Still trying to update

February 16th, 2008

Still trying to update davidsbucket.com… Waiting for nameservers to change.

Switching to Wordpress

February 16th, 2008

Within the hour, my personal blog will be switched over with this template… This might make for a long night.

Dealing with our first impulse

February 15th, 2008

Yesterday was a bit of a strange day. I spent almost the entire day either in the car [with no radio] delivering our Saturday night postcards to three different Post Offices in the metroplex. When we send out these mass mailings, we work with a company called Outreach, who prints all the cards, adds the labels, and sorts the items for a bulk mail shipment. Depending on where the cards are going in Mansfield, they originate in different Post Office’s and if you are willing to drive the items to the appropriate location, you save a lot of money. One of the funny notes is that of the 5,000+ cards we are sending to our area, I only left 12 of them at the Mansfield Post Office! The rest were delivered to Fort Worth & Coppell.

You’ve probably heard this before, but the Post Office isn’t known for their customer service. [Sorry if any postal workers are reading this!] I did interact with several people yesterday who were very helpful including the Mansfield Postmaster. She was wonderful! But at my last stop in Fort Worth, I ran into trouble.

My first problem was that I couldn’t seem to find the right spot to drop off the cards. I went to four different spots [at the direction of various P.O. employees] before I found what appeared to be the correct location. The gentleman took my paperwork and I went back to the car to get the trays of postcards. When I returned with my cards, I discovered that my shipment was really too small for his area, and I needed to go down the warehouse about 100 yards to another station.

I returned 10 minutes later because there wasn’t anyone at the other station, and so with a big sigh, the original “expeditor” took my paperwork back to process my shipment. I could tell he was a little disgusted with me, though I wasn’t quite sure why. He started to lecture me a bit on the process. I apologized for my ignorance and let him know this was my first time. He went on to tell me that he didn’t have to accept my shipment because of my errors and at this point, I finally realized what was going on.

He was trying to pick a fight.

It was really quite strange. With every statement that he made, his voice became more elevated and his tone grew more harsh. To be quite honest, it was making me angry. I was there because other Postal workers had told me to go see him. I had simply followed the instructions of his co-workers. But, I was also tired. This was my last box to drop off. I had no desire to getting into a verbal spat with this gentleman, so I didn’t. I apologized. I thanked him for his instruction and “training” so that I could do it right next time. What I was somewhat surprised to see was the very evident disappointment I sensed from him that I didn’t argue. As quickly as his voice had elevated, it soon dropped off again. He finished the paperwork, handed me my receipt and I was on my way.

On my way home [with no radio] I thought a lot about that exchange. I thought about how clear it was to me that this individual wanted to make me mad and I wondered what made him so angry. Was it really something I had done or was it something that happened 5 minutes before I walked up? Was it something his wife said to him before he left for work this morning? Did he get another notice in the mail about an unpaid debt or a threat to foreclose on his house? Is one of his family members ill? Driving home I thought about the thousands of things that might have been going on in his life that had made him angry that day.

This weekend we’re talking about Fasting and Sabbath; two of the most mentioned spiritual practices in the bible. My exchange with the gentleman at the Post Office reminded me of one of the main reasons we are encouraged to participate in both of these practices. For many of us, to fast or to rest is really an exercise in fighting the impulses our selfish will is seek to impose on us. It’s hard to say no to the donut at the office, the candy on a co-workers desk, or to the invitation to lunch on that day we’ve set aside to fast. For others, the idea of resting is a challenge to our natural inclination to “keep ourselves busy.” The reasons for our activity are many. It feeds our identity. It elevates our self-esteem. Or, perhaps it helps us forget about some other wound we have in our life that remains unhealed. Regardless of what the reasoning is, to fast and to rest are meant to engage and fight those impulses. Why?

Because our first impulse is often wrong.

My first impulse yesterday was to let that guy have it. I didn’t deserve to be treated that way. He made me angry, but I didn’t take his bait. I wanted to, but for some reason, I didn’t. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve taken the bait before. We all have, but for whatever reason, yesterday I was able to walk away.

I heard Brian McLaren say once that, “I never feel spiritual when I fast.” That was really encouraging to me because I don’t either. Brian went on to say that in his life, it took several years of being faithful in that practice to recognize the change that it brought to his heart. Now that might not be the most encouraging idea for us to consider today… that a Life of Discipline takes years to bear fruit… but I think he’s right.

It does take time, but it’s the only thing that can prepare us for the demands that discipleship brings… We’ll be coming back to that idea again and again throughout this series.

One more thing… if you’ve made it this long! We also heard some exciting news yesterday that I look forward to sharing with our Saturday night community this weekend. For other readers, I’ll post it here on Sunday morning.

Peace.

