The Story of God: Luke

Luke 24:1-35

As we continue through the Easter season, a week of Sundays, we have been journeying together through the resurrection of Jesus in the Story of God. Luke tells us a story of surprises, remembrance, and the Table that changes the world.

Jesus could have revealed His resurrection to whomever He chose. The fact that the first witnesses of the resurrection were women tells us something powerful about the Story of God and the Gospel.  The culture of the time did not validate the testimony of women in court — and yet God gives them this Story to steward (and, as rings all too familiar today, the male disciples refused to believe them at first). From the outset, Jesus affirms the dignity and worth of all people, He raises up the oppressed, and reveals the upside-down power structure of the Kingdom of God. It was a tremendous act of “faith” on Jesus’ part: He believes in these women and their ability to carry out His mission.

As we consider what it means to be witnesses of the resurrection in our broken world, we’re called to follow in Jesus’ footsteps as people who listen, believe, and stand alongside those who suffer. Instead of immediately trying to explain things away or “wait to hear both sides,” how powerful would our witness be if we offered gifts of trust, friendship, and a willingness to stand by the side of those who are oppressed?

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Luke’s story of the resurrection is filled with surprises (plus the humor of the reader knowing Jesus is walking with the disciples along the path to Emmaus, but the disciples not realizing it at first). Some surprises change our lives forever. In fact, the surprise revealed at the table — as Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to these disciples — would change the course of these disciples’ lives (and the world).

The story of Gustavo Alvarez is powerfully told in the episode titled “Prison Ramen Saved My Life” on the Sporkful podcast. In prison, two tables changed the course of his life.

The first table is described this way:

When Gustavo Alvarez was 18, he was sent to prison for the first time. When he arrived, a group of guys from Gustavo’s old LA neighborhood took him to a common area and sat him down at a table.

“My heart was pounding through my chest,” he recalls. “I was just a kid and these guys were grown men — killers.”

They offered Gustavo (above left, in 2009) a plate of cheesy tacos — made by another prisoner. They wanted to get to know him — to figure out if they could trust him or not. And that shared meal was the way they did it.

How much more does the Table of Jesus offer hope and healing, as well as clear insight into who we are and what we’re called to do?

This week, consider the following questions:

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This encounter with Jesus on the Emmaus road not only turned these disciples’ lives upside-down, but it sets their hearts on fire with passion for God.

As described in the book Amazing Faith: The Authorized Biography of Bill Bright, Founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, Bill Bright’s life was changed when he committed to becoming part of the Fellowship of the Burning Heart.

Becky Tirabassi writes about this Fellowship:

(This developed) during a weekend teacher training conference led by Henrietta Mears, Sunday school teacher and mentor to hundreds of students at First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood.

One night during the retreat, Mears delivered a powerful message on being fully committed and “expendable” for Christ. Later in the evening, Bill felt compelled to go to Henrietta’s study room to talk and pray. Two other men, Richard C. Halverson and Louis H. Evans, Jr. felt similarly compelled, each on his own accord.

Without a plan or agenda, the informally assembled group of four was driven to their knees in prayer. They were overcome by God’s presence calling them to reach the world, especially college students, with the love of God.

Anointed through a vibrant encounter with the Holy Spirit, their prayer time produced untamed enthusiasm for the gospel and a plan for reaching students for Christ. Before they went their separate ways that night, they initiated the Fellowship of the Burning Heart. And they recorded on paper the lifetime commitments they made for the purpose of giving themselves entirely over to the God they loved.

The significance of the signed contract represented a powerful turning point in each of their lives, yet oddly, it has received little public attention beyond the pages of Bright’s biography.

The written contract read:

I am committed to the principle that Christian discipleship is sustained solely by God alone through His Spirit; that the abiding life of John 15 is His way of sustaining me. Therefore, I pledge myself to a disciplined devotional life in which I promise through prayer, Bible study, and devotional reading to give God not less that one continuous hour per day (Psalm 1).

I am committed to the principle that Christian Discipleship begins with Christian character. Therefore, I pledge myself to holy living that by a life of self-denial and self-discipline, I may emulate those Christ-like qualities of chastity and virtue which will magnify the Lord (Phil. 1:20-21).

I am committed to the principle that Discipleship exercises itself principally in the winning for the lost to Christ. Therefore, I pledge myself to seek every possible opportunity to witness, and to witness at every possible opportunity, to the end that I may be responsible for bringing at least one to Christ every 12 months (Matt. 28:19; Acts 1:8).

