Category Archives: Discipline

focuses on the spiritual disciplines

Out of the fog <3

We have had some typical-for-harvest-season weather here in the Midwest. Which means we run the gamut from low 50’s to high 90’s to rain to wind to humid to dry….sometimes all within 48 hours.

Just about every Tuesday and Thursday morning, I drive to an early morning (as in well before the crack of dawn) exercise class.

Ok. I took the whole summer off…but this is still a valid story.

The 10 minute drive includes our own typical subdivision houses and street lights, an over pass, and then mostly through a fairly rural setting. I pass parking lots for churches and a retirement community along the way. Larger yards dotted with homes. Reflector strips on mail boxes line the curvy road. Light poles are stationed along most of the route. In my half awake state, I can pretty much go into auto-pilot on this little jaunt to class.

Except on Tuesday morning this week, there was a dense fog blanketing our entire area.

I could see well enough the stop signs as I approached intersections but the rest of the drive was shrouded in an odd dream-like vapor that seemed to eat up all the lights along the way.

Oh, I could see a few little bulbs off to the side of the road, here and there. But they looked liked glowing orbs suspended across the expanse of this murky veil.

They provided illumination for neither their surroundings nor the path I was taking.

I could guess where I was sporadically as I came to intersections and such, but for the most part I could have been traveling down that road for the very first time.

I had no way to judge how far it was to landmarks like the major highway I pass over or the next stop sign; no way to determine the expanse of the curve that I knew was somewhere up ahead.

I could only see maybe car lengths of road at a time that my own headlights were cutting a window of visibility through.

The fog consumed the beams beyond that and to all sides. I was racking my brain to think what my next stop or turn was going to be without the familiar landmarks to cue me nor the ability to see up ahead.

All perception was gone and my instincts were useless in the haziness engulfing my path.

I was disoriented as I slowly made my way realizing that turning back was not an option since I had no idea where a retreat could be safely transacted.

Our class takes place at a large church that sits on a wide expanse of open acreage.

Eventually the lights of the parking lot where class is held appeared across the final stretch of opaque air. But they offered little comfort in all of this because still the last part of the journey had to be traversed through this phantom world the fog had created. The large lighted crosses were not at all visible, just the diffused bulbs of these distorted lights bobbing over what I knew would be my class.

I finally arrived and we gathered under this strange covering and began our workout.

By the time I was headed home, the sun began to rise and burn off the fog.

As I drove home under the first light of dawn, the fog almost gone, I noticed how the lights on homes and churches and along the way helped me see things clearly.

And it hit me. Lights do shine brightly in darkness but they are rendered ineffective in fog.

How like deception.

As Christians, we are told from early on…this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

We encourage each other that as we encounter darkness, light shines even more brightly.

We know in the physical realm that darkness cannot extinguish light and the light penetrates darkness.

But we are increasingly encountering something more than just darkness.

The fog of deception is thick in this world as wrong becomes right and right becomes wrong.

In the confusion of deceiving voices within and without the Church, our little lights cannot be put out…but they can struggle to produce illumination for those who are trying to find their way. They can even get swallowed up and fail to provide light for OUR path.

We can shine all day but in the fog of deception, no one can see the the familiar landmarks of His fingerprints on us and we wear ourselves out trying to figure out what we are doing wrong. We can become disoriented and forget the paths of discipline that were once so familiar to us.

We need a light much greater than our own, my friends, to help us restore vision in the fog around us. Now more than ever, we who are believers must draw our life and light from only One Source and that is the teachings of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We can not abandon studying God’s Word and then applying it through prayer – calling forth His Spirit of Truth to bring revelation into the midst of so much cloudy thinking.

Yes – be the light, but more importantly pray for Christ to shine His light on the path, for each of us as well as our fellow travelers. For those who have lost their way and for those who do not even know there is only One Way, let’s join together and ask God to bring His Truth to enlighten all of us as we….journey onward <3

Oh to have the want-to <3

Picking up from yesterday’s post, I can not improve on God’s written word as to what happened to our knee-shaking, brow-wiping King Jehoshaphat on the direct heels of his decision to set himself to seek the Lord.

Picking up at the end of verse 3 of 2 Chronicles 20, we read…

“…and {Jehoshaphat} proclaimed a fast throughout all of Judah. So Judah gathered together to ask help from the LORD; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD.”