Practicing Fixed-Hour prayer

February 13th, 2008

Since discovering the practice of fixed-hour prayer, I have used several of Phyllis Tickle’s prayer books as a resource for this practice. Tickle has three volumes of her Divine Hours prayer book series that make up the entire year. This include Prayers for Autumn & Winter, Prayers for Springtime and Prayers for Summertime. You can also purchase some smaller editions that coincide with certain seasons of the Christian year including Christmastide, Prayers for Advent through Epiphany and Eastertide, Prayers for Lent through Easter, which is the resource I am currently using. The Eastertide book is available here.

If you decide to begin using one of the resources to practice fixed hour prayer, let me just share a word of warning… It will feel weird at first. At least, it did for me. It felt very rigid and structured and in the first few weeks of my practice, it didn’t provide me with “inspiration.” Now, I would argue that much of our frustration we experience in whatever prayer life we are able to build is because we have inappropriate expectations of what is supposed to happen in that time. Feeling inspired every time we pray might be at the top of the list of inappropriate expectations to have for your prayer life. Certainly, inspiration is a part of our lives and a part of our private devotional life and corporate worship. Yet, I know that I am often sidetracked by what I expect to “get” out of a certain spiritual practice or worship experience.

So, I stuck with it. I decided to fight through my original discomfort. I bought my first moleskine journal [which is that black thing you see me carrying around all the time] during this time and decided to add a short journaling time after working through the prayer book. At that time, I was trying to participate in at least three of the prayer times [now I usually just squeeze in the morning readings and the evening time] and so I would simply write down a brief note about how the day was going.

As I continued the practice and I began to memorize many of the repetitive prayers that are scattered throughout the prayer book, the practice really grew on me. I do read all of the prayers and texts out loud to help me focus. Because of that, I usually try to find a quiet place at home either on the back porch or in my home office after everyone has gone to bed to do the readings. During Lent last year, Stephanie and I did the evening prayer time together and we’ve done that a few nights already this season.

I credit fixed-hour prayer as the practice that really has helped me enhance my journaling practice. I’d never really given a significant amount of energy to journalling, but it is something I treasure now. Sitting her in my office, I can see six old moleskines on my shelf which are filled with my reflections, struggles, fears, doubts, etc… over the past two years. There a great resource for me to consult when I need encouragement… not because they are filled with incredible insight, but because they remind me that I’m human. I struggle. I get frustrated. I get tired, but God has, is and always will be faithful.

So that’s a little bit about fixed hour practice and the way in which I practice it. It’s really nothing fancy except a consistent attention to prayer in your life. If you’re interested in trying it out during this Lenten season, let me know. I’d love to encourage you on that journey.

Tomorrow, I’ll probably be sharing some thoughts about fasting and sabbath as I continue to prepare for this Saturday’s message which will focus on those two practices. I’ll also be taking over 5,000 postcards to three different Post Offices in the metroplex to invite our community to come check out Saturday night. It should be a busy few days, but I’m really looking forward to worship at 6 p.m. this Saturday.

One more note…. I’m enjoying the blogging and would love to hear if you find it helpful. I’ll probably keep doing it regardless, but it’s helpful to know if it’s valuable for others as well. If you’d like, click on “comments” just below this post to share some feedback.

Peace.

The Daily Office

February 12th, 2008

Before I begin talking about The Daily Office, tomorrow [Wednesday], I will be fasting in preparation for the message this weekend on Fasting on Sabbath. If you’d like to join me in that, drop me a comment. I’d love to know that there’s friends out there joining! Now, on to the Daily Office.

Almost two years ago I read Tony Jones’ book, The Sacred Way, in which he records the history, theology and practice of 16 different spiritual disciplines. What interested me the most in Tony’s writing and in this book in particular was the way in which I connected with the frustration he had experienced in his own devotional life. Tony writes,

I had been taught that the way to connect with God on a daily basis is to have a 30 minutes “quiet time.” That is, you should sit down with your Bible open, read it a little, and then lay a bunch of stuff on God making sure to mention how excellent he is before running through the list of all the things you need. [p.15]

Tony goes on to talk about the lack of fruit he experienced in his life following this devotional model and the increasing level of guilt he felt from his inability to experience the growth he assumed would coincide with his “quiet time” practice.

After about 10 years of this, and hearing this same pattern corroborated by many people who were also trying to listen for God in their lives, something occurred to me: People have been trying to follow God for thousands of years… Maybe somewhere along the line some of them had come up with ways of connecting with God that could help people like me. [p. 15]

Tony’s book was my first exposure to the Jesus Prayer which I wrote about a few days ago, but out of this reading, the most fruitful practice that has been a fairly consistent part of my life has been the Daily Office.

