I Am Not the Light of the World

Of Candles

12-30 2014 reflections (9)
candles (c) Carole Sparks

The electricity was out. No TV, no internet, not to mention no heat or means of cooking. I decided to read a book, so I lit a candle. Have you ever tried to read by the light of one candle? It’s almost impossible. By the time you get the book close enough to see the words clearly, you’re afraid the pages will catch fire. One candle, despite the beautiful imagery, is not very effective. Continue reading

Spiritual Disciplines in the Car (part 2)

With busy lives and little time for retreat or relaxation, it can be easy to neglect our spiritual growth. This week and last week, I’m sharing some practical ideas for observing spiritual disciplines even while you’re driving down the road in the car. Join in, and let’s see what God can do!

The disciplines of activity are about things we do or things we grab hold of, compared to last week’s list of things we avoid.

Spiritual Disciplines of Activity for the Car

Study – Listen to a recording of the Bible, but don’t let it just drone on and on. Listen to a big chunk such as a chapter or full narrative story (all of Joseph, for example), then stop the recording and reflect on what you’ve heard. At other times, try very small bits of Scripture. If traffic permits, listen to one verse or paragraph at a time, stopping the recording frequently in order to meditate on what you’ve heard. No matter how much you heard, when you reach your destination, take a minute before you open the door to record any insights or fresh understanding.

Alternatively, practice a single verse or passage until you have it memorized. Pull it up on your phone or write it on a card. Look at it when you’re stopped (such as at a traffic light), then recite it while you drive. Check yourself the next time you stop.

You might also listen to podcasts of sermons or audio books on Christian topics.

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. -Psalm 119:11

Worship – Sing along with praise music. Recite psalms. Voice prayers of adoration and thanksgiving. The point is that you enjoy Who God is and relish His Presence with you.

We praise you, God, we praise you, for your Name is near; people tell of your wonderful deeds. -Psalm 75:1

Leave space for God to
respond in your prayers.

Prayer – Pray out loud. These days, you don’t have to be self-conscious. People in surrounding cars will just think you’re talking on the phone. As you pray, don’t take up all the time with your own words. Leave space for God to respond. You’ll be surprised at how He plants ideas and/or verses in your head when you pray like this!

I pray to you, Lord, in the time of your favor; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. -Psalm 69:13

Fellowship – The easiest way to do this is simply to carpool with other believers. Alternatively, invite someone to accompany you even though they don’t need to go where you’re going. Either way, use your travel time to talk about real things. If nothing else, share your stories of coming to know Christ. If you can’t be in the same vehicle, call the person. Put your phone on speaker and have an in-depth spiritual conversation as you travel. Sometimes this is easier than sitting down face-to-face with nothing for your hands to do and nowhere safe for your eyes to rest.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. -1 John 1:3

Confession – In a spirit of prayer, allow the Holy Spirit free reign in your heart to convict you of any unconfessed sin. If you have a hard time getting started, listen to and meditate on Psalm 51. When you arrive at your destination, phone anyone from whom you need to ask forgiveness. Do it immediately or you won’t follow through (at least, I wouldn’t)!

Confession is agreeing
with God about Who He
is and who I am.

Confession isn’t only about exposing sins. Remember Romans 10:9 (not in NIV but in other translations such as ESV)? It says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” There’s an idea of acknowledgement (the AMP demonstrates this) or agreeing with God about Who He is and who I am. I’ve read about and tried a sort of breathing confession that goes like this: As you breathe out, agree with God that you are sinful and in need of His guidance, shelter, presence, etc. As you breathe in, ask for a greater filling of the Holy Spirit to accomplish His glory in the moment. This type of moment-by-moment confession can help you focus on God’s presence and action in your life.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. -Psalm 32:5

Submission – Follow the speed limit for the entirety of a long drive. After all, the Scriptures say, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority” (1 Peter 2:13). Just plan ahead on this one because it will take you longer than usual to reach your destination!

Ask someone to hold you accountable for practicing some portion (or all!) of these spiritual disciplines for the car over a specified amount of time. Report your activity regularly.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. -Ephesians 5:21

It doesn’t take much to make the spiritual disciplines a part of our everyday lives—just a little intentionality. Try one of these suggestions this week and see how God blesses your effort.

Make the spiritual disciplines a part of your everyday life by practicing in the car. (click to tweet)

I pray these ideas have sparked something in your mind. What from this list do you want to try? What other suggestions do you have? Let’s start a conversation of encouragement in the comments below!

Fellowship is not Fried Chicken

“Our church is having a fellowship this weekend.  It’s a potluck, so everyone bring something.”

Paul:  that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death . . . (Philippians 3:10 NKJV).

“Our Sunday School class needs to plan some fellowships for next year.”

John:  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7 NIV).

Does anyone else see a disconnect here, like there are two definitions for this one word?  (And can you even say ‘fellowships’?  Isn’t it a non-countable noun?)

Now don’t get me wrong.  I like fried chicken, and I like to ‘hang out’ with other believers.  There are great blessings to be had in spending time with our brothers and sisters in Christ—especially at this time of year.  Bring on the hot chocolate and Christmas carols!  But one of the best blessings in the Christ-following community is the encouragement that naturally springs from working together.  Thus, the author of Hebrews said, Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together . . . but encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:24-25).  I’ve heard this verse used to guilt people into going to church, but our assembling of ourselves together (that’s Hebrews 10:25 NKJV, just because I like the old-fashioned words) doesn’t apply only to Sundays, nor is a meeting the goal.  Authentic fellowship is something more than casual get-togethers with a good prayer thrown in.  There’s love, good deeds, and encouragement involved.  We’re pushing each other in these areas, doing more than we could individually.