Can we just stop and absorb that passage and imagine what it would have looked like?

This may be breaking all kinds of copywriter laws but I took this pic on my phone so…to me it’s just a snapshot of what happens to be a map of Judah and surrounding areas about this time frame.

We can see the names of all the forces that are descending on them from all directions.

Now picture the first battle strategy the King engages in.

He calls for all the inhabitants of Judah to collectively fast.

Do without food.

And we read that all of Judah gathered together from “all the cities” and did just that.

Please.

Look back at that map and imagine a world without smartphones, cars, planes, trains and automobiles…and people coming from all the cities to fast and seek God’s help together as one.

And I think to myself, what if.

What if we…the Body of Christ…were called to gather together and to fast.

Not protest.

Not debate.

Not carry plaquards.

But we all gathered from all the cities and we fasted and sought God.

And then I think…what about me?

What kind of desperation would cause me forego eating and to put aside all other endeavors and seek the help of God?

Because I used to do it.

But I don’t anymore.

I confess it has been a long time since I proclaimed a fast and sought the help of our God for this broken and hurting and conflicted world.

And if you hear something tearing right now, it just might be my heart.

Because I have cried some desperate prayers in the last few years.

But I can tell you that I have come to a place in my life where I must confess, I am not prone to answer the call to fast.

Let me be clear – fasting is not a “tool” to get God to do what we want.

Fasting is a way to humble ourselves by literally denying our flesh and turning to God in our  spirit.

It is a way to position ourselves before Him in a tangible way of abstaining from our life-giving, comfort-supplying need for sustenance and saying…

God, You …ALONE…are my life…my food…my source of all things and I am seeking Your help now, with all that I am and all that I have.

And I don’t know any other way to put it, but I honestly lately have not wanted to do it.

I have come to a place in my life where food is not only a requirement for keeping my body running, it has become a place of comfort and solace for me.

I look forward to dinner with Russ at the end of the day, meals with family and friends, snacks…treats…and I have to pray to God for the “want-to” of self-denial.

Perhaps our whole country has come to such a place as well.

We feed greedily on food, beverage, entertainment…

eye candy for the soul in the form of visual beauty through Instagram and Pinterest..

and I am not picking on those things but I do wonder just how desperate I will have to become…

this country will have to become…

this world will have to become before we declare that we have reached a place where only God can help us…and we will take our request for His intervention seriously enough that we will truly humble ourselves and cry out to Him with all that we have.

Not a fun one today, my friends.

Not pleasant to tell you that I, who well know the need to practice the disciplines, have developed dragging feet and a faint heart.

But in my weakness…in our weakness…we can turn to Him who loves us, who made us, who knows we are but dust…and He will strengthen us to turn from our idols and renew our love and dedication to Him.

Oh LORD, even though I long to serve You with my whole being, Thou knowest I falter in my flesh. Change my want-to’s today to want only Your will for us. I ask in the most precious Name, the Name of Jesus…who denied all that we all might live in Him <3

 

 

When a melody is like a broken record <3

As we all know, unless we were outside the continental USA this week, we had an Eclipse on Monday.

I have to tell you, I got multiple chuckles out of humorous posts from our family as we documented it in all our far-flung places through text messages and photos.

I laughed out loud at some of the shots people took of other people on FaceBook and it was all in all just a fun day to share via social media.

That morning, when I went to write my post, I almost made a reference to an old song that kept popping up in my head and I thought I would be clever.

I actually was singing the lyrics “a total eclipse of the sun”, but when I googled it I found out that I had the lyrics wrong AND every single person in America (that may be an exaggeration) had already thought of the same thing.

After sitting and watching the full five plus minutes of Bonnie Tyler’s 1983 video which is actually a Total Eclipse of the HEART, I decided not to reference it since it was already an American cliche before 7:30 am and the whole thing was disturbing on numerous levels.

But all that aside, guess what song I wake up with in my head?

Guess what I find myself humming?

Go ahead…guess…because yes…although I have not heard that song in 30 plus years and only listened through it one time on Monday….

It

is

stuck

in

my

head.

Now ask me if I can recite any of the memory verses I have worked on for the first eight months of 2017.

Ask me if I can sing all the verses of some of the praise songs that have been consistently sung in church this summer.

