Friday, October 10, 2014

Confessions by Saint Augustine (354-430 AD)

This devotion is the last (and 8th) one in the first section, "Preparing for the Spiritual Life", of the book Devotional Classics.  Augustine was known in his day for his eloquence, logic and spiritual passion, and he is known as one of the most significant thinkers in the history of the Christian faith.  In this very deep devotion, Augustine tells of his conversion to the Christian faith and the  mental and spiritual battle that conversion entailed.  "Why does this strange phenomenon occur?  The mind gives an order to the body and is at once obeyed, but when it gives an order to itself, it is resisted.  He continues later, "...the higher part of our nature aspires after eternal bliss while our lower self is held back by the love of temporal pleasures.  It is the same soul that wills both, but it wills neither of them with the full force of the will."  

In the editors' summary of this lesson, these words: "We try by sheer willpower to seek the good but we fail, always fail, because the will is in conflict with itself and is in need of redemption."

Monday, October 06, 2014

A Will No Longer Divided by Francois Fenelon (1651-1715)

This 7th devotion in the book Devotional Classics  is also the 7th devotion in the section of the book titled Preparing for the Spiritual Life.  Fenelon was a prominent member of the court of Louis XIV.  He was a member of the Quietist Movement in France (a movement that emphasized detachment from the things of the world.)  Because of Fenelon's adherence to this doctrine, he was denounced by the Pope (Pope Innocent XII) for "loving God too much and man too little."  The major theme of Fenelon's considerable writing was complete love of God.  This devotion uses excerpts from his Christian Perfection and emphasizes that the spiritual life is the only way to true joy in life.

Fenelon recognizes that those on the outside see only loss in following Christ, but he insists that they miss the great freedoms found there.  He points outs specifically the freedom from a stifling self-absorption, the freedom from a plotting and scheming one-upmanship, and the freedom from the insecure systems of this world.

Fenelon stresses the joy found in following Christ - specifically the joy of a peaceful conscience, the joy of "seeing the light grow in our hearts", and the joy of a growing power to do the right thing.

One quote of interest: "God is so good that he only awaits our desire to overwhelm us with the gift which is himself.  If we feed ourselves with Jesus Christ and his word, we shall be like a vessel in full sail with a fair wind."

Friday, October 03, 2014

On The Love of God by Bernard of Clairvoux

Bernard of Clairvoux (1090-1153) was considered a great religious leader of his day.  His preserved writings were influential in the lives and spiritual training of such later great leaders as  Martin Luther and John Calvin.  This week's devotional classic is taken from one of his best-known works, a treatise titled On the Love of God.  In this work Bernard outlines "four degrees of love."

Bernard wrote some 86 sermons on the Song of Solomon as an allegory of divine/human love.  He was also the author of the hymn Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee.

In this devotional Bernard reminds the reader of the centrality of love in the work of Christians and the church as a whole.  He calls the reader to love God in purity of heart, in sincerity of soul and in holiness of life. One good quote (pondering whether the fourth degree of love can be attained in this life):

We live in a world of sorrow and tears and we experience the mercy and comfort of God only in that context...Where there is no place for misery or occasion for pity, surely there can be no feeling of compassion.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross

This week's devotional classic is based on excerpts from The Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross (1542-1591). John was a Spanish monk who wrote this, his most famous work, while imprisoned because of his work leading the Catholic Reform.  The concept of the "Dark Night" is an integral part of understanding the Christian journey.

In this excerpt the editors of Devotional Classics highlight parts of the work that point to how the Holy Spirit draws new converts from the beginning stages of their spiritual journeys to a more advanced stage. Often individuals at this stage of spiritual development experience a period when they experience a lessening of joy in their devotional life (referred to here as "the dark night of the soul.") This devotional classic is very deep theologically and cannot really be summarized. My attempt here to do that is woefully inadequate.  I found the following quote particularly insightful.

...God perceives the imperfections within us, and because of his love for us, urges us to grow up.  He is not content to leave us in our weakness...and takes us into a dark night....Through the dark night pride becomes humility, greed becomes simplicity, wrath becomes contentment, luxury becomes peace, gluttony becomes moderation, envy becomes joy, and sloth becomes strength. No soul will ever grow deep in the spiritual life unless God works passively in that soul by means of the dark night.
The editors point out that to expect spiritual maturity without the dark night is like an athlete hoping to become a champion without training.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Devout Life by Francis de Sales

This week's devotional classic is from the introduction to The Devout Life by Francis de Sales (1567-1622.  The author was a prolific writer of his day known for being a master of metaphor in describing the spiritual life.  He wrote this book as a letter to "Philothea",  a name meaning one who loves God.  He writes about how a devoted life is perceived by different people according to the their individual strengths, levels of commitment, and place in their spiritual journeys. He says that "Everyone paints devotion according to his own passions and fancies," meaning that we tend to emphasize the doing of certain spiritual disciplines with which we are comfortable while neglecting others. Then he writes of three stages of spiritual growth (a beginning awareness - grace; strength to do good works - charity; and the ability to do good works frequently and promptly - devotion. He poses some interesting thoughts for the reader to ponder and reflect upon.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards

This week's devotional classic is composed of excerpts from Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards.  Edwards (1703-1758) was a leader in the 18th century "Great Awakening."  He was a pastor and missionary and was named president of Princeton University just a few weeks before his death.  His book Christian Affections was an affirmation of the importance of the passions (referred to as "affections in his writings) in life that cause an individual's will to act.

In this timeless devotional work, Edwards emphasizes the need for enthusiasm in our Christianity and uses Bible passages such as Romans 12:11 (fervent in spirit), Deuteronomy 10:12 and 30:6 (all your heart and all your soul), Luke 24:32 (Holy Ghost is like "fire" and "burns within"), various Psalms which the writer says the soul "pants after" God and "hungers and thirsts after righteousness." The primary Bible passage for this devotional is Deuteronomy 10:12-22 in which we are told what the Lord requires of us (including loving God with our whole hearts and whole souls.

Edwards says, "...wherever true religion is, there is a will that moves that person to spiritual exercises,"  He mentions such Biblical metaphors as "running the race", wrestling with God", "striving for the prize", and "fighting with strong enemies."

A key quote from this study: "It is people's affections that keep them busy.  If we were to take away their affections, the world would be motionless and dead...It is the affection we call covetousness that moves a person to seek worldly profits; it is the affection we call ambition that moves a person to pursue worldly glory; it is the affection we call lust that moves a person to pursue sensual delights.  Just as worldly affections are the spring of worldly actions, so the religious affections are the spring of religious actions."

The remainder of this devotion attempts to make clear that throughout the Bible true religion is developed though the affections of holy fear, hope, love, hatred, desire, joy, sorrow, gratitude, compassion and zeal.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard

Dallas Willard (1935-2013) was a philosopher, teacher, and writer with over 30 publications.  The excerpt for this week's study is taken from an appendix to his book The Spirit of the Disciplines and deals with the problem of "undisciplined disciples."

Here are some quotes from this devotional classic:

"So far as visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship clearly is optional - Churches are filled with 'undisciplined disciples'...Most problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have not yet decided to follow Christ."

"...we omit the making of disciples or enrolling people as Christ's students when we should let all else wait for that.  We also omit the step of taking our converts through training that will bring them ever increasingly to do what Jesus directed."

The most interesting and challenging part of this devotional lesson for me was Willard's discussion of the cost of nondiscipleship.  "...nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God's overriding governance for good,,hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil.  In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring."