Using the Beatitudes for Self Reflection and Growth

beatitudes wordcloud colorIn his book, The Ladder of the Beatitudes, Jim Forest makes a terrific recommendation: use The Beatitudes of Jesus (Matthew 5:1-12) as a set of questions for self-reflection.

Think about the possibilities for using a few of them to prepare for prayer or worship or the start/end of the day. This kind of reflection provides a framework for discovering our blind spots or next steps in more fully following Christ.

So, here are the questions which came to mind for me.
What questions do The Beatitudes stir in you? – Lisa <><

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

  • How am trying to save myself?
  • How am I completely depending on God’s love, mercy, and grace?

Blessed are those who Mourn

  • How am I mourning my destructive thoughts and actions, my sin, my brokenness?
  • How am I heartbroken over the brokenness of my community and world? Am I becoming immune to the constant bad news?
  • How am I continuing to beat myself up over my past sins, attitudes, and mistakes?
  • What do I need to confess right now? In my confession, I am freed from the burden of my guilt and shame. I am comforted by the mercy of Christ.

Blessed are the Meek

  • Do I think too lowly or highly of my gifts, talents, and strengths?
  • How am I placing my gifts, talents, and strengths fully under the authority and discipline of God that they may be used by God for a greater good?

Blessed are those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

  • What am I doing to build right relationships with God, others, myself, and the rest of creation?
  • What am I doing to build right relationship between others? In systems broken by injustice?
  • Are other appetites taking first place in my life?

Blessed are the Merciful

  • Have I forgiven those who have done me harm?
  • Do I need to ask anyone for forgiveness? If so, set the appointment now.
  • Have I rejected revenge and bitterness fully?

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

  • Who or what rules my motivation and desire? God? Others? An addiction? Myself?
  • How am I cooperating with the Holy Spirit in the development of an undivided heart?

Blessed are the Peacemakers

  • How am I building bridges and breaking down dividing walls in Jesus’ Name?
  • How can I more fully abandon violence, prejudice, injustice, and hate?

Blessed are the Persecuted

  • How am I loving my enemies and praying for them?
  • Am I living and practicing my faith in gracious ways everywhere I go or am I hiding it as a way of protecting myself?

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Click here for a meaningful and deep sermon on the Beatitudes by Nadia Bolz Webber entitled Some Modern Beatitudes.

Click here for an interesting perspective on the Beatitudes by Richard Rohr entitled How to Win by Losing. Rohr encourages us to read the Beatitudes from the perspective of how they describe Jesus as the suffering servant.

Click here for a post by Steve Garnaas Holmes entitled More Beatitudes. He used Jesus’ Beatitudes as a starting point for writing a few more reflecting modern issues. Consider trying this exercise as well.

Beatitudes Reflection Questions © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia. You are welcome to use this work in worship or group setting with proper attribution. Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Why This Plan is the Best Bible Reading Plan

I’ve spent years looking for the perfect Bible reading plan.

  1. Not too much reading per day, not too little
  2. Easy enough for a beginner, challenging enough for a seasoned saint
  3. Five days per week so you can catch up if you miss a day or two.

The search did not bear fruit; it only delayed me reading the Bible at all. (Excellence is a virtue. Perfectionism is its evil, twisted shadow-side.)

Here’s the truth- There is no perfect reading plan.

The important thing is to just read, to intentionally and regularly seek God through God’s Word.

It’s essential. This is how we learn what God’s voice sounds like, who God is, who we are, and what God desires for us. This is how we hear God speak into our lives day after day after day.

So, let’s get reading. 

If you have a favorite Bible Reading Plan great! Use it!

If not, consider using my favorite plan – the 5 Day Bible Reading Plan by the good folks at Lower Lights Publications.

Here’s why I think it’s the best.
1. It’s free.

2. They update the reading schedule dates for each new year, but the reading plan itself stays the same.

3. It’s easy to print and slip it into your Bible or journal. (8.5 X 11, folded in half) You could even paste it into planner or hole-punch it for your planner.

4. There are boxes to check next to each day’s reading assignment and each week’s assignment. (a built-in habit tracker)

5. You can start anytime during the year.

6. It’s designed with grace. 5 reading days per week. There are days when I miss. If I use a 7 day a week plan I get behind and I get discouraged and I drop out.

7. It’s flexible. Do all the suggested readings and you’ll read through the entire Bible in a year. Or choose just the Old Testament readings or just the New Testament readings. Or choose the Old or New Testament plus the Psalms.

8. In this plan, you often read straight through an entire book of the Bible. There are some exceptions.

9. Big bonus- you read the Bible in chronological order rather than book order. This opens your eyes to the grand sweep of the Biblical narrative. It’s especially helpful to read the overlapping material in 1 2 Samuel, 1 2 Kings, and 1 2 Chronicles side by side. Plus, you will read one of the Gospels in each quarter of the year.

