Tuesday, February 22, 2011



So, what is our target/goal?  What is serenity?
the state or quality of being serene,  calm, or tranquil;
Shalom “wholeness” – peace
a state of mutual harmony between people or groups, especially in personal relations

cessation of or freedom from any strife or dissension.

freedom of the mind from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, an obsession, etc.; tranquility; serenity.

silence; stillness
untroubled; tranquil; content.
keep the peace, to maintain order; cause to refrain from creating a disturbance
make one's peace with, to become reconciled with
make peace, to ask for or arrange a cessation of hostilities or antagonism.

How do we get there?  How do we find this place of peace and serenity?  That is what we are going to discover as we walk together down this path over the next several weeks.  We will be considering God’s word -specifically the Beatitudes and we will also be considering the 12 Step program and other truths God has provided in materials to help us get to the place He has designed us all for… a place and experience of peace, serenity and joy despite our circumstances.  This is going to take will power and God power… we can do this!!

Joel 2:12-27 says “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten”.   For many of us the locust is anxiety, worry, relationship challenges, loneliness, disappointment, unforgiveness, anger & frustration, self-pity, low self-worth, a horrible past, etc…   God wants to restore us… God wants to breathe new life in us.  His desire is that we experience the life He designed for us.. and I fully embrace that it is a life of serenity/ peace.

I read a story about a woman who hid $20,000 worth of jewelry in a plastic garbage bag in her home hoping to prevent burglars from finding it.  Later, having forgotten about it, she accidentally threw the plastic bag out with her garbage.  Several workmen searched for 9 hours in a landfill before finding her treasure and restoring it to her. 

Some people throw away God’s abundant and gracious blessings in their lives through blatant sin. There was a time in my life when I wasn’t experiencing the blessing of God because of worry, anxiety, bitterness, anger and some behaviors that were very detrimental to myself and those around me. When I finally realized that I couldn’t help myself, I turned to God, repentant and broken. Gradually God has taught me how to rely more fully on Him and His word.  The result of that is life change .. but it is also ‘peace and serenity’.  Now… am I able to always be in that place of peace and serenity?  Are you?  Of course not, however, there are some of us in this room that have never experienced that kind of peace.  God wants you to know it, experience it and live it. When the things of life hit us – if we know that place of peace and serenity – we will know there is a place that we need to get back to.  And..we will also be able to get back there by working through and doing God’s word that we are going to learn through this class.

I mentioned Joel – In Joel 2, there was an invasion of locusts that stripped God’s people of everything.  What those locusts did to them is exactly what our negative choices and sins will do to us.  Our only hope is to heed God’s call in Joel 2:12 “turn to me with all your heart”.  To those of us who turn, he promises in vs 25 “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten”.  Do you need to get rid of some locusts in your life? - Locusts that are robbing you of serenity and peace?

In order for us to get a ‘pulse’ on where we are at in our growth and pursuit of peace & serenity, let’s go over some of the characteristics of a growing person – a person who is on the path to serenity.  As I go through these, jot down some notes to yourself – consider the ones you know are not characteristic of you personally that you know God desires change in:

Go through characteristics of a growing person..(listen to audio)

The road to success is not straight
There is a curve called failure, a loop called confusion..
Speed bumps called friends, red lights called enemies,
Caution lights called family and you will have flats called jobs….   BUT…
If you have a spare tire called determination,
An engine called perseverance,  insurance called Faith
A driver named Jesus, You will make it to the place called Success/ Serenity/ Peace!!
                ~Author Unknown

THE PATH TO SERENITY – Defining the Journey/ the Goal


1.   Share your thoughts on serenity/ peace/ shalom – have you experienced it during certain times in your life?  On a scale from 1-10 what is your peace level right now – 10 being a high level of peace.
2.   What are some of the locusts eating away at your life and serenity?
3.   As you consider figuring out where you are currently in your personal growth and serenity, what areas listed in the characteristics of a growing person do you need to work on?
4.   What hope and encouragement did you receive tonight?
5.   Share steps you will take this week in preparation for the journey ahead.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Loving Christ Above All Else

THE PATHWAY TO HEALTHY SPIRITUALITY – Loving Christ Above All Else - Communion Service

We are called to order our lives around nothing else but the love of Christ – the love of Christ must come before all else!
This must be our ‘rule of life’.. Loving God above all else.  Does everyone know what a trellis is?  Those of you who garden or plant flowers know that a trellis allows a plant / vine to get off the ground and grow upward.  Our trellis/ is this rule of life.. it is the intentional, conscious choice and plan to make God the center of everything we do .. everything we are.  Very few people have a conscious plan for developing their spiritual lives. Most of us are not intentional, rather, we seem to be ‘functional’.. kind of like being on autopilot. We do the church thing once a week maybe.. maybe we read the Bible once in awhile, talk to God daily – maybe.. maybe we even go the extra mile and join a small group, support group or bible study.  As we participate in these spiritual activities, are we really conscious about a goal we have for our life – actually, the goal that God has for our life? 

