Category Archives: Spiritual Discipline

The Cost of Mere, Dull Existence

I am reading Radical by David Platt again as a part of my morning reading and devotion time.  I finished the first chapter this morning.  In that chapter, he wrote a section about the cost of non-discipleship.  I think it could accurately be called the cost of mere, dull existence.

Honestly, I don’t know how one could live with the monotony of working toward goals of a bigger house, a nicer car and career promotion, only to reach those goals and make new goals that involve a bigger house, a nicer car and a career promotion. I can’t imagine the disappointment of stepping into eternity and looking about to see that none of those accomplishments came with me after I died.

Living for God with eternity in mind is so much more exciting.  For us it has meant living in different places in different parts of the world.  When I am in the USA, some react to our lifestyle by expressing regret that we have lost out on so much.  But we would have never have gained what we have by living merely for ourselves in the American rat race for bigger and better.  And what we have isn’t measured materially.  There is a certain happiness and adventure found simply in travel and being exposed to other cultures, but when God and His glory is the focus of doing it, the happiness becomes joy and the life of adventure becomes a life of meaning.

Not every follower of Jesus can or should do what we do.  Doing what we do is not a requirement for eternal significance. As long as the glory of God is the focus of your life, you can find joy and meaning in whatever place God has placed you.  And if you are a Christian and that joy and meaning is still missing, there are some things that you can do, and really, they aren’t very radical or at least shouldn’t be. One is be an active part a church that teaches the Bible as God’s Word and focuses on the needs of the world and not just the felt needs of the people nearby.  A church that is truly global in its concern to spread God’s glory will be local in that concern as well.  Second, truly get into God’s Word and learn how to read it and to study it to find God’s meaning behind it.  There are many resources out there to help you learn to do that.  Third, be a person of prayer, and disciplined prayer at that. If you pray only when the urge hits or ‘the Spirit leads’, you are likely not to have the urge and not to take time the hear the Spirit leading.  And finally, read books such as Radical by David Platt, Desiring God by John Piper and Heaven by Randy Alcorn to help you see further down the road and to encourage you to live with God’s glory and eternity in mind.

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What Prayer Does

This morning, I read Psalm 13.  Written by David, it reflected a painfully trying time in his life.  Some scholars believe that he wrote while fleeing from Saul. Others put it at the time of his flight from Absalom.  No matter when he wrote, his words probably convey the way many believers have reacted to their circumstance.

“How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day?” (Psalm 13:2 HCSB)

It seems that David was imagining every conceivable worse outcome to his situation. He felt that God had forgotten him and that God was hiding from him.  His prayer request was simple in such circumstances.  “Consider me and answer me, Lord.”

That does not sound life much of a prayer.  One can’t even get half a blog out that. No one, except those most extravagant with words, could write a book about it.  It doesn’t seem like a power prayer, or something that will result in mountains being cast into the sea.  But, it moved David’s heart, and that was what mattered, because when you ask God to think about you and believe that he does, all the reasons you have to fear and to worry seem smaller.

No longer feeling abandoned, David trusted in God to deliver him.  He heart rejoiced because he had hope of deliverance. David sang because God had been generous to him.

What changed between verse one and the end of the short Psalm?  Nothing changed in David’s outward circumstances.  The only change came in his perspective.  He saw God for who God was. Prayer does that.

When Under Pressure

This year I have been reading the Bible chronologically.  This is the first time that I have done that. It has proven especially enlightening as I have read the Psalms closer to the historical context in which they were written.  In my journal one morning, I wrote, “The Psalms were written in real life situations.  They were not arbitrary poetic thoughts.  They flowed from trials and triumphs, despair and deliverance, doubt and hope.”

David wrote Psalm 141 during a time of intense pressure.  Those who want to do him harm and evil surround him.  For context, you can read 1 Samuel 21-24.  It is interesting that though David wanted justice and deliverance, this Psalm is more about his concern for his own conduct during that time.  He is trusting God with justice, and he is depending on God to help him to do the right thing.

“Lord, set up a guard for my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips.” (v.3) He was concerned about His words.  He wanted God to control His speech.