I can sing an entire album of John Denver songs, which I stopped listening to in 1976…but falter to get the correct order of the 23rd Psalm.

And I think there is a reason and it doesn’t have to do with my memory.

I believe that to write God’s word on my heart….to learn and retain the lyrics and notes so that I can sing “hymns, and psalms and spiritual songs of praise” in my heart to the Lord… will always be something I have to work hard at.

Please hear me, I am not condemning secular music.

But this week, when I find my mind calling up this song; I also find the images I saw in the brief moments of the video replaying over and they are not edifying and they do not breathe life into me.

So I have been countering this by intentionally singing any hymn or praise song I can think of quickly.

If nothing else, I can always throw together a few run throughs of “Jesus loves me, this I know.”

Maybe music isn’t your thing that pulls you off. Maybe it’s critical thoughts of others or a movie or something you read.

Maybe it’s negative self-talk or destructive bitterness that leads you down a dark path in the middle of an average day.

Whatever it is that has the ability to alter who you are in Christ, can be identified as you begin to prayerfully look for what “your thing” is.

And them make every effort to nip it in the bud.

Or more honestly, to pull it up by its roots.

Let’s be proactive about what we let our hearts and thoughts dwell on over the course of the day. You are too precious to God to waste your time on things that do not edify and bring life to you and those around you.

Blessings to you and for crying out loud….do not go google that song…it’s a total eclipse of your time.

How much you want it determines how much you will get it <3

Greetings to you on this Thursday as we usher in the final month of official “summer”…although I happen to know that the school system has eaten a large chunk of the month by starting school midway through August…what is up with that????

Ah…that musing will have to wait for another day…

Because for some reason, I have this other thought that keeps rising to the surface so let’s follow it.

I have always had a love-hate relationship with the piano.

Love the instrument itself…love the sound of it, the memories of my dad using a bulky electronic thing with gizmos and dials to rough tune pianos and then taking out his felt wrapped tuning forks and finishing the thing off by ear.

Loved how he could hear a song once and reproduce the sound.

Loved how he sat and held curved fingers over the keys and knew how to use the pedals and how easily it all seemed to come to him.

Hated that I couldn’t do any of that.

Loved the scales and exercise books with simple notes to read.

Hated the hours of practice and the way I couldn’t get the timing right and the sitting still and the …

well…

the discipline of getting my mind and my fingers to work together to make those confusing markings splattered across those five lines and four spaces with their flags and dots and squiggles to not look like some foreign language.

And while there is a place deep inside me that wants to be a pianist, there has never been enough love to move me to actually do the thing that is required to make it happen.

There has never been enough want in me to invest the time and heart and energy into moving beyond the simple songs I learned up to the point I quit my lessons as a child.

Thankfully my kind husband has put up with allowing me to move this clunky upright that I purchased for $50 from a church basement…that ended up being an original Steinway & Sons with all the innards unharmed by time and multiple moves and the merciless pounding of the band of brothers.

When our talented children and musical friends, who can produce real music, come; our home is filled with these chords that echo in my own heart and I will briefly think how I want to learn to play.

But they leave and I get busy with other things that I am really interested in pursuing and all desire to improve on those early lessons is abandoned.

Oh friend, please tell me you see where this is heading?

Because we can love all things church…we can love the fellowship and the feels.

We can love hearing from great teachers who have studied the Word and seen wonderful things in it…who have the gift to bring it to life for us.

We can go down front and have someone pray over us and leave feeling so much stronger.

And we can love everything about the church and miss being the effective, growing, thriving part of the Body we were intended to be.

Because we don’t love the discipline of prayer and study and meditation.

We don’t love the tedious steps that make up the walk behind the talk.

We don’t love Christ enough to actually do the things that will make us alive in Him; the hard work of working out our salvation with fear and trembling.

We can live a life of faith vicariously through the emotions evoked by others who are close to Him rather than do the daily discipline of walking it out ourselves.

And one day, all of that runs dry.

It comes a day when the ones we were relying on to provide our “experience” of Christianity close down the cover over the keys and they stop playing for us.

Maybe they pass on to glory…maybe they fall from glory…maybe they start playing a style that doesn’t resonate with us…but the music stops and we are left empty and void because we never loved Jesus enough to learn Him for ourselves.

