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Growth Exercises

January: Week 4

Writing your Rule of Life 

Now the fun part! By now, all of the usual ‘New Years Resolutions’ have faded away. This is different. This week we are recommending that you write out your own ‘Rule of Life’ (see Week 3). 

Don’t feel overwhelmed—this is simply a chance to intentionally write down a few guiding principles for the year. A common mistake with a Rule of Life is to aim too high, to include too many areas and to set unrealistic expectations in each area. This is not supposed to be your description of a perfectly pious life; this is meant to be a way to help you start examining your life and reflecting on it. What do you really want to focus on this year?

Don’t write too much—leave some room for improvement next year!

Consider whether there is someone you might like to share this with. Perhaps you could invite them, from time to time, to ask you how you’re going?

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Daily Devotional

Genesis 4

Why are things as they are? What kind of world do we live in? Who are we? The answers to these fundamental questions are answered in Genesis by the God who calls his people to himself in order to bestow his blessing. Stuart Holman hosts this series of short devotionals as part of the Bible Reading strand of GrowingDisciples.

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Daily Devotional

Genesis 2-3

Why are things as they are? What kind of world do we live in? Who are we? The answers to these fundamental questions are answered in Genesis by the God who calls his people to himself in order to bestow his blessing. Stuart Holman hosts this series of short devotionals as part of the Bible Reading strand of GrowingDisciples.

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Daily Devotional

Genesis 1

Why are things as they are? What kind of world do we live in? Who are we? The answers to these fundamental questions are answered in Genesis by the God who calls his people to himself in order to bestow his blessing. Stuart Holman hosts this series of short devotionals as part of the Bible Reading strand of GrowingDisciples.

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Daily Devotional

Introducing our Daily Devotionals

What are Daily Devotionals, how do they fit in with the rest of the Bible Reading strand, and how can we make the most of them? Stuart Holman answers these questions in preparation for the launch of our Daily Devotionals next Monday.

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Growth Exercises

January: Week 3

A Regula Vitae

In his essay, “We Live by Rhythms“, Chris Webb explains that most of us would benefit from the Christian tradition of intentionally structuring our lives through a Regula Vitae—a “Rule of Life.” Don’t panic, this is not a legalistic set of rules to follow. Rather, it’s an invitation to write down some of your thoughts and responses to the questions you have been thinking about already this month. 

Regula was the Latin word for a length of wood with markings, used for measuring and alignment—similar to our present-day workshop rulers. We hold things against a ruler to see if they are straight and if their proportions and measurements are right. In the same way a Regula Vitae—a “Rule of Life”—is an opportunity for us to mark out some of our intentions in advance and then to regularly hold it up to our life and see how our alignment and proportions are fairing. When we align our habits with our faith, we become people who actually love God and our neighbour– as opposed to just knowing about them.

The importance of planning and reflecting on the patterns and rhythms of our lives has been long established by Christians of all kinds– even St. Anthony of Egypt. Some patterns are weekly (sabbath, church, etc), some patterns are monthly (e.g., giving from our pay-cheque) and some patterns are seasonal, as we go through different seasons of life. For further reading about fruitfully navigating the different seasons of life, I warmly recommend Mark Buchanan’s Spiritual Rhythm: Being with Jesus Every Season of Your Soul.

Without committing yourself to anything at this stage, what worthwhile things might you commit yourself to this year? As you journal on this theme, try to describe what such a commitment would look like for you, and how it might benefit your relationship with Jesus Christ?

Some further thoughts on establishing a Regula Vitae for yourself:

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Daily Devotional

Structure and Genesis

As we read our way through the book of Genesis one of the key questions we ponder is, ‘What kind of literature is this?’ Our answer to this question of literary genre will determine our understanding of the book. Is it a scientific treatise, a dispassionate eye-witness account, a fairytale, a ‘dreaming’ narrative,… the options are endless. Further, we also need to ask, ‘What is the purpose of Genesis?’ When we know why it was written, and for whom, then we also have a firm foundation for making the important step into our place and time, into our lives and basic self-understanding.