Well, there you have it, the best Bible reading plan I’ve found. I’d love to hear how it works for you.- Lisa <><

Bonus: Check out Steve Harper’s post entitled A Transforming Use of Scripture for insights on our motivation in approaching the Scriptures and the process God uses through Scripture to make us new.

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Why This Plan is the Best Bible Reading Plan © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Please leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Quotes: Deny Yourself

Quotefancy-217426-3840x2160Matthew 16:24-26, Mark 8:34-37, and Luke 9:23-25 (NRSV)
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Self-denial is not a mask for self-contempt, but the necessary means for achieving self-mastery; for self-mastery makes possible our self-giving and self-fulfillment. Sin is not wanting too much, but settling for too little. It’s settling for self-gratification rather than self-fulfillment. -Scott Hahn

You will soon be asked to let go of some part of your false self, which you foolishly thought was permanent, important, and essential! You know God is doing this in you and with you when you can somehow smile and trust that what you lost was something you did not need anyway. In fact, it got in the way of what was real. – Richard Rohr 

Follow me. One of the most compelling sentences in the Bible. Two words, when spoken by Jesus, create a sense of power and mystery and awe. To follow is to enter into the unknown, to give your life over to another. We rarely want to do this. Yet at the same time it is exactly what we desire: to be led into a better place, a better world, a better life. – Daniel Wolpert, Leading a Life with God

Following Jesus does not mean imitating Jesus, copying his way of doing things. If we imitate someone, we are not developing an intimate relationship with that person. Instead, following Jesus means to give our own unique form, our own unique incarnation, to God’s love. To follow Jesus means to live our lives as authentically as he lived his. It means to give away our ego and follow the God of love as Jesus shows us how to do it. – Henri J. M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Homecoming

The point of following Jesus isn’t simply so that we can be sure of going to a better place than this after we die. Our future beyond death is extremely important, but the nature of the Christian hope is such that it plays back into the present life.
~ N. T. Wright, Simply Christian

Lord, spare me from my wishes, that I may be free for you.
Spare me from my little self, that I may be my divine self.
Spare me from my life, that, dying, I may become yours.
– Excerpt of a prayer entitled Spare Me by Steve Garnaas-Holmes. For more on the ideas of denying our “little self”, ego, and false-self click over to another reflection by Steve Garnaas-Holmes entitled Deny Yourself

“Denying yourself” in its Jewish context means resting in the righteousness of Jesus and denying yourself of the righteousness that comes from performance of the law.
– Simon Yap, What is the meaning of “denying yourself”? 

Yap invites us to consider Leviticus 16:29; Numbers 29:7; Leviticus 23:32; Leviticus 23:27; Leviticus 16:31.

What we are all searching for is Someone to surrender to, something we can prefer to life itself. Well here is the wonderful surprise: God is the only one we can surrender to without losing ourselves! The irony is that we actually find ourselves, but now in a whole new and much larger field of meaning. – Richard Rohr

In the spiritual life, the word ‘discipline’ means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act’. Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied… to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on. -Henri Nouwen

Extended Quote from Steve Garnaas Holmes
To deny yourself is not to punish yourself, or to take on misery. It’s not to live in denial, to turn your back on who you are, but the opposite. We falsely see ourselves as finite, discreet individuals, separate from the world, in danger at any moment of disappearing back into the abyss. It’s not the real truth, but an image of our “self” that the ego uses to manage our consciousness. And we believe it. We spend our lives—mostly unconsciously— protecting that little “self,” and in particular its power, security and esteem. (Hence Jesus’ temptations in the desert.) It’s what St. Paul calls “the flesh.” He doesn’t mean our body; he means something even smaller, contained within our body, limited by our fears and appetites.

But we aren’t such little “selves.” We are part of something infinite. By the life of Holy Spirit in us we are members of the infinite Body of God, who dwells in us and we in God. We are sustained not by our own protection of our little lives but by the life-giving fountain of grace welling up within us to eternal life, flowing with perfect, infinite compassion.

To “deny ourselves” is to deny whatever fears keep us from loving fully. It is let go of our self-centeredness, to say no the illusion, to transcend our ego, to abandon our little skull-caged, death-leashed bit of fear and desire and instead become the infinitely alive and loving children of God we truly are. As those who embody God’s love we give of our lives for love; we are not afraid even of death, because we trust that with love and grace God overabundantly renews life in us. So we follow Jesus out of our selves and into infinite life: without fear we take up our cross, practice compassionate self-giving and join Jesus in loving the world into its newness. You are love; you are Beloved. Deny anything less, and love without limit.