We are so blessed to share much with the Body of Christ…the fellowship and corporate worship, the unity of communion with the saints…all of it is wonderful…but I pray we never let it become a substitute for that personal relationship He desires to have with each one of us individually.

Perhaps as we enjoy the last few weeks of summer, we can stir up one another to set aside time each day to dig into His Word and let that fuel our thoughts and our prayers in the dog days of August.

What a harvest we will take in if we will invest now in our efforts to learn the ways of our Lord.

Blessings on each of you <3

***Special invite to local readers! Lisa and Ravshan Uraimov will be visiting and sharing with us in room 201 at FCC at 8:00 am Sunday morning!!!

The Extras…my short list for recommended reading <3

I was trying to fashion this into a well-written post…but yesterday…this happened…

mom brought Sweet Caroline and the band of brothers down for the afternoon and we went to the zoo…

or were the zoo…

or both.

While she took the wild bunch on the train, Lola and Caroline sprinted across the width of the zoo to wave at them as they went under one of the observation decks.

And as I passed under those same trees and around the curve leading to the train station so I could wave them into the dock, I realized that it was just an eye-blink ago that I was the mom keeping little arms and legs contained as we creaked and squeaked along that track.

And I may have cried.

Just a little.

Because time marches on but the soul holds fast to the eternal.

Which kind of brings us to my list of books to recommend.

We are currently blessed (or perhaps overwhelmed) with copious amounts of Christian-based reading material these days.

Thanks to new publishing methods ranging anywhere from blogs, to self-publishing, to a constant stream of new books and studies from established publishing houses; there is much to choose from in all areas for women, men, relationships and church life.

Constantly.

My thought regarding these is…just like a good diet of food…choose wisely what you spend your time reading.

Select books from authors that you know are solid in their teaching or are endorsed by others that you know are solid.

Sometimes as I am reading one of these new books I realize that it is going nowhere and I have begun to do a quick flip through of some of the chapters. If I see it will continue to just be more of a diversion than a profit to my investment of time, I will feel quite free to pass along to a donation center.

If I find it is completely false in what it is proclaiming…I happily recycle it in our large plastic bin in the garage.

Garbage in…garbage out, a mind is a terrible thing to waste…you are what you read…etc…

Which brings me to the books I go back to time and again.

Classics on my shelves.

These are books that speak eternal truths from authors who loved Jesus against the backdrop of THEIR culture and time.

Because the Bible is relevant and God is the same yesterday, today and forever…yet is always doing a new thing…cause well…He’s God…

my favorite authors are the ones who didn’t write to their times..but wrote to the glory of God and so their words transcend time and culture and can be applied right here and right now.

For books on prayer I recommend:

Valley of Vision the prayers of the Puritans – if you have never read the tabs at the top of the blog (under the Journey Onward banner there are tabs that include “About You”, “My Mission Statement” etc); the one that says “Journey Onward” explains this blog’s connection to this book I love so much.

Anything written by E. M. Bounds and Andrew Murray, but particularly Murray’s With Christ in the School of Prayer and The Ministry of Intercession.

I will also include two modern books on prayer that I have read through several times each and still go back to for quotes:

Touching the Heart of God by Ernest J. Gruen

A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller

As for Christian living/developing and growth type books; I have worn out the pages of these favorites:

Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster

and additionally, an expanded study of this book and the disciplines found in…

Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney.

I would conclude with one last dearly loved and heavily marked up favorite:

Knowing God by J. I. Packer.

Those are all good places to start.

I don’t read a lot of fiction.

In fact I learned a number of years ago that is one of those “good things” that is not a “best thing” for this girl’s active imagination.

I have a tendency to move so deeply into a well-written story that I can begin living there instead of here…and I realized that it had become a form of idolatry.

However, God is all about freedom not legalism and so occasionally I let loose the grip of fear that I simply CANNOT read fiction.

Such was the case when a friend gifted me The Undoing of Saint Slivanus. This is Beth Moore’s first effort at fiction and I loved it.

A gentle visit into well-developed characters and the regional landscape of life in New Orleans…or as I would say…

New AH-lens, Lew-weeeez-eeee-ahnna.

It was refreshing and uplifting and had me on the edge of my seat.

A great, fun and inspiring read.

So that’s my short list.

Happy reading and I will see you tomorrow, you book-worm, you <3