Step by Step Journey: Writings of Richard Dahlstrom - because there's always a next step

Sustainable Faith requires Practices

On Sunday November 25th I’ll be speaking at all our Bethany locations on the very important subject of how to turn spiritual disciplines into regular practices in your life so that you’re able to grow in joy, confidence, wisdom, mercy, strength, love, and freedom.  I hope you’ll make every effort to attend, and if you can’t I hope you’ll attend online, because this is what ties everything we’ve been discussing this fall together.  I believe it’s one of the most important sermons I’ve ever preached, and the material we receive tomorrow will lay the foundation for solid discipleship in our communities for years to come.  Here’s what I mean:

Saturday, November 25th, 4PM.  I’m on a train in Germany between the small village of Kandern where my daughter teaches, and the established city of Friedrichshafen, where I’ll be teaching this week at Bodenseehof.  I have a window seat, and it’s November dark, with clouds burying the Alps in a grey that’s reflected back on Lake Constance.  Trees are naked, stripped of all leaves, all color, all life.  The whole of the moment cries, “selah”, which means “pause”, “rest”, “pay attention”.  I do, and in the moment, breathe deep.  Classical music fills my ears, from the like of Josh Groban and Yo Yo Ma.  Indescribable.

Aren’t you glad they practiced?  These artists have gifts, though the word gift is dangerous.  It implies that the skills of a virtuoso simply bubbled up from within until they overflowed, like a jar of kombucha tea that’s been shaken too much.  BOOM!  Talent awakens and bookings begin.  Nothing could be further from the truth, of course.  Everything worth doing requires intention and practice, and while there are various theories about how to practice, and how much to practice, everyone agrees that there are things you must do if you’re going to master a skill.

Christianity isn’t a skill, of course, like playing the cello or singing.  But Christianity does, on the other hand, have deliverables, given by Jesus himself.  He said: When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father (John 15:8).   Fruit has nothing to do with electing republicans, contrary to current conventional evangelical wisdom (after all, you never saw Jesus advocating for a certain party, for the obvious reason that ‘his kingdom is not of this world’.  He brings an ethic that transcends all parties, nations, and economic systems – but I digress).  Fruit has to do with displaying the character of Jesus, allowing it to flower and blossom so that a supernatural love and joy, peace and hope, wisdom and patience, well up from deep within, arising from nothing less than the resurrected Jesus who’s taken up residence inside us!

If Christians could learn that this fruit of changed behavior and countenance, not the proving the resurrection or the age of the earth or the superiority of water baptism, is the whole point of the gospel, we’d all be a lot healthier.

Real health, though, arises in individual believers and faith communities, not when they know the right goal, but when they move toward it.  So the vital question for our consideration is this.  How do we who are filled with Christ, come to live lives that display Christ in greater measure?  

The short answer is this:  by developing ancient soul care practices!  This is because the right practices will have the effect of allowing the Christ who lives in us to find unique expression in our lives in greater and greater measure as days become weeks become decades.  Little by little, Christ is being formed, and growing and bearing fruit.  But only if the soil of our hearts is in the right condition – and that soil care is our responsibility.

There are people who’ve said they don’t like the notion of “spiritual disciplines” because they imply, wait for it…. discipline.  “I was in a legalistic church back in the day and there’s no way I’m going back to that phony, judgemental structure.”  Please don’t!  Go forward instead – into the life for which you are created.

You weren’t created for a noose of legalism.  Too many faith stories have ended shipwrecked on the rocks of shame imposed by authorities who understood neither grace, nor the reasons people should have spiritual practices.

You weren’t created for the desert of spiritual anarchy either.  Many, wary of legalism, have swung on the pendulum, and are now “free” which is code for “doing nothing intentional about growing in my faith”

You were created for “the ancient paths” – practices that can start with alarming ease and be incorporated into your existing routines, but which will, over time, transform you so that:

You enjoy increasing freedom from shame, fear, and addiction.

You enjoy increasing power and purpose.

You enjoy increasing companionship with Christ as your best friend, so that you can worship, while traveling alone on a train in November as you pass through barren fields in southern Germany with immigrants from Morocco to your left and from Somalia behind you.

A friend once said, “the Christian life hasn’t been found tried and wanting – it’s not been found tried at all.”  Too many of us got our salvation card punched, (or at least thought we did) by giving assent to some doctrines.  But we never grew into the life for which we’re created.  The way forward into robust faith reality is found on those ‘ancient paths’.  Don’t miss the November 25th sermon, and accompanying literature – live or online.

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