I am committed to the principle that Christian Discipleship demands nothing less than absolute consecration to Christ. Therefore, I present my body a living sacrifice, utterly abandoned to God. By this commitment, I will that God’s perfect will shall find complete expression in my life; and I offer myself in all sobriety to be expendable for Christ (Rom. 12:1-2; Phil 3:7-14)… 

Consider how God was able to use the expendable lives of those who put their commitment to Him in writing that night:

Bill Bright went on to found Campus Crusade for Christ, which is estimated to have led well over fifty million people to Christ around the world.

Richard C. Halverson wrote twenty-six books and eventually became the chaplain of the United States Senate.

Louis H. Evans, Jr. authored a number of books and pastored churches around the country, including Bel Air Presbyterian Church and National Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C.

Henrietta Mears was the director of Christian education at First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood for thirty-five years, founder of Gospel Light Publishers and Forest Home Conference Center, and co-founder of Gospel Literature International.

While these were certainly extraordinary people, Scripture tells us that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is alive in us as well (Ephesians 1:19-20). Amazing Faith described their lives in this way: “In the Fellowship of the Burning Heart they recognized their calling to a life of expendability — saying no to self and yes to Christ, wherever that might lead.” What can God do with our open-ended “yes” to Jesus?

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Bonus! If you’re amazed or surprised by such things, enjoy these GIFs of skateboarding innovator Daewon Song

The Story of God: Moses

The difference between information and formation is story.
— Pastor Jeya

Psalm 34:18 reminds us, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” As a church, we continue to pray for those suffering the sorrow of lost loved ones in the mass school shooting in Florida as well as seek ways to embody and demonstrate a better way forward through Jesus — that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The statistics on school shootings in our country are staggering, heartbreaking, and confounding. Reading the stories of those who lost their lives, however, reminds us of the difference between numbers on a page and real, human lives. Peter Wang, 15 years old, “was a member of the JROTC program at Douglas. His cousin, Aaron Chen, told the Miami Herald that Peter was last seen wearing his uniform and holding the door open so that people could escape.” Aaron Feis, assistant football coach, “died while using his body to shield students from bullets as the gunman opened fire.” Artist Pia Guerra’s editorial cartoon, “Hero’s Welcome,” captures poignantly his sacrifice:

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We might not naturally imagine the Ten Commandments as part of a story — a set of rules hardly inspires the imagination. However, when we read Exodus 20:1-17 in the context of The Story of God, we see a compelling picture emerge.

By way of (very brief) review:

  • The Story begins with God, and the first word of His creation is that it is good. We are reminded that every person has inherent dignity and worth because of the Imago Dei — each of us are made “very good” in the image of God.
  • The narrative of Noah and the flood reminds us that sin, evil, and brokenness are real, but they do not have the final word. The Story of God unfolds as a circle, with beginnings and new beginnings — promise, hope, and redemption, even in our darkest hour.
  • The story of Abraham and Isaac reminds us that God is the center of the story. This is not about a petty “god” who demands we destroy the thing we love most — in fact, God acknowledges horror of custom of child sacrifice false pagan gods demanded, and makes a spectacle of it by dismantling it. God doesn’t ask of us anything He isn’t willing to do Himself. If there is sacrifice to be made, it is ultimately made by Him.

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How does God rebuild, restore, renew the world? Through a people, set apart for Himself.

Hundreds of years passed between Abraham’s call to bless the world and the Israelites finding themselves in slavery in Egypt, but God remained faithful. God worked to preserve Moses’ life — shielding him from the bloodthirsty madness of a Pharaoh and using him as a leader despite his own sin & brokenness.

God rescued His people from slavery to become a holy nation, set apart for the purposes of God. 

God gave His people the Law to protect people from behaviors that have the potential for destroying relationships w God & others and to move toward beauty, order, dream of God rather than chaos & disorder. Seen in this light, the Ten Commandments could be viewed as a starting point for how to demonstrate the Kingdom of God in reality.

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This call to obedience is set in the context of relationship — by reminding us that we belong to God, we have confidence to live in the freedom we have in Him.

