Dear Emmaus Friends,
I may have mention in a previous letter that I have been greatly impacted by the ministry and writing of Rev. Richard Foster. My wife and I had the privileged and honor to meet Richard and his wife Carolyn in 1990 while we were students in the Spanish Language Institute in Costa Rica where we eventually served as missionaries. Every trimester the school sponsored a Spiritual Awakening Week and Richard was invited to be the presenter during our second trimester. He had just written his well-known book Celebration of Discipline and the ministry of Renovaré.
Every Friday I receive by email the Renovaré Weekly and on November 26, the following letter was included in the various devotional materials: “An Introduction and Invitation to the Renovaré Covenant.” He wrote this letter nearly twenty years ago as a part of the “Heart to Heart” program.
Rev. Foster wrote this letter before Advent in 2002 inviting readers to “affirm or reaffirm” their commitment to the Renovaré Covenant. The Covenant says: In utter dependence upon Jesus Christ as my ever-living Savior, Teacher, Lord, and Friend, I will seek continual renewal through spiritual exercises, spiritual gifts, and acts of service.
He explains in this “Heart to Heart” letter that the Covenant is simply a way to express our goal as disciples and the means God has given us to pursue it. As we move into Advent— a time of preparation— may we consider how we are preparing ourselves to live in deeper dependence upon Jesus Christ. I hope you find his letter meaningful to you as you grow in Christ!
The RENOVARÉ practical strategy for spiritual growth involves a “Covenant” to give us focus,“Common Disciplines” to help us live out the life of the Covenant, and “Questions of Examen” to encourage us to evaluate how we are doing from week-to-week.
With this pastoral letter I am providing each of us the means to affirm and re-affirm our commitment to the RENOVARÉ Covenant. You will find a “Service of Commitment” inserted. This is the first of what I hope will be an annual commitment experience. If you are alone, I urge you to experience this service by yourself with only small adaptations. If you are part of a Spiritual Formation group, I hope you will use this service for one of your weekly meetings. It can even be used by larger gatherings of like-minded folk. I suggest you have this “Service of Commitment” sometime during the Advent Season (starting the 4th Sunday before Christmas Day which is the beginning of the Church year) or on New Year’s eve or day (which is the beginning of the calendar year). Some of you have never made a commitment to the RENOVARÉ Covenant and so this will be your first opportunity to do so. Others have been a part of our Covenant Family for a long time and so this becomes your opportunity to re-affirm these Covenant vows. In this letter I want to provide some of the theological and biblical underpinnings for our Covenant and explain why it is vital for you and me to make such a commitment.
The Purpose of the Covenant
The RENOVARÉ Covenant is deceptively simple, captured as it is in one sentence: In utter dependence upon Jesus Christ as my ever-living Savior, Teacher, Lord, and Friend I will seek continual renewal through spiritual exercises, spiritual gifts, and acts of service.” The simplicity is intentional, but it is far from simplistic: an awful lot is packed into that single sentence. I shall get to that presently.
First, let me explain the purpose of the Covenant. Its purpose, very simply, is to give us focus. It is a brief, clear declaration of what we are seeking in our growth in grace. It is a kind of short-hand, if you will. Just as the Apostles’ Creed is a short-hand for Christian belief, so the RENOVARÉ Covenant is a short-hand for Christian practice. It becomes a constant reminder to us of our goal and the means for accomplishing this goal.
We need just such a reminder. It is exceedingly easy for us to get caught up in the press of life and forget what life is all about in the first place. So the Covenant calls us back to our first love, and reminds us that what we get out of life is the kind of person we become. A loving, persistent, insistent reminder of spiritual realities — that is the purpose of the RENOVARÉ Covenant!
Now, to the Covenant itself. The very first thing we notice is how highly Christocentric it is. The opening phrase, even before we get to the verb, focuses upon Christ and our complete dependence upon him, “In utter dependence upon Jesus Christ.…” This is intentional. You see, this is no religion of the lowest common denominator. No, indeed! Jesus Christ is at the very center of our faith. This is a non-negotiable for us.
Then note the emphasis upon Jesus’ resurrection, “In utter dependence upon Jesus Christ as my ever-living.…” Again, this is simply a non-negotiable. It makes an enormous difference that Jesus Christ rose from the grave, conquering sin and death and hell. It makes an enormous difference that Jesus Christ is alive and working in our world today. In fact, it makes all the difference in the world. As the Apostle Paul puts it, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinyhians 15:17).
Next note the Covenant’s emphasis upon Christ among us in all his offices.
He is our Savior to forgive us.
He is our Teacher to instruct us.
He is our Lord to rule us.
He is our Friend to come alongside us.
In dogmatic theology the offices of Christ are described as Prophet, Priest, and King, and an immense history and content stand behind those words. And we are giving expression to these great truths by confessing Christ as Savior, Teacher, Lord, and Friend.