(My Story - Audio)
Do we really understand our need to make Jesus Christ our ‘Lord’ – give Him rightful place or.. are we still looking to Him as just being our ‘Savior’.  What does it mean to make someone the Lord of your life?  What does it mean to be a ‘fully devoted’ follower of Jesus…  It means that we are ‘loving Christ above all else’.  He is the center of our lives.. His love and our love for Him are the energy, the motivating factor for everything!   Everything!  Our work, where we live, how we parent, how we interact in our marriages and friendships, even WHO our friends and spouses are, how we conduct ourselves – how we speak, choices we make…etc…etc…  If we are going to call Him Lord, if we are going to love Christ above all else – there should be evidence of that…   yes… we are all in process.. but we should be seeing some changes.. if not, then we have allowed our love to grow cold and it needs to be reignited. 

That is what this table is about tonight/ communion.  It is an opportunity that Jesus Himself instituted for His followers.. so they might remember… remember His love, His sacrifice, His forgiveness..  His rightful place of Lordship in our lives.  “Greater love has no man than this, that He would lay down his life for his friends”…   Someone willing to die for us, is someone worthy to follow, someone we can blindly trust with every area of our lives as we make Him Lord, Manager & Healer or our lives.

In order for us to experience growth and make Him the center of our lives, we have to have a trellis.. we need a plan.. we need some guides to help us move .. help us grow upward.
If you want to study a Biblical example of this – study the life of Daniel.  Daniel was amongst the most pagan people in the world and yet he grew in His love and Lordship of God despite his surroundings and pressures on his time and life.  Daniel had a trellis – a rule of life – Loving God above all else was the goal.  How did he get there?  The same way you and I must – And.. these are the things we have to be intentional about .. we can’t be haphazard about our relationship with God / our spiritual growth and development.   

Don’t allow yourself to settle for less.. Saints --Don’t be on autopilot in your spiritual life.  We need:
Prayer – that includes: God’s word, Silence & Solitude, Daily times set aside to connect with God, Study
Rest – the Sabbath, Simplicity, Play & Recreation
Work/Activity – Service & Mission, Care for our Physical body
Relationships – Emotional Health, Family, Community – companions for the journey

Tonight we are going to take some of these elements and invite you to participate so you are a step closer to Lordship and Loving Christ Above all Else..
Prayer, Scripture, Silence, Simplicity, Community

Listen to this Song – contemplate the words prayerfully, allow God to connect with you through them… I will pray for us then there will be a few moments of silence as you allow the Lord the opportunity to speak to you before we take the elements together.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock . . .”
It is true. I stand at the door of you heart, day and night. Even when you are not listening, even when you doubt it could be Me, I am there.
And I want you to know that whenever you invite Me, I do come- always, without fail. Silent and unseen I come, but with infinite power and love. I come with My mercy, with My desire to forgive and heal you, and with a love for you beyond your comprehension. I come longing to console you and give you strength, to lift you up and bind all your wounds. I bring you My light, to dispel your darkness and all your doubts. I come with My power, that I might carry you and all of your burdens; I come with My grace, to touch your heart and transform your life: and My peace I give to still your soul.

I know you through and through- I know everything about you. The very hairs of your head I have numbered. Nothing in your life is unimportant to Me. I have followed you through the years, and I have always loved you - even in your wanderings. I know every one of your problems. I know your needs and your worries. And yes, I know all your sins. But I tell you again that I love you - not for what you have or haven’t done - I love you for you, for the beauty and dignity My Father gave you by creating you in His own image. It is a dignity you have often forgotten, a beauty you have tarnished by sin. But I love you as you are, and I have shed My Blood to win you back. If you only ask Me with faith, My grace will touch all that needs changing in your life; and I will give you the strength to free yourself from sin and all its destructive power.