The best answers are going to be found in the book itself. Instead of beginning with our own prejudices and ‘hobby horses’, we want to allow the book itself to reveal the answers to these questions.

An important feature of Genesis seems to be its in-built structure. It is a highly patterned document with repeated devices, narrative motifs, bookends and inter-textualities. For example, in the creation account of Genesis 1 we saw the numeric patterns (3+3+1) and the repetition of phrases such as, ‘And God said…,’ ‘and it was so…,’ and, ‘evening and morning, the X day.’

Genesis 2:4 introduces the first structural marker that appears throughout the whole book, ordering all the narratives that follow the initial creation account. Genesis 2:4 begins: “This is the account of…” The underlying word, Toledot, means ‘generations’— which is best understood as “this is what became of” (Woudstra, CTJ 5). It is this ‘generations of’ marker that provides a structuring device for all of Genesis. It is used in Gen 2:4; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2, each introducing a new narrative thread and closing off that which came before. In this way Toledot gives us a heading to each new unit. It tells us what is important and which information belongs together.

This careful structuring shows us that the whole of Genesis hangs together as a unit. It has been organised with a particular purpose. While there are very clear signs that multiple sources have been brought together in the one book, there is someone who has acted as editor and organiser. They have collected together the accounts of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph etc and assembled them in a single place for a certain audience.

Traditionally, Moses is identified as this Editor. He is the one who is said to have gathered the oral traditions of his people. Why? Because his people need to know who they are. Their origins are not found among the Egyptians. Their God is not like the pantheon of the Egyptians or the Babylonians or the Mesopotamians. The people whom Moses led out of Egypt and into God’s promised land have their identity formed in the family lineage of Genesis. It is history told with a purpose. The wilderness generation and their descendants are uniquely called by God to be his people, living his way, in his land.

And so as Christian people reading Genesis in the 21st century, we find some very important parts of our identity in the same scriptures. We understand ourselves, our world, and God through this narrative. He reveals his purposes, his character and his ways to us within the story of the family which became the nation of Israel. Despite our many significant differences, we are also bound into the world of Genesis.

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Daily Devotional

Babel’s Blessing

Genesis 11:3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other
.

Building, building with bricks, building cities with towers— these are not sin. But the motive is: so that we may make a name for ourselves. Pride and self aggrandisement reveal a deeper rebellion against God.

A unified and coordinated effort in rebellion against God (… otherwise we will be scattered…) also signals danger. The efficacy and capacity of a united humanity is great but when directed only to human ambitions it becomes a threat to humanity itself. Totalitarian regimes can achieve much: trains run on time, technological advancement makes better bombs. But divergent views are outlawed, dissent is crushed.

God’s response of creating diversity through the ‘confusion’ of languages is certainly a judgment against the Babel Project, but it contains grace within. Humanity is not wiped out (as promised by the rainbow after the flood) and difference is protected. Minorities can flourish. Humanity will indeed be diverse and they will fill the earth, carrying out their creation mandate.

Within temporal judgment God’s gracious purpose is very often to be discerned.

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Daily Devotional

Ruling over sin?

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:6-7)

The experience of temptation outside the Garden of Eden is described first as an internal battle, where Cain must address his own (fallen) nature in order to live God’s way. There is no snake opposing him, seeking his undoing. He must address himself. Sin desires to rule him, but he must rule over it.

Sin is an opportunistic foe. It waits, crouching, coiled for action at a moment’s notice. God unmasks sin for Cain’s benefit. He must know his enemy and how sin plots his demise. But Cain refuses the warning. Instead he invites Abel to ‘come for a walk’. It sounds innocent enough. But his evil intent is soon revealed.

Cain’s own sinful nature pounced upon him, unbridled and indulged. Cain then pounced upon Abel.