“Do not let my heart turn to any evil thing or perform wicked acts with men who commit sin. Do not let me feast on their delicacies.” (v. 4) David’ concern was that his heart might turn to evil and that he might resort to evil.  From 1 Samuel, we know that several rough, disgruntled people who joined with him during these trials. On different occasions, they encouraged him to avenge himself on King Saul. He prayed to be able to stay righteous in wicked company.

“Let the righteous one strike me— it is an act of faithful love; let him rebuke me— it is oil for my head; let me not refuse it. Even now my prayer is against the evil acts of the wicked.” (v. 5) David prayed for accountability. He valued those who would correct him when necessary. One of the glaring differences between Saul and David was how they handled correction. When Samuel corrected Saul, he clung to power and went mad. When Nathan corrected David, he repented and endured the Lord’s discipline. Correction is an act of love, and it should be given and received as such.

What I learn from David’s life is that when the pressure is on, I need to lean on God even more than before.  It is too easy to crack under the pressure and try to excuse it. It is when the pressure is on that I need to be most disciplined in my words and actions and seek out even more accountability to others.

And about that son of hers…

Samson was both a man’s man and the stereotypical dumb male.  He had the strength of Captain America, the libido of Captain Kirk and the brain of Captain Caveman.  Dedicated to God since before birth, he seemed determined to work against God’s will.  He was not content with good Jewish girls.  No, he chased after Philistine women, much to the pain of his parents.  And he did not show common sense.  Delilah could tie him up, put his hair in loom, and do just about anything, and it seemed to never occur to him that she might be out to get him.  In the end, he broke every part of the Nazarite vow, lost his strength and got his eyes put out.

Yet, God used him.  He took all that rebellion, worked it into His plan and accomplished what had been his purpose in setting Samson apart.  He liberated the people of Israel from the Philistines.  The life and death of Samson shows God’s sovereignty despite the best efforts of humans to work against Him.

The story of Samson is found in The Book of Judges, chapters 13-16.

And for your viewing and listening pleasure:

(My writing has been sparse lately. With work and other projects, I will probably be very hit and miss, but when I have the time, I will try to write something.)

Failures in Leadership

We often look to Moses as the model of leadership in the Old Testament.  In fact, he was a great leader.  He led a people who had grown up in a polytheistic system and led them to belief in the one, true God.   He took them through perils and dealt with complaints and uprisings.  There is no doubt that he was a great man and a great leader.

Yet, in the end, he did not see the goal fulfilled.  He did not personally lead his people into the Promised Land.  God would not allow him to do so.  The story of why is in the following passage of Scripture:

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them, and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he commanded him.
Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”

(Numbers 20:2-12 ESV)

God’s order was to speak to the rock.  Tell it to give water.  Moses was not in the mood to speak to rocks.  He was angry.  After all the people had seen, they still demanded more.  They accused him of being a failure as a leader, and he had enough of it.  So, instead of speaking to the rock, he spoke to the people.  He called them rebels and struck the rock with his staff instead of following God’s directions.  It cost him the opportunity to see the Promised Land.  Why was God so ‘mean’ about what was such a small, understandable thing?

One idea is that the people were starting to become more impressed with Moses’s  staff than they were with God.  After all, Moses had parted a sea with it.  Now, God wanted to correct the misconception.  He wanted the rock to give water at the power of His word without any evidence of Moses’s strength being behind it.  Moses made a mess of it.  He got mad and showed his anger.  God had wanted to show Himself holy but Moses did not trust Him to do it.  Instead of God’s word, Moses used his staff and his own strength.  Interestingly, God gave water anyway.  He displayed his compassion and love for the people Moses had called rebels.  However, from Moses he took the privilege of seeing his task through to the end.

When we are in positions of spiritual leadership, whether that be in a church, small group or as a parent, we must have as our goal to display God’s holiness.  When it becomes all about us and how we feel, we are not likely to do that.  We will use our own strength and we may impress those around us with our ‘staff’–our intelligence, our plan and our hard work.  Interestingly, God may give us success anyway though not for our sakes.  It will be because He cares and loves those around us who need His touch.  But we will have missed something, a great opportunity to see the holiness of God on display in our lives, our ministries and our families.  So, let’s take care to let God be God and not stand His way.

