Monthly Archives: July 2014

Book Review ~ Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, by Ruth Haley Barton

“I cannot transform myself, or anyone else for that matter. What I can do is create the conditions in which spiritual transformation can take place, by developing and maintaining a rhythm of spiritual practices that keep me open and available to God” (12).

Sacred Rhythms is an introduction to spiritual disciplines. It’s about creating space and cultivating rhythms that allow you to enjoy God.

I know this an older book–it’s from 2006–but it so resonated with me because of its personal effect on my soul. I am a pastor–which assumes, to some degree–that I am being spiritual quite often. That’s open for debate. I know one thing for certain: I can keep myself busy. But is business necessarily spiritual? Is productivity? Success? Barton argues that those things can actually be harmful to your spiritual health when they are able to wield control over your life (a condition she calls Christian fatigue syndrome). As a “minister,” there were many opportunities to get involved with spiritual activities, a lot of opportunities to make myself busy, and even a heightened knowledge of the Bible that I developed over time.

But something was still missing.

I made the process too intellectual, too rushed, too goal-oriented. Some of this led to a feeling of disconnection in me from the very God who lives inside of me. That’s probably why I loved this book. It clearly explained what was wrong with me for many years, and offered a simple invitation back into the arms of Christ.

If you have enjoyed the recent series here on the blog, Contemplative Approach to Spirituality, and want to know and learn more, you’re hard-pressed to find a better place to start. Here’s a bit of what to expect in the outline–three basic parts.

1. Introduction to Spiritual Transformation

I felt like Barton was talking to me in the introduction. I put my highlighter down when I realized that I wanted to highlight every single line on the first three pages–it really defeats the purpose of highlighting when you do it on every line. After the first three pages, the rest of the introduction is preparing you for what to expect in the writing: book outline, practical instruction, group suggestions, etc. But it’s in the next chapter when things really get rolling.

2. Invitation to Spiritual Transformation

This is, in my opinion, the fulcrum of the book. Barton spends some time here whetting the appetite of the reader, exposing our need, and pointing us towards our truest desires. Since disciplines can seem a laborious drudgery to the uninitiated (or the badly initiated), this chapter is valuable in dispelling myths, and revealing our deep spiritual thirst, as well as the value in posturing ourselves to receive from God’s endless wells. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book. But it gets better.

3. Seven different types of disciplines

This section on disciplines are pure gold. Each of the remaining chapters explain a spiritual discipline. Collectively, they form a well-balanced diet of the Christian life. The disciplines are solitude, Scripture (lectio divina), prayer, honoring the body, self-examination, discernment, Sabbath, and The Rule of Life.

The flow of the chapters are what drives each discipline home.

Instead of bombarding you with practical instruction or ancient sayings, Barton appeals to your deepest desires, and pulls you into a story that you want to be a part of. The danger in plunging into spiritual disciplines is two-fold: You don’t realize you need soul-care, and are cavalier with it; or you approach it as another to-do list, and end up more exhausted than ever. However, I think Barton pirouettes around these issues gracefully.

Each chapter begins with her personal experience to draw your attention. Then she explains the inner desires the practice effects. After she persuades you of your need, the practical steps for getting started are laid out to be received. There is no chance of getting lost in some author’s convoluted sayings–Barton offers detailed, clear explanations on how to engage each particular discipline. Peppered throughout are historical insights, careful attention (and mercy) on our weaknesses, and expressions of the practice from Scripture. By the time I finished each chapter, I wanted to put the book down and seek the face of God.