I know what is in your heart - I know your loneliness and all your hurts - the rejections, the judgments, the humiliations. I carried it all for you, so you might share My strength and victory. I especially know your need for love - how you are thirsting to be loved and cherished. But how often have you thirsted in vain, by seeking that love selfishly, striving to fill the emptiness inside you with passing pleasure - with the even greater emptiness of sin. Do you thirst for love? “Come to Me all you who thirst. I will satisfy you and fill you. Do you thirst to be cherished? I cherish you more than you can imagine - to the point of dying on a cross for you.
I Thirst For You. I thirst to love you and to be loved by you - that is how precious you are to Me. I Thirst For You. Come to Me, and I will fill your heart and heal your wounds. I will make you a new creation, and give you peace, even in all your trials. never doubt My mercy, My acceptance of you, My desire to forgive, My longing to bless you. For Me, there is no one any more important in the entire world than you. I Thirst For You. Come to Me, thirst for Me, give Me your life - and I will prove to you how important you are to My Heart.

Sin can never satisfy you, or bring the peace you seek. All that you have sought outside of Me has only left you more empty, so do not cling to the things of this life. Above all, do not run from Me when you fall. Come to Me without delay. When you give Me your sins, you give Me the joy of being your Savior. There is nothing I cannot forgive and heal: so come now, and unburden your soul. I am seeking you every moment of the day - standing at the door of your heart, and knocking. Do you find this hard to believe? Then look at the cross, look at My Heart that was pierced for you. Open your heart to Me, right now, more than you ever have before.

1.       Share your experience of communion this evening. Was there something specific God spoke to you that you would like to share?
2.       What does it mean to make Jesus the Lord, Manager and Healer of your life?  Is there an area He is prompting you to give over to His Lordship?
3.       As you consider being ‘intentional’ rather than being on autopilot about your spiritual life, what elements mentioned tonight do you need to pay greater attention to?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Learning New Skills to Love Well


How do we know God exists?  A monk replies… “no explanation or argument can achieve this, only the practice of ‘active love’.  Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”  Loving well should be the goal of the Christian life. It is much easier in our dreams than in practice. It requires that we grow into emotional adulthood in Christ.  It requires genuine, healthy spirituality.  What we typically do is practice spiritual disciplines and misapply biblical truth. Our relational skills were probably learned unconsciously in our family growing up and we have already discovered that most are not ‘healthy’ relationally/ emotionally.    Most of us make a lot of assumptions in our relationships and think we know the truth.  This seems so much easier than actually talking to the person(s), confronting the issue, or facing it directly.  We all seem to learn skills in life to be competent in our careers and at school.. but we don’t learn how to grow into an emotionally healthy, mature adult who loves well.   

The Bible is clear what we are to do.  Here are a few that we can glean from the word (taken from Emotionally Healthy Spirituality) – Ask yourself:
-        How can I be quick to hear and slow to speak?
-        How can I be angry and not sin?
-        …watch my heart above all else (since that is the place from which life flows)?
-        …speak the truth in love?
-        …be a peacemaker?
-        …mourn?
-        …not bear false witness against my neighbor?
-        …get rid of all bitterness, rage and envy?
-        …love like 1 Cor 13?

If we cannot walk out our beliefs/ truth in our churches and relationships  - they will not be any different from the world around us.

The first step in getting this right is to identify where we are.  Are we an emotional infant, child, adolescent or adult?  Here are the qualities/ symptoms:

1.    Emotional Infant – look for others to take care of them, have great difficulty entering into the world of others, are driven by the need for instant gratification, use others as objects to meet their needs
2.    Emotional Child – content and happy as long as they receive what they want; unravel quickly from stress, disappointments and trials; interpret disagreements as personal offenses, are easily hurt and angered; complain, withdraw, manipulate, take revenge, become sarcastic whey they don’t get their way; have difficulty calmly discussing their needs and wants in a mature, loving way.
3.    Emotional Adolescent – tend to often be defensive, threatened and alarmed by criticism, keep score of what they give so they can ask for something later in return, deal with conflict poorly, blame, appease, go to a third party, pout or ignore the issue, become preoccupied with themselves, have great difficulty truly listening to another person’s pain, disappointments or needs, are critical and judgmental.
4.    Emotional Adults – able to ask for what they need, want or prefer – clearly, directly, honestly; recognize, manage and take responsibility for their own thoughts and feelings; can when under stress, state their own beliefs and values without becoming adversarial; respect others without having to change them, give people room to make mistakes and not be perfect; appreciate people for who they are – the good, bad and ugly – not for what they give back; accurately assess their own limits, strengths, and weaknesses and are able to freely discuss them with others; are deeply in tune with their own emotional world and able to enter into the feelings, needs, and concerns of others without losing themselves; have the capacity to resolve conflict maturely and negotiate solutions that consider the perspectives of others.