Throughout the Judeo-Christian story, both Christians and Jews have participated in certain practices that have taken place at certain times of the day. Going back to the days of the Jerusalem temple, there were certain sacrifices, prayers, and liturgy that were specific to the hour of the day. The Psalmist writes, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous ordinances.” [Psalm 119:164]

In the New Testament, we read several references to the hour of the day and the significant things that happen in this life of Jesus and his disciples at these specific times of prayer. The most notable is Peter’s vision in Acts 10 which happens when, “About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.” [Acts 10:9] What was Peter doing? The same thing he did everyday at noon… Praying!

The best way to describe the Daily Office is that it is fixed hour prayer book [also called The Canonical Hours]. Working with a prayer book, [I'll tell you more about the one I use tomorrow or the following day] you set aside time during certain times of the day to work through some readings and prayers. The book that I use has four prayer times during the day; The Morning Office to be observed between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., The Midday Office to be observed between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., the Vespers Office to be observed between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Compline which is observed before retiring before bed.

Each of the Office times take about 15-20 minutes and include prayers, scripture reading, and other portions of sacred writings from all parts of Christian history. Sometimes this is a thought from a 13th century theologian. Sometimes it’s the words to a hymn written in the 19th century. Each office incorporates the Lord’s Prayer and the Gloria which those who attend one of our traditional services would know. [Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and forever, AMEN.]

There are also some prayers that are repeated each day. At the bottom of the post are several from the prayer book that I use.

Since this post is already running a little long, in the next few days, I’ll post about some of the resources that I’ve found helpful in practicing the Daily Office and I’ll spend some time talking about how I’ve tweaked my own use of this resource to fit me.

Here are some prayers that are repeated each day.

Morning Office

Lord God, Almighy and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day. Preserve me with your might power that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose through Jesus Christ my Lord, AMEN.

Compline

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous, and all for your love’s sake. AMEN.

What I’m giving up for Lent

February 11th, 2008

Driving home from work today, I finally found something that I wanted to “sacrifice” during this Lenten season. I’m only about a week late on coming to that conclusion, but the early point at which the Lenten season has begun this year has really thrown me off. Last year, I gave up meat for Lent which was really difficult, but a great experience. If you want to see the conclusion of those forty days, check out this post.

This year I decided that my fast wouldn’t have anything to do with food. Rather, I’m going to “fast” from listening to the radio in the car. If you’re anything like me, you’re addicted to noise. Your entire life is filled with noise to the extent that you experience tremendous discomfort whenever you find yourself in a place that is quiet. Just last week, I was visiting with some of our staff about my inability to study in the library in college because the silence was too distracting. [I know it sounds ridiculous] I really have a hard time being still and silent.

But I desperately need it.

Is there something in your life like that? Something you really can’t stand doing but you recognize that you have a deep need for it in your life? I need to be still. I need to be silent, and when I force myself to do it… this might sound strange… but I get this sense that my soul is getting a chance to catch it’s breath… That’s how I feel when I force myself to be still, to be silent… to cease.

So today while I was driving home, I turned on the radio… Then, sensing that I needed some quiet, I decided to turn it off… Then 30 seconds later, without making a conscious decision, I turned it back on… which frustrated me, so I turned it back off…

But then I turned it back on again.

I live 12 minutes from the church, and during that drive I either turned on or picked my hand up to turn on the radio six times. At no point did the thought enter my mind, “Hey, I think I need to turn on the radio.” It just happened. I stopped myself the last few times from actually turning it on, but my mind simply wasn’t convinced that it could survive the silence.

So over the next several weeks, I’m going to force myself to deal with the silence a little bit better and allow my soul some breathing room.

As for our family, we’ve decided to keep the TV off when we get home and try to go all night without that noise. We’ll probably make an exception for Thursday nights. [Cutting out Lost and The Office is simply taking this too far]

I’m interested to hear from you if you’ve decided to “give something up” during this season. Feel free to drop me a comment and let me know if you’ve got something you’re sacrificing for the sake of focusing your heart during these 40+ days.

Since I decided to cover this today, I’ll return to my earlier thought and post about The Daily Office tomorrow.

Peace.

A closer look at Matthew 26:44

February 10th, 2008

Last night we began our Lenten message series, and as promised, I’ll be supplementing this series with some additional content here on my blog. We began our lenten journey by looking at two sections of the Gospel of Matthew; Jesus being tempted by the devil in the desert in Matthew 4 (4:1-11) which immediately follows his baptism, and his prayerful preparation for his betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane (26:36-46).

There is an interesting phrase in the text from the 26th chapter that I didn’t have the time to unpack during the message. But I believe that it holds a significant truth about the life of discipline. In this section, Jesus leaves Peter, James & John to pray three times. Each time he returns he finds them sleeping rather than praying as he instructed him. The third time he departs from them, the text says, “So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words.”

