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					                           For Lent, Try Adding Some Discipline
                                            By
                                       R. Larry Snow
                                     February 24, 2008

        As I told you a couple of weeks ago, as is my practice in the winter, I’ve been
spending time in the gym. I really don’t like going to the gym. The hardest thing I do
all day is get out of the car and walk into the gym. On any given day I can think of about
a million other things that I could be doing, that I ought to be doing, and would rather be
doing. You understand why that is, the gym is a place of effort, of sweat, of discomfort,
and I suppose that answers the question that I want to ask you.
        The question that I have for you is this, at the gym, every day; there are people,
mostly women I might add, who never seem to sweat. Every day at the gym there are
people who put on their work out clothes and go through the motions of exercise, but
never seem to break into a sweat, never seem to be uncomfortable, and never seem to be
exerting any effort. What is going on there?
        I have to admit that I got curious a couple of weeks ago and looked at the displays
on their workout machines. You see the machines display the level of resistance the
machine is applying and the number of calories burned. For what it’s worth I’m an old-
guy and riding the exercise bicycle at level 15 which burns about 450 calories in 45
minutes. Anyway, I snuck behind one of these sweatless people and glanced at the
monitor. She was at level 2. I went down the line – this one was at level 5. And on it
went. I found out the answer to my question. These people weren’t sweating, didn’t
seem to be exerting any effort because they weren’t actually working. They were just
going through the motions.
        I still don’t get it. I don’t understand why anyone would bother. Why would
anyone bother to pay for a gym membership, buy the workout clothes, and spend the time
to go to the gym if they weren’t going to really get some exercise? Why would you sit
down at the machine and give up the time to use it if you weren’t going to dial up enough
resistance to actually make yourself stronger? Why not just stay home on the recliner
and save your time and money?
        As I said I’ve already answered my question. The answer is that really exercising
requires discipline – and effort – and it’s not as much fun as you might think. The
answer is that it’s easier to go through the motions of exercise than it is to really exercise.

        Which brings me to the point of this sermon. As you know, for lent I’m trying to
turn tradition on its head. Generally, at Lent, you would be encouraged to give up
something you really like until Easter arrives. I’m doing it backwards and am
encouraging you to add some things to your life until Easter. I’m encouraging you to try
some things just until the end of March, in the hope that you will find something you
want to continue. This week I want to encourage you to add some discipline to your life.
        Before I start talking about specific disciplines, I want to talk generally. Several
years ago I went on an overnight trip to a Trappist Monastery in the middle of nowhere
Missouri. These Trappists were member of what is known as a “severe rule.” That
means that they were serious about having rules for their community and about keeping
those rules. Part of their rules had to do with what they wore and what they ate. And part



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of their rule had to do with the times for worship – they met for worship five times a day
including a service at 3:30 in the morning.
        Which quite frankly is more discipline than I’m looking for -- at least on a regular
basis. But at the same time let me share with my observation – “no pain -- no gain.” As
I look back across the last 20 centuries of Christian history one thing becomes clear. The
people who knew the most about scripture, the people who had the strongest relationship
with God, the people who did the most important things in the name of God, were people
of discipline – some kind of discipline. Without some kind of discipline, without
exerting some effort somewhere, it would appear that Christians never rise to higher
levels of faithfulness.
        I have to admit that I wish I had a greater knowledge of mathematics. I’d like to
understand calculus and trigonometry. But the fact is that I am absolutely unwilling to
discipline myself to study that material. I guess what I hope is that one day I’ll be
walking through the mathematics section in the library and that knowledge will just jump
off the shelf and into my brain. Remember the rule –“no pain – no gain.” Excellence in
any field requires discipline and that includes following Christ.
        The truth is that if without discipline we will never understand God the way that
others do, we will never experience God the way that others do, and we will never serve
God the way that others do. Just as discipline in the gym leads to greater strength and
stamina – discipline of our minds and hearts and time can lead to the life that God dreams
for us all. Discipline is an important key.

        Let me also tell you that when I say “discipline’ I am talking about lots of things.
I just bought, The Encyclopedia of Spiritual Disciplines which runs for about 300 pages.
There is no way, in 20 minutes, that I can talk about all of the disciplines that you and I
might try out in the season leading up to lent – but I can do it this way. I can give you a
sampling.
        One of the disciplines that you might try out is the discipline of prayer. Find a
time each day and spend some time in prayer. To do that you might find it helpful to use
a devotional guide. The absolute best that I know of is an older book called, A Guide to
Prayer For All God’s People. Let me know if you’d like to use that.
        One of my spiritual mentors was E. Stanley Jones, the Methodist missionary and
preacher. While I’ve always disagreed with parts of his theology and most of his politics,
I have always been humbled by the way he practiced prayer. Everywhere he went, he
took with him a small brown corduroy pillow on which he would kneel every morning.
He called it his “listening post.” He admitted that he did not spend his prayer time
talking to God, but listening for God. Now, there is discipline.
        The prayer practice that I most enjoy is called “lectio divina” which was
developed by Ignatius of Loyola in the 12th century. Lectio Divina is a way of reading
the Bible which makes room for God to speak. It’s a way of reading the Bible that takes
the Bible seriously because it assumes that while God has spoken to people in the past,
God is still speaking.
        If you’d like to try out Lectio Divina I have two suggestions for you. One is that
on the table out in the narthex you will find a small pamphlet that gives you the details of
the process. Take it home and try it out. The other possibility is that you think about
joining the Monday night Lectio group. They have an awful lot of fun. Karyn Dix does a



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great job of leading the group. They meet at 6:30 and would welcome you if you’d like
to try out this process of prayer.