Forgive the silliness of this illustration, but Tommy Boy can help us understand what it means to be free to take risks when we have assurance and confidence in our lives (and forgive the irony of the taking of the Lord’s name in vain in this clip):

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We must resist the temptation to put ourselves in the center of the story. Otherwise, it would be easy to distort our understanding of the command to keep Sabbath as a day of “me time” first and foremost:

Rather, Sabbath is holy, set apart unto the Lord. The commandment makes it clear that it is a reflection of the rhythm of creation. In fact, it is an act of surrender more than luxury or comfort.

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True freedom is not a license to sin, but the freedom to become everything God has created you to be.

 

Lent 2018

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
— Psalm 42:1-2

What Is Lent?

Lent is the forty days leading up to Easter, not including Sundays (during which we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection!). For the Church, this season is a time of reflection, repentance, and renewal. Many followers of Jesus find it helpful to fast during Lent.

What About Fasting?

Fasting has been misunderstood in many ways. Fasting is not:

Proving our spiritual worth by how much we can “suffer”

Giving up sins or bad habits (we should be giving up those things anyways)

Trying out a new diet (going on a low-carb diet is not the same thing as fasting).

When we fast, we take a step back from a good gift of God (for example, food!) in order to seek the Giver of those gifts. When our stomachs growl from hunger, or we feel fidgety from a media fast, we are reminded that our greatest hunger should be Jesus Himself. Dr. Bill Bright of Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) offers several other wise insights into why we should fast.

As Richard Foster writes:

Fasting must forever center on God. More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.

Simply put, we fast so that we can make more room in our hearts for Jesus.

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Lenten Resources

As we withdraw for a time from some good gifts of God during this season, we also encourage you to draw near to the Giver intentionally through spiritual disciplines.

During this Lenten season, we encourage you to pray, fast, and give. Below you can find some Lenten resources (right-click to save PDF files):

Bible Reading 

The YouVersion Bible App has several reading plans here, including Lent for Everyone by NT Wright.

Here is a simple Daily Readings for Lent 2018 from our denomination.

You can also subscribe to daily Lenten readings from Bible Gateway here (including Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Dallas Willard)

Families & Kids 

This family devotional, Because of Jesus, includes six simple lessons (one for each week) with Bible reading, discussion questions, a “big take-away,” and a way to put faith into action.

Here is a Lenten coloring page (and another one here) — post these to your fridge after your kiddos color them in!

This set of “Learn About Love” worksheets includes some Bible discussion, word scramble, and other activities.

Photo-A-Day 

Lent 2018 Photo-A-Day Journey — if you post to social, please tag it #AnchorCityLent

These simple acts of faith & devotion can help Christians of all ages make room in their hearts for Jesus.

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Seeking & Celebrating Jesus!

We encourage you to break your fast on Sundays. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus each Lord’s Day, and breaking the fast weekly reminds us that it’s not primarily about our self-discipline, but celebrating the Risen King of grace and life.

The Story of God: Noah

“The difference between information and formation is story.” — Pastor Jeya

Stories have power to engage our brains and cause ideas to “click.” Puppy Love was recently voted as the best Super Bowl ad of all-time, not because of its use of sex or humor (or whatever we typically imagine with over-the-top Super Bowl commercials) but because of its compelling story (although having a cute puppy doesn’t hurt!):

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The Bible is the Story of God. We find meaning & purpose when we place our little stories inside the Big Story of God — this story unfolds not so much a linear narrative, but as a full circle of redemption with beginnings & new beginnings.

Genesis 6:5-22

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There is danger in starting with “the second chapter.” As Pastor Jeya preached last week, the first word of God’s creation is that it is good. God’s story starts with creative love, not “you’re a rotten sinner.”

Understanding how humanity violated & rebelled against God’s good dreams for the world sets the proper context for the flood: the flood is not about rage but, rather, sorrow.

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And, yet, even in the midst of this brokenness and sorrow, there is a glimmer of hope.

This turning point in the story creates the opportunity for Noah (and us) to respond to God’s call: will we obey and say yes?

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The Story comes full circle: God reaffirms the dignity and worth of humanity, created in the image of God.

It’s no mistake that God uses the rainbow as a symbol of the promise of His mercy. Rainbows, if you can see them from a higher perspective, are actually full circles:

The grace of God, even in the face of the world’s sin & brokenness, is never-ending!

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As you consider Noah’s story this week, ask yourself these questions again for deeper reflection:

  • How is God at work?
  • What is God saying?
  • How does God act?
  • What have I learned about God?
  • What have I learned about myself?
  • In light of these questions, what is my response to God?