Moses made another mistake related to this one.  That will be for another post.

 

 

Being Mindful of the Holy

Suitcases lie scattered all over the house.  In this place or that, there are piles of things, clothes, books, papers and toys.  My wife is packing our bags for our move back overseas, and I am trying very hard not to feel guilt while watching her do it. I try to be helpful in other ways such as keeping up with other household chores.  Moving is kinetic chaos.

Actually, the world is kinetic chaos, or it seems to be.  Whenever we return to the US from overseas, I have this sense that I am running and everyone around me is running.  In our society, people live at the same pace as a hamster spinning a wheel in his cage, and it seems that people often equal the hamster in progress.  Our society is nervous, and we are running off its nervous energy.

Even in the things of God, many people live in the frenzy of kinetic chaos.  Church activities are additions to the chaos.  They are things on a check list to done, and afterwards, move on to the next church activity or sports practice or recital or club meeting.  We, the body of Christ, run in and out of his presence.  We make small talk with our fellow family of God members about the game and the stock market news or hunting and fishing or politics and elections.  We enter His presence and hardly give Him a thought.  Our presence with His body is just another part of the chaos of life and not a relief from it.

How completely sad and utterly pointless.  What is the point of gathering as a body to worship if we are not going to worship?  What’s the point of entering His presence if we aren’t even going to acknowledge it?

For the past ten days or so, I have been reading the book of Leviticus, the laws for the priests about serving in the Temple.  So many times, they are warned to treat the things of God as holy.  They were not to take anything lightly.  They served a holy God, who demanded that He was treated as such.  How often do we look up from our kinetic chaos to see the One who never changes.  Do we even acknowledge His  presence when we worship or is the focus on us?

So, let’s slow down, and worship God.  As we go to worship in the coming week, let’s recognize who He really is, and worship with hearts and minds fully engaged with God and not distracted by the kinetic chaos.  Rather, let’s give Him our chaos and see Him make sense of it.

Introverts in the Church

Recently, I read Introverts in the Church by Adam S. McHugh, who has a related blog.  As an introvert, I had wanted to read it for some time.  All in all, I am glad that I did.  I have had several “personality” tests and the one area that I consistently nearly max out in is introversion.  Being an introvert carries several challenges but also several advantages.  That seems to be the point of McHugh’s book, but it is a point that can be easily lost if we take a “woe is me, I’m another victim” approach.  Clearly, McHugh did not want to go there; however, at times, his book could fuel the fire for someone who did.  It is worth the read, but as with all things, one should read with discernment.   The reader should approach it with an openness to grow instead of seeking of validation.

I was able to relate to many things in the book.  Nothing intimidates me as much about visiting a church or small group as the fear that they might say, “I see we have a visitor. Stand up and tell us about yourself.”  They may as well say, “Stand up and try to hide that you’re trembling while we all stare at you.”  It isn’t because I am afraid to speak to a crowd.  I can stand up and teach and enjoy that experience.  However, when I enter a new group I want some time to observe and figure things out.  I want to process what is happening and think about it.  I definitely don’t want to open my heart to strangers and I probably don’t even want to speak at all.  However, I have learned that saying hello will not kill me, though I might feel like it will at the moment.

I found some points of the book helpful.  Some suggestions on spiritual disciplines and being in leadership were helpful.  However, I had trouble relating to some things that he said about corporate worship and church.  I am much more comfortable in a “traditional” evangelical church than he is.  And it was at the point of being involved in church that I thought he missed an opportunity to make a stronger point than he did.

If an introvert approaches church life totally turned inward with a “let me stay anonymous” attitude, he has missed God’s purpose for being a part of church.  In an extrovert approaches church life with an attitude of “be quiet while I talk and get my kicks from being here with you people,” he has missed the point as well.  Church is a place where we are to give ourselves for others for the sake others.  It is the place where we are not to think of ourselves more highly than we should and to put the good of others above our own. (Romans 12:3 and 1 Corinthians 10:24) The church is the body of Christ, and each part is dependent upon the other.  Most of our problems are not issues of introversion or extraversion but of self-centeredness or selflessness.  Introverts and extroverts can both struggle with self-centeredness.  As we walk with Christ, take up our crosses and crucify self, we are better able to serve others with both the gifts and the personality that God has given us.