         As I’m sure you know, I’m kind of a wanna-be monk. There is a part of me that
would have been happy living in a monastery. When I think about spiritual disciplines I
am first drawn to prayer practices. But there are other kinds of spiritual disciplines.
         For instance, think about the discipline of creativity. The Sunday School class
I’m leading has embarked on a daunting endeavor. They have begun to write their own
version of the Bible. We have been working for more than 2 months and have managed
to translate the first 27 verses of Genesis 1. We have produced a beautiful translation
that I’ll share with you at some point. One of the things that has become clear to us is
that when God created the universe it was left unfinished. On the seventh day when God
rests creation isn’t done. The universe is still creating itself – and most importantly, you
and I were created to create. That in fact is what I think it means, at least in part, for us to
made in God’s image – that we too can create – as God creates.
         Which means that when you and I write poetry we are living out the purpose for
our creation. Which means the same thing about painting a beautiful picture. Which
means the same thing about writing, or building a house, or writing music, or planting a
garden. What if you shared your creations with us – so that we could share them in our
newsletter? There must be a million ways for you and I to create. And creating is a
spiritual practice. What if for lent you and I looked for ways to be creative, perhaps even
learning some new talent. What about creating?

        Speaking of God resting on the 7th day, what if you and I adopted the practice of
Sabbath? You understand how it was in the time of Jesus. From sundown on Friday to
sundown on Saturday there was to be no working. No one cooked. No one could walk
no more than a quarter mile. It was even against the rules to use both hands to tie your
shoes. Now, I think that if I were to suggest that to you, your eyes would glaze over and
you would immediately dismiss the idea.
        But understand the thought behind Sabbath. The practice of Sabbath is based
upon the belief first that you and I were not created to work or even play all the time.
Second Sabbath is based on the belief that in God’s world there is enough for us all – and
we don’t have to work all the time. That means that Sabbath is not only a time for
resting, but it is a statement of faith about the providence of God.
        And understand that I doubt any of us could rest for an entire day each week – not
do I think we would want to. But what if we took a half day Sabbath each week? What
if we took an hour Sabbath each week and went to the coffee shop? I’m not sure the
length of time is as important as understanding that we were created to live in a balance
of work, play and rest. For Lent how about trying the practice of Sabbath?

        Or, how about nature? The Celts believed that looking at nature in good weather
or bad, was like listening to the “heartbeat of God.” When we lived in Texas that was
difficult to believe, but in the Northwest it’s easy. On a clear day it’s easy to look at Mt.
Hood and be in awe of what God has created. On a warm day it’s easy to sit in the sun
and remember God’s presence. On a rainy day, where we live is still beautiful and still
reflects a present and awe-inspiring God.



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        So, how about some nature? What if we adopted the practice of getting out into
nature where we can enjoy it? What if we made it our practice to take walks in the
afternoon? What if we made it our practice that we would take hikes in the woods?
What if we made it our practice to take bike rides on sunny days? What if we
intentionally got ourselves outdoors so that we could enjoy God’s creation and be
reminded of God’s presence? What about the practice of enjoying nature?

         Prayer, creating, Sabbath, nature, it all boils down to our cat, Max. For what it’s
worth Max is not the smartest cat that has ever lived – but he does know what he wants –
he wants attention. In our previous house Max learned how to maximize the amount of
attention that he got from us.
         In the mornings Max would be in the bedroom while we got ready to leave.
Often he would jump onto the furniture so that we couldn’t miss him – and so that we
could pay him attention. Then, we would leave the bedroom and go to the kitchen. To
get to the kitchen we would have to walk around the perimeter of the living room. Max,
however, knew a short cut. When we left the bedroom Max would run across the living
room so that he would be standing across the doorway when we tried to enter the kitchen
– thereby making himself available again for our attention.
         That’s akin to the practice of spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are those
things we can do that put us where God can get at us. Spiritual disciplines are those
things which open us up to the presence, love and guidance of God. And while those are
probably things we want, they don’t come without a price. Put simply, spiritual
disciplines require discipline, they require effort. Sometimes they require us doing things
when we don’t want to do them. Sometimes they open us to truths that we don’t really
want to hear. They require us focusing our lives.
         But the witness of those who have gone before us is that intentionally doing
things that put us where God can get at us is one of the best ways to be transformed into
the people God wants us to be so that we can have the lives that God wants us to have.
The witness of those who have gone before us is that practicing spiritual disciplines is a
lot like practicing the discipline of really exercising at the gym – it changes us.

        So here’s my Lenten challenge. Find a spiritual discipline that fits you and for
lent practice it regularly. If it’s prayer, pray every day. If it’s creating, create every
week. If it’s nature, enjoy nature every day. If it’s Sabbath, carve out a time of rest for
yourself every week. For lent, practice some spiritual discipline regularly and see what
happens.




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