Simple Rule #3

Monday, March 30, 2009

Rev. Mark preached last Sunday about John Wesley’s third simple rule, "Stay in Love with God." I pondered all week one of his statements. Referring to the little attention we give to expressing our love for God, Mark said we’ve become “accustomed to his grace.” All week I’ve sung in my mind a variation of a song lyric, “We’ve Grown Accustomed to His Grace.” It’s so true. We take God for granted when we do not actively show our love for him in our thoughts, words, and actions. Mark posed the question, “How would all of our other relationships work if we treated everyone the way we treat God?” Ouch! If we ignored our friends and loved ones, how long would they stay in our lives?

In his book, Three Simple Rules, Rueben Job enumerates the essential spiritual disciplines that Wesley believed we must practice in order to stay in love with God.
  • A daily time of prayer
  • Reflection upon and study of Scripture
  • Regular participation in the life of a Christian community, including weekly worship and regular participation in the Lord’s Supper
  • Doing some act of goodness or mercy
  • Taking opportunities to share with and learn from others who also seek to follow the way of Jesus

This list, in essence, describes God’s “love language.” When we make these practices the habits of our lives, we show our love for God. We’re speaking his “love language” when we spend time with him, pay attention to him, express our devotion to him, and share his love with others. Aren’t these the behaviors we show to the people we love?

Singing is a way for me to express my love for God. Last week when I was in Italy with a group from my church, we took a gondola ride through the beautiful canals of Venice. The six ladies in our boat eagerly waited for the gondolier to serenade us with a melodic Italian love song. It didn’t happen. So, my friend Paulina and I belted out in English the Christian version of the Italian love song, “O Sole a Mio.” The words of the chorus to this song called “Down From His Glory” proclaim adoration for Christ.

Oh, how I love Him, how I adore Him,
My breath, my sunshine, my all in all
The Great Creator became my savior,
And all God's fullness dwelleth in Him .
What fun we had singing the chorus over and over through the channels and under the bridges where Italians and tourists cheered us on with applause. Many couldn’t understand our language, but they recognized the joy in our expression. God certainly understood our “love language.” I don’t think we should go about our daily life constantly singing our love for Jesus at the top of our lungs (In fact, Paulina and I finally got quite over ourselves after 7 or 8 rounds of the chorus!). However, wouldn’t it be great to feel that sense of abandon and freedom more often when we express our love for God?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all you mind, and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30

Let’s discipline ourselves to stay in love with God by making a habit of spiritual practices. Let’s speak his “love language!”

Do Good

Monday, March 16, 2009

Reuben Job writes about three simple rules that have the power to change the world.
Do no harm
Do good
Stay in love with God
By following rule #1 we would avoid responding in a way that does not cause damage or destruction to humankind, God’s creation, and ourselves. Practicing this rule has proven to be enormously challenging as I’ve tried to carefully consider all of my thoughts, words, and actions.

Now I’m focusing on rule #2 and as Job says, “things begin to get even more complicated.” It sounds simple to do good, but how good do I need to be and how often do I need to do good? Like doing no harm, doing good is a proactive way of living. This rule requires us to seek good for everyone in our world and in God’s world. Every word and deed must come out of love and obedience to God.

Wesley taught that we must be Christian in word and deed and referred to these actions as “works of mercy.” He practiced what he preached by living modestly and giving all he could to the poor, visiting prisons, speaking out against slavery, and dispensing medicine from his chapels.

Doing good is often overwhelming when we observe all the needs of our families, co-workers, friends, congregations, neighborhoods, and communities. Add the needs around the world and it’s mind boggling. Where do we start?

Let’s start by following Jesus’ example.

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good. Acts 10:38

Jesus did good as he went about his daily life as he saw needs. He ministered in everyday life.

He ministered as he went on his way.
On his way to Jerusalem he stopped in Bethany to visit with Mary and Martha.
On his way to Capernaum he taught his disciples the importance of service.

He ministered as he went out of his way.
Hearing of his cousin’s John’s death, Jesus needed to be alone in his grief, but he heard the voices of needy people and went out of his way and “healed the sick” (Matthew 14:14).

He ministered in all kinds of ways.
He healed a blind man. He told stories to children. He ate with sinners. He attended a wedding feast. He fished with the disciples. He taught at the synagogue.

Jesus didn’t rent an auditorium or do a mass mailing to advertise his ministry or establish a foundation in order to do his good deeds.

He set out each day with eyes open and ears tuned in to the needs that arose around him throughout the course of the day.

We can do that too! We can be alert to the needs around us and then as we surrender to God’s leading, we can do good. Who needs a card of encouragement? Who needs a home-cooked meal? What charity needs a financial donation or an act of service? How can I extend hospitality and kindness to all I meet? How can I do good to those who disagree with me?
Do good…
on our way
out of our way
in all kinds of ways.