When we speak of the offices of Christ we are recognizing that Jesus actually functions among his people. He does things. Now. It is not just that Jesus did great works in the past, especially the unrepeatable work of redemption on the cross. It is also that he is working in the present — forgiving, teaching, directing, comforting, empowering. And he will be working in the future, especially in his return in majesty and power and his everlasting reign in glory.
This is the glorious reality we confess in the Covenant. Jesus Christ is alive. He is here to teach his people himself. His voice is not hard to hear. His vocabulary is not difficult to understand. He is the good shepherd and his sheep do hear his voice.
So Christ is among us functioning as the Lord of his people. He guides his people. He corrects his people. He forgives his people. He instructs his people. He oversees his people. He empowers his people. And so much more. All this we confess in the RENOVARÉ Covenant.
The Moment of Sacred Commitment
Then, and only then, comes the verb, “I will seek.…” This is a daring declaration of our intention. It brings us to the point of decision. It asks in no uncertain terms, “Am I prepared to accept Christ as my Life? Will I say ‘yes’ to him in all things?” And so we come to the moment of sacred commitment. It is up to us to choose Christ. No one else can make this choice for us. We are the only one that can make it.
And did you notice the teeth in this commitment? This is a commitment to “seek continual renewal .…” The background to these words here is the biblical call for us to offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). Now, a “living” sacrifice takes a lifetime to be offered. And note: a “dead” sacrifice is never going to get off the altar; this exact temptation is ever-present for a living” sacrifice. So our offering of ourselves is a continual one. Our commitment, you see, is for “continual renewal.”
The Means of Grace
Now, this renewal work is not done in a vacuum. We are not seeking continual renewal in the abstract. Oh, no. There is a way in, and that way involves …
Spiritual gifts, and
Acts of service.
When we speak of “spiritual exercises” we are tapping into the great biblical and historical tradition of the classical Disciplines of the spiritual life. These Disciplines are the main way we are enabled to train in the spiritual life. Remember Paul’s words to Timothy, “Train yourself in godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7). It is by means of the Spiritual Disciplines that we bring our body, our mind, our spirit … all that we are, and place all that we are before God as a “living sacrifice.” Disciplines like meditation and prayer and fasting and study and simplicity and solitude and service and frugality and confession and guidance and worship and celebration. And more. Frankly, I have no exhaustive list of the Spiritual Disciplines, and, as far as I know, none exist. We are simply learning ways of placing ourselves before God so that he can work the righteousness of the kingdom into us.
But not just spiritual exercises; we also seek continual renewal through “spiritual gifts.” The charisms or gifts of the Spirit are meant for our growth, for our encouragement, for our good. There are gifts of wisdom and knowledge and faith and healing and discernment of spirits and tongues and the interpretation of tongues. There are gifts of administration, indeed one of the spiritual gifts is administration, but there are also spiritual charisms of apostle, prophet, teacher, pastor. There are gifts of exhortation and giving and helps. And more.
Paul, that wise, pastoral Apostle, states with crystal clarity that the purpose of the gifts of the Spirit are, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13).
The most extensive discussion of the spiritual gifts in all the Bible is given in 1 Corinthians, chapters 12 – 14, and note that right at the heart of that discussion is what we call “the love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13. Love, the maturing, nurturing fruit of the Spirit, is absolutely central to the right functioning of the gifts of the Spirit.
Then there are “acts of service.” This means initially simple, trifling tasks of daily life through which we help and encourage one another; taking out trash, washing dishes, folding laundry. And so much more. There is the service of common courtesy and of guarding the reputation of others and of hospitality. Even listening to another person can be an act of service. Perhaps most important of all is the service of bearing the burdens of each other.
You might wonder why something so ordinary as acts of service would be placed alongside things like spiritual exercises and spiritual gifts. The answer is profoundly simple: any vital life with God will, by its very nature, express itself in loving human relationships, and how better to express this than through acts of service. Service takes us beyond ourselves, constantly teaching us to value other human beings … all kinds of human beings. It is a means of grace for the transforming of our heart, our spirit, our mind, our affections.
This then is a brief overview of the RENOVARÉ Covenant and its importance to our ongoing life of discipleship. I hope that during this Advent season or on New Year’s Day you will affirm and re-affirm this commitment to follow Jesus Christ in all things and in all ways. And may God bless you as you do so, whether individually or in a group setting. Remember, even when alone, we are together in our Covenant commitment and together always in the glorious fellowship of the Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Peace and joy,
When I met Rev. Foster and heard him speak of spiritual formation I could not help but think about my Emmaus experience. As I send this message to you I am celebrating my12,896th Fourth Day and I am reminded that we never stop growing in our faith. Without hesitation, I recommend RENOVARÉ to you as source to assist you in your spiritual formation process. DeColores!
Louisville Emmaus Walk # 1
Table of Mark