Victory Over Sin Is Like College Football

College football season is over.  This means two things.  Many people, such as me, have more free time for more constructive endeavors in life.  It also means that many of us have regained some of the higher thinking skills that we had before the season began.  Skills that help us know that an offensive line with no depth and consisting of mostly first year players really has no chance to carry a team to a national title.  Skills that say it is irrational to pin my happiness to the performance of an 18-year-old running back.  Skills that say yielding to the temptation to call a national sports radio program and berate said 18-year-old for not having the maturity of a 30-year-old is not the most rational conduct for grown men and women.  Skills that say believing that there is a national conspiracy to keep my team down is, well, one the most moronic ideas hatched thus far in the 21st century.

College football is all about victory, and the meaning that we pin to the word victory.  We believe that what they do on the field somehow makes us better.  Somehow it means that our school, our state or our region of the country is better than the other school, state or region of the country.  We take the actions and performance of people we probably don’t even know personally and make it all about “me.”

In the spiritual life, we do much the same thing with the idea of “victory over sin.”  Among evangelicals, this is a common theme, although in some less orthodox circles it may now be called victory over bad thoughts and not so nice things.  If we are going to call it anything, let’s call in “victory of sin”, but let’s get the right perspective about it.

Along with my Bible reading each day, I have been reading Holiness Day by Day by Jerry Bridges, who has been one of my favorite Christian authors for many years. Earlier this week, I read in that book about the problem with emphasizing victory over sin and why it is usually not productive.  Victory is all about us.  It is self-centered and success-oriented.  Our concern is not to be personally defeated.  I might add that it can be legalistic, emphasizing victory over just this one sin as opposed to another.  Bridges wrote that rather than victory over sin we should seek a life of obedience to God.  In such an emphasis, the central figures are not me and this sin.  The central figure is God alone.  We understand sin is horrible not because it defeats me personally but because it is an affront to the glory of God.  Victory over sin will come as a by-product of obedience.  It cannot serve as a worthy motive of obedience.

God’s Word in the New Year

Yesterday, the most momentous news in the South was the release of the Southeastern Conference football schedules for 2012, which proved beyond any shadow of the doubt that the powers that be like Georgia better than South Carolina.  And that’s just fine with me.

It was also the day that I tried to figure out how to approach my reading of the Bible for 2012.  Each year, I like to change things up  a bit, and sometimes it takes me a while to figure it out.  Last year, I focused on reading the Gospels and learning about Jesus.  That has been very helpful and I plan to continue to do it through at least the first nine months of last year.

I also hope to read the Bible through the year chronologically in the order that the events related in it happened.  I’ve never done that before, and I want to try something different this year.  I am an odd person who both needs routine and gets easily bored with routine, so I have to change the way I do the routine to keep up the routine.  (That last sentence should convey just how weird it is to be such a person.)  Anyhow, I plan to incorporate lectio divina as I do this.

Lectio divina is really just a fancy way to say something that is really simple so that I can feel smarter.  It describes an approach to reading Scripture that keeps it from becoming, well, too routine. (You probably wish I would use a thesaurus by now.)   There are four parts to lectio divina.

1. Read.  Read a portion of Scripture. To read the Bible through in a year, I will need to read 3-5 chapters a day.  It is important to read an extended portion to understand things within their context.

2. Think.  Pick out a certain part of that and think about it.  Ask questions about it.  Try to really understand it and what it is saying about you.

3. Pray.  Pray the Scripture back to God.

4. Live.  Decide a specific way to obey what God has said.

I will usually write out these things in a journal that I keep.  Keeping a journal is a practice that I hope to do better in the coming year.  Many of these blog post come from my journal.

I hope that all of you will make a practice of reading the Bible in the coming year.  If you need a good plan to do so, you can find several suggestions where this hopefully links. If you are a new Christian or have never read the Bible through before, I suggests that you choose a plan that combines reading from the Old Testament and New Testament each day.  One reason I plan to continue reading a chapter from the Gospels each day is that with the chronological plan, I will not begin readings in the New Testament until October.

I hope that you have a blessed New Year.