Last week we learned about disciplines whereby we could begin to ‘practice the presence of God’.  This week we want to focus on how to ‘practice the presence of people’.

Again, loving well is the essence of true spirituality.  It will require that we experience connection with God, ourselves and other people.  God invites us to practice His presence in our daily lives and at the same time, He invites us to practice the presence of people within the awareness of His presence.  The two are rarely brought together but need to. Jean Vanier wrote this: ‘Love is to reveal the beauty of another person to themselves’.  Jesus did that with each person He met.  And Jesus calls us to do the same: Matthew 22:37-40 sums it up, love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, strength.. love your neighbor as yourself.

Our Great Problem –
Most of us still see ourselves as the center of the universe. And.. as a result, we naturally want the people around us to give up themselves and become what we want them to be.  We prefer that those closest to us think, feel, and act toward the world the same way we do.  If that’s the case, then what M Scott Peck says is true:  ‘we are all born narcissists and we are all learning to grow out of our narcissism – and that is the heart of the spiritual journey”.  Hmmmm could be some truth to that.

Types of Relationships:
I-It Relationship – In many human relationships, we lose sight of others as separate from us or we treat people as objects, as an IT.  In the I-It relationship, I treat you as a means to an end.  What would that look like?

- moving people around on an organizational chart at a staff meeting as if they were objects or subhuman  -  talk about people in authority as it they were subhuman – threatened when someone disagrees with my views – listen to my neighbor or coworker’s problems and help them with ‘work’ or chores in hope they will attend the upcoming outreach at my church.

The result of I-It relationships is frustration – they don’t fit ‘my plans’.  I see things ‘right’ and if they don’t see things as I do then they are ‘wrong’. Recognizing the uniqueness and separateness of every person in the world is not ok – we want them to see everything as we do – our way is the right way and only way.

I-Thou Relationship Though you are different from me, I respect, love and value you. In this type of relationship, 2 people are willing to connect across their differences. God fills the ‘in-between’ space.  That is known as the ‘sacred space’. This type of healthy relationship, intimately reflects the I-Thou relationship humans have with God.  Genuine love is released between the 2 and God’s presence is manifest. If we are genuinely practicing this type of relationship, the evidence of loving well will be our ability to deal with conflict well. We will be able to resolve conflicts maturely and negotiate solutions as we consider other people’s perspectives.

Conflict:  At the heart of true peacemaking is acknowledgment that we are human beings made in the image of God. Knowing this, puts us on the path of desiring to live in the truth and not in pretense, even when that means a conflict may result.  Most Christians I meet are really bad at resolving conflict and 2 reasons for this sited by Pastor Scazzero is: wrong beliefs and a lack of training/ equipping in this area.

2 Ways to deal with Conflict:
1. Ignoring Conflict (False Peacemaking) – Matthew 5:9 “
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.

Most people think Jesus calls us to be pacifiers and appeasers who ensure nobody gets upset.  We are to keep the peace at all cost – ignoring difficult issues and problems, making sure things remain stable and serene.  What would be some examples of being a false peacemaker?
The way of true peace will never come through pretending what is wrong is right!  Tue peacemakers love God, others and themselves enough to disrupt false peace.

2. Embracing Conflict (The Path to True Peace) – Jesus disrupted the false peace all around Him – in the lives of His disciples, the crowds, religious leaders, Romans, those buying and selling in the temple.   Matthew 10:34-36 tells us “   34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
   “‘a man against his father,
   a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
   36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’[a]

Unresolved conflicts are one of the greatest tensions in Christians’ lives today.  Most of us if not all of us – hate it! We don’t know what to do so instead of risking any more broken relationships, we prefer to ignore the difficult issues and settle for false peace.  We all must realize… we cannot build Christ’s kingdom on lies and pretense – only the truth will do.  So we have to be honest and not ignore the conflicts!

Skills to be a true peacemaker:  (always pray first!)

-        Speaking & Listening:  Speak in personal pronouns – talk about your own feelings, opinions and thoughts. Be brief – use short sentences. Correct they other person if you believe they have missed something and do not understand.  Continue to speak until understanding is realized.    As you listen – put your own agenda on hold. Be quiet and be intentional about active listening. Reflect their words back to them so you have clear understanding. 

