restraint of speech”, “humility” and “hospitality”.

The idea of following a rule of life, that is a prescribed routine or set of guidelines by which you live; while it sounds restrictive, may actually bring freedom to one’s faith experience. By definition a “rule” is simply a voluntary means be which we, under God, take responsibility for our (spiritual) lives. I put spiritual in parenthesis because I’m not sure we should delineate that part of our life from the rest. Bottom line, a rule can bring order to your life and help you stay centered in Christ. It’s very structure can free you from the chaos and wanderings of an undisciplined life.

After the visit to the monastery and some further reading, I set out to write my own daily rule. In it I prescribed for myself a daily routine of spiritual practice, work, exercise and play, as well as family time and reading. It was an interesting experiment that helped me think about how a focused approach to daily life could organize one’s faith development. I’m not sure how long I stuck with that rule, but it was for a season.

Today, my rule of life is much more free flowing, though some of those very practices mentioned above are still part of the flow. Having anchors or routines in your life that call you to prayer, remind you to read, or bring you into faith community is healthy and helpful.

This Sunday I’ll be preaching on the rule of life that Jesus gives us Matthew 7:12:  In everything do to others as you would have them do to you. (NRSV) His rule is much easier to remember than the one I wrote, or the one the Benedictines live by. If only we all took it to heart, what a more organized, thoughtful and free world we would live in.

What is your rule of life?

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What do you treasure?

In Matthew 6:21 Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So, what do you treasure? We all treasure something. Most of us more than just one thing. From the youngest to the oldest among us, our treasures are revealed in the spaces we occupy and the way we utilize our resources – that is, how we spend our time and money.

It’s been said that “life organizes itself around the heart”. This is to say we give priority in both our emotions and will (the heart was long believed to be the center of one’s will) to those things that concern our hearts. Treasure and heart often occupy the same real estate. So, I’ll ask again, “what do you treasure?”

This verse of scripture is part of a passage that contains Jesus’ teaching on prayer ( see Matthew 6:9-13). In my study of the text this week I’ve made a connection between Jesus’ statement on treasure and the prayer he taught his disciples. We might think of this prayer as a coaching guide toward learning to treasure the things of God’s kingdom. In other words, prayer in the example of this model prayer, will help us organize our hearts around the priorities of the kingdom of the heaven.

This will be part of what I hope we discover together this coming Sunday as we continue our journey in Matthew. This week’s gospel focus is Matthew 6:7-21. Join us!

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Kingdom Light

We’ve had a tradition in our home over the past several years when we pack up the Christmas decorations to leave a few twinkle lights up with the greenery on top of the cabinets in our kitchen. We leave them up through the month of January and this seems to help dispense some of the darkness of winter and brighten the mood.

This past December when I put up those lights I decided to upgrade to LED technology, believing these “light emitting diodes” would use less energy, thereby cost less to burn and last longer. However, when my wife came home from work and saw the upgrade she said she didn’t like the LED lights. They were “too bright” and not “warm” enough.

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Gifted and Grateful – Part 2

If all that we have is a gift from God (Psalm 24:1a), including the gifts we each are given by the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:3&6); what is our proper response to this? I believe it is gratitude.  In Christ Jesus we are invited to live a life of gratitude – to “give thanks” in all circumstances (I Thes. 5:18). Do you do this?  It is easier written than accomplished, that is for sure.  But living a grateful life and practicing the basics of gratitude is something we can aspire toward.

In her book Grateful Diana Butler Bass suggests that gratitude can be both an emotional response and an intentional choice.   We feel grateful in response to things that happen in our lives.  That feeling leads us to want to express thanks and appreciation.  Much more than being a transaction of debt or duty, our gratitude comes from our response of having received a gift.  This gift may have come from a friend or family member, or from God.  We express gratitude in return as a natural expression of what we feel.

But gratitude, according to Bass, is also an ethic or choice.  We practice habits of gratitude (such as volunteering, giving, worshiping) that further instill a spirit of gratefulness in our being.  By making the choice of gratitude we begin to live a grateful life.  Gratitude then grows within us, as a part of our being, and is naturally expressed in our interactions with others, including God.

If we wait to engage gratitude when we feel like it, leaving it in the emotional response only category, the frequency with which it is expressed may suffer.  However, if gratefulness is cultivated as a practice – a daily choice – then it will become a more known quantity in our life.

I frequently engage in an ancient spiritual direction practice called the examen, or examination of conscience.  In this practice one collects all that has happened over a period of time – let’s say the past day – and reflects on it.  One of the questions I use in my practice of the examen is: “What am I grateful for?”  I will then list off those things, giving thanks for each of them.  I will also sometimes ask: “What am I not grateful for?”  Forming that list creates the opportunity to ask why, and consider if I might choose another response.  I bring this time of reflection to a close with a final question: “What, if anything, is God inviting me to do or be?”  That is, in response to my gratitude, or lack thereof, am I being directed, or re-directed, to respond in some way?

By practicing the examen I am making the effort to look at life through a lens of gratitude.  When I do, I am reminded of the many gifts I have been given.  Gifted and grateful are two fundamental actions of stewardship involved in the practice of faith.

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“Gifted & Grateful” – Part 1

I believe I first took a spiritual gift inventory nearly thirty years ago.  I discovered then, and have had it reconfirmed since, that my primary spiritual gifts are administration, leadership and teaching.  What are yours? Do you know?

Psalm 24:1a says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it”.   I take this to mean all that we have in this life is a “gift” from God.  This includes not only our material possessions, but also the abilities we have been given.  The Apostle Paul writes about these abilities in the New Testament, calling them gifts from the Holy Spirit (See Romans 12:3-8, I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:11-16 and I Peter 4:10-11).  These spiritual gifts, found in each follower of Jesus, are given for the purpose of building up the Body of Christ (the church), so that through the church we can be engaged in God’s mission. Continue reading

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