As I am writing this, I am preparing to embark on what I believe will be a very meaningful experience. I am about to leave for the first installment of The Upper Room’s 2 Year Academy for Spiritual Formation. Over a two-year period, a group of about forty pilgrims gather for five days at a retreat center, returning every three months for a total of forty days spent in a monastic rhythm of worship, study, silence, prayer, reflection, and covenant groups. The first year will focus on our own spiritual formation, while the second year focuses on the spiritual dimensions of leadership.
I have been a full-time Christian minister for more than thirty years. During that time, I have certainly not been a stranger to the practices of prayer and study. Nonetheless, I can attest from my own experience just how easy it is to lapse into routines that become less and less spiritually nourishing as I allow the urgent needs of the moment to crowd out those spiritual disciplines that seem less immediately productive. When we do this over an extended period of time we experience less and less spiritually vitality, but it happens so gradually that it is easy to miss what is happening to us. To put it bluntly, you cannot continue to pour from a pitcher that you do not take care to routinely refill.
The people who became known as Methodists originally got that name as a sort of derisive put-down of the methodical spiritual disciplines practiced by of John and Charles Wesley and the other members of “the Holy Club” while they were students at Oxford. The Wesley brothers embraced the name, and it stuck as they went on to found a movement that would reform the Church of England of their day, and also have such a profound impact on this country. The Cristian life is always a balance of the grace of God offered to us freely in Jesus Christ, while we are at the same time striving to do all that we can to appropriate the grace that we are given. The Quaker writer Richard Foster describes this balance in his Classic work “Celebration of Discipline”:
Picture a long, narrow ridge with a sheer drop-off on either side. The chasm to the right is the way of moral bankruptcy through human strivings for righteousness. Historically this has been called the heresy of moralism. The chasm to the left is moral bankruptcy through the absence of human strivings. This has been called the heresy of antinomianism. On the ridge there is a path, the Disciplines of the spiritual life. This path leads to the inner transformation and healing for which we seek. . . . We must always remember that the path does not produce the change; it only places us where the change can occur. This is the path of disciplined grace.
One of those time-honored spiritual disciplines is corporate Bible study. While individual devotional bible reading is beneficial, there is just something about reading and discussing the scriptures with other believers. Perhaps it involves Jesus’ promise that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.”(Matthew 18:20)
We will have an opportunity for just such a study beginning on September 10 we will begin an eight-week study of the Book of Revelation. (The request to study this particular book of the Bible came out of the existing “The Gathering” study.)This book has often been interpreted in such a sensationalized way that people tend to one of two extremes – they are either scared to death of this book, or else become fascinated and fixated on the more bizarre details in a way that obscures Revelation’s basic message. Properly understood, the Book of Revelation is a beautiful call to the faithful to hold fast to their faith in Jesus Christ while the broader culture seeks to claim our ultimate loyalties. Therefore, it is a message that is urgently needed today! We will be using the book from the “Immersion Bible Studies” series (look in the bulletin for further details.) We will meet on Monday evenings at 6:30, and if there is enough interest to have a daytime group while still leaving at least eight people in the other group, we may add a Tuesday morning group.
Hope to See you there!
Grace and Peace,