-        Remember the Bill of Rights: Respect means I give myself and others the right to –
1.   space & privacy – knock on doors before opening, don’t open mail that is not addressed to you, respect needs for quiet and space
2.   be different – allow for preferences of food, movies, volume of music, how we spend our time
3.   disagree – make room for each to think and see life differently
4.   be heard – listen to each others' desires, opinions, thoughts and feelings
5.   be taken seriously – listening and being present to one another
6.   be given the benefit of the doubt – check out assumptions rather than judging one another when misunderstandings arise
7.   be told the truth – when asking for information being able to trust it is truthful
8.   be consulted – checking and asking when decisions will affect others/me/ them
9.   be imperfect & make mistakes – leave ‘room’ for breaking things, forgetting, letting each other down unintentionally, failing when we have honestly tried
10.                     courteous & honorable treatment – use words that don’t hurt, ask before using others things, treat each other as: I-Thous
11.                     be respected – taking one another’s feelings into account

-        Check out assumptions: The 9th Commandment says “you shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” Exodus 20:16.  Every time I make an assumption about someone without confirming it, I believe a lie about this person in my head.  This assumption is a misrepresentation of reality.  Because I have not checked it out with the other person, it is very possible I believe something untrue.  It is also likely I will pass that false assumption around to others.  

It is also important to remember that if I do go to the person about my assumption and they tell me I am wrong.. I must choose to believe that what they are telling me is accurate and take it at face value.  To walk away from that encounter still believing what I came into the discussion with- is judging.  There is simply no way around it – to assume is to judge (see Matthew 7:1-5 on judgment).  And if this continues in the relationship it will eventually have a very negative impact.

-        Check out expectations – What is the difference between a realistic and unrealistic expectations? Give me some examples of expectations you may have had in the past in your relationships – family, spouse, friends, church.  Important note: expectations are only valid when they have been mutually agreed upon.  

-        Allergies & Triggers: “Healing the Ledger” – In inner healing prayer we simply label them triggers.  It is a situation that causes feelings to rise up from the past – we are ‘stirred up’ emotionally to a level that the situation does not warrant.  An example: Teresa sees her husband watching TV instead of parenting the children with her and she gets very angry. She attacks and belittles him because he unconsciously reminds her of her father who left her home when she was 7 years old, leaving her and her mom to fend for themselves.  It is important that we pay very close attention to triggers.  They can lead us to our false beliefs in memories that need to be exposed so we can be healed and receive truth.

An exercise some use for relational ‘allergies’/ triggers is to ask yourself the following (called the Healing Ledger):

-        when this happens what I tell myself or think is…
-        when… I feel…
-        when.., what I think and feel about myself for having these feelings is..
-        when… the behavior you see from me is..
-        what this relates to in my history is…
-        when.. you remind me of…
-        the price we are paying for this in our relationship is…
-        the words from the past that I needed, words I wish had been said to me, are…

If we take the time to pay attention to triggers and work them through, we will realize how much we are still living in the past and how we project it into the present.  Once we have some realization, we can begin to make different choices – choices that are more loving, emotionally adult responses rather than reactions.  We can begin to love well.

1.  Let’s be candid – can you relate more with the
Emotional Infant, Emotional Child, Emotional Adolescent or
Emotional Adult?
2. Have you been in a relationship that was like the ‘I-It’ Relationship?  What was that like?  And the ‘I-Thou’ – experienced it?
3. Conflict – discuss the ways people deal with it and how you are going to perhaps change how you deal with it in the future.
4. Discuss the Bill of Rights
5. Discuss your experiences with one of these in a relationship you are in or have had – pick one:  assumptions, expectations or triggers.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Becoming Spiritually Healthy by Stopping to Breathe

THE PATHWAY TO HEALTHY SPIRITUALITY - LESSON 14 – Becoming Spiritually Healthy by Stopping to Breathe

How many of you have ever driven through a whiteout?  What was that like?  (My story – Gaylord – Up North - Audio)

Many of us have lost our way in the blizzard of life.  Perhaps the demands from work, family, church, our lives are full and overflowing.  We multitask so much that we fail to realize anymore that we are doing 3 things at once.  Interestingly, our role models are people who get a lot done in a short time.  We envy them and model our behavior after what we think they are doing and accomplishing.  Our weekdays are full of work, tending to children and the tasks and hand and we look forward to the weekend only to discover more that has to be done and the time is filled.  So much for free time!  Some of us even feel guilty when we aren’t busy thinking we are wasting time when we are not productive/ doing something.