But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Luke 6:27-27

Do No Harm

Monday, March 9, 2009

In his book, Three Simple Rules, Rueben Job elaborates on the three principles of Christian living that John Wesley wrote of in the 18th Century. Wesley believed that following Christ required discipline, and he outlined these practices in the “General Rules” for the small groups that were the core of the early Methodist movement.

Job invites us to consider these rules as an alternative to the “frenzied, divisive, and destructive lifestyle our culture offers us.”

1. Do no harm
2. Do good
3. Stay in love with God

Rule #1 is so simple, even children understand it, but practicing it proves to be quite challenging. This rule requires us to give careful thought to our every word, thought, and deed. It requires strict discipline and a surrender of selfish power and control. What a daily challenge!

We harm others when we give in to gossip, speak badly about others, or diminish those who disagree with us.

We do harm to ourselves when we don’t take care of our health or when we don’t use our resources wisely.

Sometimes we even cause unintentional harm when we make a careless comment or accidentally slight someone or unknowingly ignore a cry for help.

We tend to do intentional harm as a result of some kind of conflict and then use our words or actions against someone. As Rev. Mark reminded in his sermon, it’s hard to do harm to people when we view everyone as a child of God. He said, “To be clothed with Christ is to see humanity.” When we do this, we put away sinful, earthly things.

But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Colossians 3:8-10

Wesley said that when we find common ground with others, we want to extend love to them. We change the climate and conversation when we see the humanity of others. He called it “Holy Conferencing” and used the term to describe gathering in the name of Christ to support, encourage, discuss and make decisions by calling on the Holy Spirit to guide the process.

Imagine how the atmosphere of our churches, schools, workplaces, homes, neighborhoods, and other gathering places would change if we practiced “Holy Conferencing.” We would eliminate words, thoughts, and actions that offend others. By asking the Holy Spirit to guide us and then by being obedient, we take off the old self and put on the new self. Then we “do no harm.”

Oh, Father, help us to put off our sinful, selfish ways. Help us to see others as you see them. Guide our thoughts, words, and actions so that we may do no harm. Forgive us when we fail you. Amen


Sunday, March 1, 2009

I recently read an article by Julie Morgenstern, the “guru of putting lives in order.” She suggests that if you crave a change in your life, you should start with your closet. Believing that your closet holds clues to your inner self, Morgenstern urges us to SHED and then we’ll be poised to change our whole life. She proclaims that shedding is more than just throwing things out.

SEPARATE the treasures – identify what’s worth keeping
HEAVE the trash – get rid of what’s weighing you down
EMBRACE your identity – connect to who you are without all the “stuff”
DRIVE yourself forward – move toward your genuine self

As I was reading the article just before the beginning of Lent, I thought how appropriate it is to SHED in our spiritual lives. Lent, the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, is a time of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season of reflection and a time to take stock of our lives. During this season we imitate Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days when he was preparing for his ministry. Let’s see how to SHED during the Lenten season in an effort to move forward in our relationship with Christ.

SEPARATE the treasures – identify what’s worth keeping
What personal practices and habits are really worth keeping? Are we focusing enough time on the spiritual practices of prayer, meditation, study, worship, and service? Are we using enough of our resources to further ministries? Are we striving to incorporate the Fruits of the Spirit in our daily lives?

Because where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:34

HEAVE the trash – get rid of what’s weighing you down
What practices and habits are keeping us from a closer relationship with Jesus? The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2007 that Americans spend an average of 15 minutes a day in Religious and Spiritual Activities and an average of 5 hours a day in Leisure Activities. ( I know I often get sidetracked by spending too much time watching TV and surfing the Internet. What worries weigh us down and keep us from really trusting God?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6

EMBRACE your identity – connect to who you are without all the “stuff”
It is so easy to fall victim to what the world tells us about who we are. The world tell us…you are what you wear, what you drive, where you live, what gadgets you have, on and on. The world wants us to believe that “stuff’ gives us value and worth. “Stuff” makes us. However, scripture contradicts this worldview, “ It is he who hath made us and not we ourselves” Psalm 100:3. We find our real identity through Jesus Christ. When we strip away all the “stuff” in our lives, we see that we are bare before the throne – simply children of God. (1 John 3:2) What greater inheritance can there be than the one we get as children of the King?

We are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Romans 8:17
He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. Ephesians 1:3

DRIVE yourself forward – move toward your genuine self
As Christians, our genuine self is found in a relationship with our Creator. “Driving forward” toward Christ is a daily process of choosing the “treasures” and “heaving the trash.” We daily must choose to embrace a relationship with Christ

…but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13 & 14

During this Lenten Season, let’s SHED and find out what’s really important. Then let’s move forward toward the real prize: a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.

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