I’ll conclude my review with eight quotes from the book…

This is fundamentally what spiritual disciplines are all about: choosing a way of life that opens us to the presence of God in the places of our being where our truest desires and deepest longings stir. (13)

A prayer welled up from the depths of my being, a prayer so full of desire that it was barely articulate: “O God, give me more moments like this–moments when I am fully present to you and to others in love.” (21)

Your desire for more of God than you have right now, your longing for love, your need for deeper levels of spiritual transformation than you have experienced so far is the truest thing about you. (24)

Solitude is an opportunity to interrupt this [vicious] cycle by turning off the noise and stimulation of our lives so that we can hear our loneliness and our longing calling us deeper into the only relationship that can satisfy our longing. (36)

We need a way of approaching Scripture that will move us very concretely from our over reliance on information gathering to an experience of Scripture as a place of intimate encounter. (54)

One thing I know for sure about prayer these days is that we do not know how to pray. It is only the young in Christ who think they know how to pray; the rest of us know we are beginners.(63)

One of the deepest longings of the human heart is to be known and loved unconditionally (91)

Sabbath keeping is a discipline that will mess with you, because once you move beyond just thinking about it and actually begin to practice it, the goodness of it will capture you, body, soul, and spirit. (133)

I think every Christian should familiarize themselves with spiritual formation and the practices that cultivate it.

I also believe the person who would experience immediate benefits from this book are those who are spiritually dry, fatigued, or just burnt out on the church, God, or Christianity. Sacred Rhythms takes advantage of the Christian’s existing union with Christ–not by shaming you into to trying harder–but by posturing you in your weaknesses towards the One who already lives inside you.

And as a result, this may be my favorite book I’ve read all year–I’ll let you know in December. Until then, get this book, and drink so deeply!

You can find the book on Amazon: Sacred Rhythms.

How the automobile maimed community

Not only is the appreciation, knowledge, and care of any particular “place” literally left behind in the exhaust fumes of the automobile, so also do the civic virtues necessary for living together in community evaporate in a car-dominated society. Who needs to develop neighborliness if one lives in a detached house accessed almost exclusively by the automobile? If one never walks down the block to buy a loaf of bread, then one never notices the new rose bush in Mr. Albert’s garden five doors down, nor does one ever meet the single mother and her three kids who live above the local bakery. In fact, with the dominance of the car and the shopping malls that have been built to accommodate its culture, there are hardly any local bakeries to walk to anyway. Civility assumes proximity. We develop civic virtues in the context of societal relationships. But the automobile enhances individuality and reduces proximity to the traffic jam. Civility gives way to road rage. ~  Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian Walsh (Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, 257)

Journaling to hip-hop, a guest post by Christina Blackwell

This is part five in A Contemplative Approach To Christianity, a series dedicated to introducing the quieter side of Christian practice, featuring a new writer every week. These are all from men or women who have been able to connect with God in the middle of the noise–often using spiritual disciplines that are very similar to those found throughout historical Christianity. I’ve asked these authors to share details about what their practices look like, to include us all in the opportunity to take part! As far as the blog series goes, you can speak up at anytime. Ask questions of the writer, or of me. Add your experience. Your apprehensions. It’s an open place. We’re all exploring. And may you be refreshed as you return to first things.


So far, we’ve looked at Contemplative Prayer, and Cultivating a Lifestyle of Listening, and Meditating on God’s Word. Now, we’ll witness a mix of ancient church practice with a bit of the arts.

When I first learned that Christina married the tenured practice of journaling with hip-hop music, I must admit, I was intrigued. I know a few people who express their thoughts and prayers, examine their hearts, and confess their sins to God through journaling, but to intermingle this spiritual discipline with music is unique. I wanted to hear what she had to say, but I knew it would be too good to keep for myself. So we present it to you for your joy. For those who want to learn how to engage the soul in the disciplined art of journaling, Christina will, of course, lay out some helpful steps; much of this can work with or without music. But what I love about her approach is that you don’t have to constrain yourself with rigid formulas. Who’s to say you have to practice the presence of God exactly like Brother Lawrence, or balance your life just like Benedict of Nursia, or enjoy Lectio Divina only as outlined by Guigo? The point of any spiritual discipline is to connect your soul to the Christ who is already in you. It is not to fill a quota, check off a spiritual to-do list, or feel righteous about one’s ability to replicate someone else’s regimen. And for Christina, well…it seems her combination of writing mixed with the infectious sounds of a beat have done what was needed to help center her soul on God. I hope it greets you with refreshing intensity. I also hope it opens your eyes and heart to a world of spiritual creativity.