In his fallen state Cain is told what to do with sin— he must rule over it. I don’t suppose God would not ask him to do the impossible. And so, in our state (fallen, but with the Spirit) we must also rule over our sin. As Christians, enabled by God’s Spirit, we talk back to our urge to sin, we address pride, greed and lust. We say ‘No’. Instead, we look for the alternate path, the way out, God’s provision of grace.

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Cor 10:12-13)

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Daily Devotional

Genesis 1 : on its own terms

Here’s a great introduction to the text of Genesis 1 from he Bible Project team. I love the way it takes the text seriously and on its own terms. It’s a good beginning point for personal reflection.

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Growth Exercises

January: Week 2

Spiritual Disciplines – Introducing some intentionality 

If you are still on holiday—ENJOY! Re-read the section on Spiritual Disciplines: Rhythms and Rules of Life, and in particular, the questions: “What sort of life do I want to be living?” and therefore, “What do I want the rhythms and habits of my life to look like?” 

Start to think about how you might answer these questions– don’t jump too quickly to shallow answers. Use your Journal. Perhaps a good first step might be to review, How you are living your life now? Some suggested steps for review:

  • Flick back over last year’s diary and notice how you spent much of your time. Resist the temptation to go back and fix things or complete things you missed! This is a review– just notice where you spent your time.
  • Do a quick financial review: where did you spend your money last year? You might have clever bank statements that analyse your spending by categories.
  • Which relationships do you think you invested most into this past year?

These simple assessments of the way you prioritised your time, money and passion. See if you can think of other ways to objectively look at how you are currently living your life.

Are there any things you might change? What would you leave the same? Why have you chosen those things? 

Try to find three separate occasions this week when you can spend 15 minutes reflecting prayerfully on your responses. 

Recommended Reading: The Common Rule, by Justin Whitmel Earley.

Extract from “The Common Rule”:

Exercise: Short Kneeling Prayer at Waking, Mid-workday and Bed.

Meditation:

Christmas is about the advent of love in a loveless world. We delighted in the fact that God came to the world because he loved us.

This love is worth celebrating, and any good celebrating takes practice. Framing our days in prayer is to frame them in love. This is an act of embrace, of celebration of God’s gift of life – our lives and the life of the world. 

So when we wake up in the morning, we don’t ask what do I have to do today? We don’t immediately begin scheming on how we can justify our existence today. What we do is we get down on our knees in prayer.

This is a keystone habit, by framing the day with times of kneeling prayer we punctuate the day like a sentence, ordering the syntax so that that it begins to have meaning. 

This meaning continues into midday. I often notice the point I need to pray midday because I have an urge for a second cup of coffee, my mind starts to repeatedly drift from work, or I have an urge to search the Internet for – What? – I don’t know. I just want to search. This is the point where I’m looking down the barrel of the afternoon and I see all the things I’m not going to get done, I see  condemnation, failure, and disappointment. 

That is when I close the laptop, close the door, and get to my knees again to pray, usually, no more than 60 seconds, and this is the semicolon in the day that turns the sentence away from my failure and back towards God’s love

And then as the evening approaches we think, how I going to end this thing? By lying awake in bed letting all the replay tapes go? By browsing my phone for some current event scandal to bounce meaninglessly around my brains like an angry pinball? Am I going to spend it searching for one last bit of pleasure from God knows where on the internet? No. 

We place the period of God’s mercy and care for us at the end, on our knees beside the bed.  We made it through another one. Doesn’t matter whether you feel spiritual or not, it is just habit.

Practice:

The first question that may come to your mind as you kneel, “What do I pray?” If you’re not sure, try these Advent prayers. If you are prevented from kneeling because of health or because perhaps you don’t have a private place at work to kneel, try gently turning your palms upwards where you are.

MORNING:

  • Father, I pray that I would enter this day as your Son entered the world, full of love and hope. Amen.

AT WORK:

  • Jesus, I pray that I would be present in my work as you were present in this world, full of humility and service. Amen.

AT BED:

  • Holy Spirit, I pray that I would be at peace in my rest knowing that you came to bring peace to the world, and will one day bring rest to all things. Amen.