So three times Jesus goes to pray, and on the third time he doesn’t even have the creativity to say something new? Instead, the text tells us, that Jesus again pulls himself away from his disciples in preparation for the betrayal that is about to happen and decides to repeat himself.

“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”

Why is it that Jesus chooses to repeat himself? Certainly, God heard him the first time, right? What is the purpose of the repetition?

With virtually everything that I have had any success with in my life, repetition has been involved. Any athletic activity [in which I've had limited success] requires a lifestyle of repetition for success.

It’s the reason Tiger always hits that putt.

It’s the reason Dirk rarely misses that 18 footer.

Repetition.

Many of the ancient spiritual disciplines that we are going to be talking about over the next six weeks are primarily about repetition, but sadly, you’ve probably never heard of many of them before. Over the next 40 days of blogging, I hope to spend some time talking about the history of spiritual practice and address particularly why Protestants [those denominations that have split from the Catholic church since the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century] have not taught many of these ancient disciplines.

Fortunately, many modern Christians are currently trying to rediscover some of these ancient practices which is what we will be doing over the next six weeks, but while we’re on the subject of repetition, I thought I would share with you one of the practices that I have used which is focused on this idea of repetition.

The Apostle Paul encourages us to, “pray without ceasing,” and the Jesus Prayer is an attempt to put that direction into a practice. The Jesus Prayer is a short phrase, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” that has been one of the foundational prayers of Eastern Christian spirituality since around the 5th century. The practice of praying the Jesus prayer involves the repetition of this short phrase over and over again. It is often practiced with a prayer rope that has knots for counting the number of times the prayer is prayed or by using praying beads which provides the same function. Further, in order to bring yourself to a place of stillness, you are encouraged to allow these words to coincide with your breathing pattern. In other words, inhale “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,” and exhale, “have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Prayer Beads

These are my prayer beads which I purchased from an Anglican Monastery in Granbury and I have used them to practice the Jesus Prayer. Originally, I tried to practice it with the breathing but found that I was too preoccupied with breathing right and not able to focus like I wanted. I have found it to be a wonderful addition to my own prayer life which seems to grow stale when I don’t practice a variety of different prayer practices.

If you want to know more about the Jesus prayer or any of the prayers you can pray with some prayer beads, just let me know. If you are interested in purchasing some beads or making your own, I’d be glad to help you out with that as well. Praying in repetition might not be for everyone, but before you dismiss this too quickly, consider this question: How are you using repetition, which is the key to growth in almost all the areas of our lives, in your spiritual life?

Tomorrow, I will share another discipline that you might find helpful for you called The Daily Office.

If you want to know more about prayer beads, click here for a handout with further explanation on their use and some of the other prayers you can use with the beads.

A Lenten Practice

February 9th, 2008

Tonight, we begin our Lenten message series, and as I alluded to earlier, I am going to be using my blog during this series to supplement this series of messages, and also share how my practice of certain disciplines that we’ll be talking about goes. I hope this will not only be informative, but provide a place of interaction for our community as we work through many of the historic disciplines of our faith. For any regular readers, my content will certainly shift over the next 40 days, but I hope it will be equally beneficial for you as well. If you want to follow along with the message series, you can click on podcast on the top menu bar.I’m excited about the opportunity to not only share but hear the voice of response from our community. We’ll see how it goes.If you’re interested in joining the journey, just a reminder that you can always subscribe to this blog on the right sidebar by grabbing the RSS feed or providing your email address. Don’t worry. It’s spam free.

A blending of Media, Music, & Politics

February 7th, 2008

Lent Begins

February 7th, 2008

The season of Lent begins again. Since I moved out of youth ministry almost a year ago and began working in a more general role in my church, the seasons of the Christian year have taken on a whole new meaning for me. Last Lent, several friends and I participated in a Meatless Marathon, giving up meat for the entire 40+ days. That was really tough, but a really good experience.

This year, I will be teaching a series entitled, “A Life of Discipline: Developing a Healthy Heart,” and one of the ideas behind the series is rather than give something up this season, we want to encourage people to add a new spiritual discipline into their life. Now, to be fair, for anyone to add a discipline to their life it will take some level of subtraction in another area, but I am excited about working through this series. And I think I have an idea of what I want to do during this season to prepare my heart to mark this season.

I’m thinking about making a commitment to blog everyday and to specifically focus my posts on supplementing the series that I am teaching. As I was doing some additional study last night, it became really apparent to me that there is a lot of information related to spiritual disciplines and the history of their practice that would be really helpful to share. Unfortunately, I don’t have 45 minutes to do so every Saturday night, but I have this great tool. Why not use it?

Also throughout this series, as I test out some new disciplines in my life, I will be sharing some of my own experience. I hope this will be a meaningful tool over the next 40 days, and will be the first step towards me using my blog in a whole new way to connect with others.