So what happens if this is our life and the storms and trials of life blow into our lives?  We are in trouble!  There is no margin for the unexpected.. no margin even for the pleasant surprises!  So.. what do we do?  Read another book, listen to another sermon or go to another seminar on time management, stress, margin, balance? - it is just not going to do it.  God is offering us a rope to pull us out of the whiteout.  The rope, Pastor Scazzero suggests are two ancient disciplines called – the Daily Office or what some call Divine Office or Fixed Hour of Prayer & the Sabbath.  Neither are meant to add a burden or another item on the to-do list – the intention must be that we ‘want to’ rather than ‘have to’.  These 2 disciplines will bind us to the living God like no other. There are many other spiritual disciplines of course, and we have talked about them in prior classes and they are all threads in the rope we are talking about tonight.  The heart of these 2 disciplines is stopping to surrender.  They help us surrender and accept our limitations that we discussed last week.

We must get to a place where we accept God’s rhythm for us that started back in Genesis.  God created… He rested/ stopped.  Adam and Eve toiled, they rested.  We are invited by God as they were to have action but also passivity, to strive but also let go, to do all we can do, then be carried and surrender.  Robert Barron tells us that the essence of being in God’s image is our ability, like God, to stop.  We imitate God by stopping our work and resting.  If we can stop for one day a week and stop for mini-Sabbaths each day, we touch something deep within us as image bearers of God.  We were all wired for this rhythm, not the one most of us are keeping!
So.. let’s talk about each of these and what they look like in our lives.  I have to be honest with you, as I studied for this lesson, it totally rattled my cage!  And.. I believe it is going to rattle yours a bit as well.

Let’s start with The Divine Office – The Divine/Daily Office was created by monks centuries ago and the intent is to arrange our lives around it rather than the other way around.  It is also a means to keep us aware of God’s presence while we work and it enables us to maintain a healthy balance.
Of course, none of us are monks but.. we must accept and realize that much of what they do can be found in Scripture.   

Biblical Examples: 
David practiced set times of prayer seven times a day (Psalm 119:164). 
Daniel prayed 3 times a day (Daniel 6:10). 
The Jews in Bible times prayed 2-3 times a day.  
 Jesus himself probably followed the Jewish custom of praying at set times every day.   
His disciples continue to pray at certain hours of the day (Acts 3:1 & 10:9). 
All of these Biblical examples and those that followed throughout the ages, have found that stopping periodically during the day for the Divine Office is the key to creating a continual and easy familiarity with God’s presence.  Like Brother Lawrence’s phrase that most of us have heard, ‘practice of the presence of God’.  If we do this, I think we will, as Pastor Peter did, find there is great power in setting apart small units of time for morning, midday and evening prayer. It will cause us to be more deeply aware of the ‘sacred’ – actually eliminating the division of the sacred and the secular.

What are the elements of the Divine Office?  It will be different for each of us.  Ideas – those who like structure: write prayers, journal, pray the psalms… or… you could read a portion of a book, devotional, or you could simply go outside and take in the beauty of God’s creation as you focus on Him – aim at 3 times a day and choose the length of time best suited for you.  The key, remember, is regular remembrance of God, not length (2 – 20 min – 45 – it’s up to you). Be creative in your use of time but be sure to include these elements:
1.    Stopping – stop all activity, unhurried. Maybe give up control again and again at each Office and choose to trust.
2.    Centering – sounds a bit New Age to us.. but it’s not..it is Biblical.  Ps 37:7 says “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.
And Ps 46:10 ““Be still, and know that I am God;
   I will be exalted among the nations,
   I will be exalted in the earth.”

How do we center? – be attentive and open – sit still – sit straight – breathe slowly, deeply and naturally – close your eyes or lower them to the ground (this helps with distractions)  If your mind wanders, focus on your breath – we do this in Outstretched in Worship on Monday nights - what a wonderful way to exercise, center/connect with God.  As you breathe in, ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit. As you exhale/ breathe out, exhale all that is sinful, false and not of Him.

3.    Silence – Dallas Willard has called silence and solitude the 2 most radical disciples of the Christian life. We need to take time to be absent from people and things to focus on God. Silence is quieting every inner and outer voice to tune in to God. We live in a noisy world – research indicates that an average group can only bear 15 seconds of silence… hmmm… I think we see this confirmed in our church services.    God speaks in the silence .. no wonder so many of us struggle to hear His voice.  