Extended Quote from Nadia Bolz-Weber
Sermon on Losing Your Life and How Jesus Isn’t Your Magical Puppy

This saying of Jesus that we are to deny the self and lose our life to gain it has been abused and perverted. Perverted into messages like “If you want to be a follower of Jesus you must deny your Queerness, pick up your cross of heterosexuality and follow him.” Or “deny your dignity and pick up your cross of continued domestic abuse and follow him.” Or “deny your experience and pick up your cross of trusting religious authorities to tell you what to believe.”

I wanted to convince you that when Jesus says deny yourself, that maybe it’s really denying the self that wants to see itself as separate from God and others. Deny the self that believes that spirituality is a suffering avoidance program. Deny the self that does not feel worthy of God’s love. Deny the self that thinks it is more worthy of God’s love than it’s enemy is. Deny the self that thinks it can do itself. Deny the self that is turned in on the self.

Because I really want you to know that dying to that false self no matter how painful, will bring you real life.

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Click here for another incredibly honest and faithful sermon on the “deny yourself, take up your cross” passage by Nadia Bolz-Weber, entitled “A Sermon on Addiction and the Problem with our Me-based Solutions.”

Click here for a reflection on how denying yourself intersects with social justice by Steve Garnaas Holmes.

For quotes on “taking up your cross”, click here

For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this post in other settings, please leave a comment

Prayer of a Minor Prophet by AW Tozer

will of god aw tozerFrom A Passion For God: The Spiritual Journey of A. W. Tozer by Lyle Dorsett (Chicago, IL; Moody, 2008), pp. 65-68.

This is the prayer of a man called to be a witness to the nations. This is what he said to his Lord on the day of his ordination. After the elders and ministers had prayed and laid their hands on him he withdrew to meet his Savior in the secret place and in the silence, farther in than his well-meaning brethren could take him. And he said:

O Lord, I have heard Thy voice and was afraid. Thou hast called me to an awesome task in a grave and perilous hour. Thou are about to shake all nations and the earth and also heaven, that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. O Lord, our Lord, Thou has stopped to honor me to be Thy servant. No man takes this honor upon himself save he that is called of God as was Aaron. Thou has ordained me Thy messenger to them that are stubborn of heart and hard of hearing. They have rejected Thee, the Master, and it is not to be expected that they will receive me, the servant.

My God, I shall not waste time deploring my weakness nor my unfittedness for the work. The responsibility is not mine but Thine. Thou hast said, “I knew thee—I ordained thee—I sanctified thee,” and Thou has also said, “Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.” Who am I to argue with Thee or to call into question Thy sovereign choice? The decision is not mine but Thine. So be it, Lord. Thy will, not mine, be done.

Well do I know, Thou God of the prophets and the apostles, that as long as I honor Thee Thou wilt honor me. Help me therefore to take this solemn vow to honor Thee in all my future life and labors, whether by gain or by loss, by life or by death, and then to keep that vow unbroken while I live.

It is time, O God, for Thee to work, for the enemy has entered into Thy pastures and the sheep are torn and scattered. And false shepherds abound who deny the danger and laugh at the perils which surround Thy flock. The sheep are deceived by these hirelings and follow them with touching loyalty while the wolf closes in to kill and destroy. I beseech Thee, give me sharp eyes to detect the presence of the enemy; give me understanding to distinguish the false friend from the true. Give me vision to see and courage to report what I see faithfully. Make my voice so like Thine own that even the sick sheep will recognize it and follow Thee.

Lord Jesus, I come to Thee for spiritual preparation. Lay Thy hand upon me. Anoint me with the oil of the New Testament prophet. Forbid that I should become a religious scribe and thus lose my prophetic calling. Save me from the curse that lies dark across the face of the modern clergy, the curse of compromise, of imitation, of professionalism. Save me from the error of judging a church by its size, its popularity or the amount of its yearly offering. Help me to remember that I am a prophet; not a promoter, not a religious manager—but a prophet. Let me never become a slave to crowds. Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from the itch for publicity. Save me from the bondage to things. Let me not waste my days puttering around the house. Lay Thy terror upon me, O God, and drive me to the place of prayer where I may wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Deliver me from overeating and late sleeping. Teach me self-discipline that I may be a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

I accept hard work and small rewards in this life. I ask for no easy place. I shall try to be blind to the little ways that I could make my life easier. If others seek the smoother path I shall try to take the hard way without judging them too harshly. I shall expect opposition and try to take it quietly when it comes. Or if, as sometimes it falleth out to Thy servants, I shall have grateful gifts pressed upon me by Thy kindly people, stand by me then and save me from the blight that often follows. Teach me to use whatever I receive in such manner that it will not injure my soul nor diminish my spiritual power. And if in Thy permissive providence honor should come to me from Thy church, let me not forget in that hour that I am unworthy of the least of Thy mercies, and that if men knew me as intimately as I know myself they would withhold their honors or bestow them upon others more worthy to receive them.