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The Story of God: Creation

From Pastor Jeya’s sermon on Sunday, January 28th

Scripture passage: Genesis 1:1-2:2

The difference between information and formation is story.

For example, it’s one thing to hear facts and data about the refugee crisis, but it’s another to learn the heartbreaking stories of children and their families who are forced to flee violence.

Stories move us into action. More parts of our brains are engaged when we hear stories — they bond us to other people and help us to engage/empathize with them (oxytocin).

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Here are the questions we will be asking each week, and which can be helpful in your own personal Bible reading:

  • How is God at work?
  • What is God saying?
  • How does God act?
  • What have I learned about God?
  • What have I learned about myself?
  • In light of these questions, what is my response to God?

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Zulu greeting: “I see you” — response: “I’m here”

  • Consider children learning about object permanence
  • When something disappears from their view, it no longer exists — “I can’t see it, so it’s not real”
  • God sees you

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Life-changing theological truth: Imago dei

Each of us is made in the image of God, imprinted with His dignity, worth, value, and creativity

“You are very good”

God touches, creates, and forms us with His own hands — God still wants to create in us.

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Reflection question: What does being loved and knowing that you are God’s good creation allow you to do? Courage to try? Courage to love? Courage to do?

 

The Story of God + Your Story

From Matthew 13 (The Message):

The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”

Jesus replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight.

Stories have the power to shape our lives — are we allowing the true story of the Gospel to nudge us toward readiness and receptive insight?

As we reflect on our own storyline, with Jesus as the author and perfecter of our faith, think about the following questions (you may want to take out a sheet of paper, draw a line representing the years of your life, and mark down these points):

  • What are some of the major events that anchor your story? Birth, graduation, marriage, jobs, other significant faith milestones, etc.
  • Who are the main characters? How have they shaped your life? How has your relationship with them changed over time?
  • Are there any turning points or plot twists? How have those events change your life in surprising or unexpected ways?

 

 

Anchor City New Year’s Eve Worship Gathering

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy… 
You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.
— Psalm 65:8,11 —

As we gather in worship today, we’re so thankful for the ways in which God has shown His love, grace, and faithfulness in and through each of you. Having our Sunday worship gathering fall on the 31st, as one year ends and another begins, is appropriate for our church family — as Third Culture people, we’re always learning to live in and navigate the spaces in-between: “where morning dawns, where evening fades.”

Let’s turn our hearts toward God in songs of joy as we give thanks for the past year and look forward to the future.

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside

Future/Past

You hold the reins on the sun and the moon
Like horses driven by kings
You cover the mountains, the valleys below
With the breadth of Your mighty wings

All treasures of wisdom and things to be known
Are hidden inside Your hand
And in this fortunate turn of events
You ask me to be Your friend
You ask me to be Your friend

And You,
You are my first
You are my last
You are my future and my past

The constellations are swimming inside
The breadth of Your desire
Where could I run, where could I hide
From Your heart’s jealous fire

You are the beginning and the end…

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Communion

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Today’s worship gathering will also involve walking around the beach area and worshiping God through several interactive experiences. Take your time and meditate on each Scripture passage.

Please start at the “baptismal waters” station and then feel free to go in any order you’d like. When you’re done, please come back to the main gathering area and we will wrap up together and enjoy fellowship & refreshments.

Below, find a brief description of each station:

Baptismal Waters

  • Location: By the water
  • Read: Romans 6:2-4 (NIV), “We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
  • Consider: All water can remind us of our baptism, a sign of the covenant (promise) between God and us through Jesus Christ. In baptism, God claims us as beloved children and members of Christ’s body, the church, cleansing us of our sin and restoring and healing our whole lives. Baptism reminds us that through the Holy Spirit we are empowered to live transformed lives of healing and reconciliation.
  • Act: Take some water into your hands or let it wash over your feet. Take some time to remember your baptism, thank God for it, and commit your year to living it out.
  • Note: If you haven’t been formally baptized yet, that’s okay! Waters can still remind all of us of new life in Christ, so this is for all of us. 

Clean Slate

  • Location: At the edge of the water
  • Read: 1 Corinthians 1:30 (The Message), “Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ.”
  • Act: Take a couple of moments to reflect on some of your sins, hurts, or struggles from the past year. The Methodists call this “the bane of the past year.” Write one or two of them in the sand (close to the water). Watch as the waves wash them away, allowing God to give you a clean slate for the new year.