The rest of this post is in Christina’s words…

***

I am currently transitioning out of full time ministry that I have been engaged in the last two years.  I am moving towards being used as a vessel of the Lord to be catalytic in the awareness and participation of African- Americans in global missions work.  I am originally from Southern California but now I live in Orlando, Florida.  Graduated from UCSB in 2012.  Studied black studies, minored in applied psychology and education.  I’ve known and loved Jesus as much as I knew how since I was five years old, but I’ve truly and wholly been walking with the Lord for the last six years.  I have five siblings ranging from ages twenty-five to three.  I am an auntie of one sweet baby girl who will be one soon.  I have lots of friends in California that I love and dearly miss.  I love all things creative and cozy.  I enjoy cooking, eating, writing, singing, dancing, and Spotify.  I am thoroughly amused by dry and corny humor.  It’s the best when I am the only one laughing at a joke in a large group setting.  I especially love word crafting like that expressed in spoken Word, poetry and Hip-Hop music. 

Hip Hop, dare I say, is the language of my soul.

These wordsmiths say what I would say in a way they thought of first.  My first experience with hip-hop that exalted the God of Heaven and preached the truth of the Gospel was through a friend of mine, Barry Moore, my senior year in high school.  He met Jesus; gave his life to him and renounced all things against the Lord.  For him, part of that meant throwing away his extensive music collection and replacing it, to which we both benefited from during rides to and from school.  Then my freshmen year in college when I said no more to my divided heart, the Lord used this Hip-hop, alongside a church I love, to take my understanding of the Gospel from a hundred to about a thousand!  Yet, it is ever increasing even now.  I love Hip-hop music because artists can use such a small amount of time to say so much, and when you are speaking of an infinite God with infinite love, I say what better way than through a few 16s (or verses) over some incredibly engineered beats.

Journaling is gathering your thoughts, processing your feelings, remembering, dreaming, celebrating, etc., by writing these things down in a notebook. Read the rest of this entry

Meditating on God’s Word, a guest post by Jason Lomelino

I’ve been looking forward to to this weeks post in A Contemplative Approach To Christianity.

This series is dedicated to introducing the quieter side of Christian practice, featuring a new writer every week. These are all from men or women who have been able to connect with God in the middle of the noise–often using spiritual disciplines that are very similar to those found throughout the history of ancient Christian church. I’ve also asked these authors to share details about what their practices look like, should any of you wish to partake. I hope this series has been as refreshing for you as it has for me! 

So far, we’ve looked at Contemplative Prayer, and Cultivating a Lifestyle of Listening. Now, let’s move on to a personal favorite of mine–and one which I believe all others to hinge on–the meditation on God’s word.


I don’t think I know a better person to share about meditating on God’s word than my friend, Jason Lomelino.

Jason is a pastor at Isla Vista Church, where he, his wife, Holly, and their five kids live and do ministry together. They are a compelling presence of God’s love in a city that never slows down. I’ve heard many testimonies of transformation in people from Isla Vista and UCSB by God through the Lomelino family. (You can read some of their stories in Jason’s book, Jesus Burgers). I experienced this “presence” during a public worship night on the UCSB campus in the aftermath of the much publicized shootings that took place there. Jason addressed the crowd of hundreds with fatherly love, brotherly tears, and the mercies of God that night. I wondered how he was able to pour out so much love during a time when his heart was so broken. But now I understand. After reading his essay, you’ll understand too.

The rest of this post is in Jason’s words…

***

I am originally from San Diego and every year in Carlsbad these extraordinary colorful flowers bloom on a fifty-acre hillside that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.  It is breathtaking, even from your car as you drive by the hillside.  However, the majority of locals are content with just viewing them from their car as they drive by.  They don’t want to spend the time to slow down and get out of their car to view this work of art up close.  But in order to really enjoy the flowers, one must slow down and go walk amongst them.  Meditating on the Word is a similar experience. 