God Himself gives us the primary example of fellowship.  The Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) exist in fellowship . . . in community . . . even as They are One.  He doesn’t NEED us to keep Him company.  He doesn’t need our service or our glory.  He doesn’t need our praise or our money. The Three-in-One work (works?) together.  There’s unity, a common purpose, a mutuality that we, the created, can never duplicate.  But like so many aspects of the Christ-life, He calls us to work toward this type of unity/community even though it’s presently unattainable.

The great thing is that He invites us to participate WITH Him even though He doesn’t need us.  I say to my son, “Come, help me wash the dishes” not because I need his help.  In fact, it goes more quickly and neatly without him.  I invite him to join me in the work because I want to spend the time with him; I enjoy his company, and he might learn a little something along the way.  That’s what fellowship with God is like.  He wants us there with Him—not because He needs us but because He enjoys us and wants to share with us.  Consider this scene from John 11.

When Jesus came to the tomb where Lazarus’ body was placed after his death, he paused because there was a stone laid across the entrance.  Jesus was about to RAISE A MAN FROM THE DEAD.  You think He didn’t have the power to move a big rock out of the way first?  After all, He said that if our faith was even the size of a mustard seed, we could move whole mountains (Matthew 17:21), so a rock shouldn’t be any problem for Him.  But Jesus never did things just for show, and He never did miracles when muscle would suffice.  So He asked some guys to get that stone out of the way.  And thus, they became part of the miracle.  Could they raise Lazarus?  No.  Could they fumigate him so he didn’t stink when he walked out?  No.

Here’s another example:  In John 21, Jesus told the disciples to throw their nets on the other side of the boat, and they pulled in a big catch.  He could have just caused the fish to jump into the boat, right?  (This is fresh on my mind because I wrote about it recently.)  In moving the stone, just like in casting the nets differently, the people near Jesus participated to the full extent of their ability.  They could do no more.

Isn’t that beautiful?  He says that, on our own, we can never bring that spiritually desolate son or daughter back to Him.  The one thing we can do is pray, so do that.  He says that we can’t work a miracle in the body of that friend with cancer, but we can fix meals, run errands, love, listen, and pray.  So do that.  He says that we can’t bring that unreached people group to Christ, but we can _____________ (you fill in the blank).  He will do the rest.  Whatever the situation, we can’t handle it alone.  Our role is to participate to the full extent of our God-given ability (yes, He even gives us that part—like the muscles of the guys who moved the stone) and let Him do the rest.  Our first conclusion here is simple:  Don’t try to do it on your own.  You’ll just fail.  But let’s go a step further:  God lets us be part of the miracles!  Can you believe that?  Do you grasp the fact that God Himself says, “Hey!  Come over here and help me with this.”  Phenomenal.  Really.  And that’s when we feel closest to Him:  a mission trip, a service project, that time when you showed someone how to become a Christ-follower.  I’m talking about momentous occasions here, but the same applies to everyday life.

The Greek word for ‘fellowship’ is koinonia.  But the same Greek word (or a variation of it) is often translated as partnership, commonality, or participation (e.g. Luke 5:10, Philippians 1:5, Titus 1:4).  So we can say that fellowship with God is about partnering with Him, about sharing a common purpose while here on earth.

Back to our earthly get-togethers.  The same principle applies to our fellow human beings.  (‘Fellow’ . . . ‘fellowship’ . . . hmm . . .)  It’s the relationship that comes from working together, especially through something difficult.  Real fellowship is that indefinable thing that happens when we join together for a purpose.  It’s post-mission trip camaraderie.  It’s far-flung teammates from your high school basketball team (regardless of whether you had a winning or losing final season).  It’s veterans reunited thirty years after the war.  Maybe they eat fried chicken when they get together; maybe they don’t.  Yes, there’s a get-together-ness about it, but the characteristic is not the definition.

‘Fellowship’ has to be more than a synonym for ‘social gathering.’  Otherwise, fellowship of his suffering (Philippians 3:10; the NIV says participation in his sufferings) makes no sense.   Consider that reference alongside 2 Corinthians 13:14, where Paul blesses his readers with the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  This type of participation—the kind that is difficult or even hurts—is what Jesus asked of Mary and Martha when Lazarus died the first time.  (I wrote about that at length *here*.)

Lord, what do you want us to do with this information?  How can we move it from knowledge to wisdom?

  1. Participate in what God is doing around us to the full extent of our abilities . . . and beyond our limits as He equips us for special circumstances. Even if it’s just moving a rock.
  2. Bring others along. If it’s a mission trip or an opportunity to share Christ with someone or a simple act of service, intentionally create fellowship, which strengthens the Kingdom.  Your Sunday School class does not need more potluck dinners in order to grow closer as a class.  You need to work together for Kingdom advancement.  That’ll change things on Sunday mornings.
  3. Recognize and seek out authentic fellowship. We build it through shared experiences with believers—especially difficult experiences.  We celebrate it (thus increasing His glory) through reviewing what He did through and around us when we see those special believers.  Fried chicken optional.