And now, O Lord of heaven and earth, I consecrate my remaining days to Thee; let them be many or few, as Thou wilt. Let me stand before the great or minister to the poor and lowly; that choice is not mine, and I would not influence it if I could. I am Thy servant to do Thy will, and that will is sweeter to me than position or riches or fame and I choose it above all things on earth or in heaven. Though I am chosen of Thee and honored by a high and holy calling, let me never forget that I am but a man of dust and ashes, a man with all the natural faults and passions that plague the race of men. I pray Thee therefore, my Lord and Redeemer, save me from myself and from all the injuries I may do myself while trying to be a blessing to others. Fill me with thy power by the Holy Spirit, and I will go in Thy strength and tell of Thy righteousness, even Thine only. I will spread abroad the message of redeeming love while my normal powers endure.

Then, dear Lord, when I am old and weary and too tired to go on, have a place ready for me above, and make me to be numbered with Thy saints in glory everlasting. Amen.

Scriptures for Life on the War of Words Battlefield

power-of-wordsWe live on the battlefield of the war of words. Let us recognize their power to create and to destroy, choosing, by the grace of God, to use their power for healing, peacemaking, truth telling, and inspiring the common good. – Lisa Degrenia

From the Book of Proverbs
Lying lips conceal hatred, and whoever utters slander is a fool.
When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
But the prudent are restrained in speech.
The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the mind of the wicked is of little worth.
The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense. (Proverbs 10:18-21)

Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.
Deceit is in the mind of those who plan evil,
But those who counsel peace have joy. (Proverbs 12:18-20)

From the fruit of their words good persons eat good things,
But the desire of the treacherous is for wrongdoing.
Those who guard their mouths preserve their lives;
Those who open wide their lips come to ruin. (Proverbs 13:2-3)

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. (Proverbs 15:1-2, 4)

From the fruit of the mouth one’s stomach is satisfied;
The yield of the lips brings satisfaction.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
And those who love it will eat its fruits. (Proverbs 18:20-21)

It can sway men to violence, or it can move them to the noblest actions. It can instruct the ignorant, encourage the dejected, comfort the sorrowing, and soothe the dying. Or it can crush the human spirit, destroy reputations, spread distrust and hate, and bring nations to the brink of war.
– Curtis Vaughan in James, a study guide 

From the Book of Psalms
Help, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly;
The faithful have disappeared from humankind.
They utter lies to each other; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts,
Those who say, “With our tongues we will prevail;
Our lips are our own — who is our master?” (Psalm 12:1-4)

Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. (Psalm 34:11-14)

Why do you boast, O mighty one, of mischief done against the godly?
All day long you are plotting destruction.
Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery.
You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth.
You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. (Psalm 52:1-4)

My companion laid hands on a friend and violated a covenant with me
With speech smoother than butter, but with a heart set on war;
With words that were softer than oil, but in fact were drawn swords.
(Psalm 55:20-21)

Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,
From the scheming of evildoers, who whet their tongues like swords,
Who aim bitter words like arrows, shooting from ambush at the blameless;
They shoot suddenly and without fear.
They hold fast to their evil purpose;
They talk of laying snares secretly, thinking, “Who can see us?
Who can search out our crimes? We have thought out a cunningly conceived plot.”
For the human heart and mind are deep.
But God will shoot his arrow at them; they will be wounded suddenly.
Because of their tongue he will bring them to ruin;
All who see them will shake with horror. (Psalm 64:2-8)

Deliver me, O Lord, from evildoers;
Protect me from those who are violent,
Who plan evil things in their minds and stir up wars continually.
They make their tongue sharp as a snake’s,
And under their lips is the venom of vipers. (Psalm 140:1-3)

Every idle word we utter betrays our lack of respect for our neighbor, and shows that we place ourselves on a pinnacle above him and value our own lives higher than his. The angry word is a blow struck at our brother, a stab at his heart; it seeks to hit, to hurt and to destroy. A deliberate insult is even worse, for we are then openly disgracing our brother in the eyes of the world, and causing others to despise him. With our hearts burning with hatred, we seek to annihilate his moral and material existence. We are passing judgment on him, and that is murder. And the murderer himself will be judged. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship

All five chapters in the book of James refer to the power of words.
Chapter 1
You must understand this, my beloved:let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger (1:19)
If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. (1:26)

Chapter 2
So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. (2:12)

Chapter 3
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.

So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.

For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue— a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. (3:1-12)

Chapter 4
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?(4:11-12)

Chapter 5
Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (5:12)