4.    Scripture – The Psalms are a good place to start – what a great prayer book. Regardless of what you read, read it slowly and thoughtfully.. maybe even read and pray the Lord’s prayer.

A daily divine office might look like:
Silence & Centering (2-5 min), Opening Prayer, Scripture reading, Prayer for Others/Self, Optional Devotional Reading, conclude with Silence    

The second important practice to help us get back into our godly rhythm is practicing the Sabbath.
Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word that means “to cease, to stop working”. It refers to doing nothing related to work for a 24-hour period each week.  During this time, we should be orienting ourselves and everything around us as ‘holy’ – meaning ‘separate, a cut above’. (see Genesis 2:2-3). On our Sabbath, we are imitating God by stopping our work and resting.

Honestly… we must all admit right here right now.. that this seems impossible to most of us.  It seems radical and extremely difficult to accomplish in our everyday lives. Our culture knows nothing of setting aside a whole day to rest and delight in God! Like most of you, I have always considered it important and valuable but have not fully implemented it in my life. I am convinced after studying this for some time and then reading it again in Peter Scazzero’s book that we all must understand the Sabbath is a command from God as well as an incredible invitation.  I have always looked at it as an invitation.  How about you? 

We must come to grips first of all with the fact that Sabbath Keeping is one of the Big 10 – the 10 Commandments.  Therefore, if we are going to be in obedience to God, we must start keeping this command. Of course, just like all the others, it is present for our good.  God has a designed rhythm for our lives and that rhythm includes the Sabbath day of rest. Interesting that of all the 10 commandments, commandment #4 is the longest – there is more explanation.  Let’s review them:
1.Don’t have other gods before Him, 2. no idols, 3. don’t misuse God’s name, 5. honor your parents, 6. don’t murder, 7. don’t commit adultery, 8. don’t steal, 9. don’t lie, 10. don’t covet… and #4 is :  “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The Sabbath commandment calls us to build the doing of nothing into our schedules each week.  Nothing measurable is accomplished.  What is accomplished?  One theologian said it this way: ‘To fail to see the value of simply being with God and doing nothing, is to miss the heart of Christianity’. Interesting that the Jews have been so faithful to this commandment... and it has actually been used to serve as a witness to the world.  Not so for modern day Christians. If we were doing this right, we would be bearing witness to the way we understand life God’s way – life’s rhythms, gifts, meaning, and its ultimate purpose in God.  When we observe the Sabbath, we affirm that God is the center and source of our lives.  Eugene Peterson points out that the “Sabbath is not primarily about us or how it benefits us; it is about God and how God forms us…I don’t see any way out of it; if we are going to live appropriately in the creation, we must keep the Sabbath”.

4 Principles of a Biblical Sabbath
Note:  there is a huge difference in a Biblical Sabbath and a ‘day off’ – A day off is about replenishing ourselves physically, getting refreshed, etc.  A Biblical Sabbath must include the following:

1.    Stop – Embrace your limits.  God is God.. you are not.  You are His creation with limitations and the world will not stop if you stop. The core spiritual issue around stopping is ‘trust’. Will God take care of us and our concerns if we obey him by stopping to keep the Sabbath?  When we trust God and obey His commands, He provides.  Jesus will take our ‘loaves & fishes’ that we offer Him and somehow miraculously and invisibly multiply them.  We truly can trust Him enough to STOP!
2.    Rest – Once we stop, the Sabbath calls us to rest. God rested, we must do the same (see Genesis 2:1-4). What do we do after we stop? How do we rest?  The answer: anything that delights and replenishes you – it could be napping, working out, going for walks, reading, watching a good movie, going out to eat… might be best to avoid the computer or cell phone unless you can be sure to just look or respond to things that are strictly personal in nature.. It may be a good practice to have a separate e-mail address for personal vs. business/ work related issues.  Keep in mind that when you institute your Sabbath, you are going to have to allow time in the rest of your week to get things done that are separate from your profession but are still ‘work’ for you – balancing your checkbook, grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, etc, etc.
As we develop our Sabbath, we may need to do this gradually.  Here is a list that we can start with – pick work as #1 and then add 2 or 3 more as you go over the next few months – things to rest from:
-        work
-        physical exhaustion
-        hurriedness
-        multitasking
-        competitiveness
-        worry
-        decision making
-        catching up on errands
-        talking
-        technology & machines

Stopping and resting causes us to respect our humanity and the image of God in us. We are not nonstop human beings. Sad to say but it can take a physical illness such as cancer, heart attack, the flu, or whatever to get us to rest and begin to take this seriously!  Remember Jesus’ words… paraphrased ‘We don’t serve the Sabbath. The Sabbath serves us.’