There is something special about slowing down, turning off distractions, and opening your heart and life to God through His Word.  There are many ways to grow deeper in our relationship with God; some may call them spiritual disciplines.  Yet I have not found any of them to be richer or more rewarding than meditating on the Word of God.  Many Christians know we are called to meditate on the Word, though in my experience few actually know how to do it, and even fewer actually do it.

Meditating on the Word is not about how much you read but the way you read it.   Read the rest of this entry

Cultivating a Lifestyle of Listening, a guest post by Samantha Miller

This is the third post in our series, A Contemplative Approach To Christianity, dedicated to introducing the quieter side of Christian practice, through historical practices and personal testimony. The goal is to hear from different Christians ways they connect with God–these are very similar to ancient practices of the Christian church–and to share a few details about what that looks like for anyone who wants to dip their feet in a more quiet spirituality. We’ve already started with Contemplative PrayerNow let’s move on to listening.

Listening may sound repulsive to the ear at first. We are not much of a listening culture. But the pathway of Christ beckons us against the grain to a lifestyle that resembles Samuel’s innocent posture to the Lord: “Speak, for your servant hears.” (1 Sam. 3:10, ESV). There is no shortage of noise in our lives. But there is lacking a word from God in our ears. Perhaps there’s a connection between the noise of life and the shortage of God’s presence. Amos’ warning resonates with many of us,

The days are coming— this is the declaration of the Lord God — when I will send a famine through the land: not a famine of bread or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8:11, HCSB)

Do you experience this famine? Then read on, friends.

My friend, Samantha Miller serves in our local gathering in the areas of prayer and biblical counseling. It is because of the inner joy that she so gracefully wields despite the heaviness that sometimes accompanies intercessory prayer and counseling that I believe Samantha has some worthwhile things to share. So I asked her to share about the practice and importance of listening to God. The rest of this post is in her own words…

***

In my life with God, I have consistently encountered him in the secret place.

Christians often talk about “the secret place” like this magical land where all your problems go away and you experience perfectly undistracted unity with God. Honestly, my secret place is pretty messy! All it is, is placing a value on time with God and positioning myself to receive from Him. On some days I may need to deal with some heart issues before I can really connect with Him, or I need to plan a little extra time in my schedule cause I know its going to take a while to quiet my distracted mind. Yet whatever it looks like, I am simply setting aside a time and a space to sit in solitude, surrender my emotions, thoughts and needs, and let God show me who He is.

Jesus says in Matthew 6:6 “And when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret will reward you” (ESV). We find the Father in the secret place. When we separate ourselves, go into our room and close the door, he rewards us in secret. However, learning to sit in solitude and quiet is very counter-cultural, so it can be hard work to develop this type of lifestyle. But let me tell you, when you seek Him, you will find Him.

Spending time alone with God is a process. Read the rest of this entry

My son, Jude, and a quick story behind his name

This is an interruption of our regularly scheduled broadcast to introduce to you my son, Jude Matthew!

Born on July 2nd, 2014, at 8 pounds, 3 ounces, and stretching 20 inches. So far, he has his mother’s complexion and her dark blue eyes. We’ll see how long that lasts :-)

Mama is healthy and happy.

Jude has a bit of a two-fold meaning for us.

One, it means “Praise.” We want God to draw forth praise from this young fellas life.

Second, Jude refers to a short letter at the end of the New Testament, written by the half-brother of Jesus.

Jude (along with other brother, James) didn’t believe in some of the outlandish claims that Jesus was making at first (John 7:5). But after they saw Him resurrected from the dead, they believed in Him even to the point of death.

I thought it fascinating that in each of the letters Jude and James wrote about Jesus, they didn’t even bother to mention their physical relationship to Him; they were content to refer to themselves as “a slave of Jesus Christ” (Jude 1). Perhaps this was revealing of the worshipful reverence these former skeptics now had for the risen Lord.

Jude penned one of my favorite verses in the Bible…

Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless and with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen. – Jude 1:24-25

 

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