Masterpiece

  • Location: The sand (look for the orange cones)
  • Read: Ephesians 2:10 (NLT), “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
  • Act: What does God want to build in you and through you this coming year? As you help to build a collective sand castle/masterpiece, pray that God would give you dreams and vision for 2018 and the time, gifts, and resources to see them through.

Mustard Seeds

  • Location: All around the area
  • Read: Matthew 13:31-32 (NIV), “Jesus told them another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.
  • Consider: What are the places that go unnoticed in your life? Who are the people who go unnoticed in your life? What does it mean to you that God notices and knows you, and that God notices and knows the small things?
  • Act: Take a photo of something small that catches your attention. As you do, say a prayer that God would cause the mustard seeds in your life to grow. If you’re on Instagram or Facebook, we invite you to post it with the hashtag #AnchorCityNewYear #mustardseed

Offering Table

  • Location: The main grassy gathering area
  • Read: 1 Chronicles 29:13-14 (NIV), “Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”
  • Act: How can your life be an offering to God in the new year? Write it on a slip of paper and put it in the offering basket. Pray the printed prayer at this station and make it your own.
  • Note: If you have your regular Sunday offering and/or Advent Conspiracy offering, you can put it in at this time as well. 

 

Advent Conspiracy Partner: Justice Ventures International

Anchor City is thankful to continue our partnership with Justice Ventures International to bring freedom, justice, and restoration to people in the fight against modern-day slavery.

Through our Advent Conspiracy offering, we speak out against the grievous sin of slavery and stand up for the God-given dignity and worth of all people, especially the poor and oppressed.

Please watch and share this video to learn more about JVI’s work:

Here is a brief glance at the incredible work JVI has done in celebrating 10 years of justice and impacting over 25,000 lives through their work:

Christmas Can Still Change the World!

Friends, Anchor City is honored to participate once again in the Advent Conspiracy, “A global movement of people and churches resisting the cultural Christmas narrative of consumption by choosing a revolutionary Christmas through Worshipping Fully, Spending Less, Giving More and Loving All.”

The season of Advent begins this Sunday, the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. This is a season of watching & waiting, of expectation & hope. The word “advent” means “arrival” — we celebrate both the Incarnation of Jesus (that He arrived into the world that first Christmas day) and the return of Jesus, when He will arrive again to redeem, restore & renew all things.

We are proud to support three amazing ministries who are helping to transform lives both locally and globally. Throughout the season of Advent, we will be sharing their stories as we prepare to make our Advent Conspiracy offering on December 17th and 24th — which will be sent out 100% to support these organizations.

We encourage you to use the Advent Conspiracy calendar and family devotionals to help create a different rhythm for this season and to re-center your hearts in Christ. Check your email for the PDFs, or pick up a hard copy on Sunday.

 

Spiritual Formation: Service

Spiritual formation is central to the mission of our Anchor City community. There are so many forces in this world — both internal and external — that would pull our heart & character away from Jesus. As Dallas Willard wisely observes:

Everyone receives spiritual formation, just as everyone gets an education. The only question is whether it is a good one or a bad one. We need to take a conscious, intentional hand in the developmental process.

We may not be able to become the people God dreams of us becoming directly or overnight, but that doesn’t mean we should give up. There are disciplines in which we can engage daily — often small things — that, over time, will enable us to achieve our goals as we work in partnership with the Holy Spirit. Most of us couldn’t just dash out the front door right now and complete a marathon. But, if we trained daily and with sincere commitment, running a marathon becomes possible.

Renovaré offers a helpful list of spiritual disciplines here. They remind us, “Disciplines do not earn us favor with God or measure spiritual success. They are exercises which equip us to live fully and freely in the present reality of God – and God works with us, giving us grace as we learn and grow.”

Jesus tells His disciples in Mark 10:35-45 that the path to greatness in the Kingdom of God is through the discipline of service.

The spiritual discipline of service can be defined as:

The many little deaths of going beyond ourselves which produces in us the virtue of humility.

If we engaged in humble acts of service daily — not because we have to but because we get to — how would it shape us to love God and love others over time? How does having a genuinely humble character reflect the greatness of God? How would generosity and a ready willingness to serve others impact our ability to love others?

For further growth, download and read The Discipline of Service, from Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. This classic work offers much insight into understanding service as a key spiritual discipline, particularly the difference between self-righteous service (and the damage it causes) and true Christian service (and its wide-reaching benefits).