3.    Delight – the third component to a biblical Sabbath revolves around delighting in what we have been given. Genesis 1:31 says God, after finishing his work; delighted.. He said ‘it was very good’. The Hebrew phrase here communicates a sense of joy, completion, wonder and play.  Most of us in our culture are ‘delight deficient’. Because there has been a distortion of delight and pleasure in our world, most Christians struggle with receiving joy and pleasure – they/ we sometimes feel guilt or discomfort with the whole concept. Sabbaths are the times we can begin to rewrite what we have been believing perhaps.  It can be a time that we take great delight in God’s creation.  We should slow down and enjoy…. Pay attention to smelling, tasting, touching, seeing the beauty all around us – and relish the opportunities and experiences.   We need to slow down, pay attention and delight in people as well.  Allow yourself to be ‘into’ the beauty of people around you – God’s creations, made in His image. Allow room for unexpected encounters and conversations with neighbors, friends and family, etc.
Finally, delight in… enjoy healthy play whether through sports, dance, games, looking at old photos, visiting a museum .. play.. enjoy..

4.    ContemplateThe final quality of a Sabbath is the contemplation of God. Our Sabbath should be holy to the Lord (Exodus 31:15). Ponder the love of God, worship, read and study Scripture, be silent. On every Sabbath we need to reflect on and experience a taste of what is yet to come in heaven. Our short earthly lives need to be put into perspective. If we are going to do this part of our Sabbath right, we will need to plan and prepare.  When will be have worship? A time of silence?, etc.. ?  You could create a set tradition or keep it flexible ... have a plan but don’t be overly structured.  Look at the Sabbath as a ‘snow day’ – all the stores are closed, work is shut down, school is closed – you now have the gift of a day to do whatever you want – no obligations, pressures or responsibilities. You have permission to play, be with friends, take a nap, read a good book.. it’s a ‘no obligation’ day.  God gives it to you… every 7th day.. it’s up to you to receive this gift. The interesting thing that all of us will find as we practice the Sabbath is that the other days of week will become infused with some of the qualities we are developing in our Sabbath. …hmmm.. perhaps that is all a part of God’s plan.

What about longer Sabbaths/ called Sabbaticals?
Longer periods of Sabbath rest are very clear in Scripture – see Leviticus 25:1-7 where God commands Israel to give the land a Sabbath rest every seven years.

For us as human beings – longer Sabbaths can be considered our vacations – we should view all or part of that time as Sabbath – therefore, we need to think this through when planning our vacations.. for example, a 3 or 4 day trip to Disney World may not constitute a Sabbath vacation. 
We need leisure time away to rest and focus.  In other words… when we plan, we probably shouldn’t be saying we need a vacation from our vacation.

Second, it would be helpful to participate a few days a year at a spiritual retreat – this would be considered a Sabbatical of sorts. Even going away over night somewhere can be a personal retreat – maybe every 4-6 months. Going on a mission trip with a group could also be considered a longer Sabbath. 

Thirdly, take a break from ministry work  - let someone fill in for you while you take a few weeks or months away whether you are a small group leader, usher, children's ministry worker, etc.. take a break – especially if it has been an extended period of time.  Some Pastors take 3-4 months off every 6-7-8 years.

God is seeking us.  He wants us to come back home to Him – the Devine/ Daily Office and the Sabbath are ways for us to slow down to God’s rhythm and be pulled out of the ‘whiteout’/ blizzards of life. If we are going to become spiritually health, we need to ‘stop to breathe’.

Becoming Spiritually Healthy by Stopping to Breathe - GROUP WORK
1.       Share your initial reaction to the Divine/Daily Office?  What value do you see for yourself personally in this practice?
2.       Share your ideas on what your Divine Office will look like – when? What?
3.       As we consider the second important practice in how to ‘stop and breathe’ – The Sabbath, share what your current practice is.  
4.       As we consider The Sabbath – what new insights did you gain tonight about it? – it’s importance, how God sees it
5.       What steps will you take this coming week to begin to make a change toward both of these practices?