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STUCK! Chapter Six: Where Do I Start?

Let’s imagine that you’ve read this far in this book and come to realize, “Yes, I’m a bit stuck in my Christian life! Boy, am I glad I bought this book!” (or words to that effect). “But where do I start?”, you might ask. That’s where the so-called “spiritual disciplines” become very important.

Much has been written about the spiritual disciplines. Richard Foster’s work Celebration of Discipline is a classic in the field. We are really talking about developing holy habits which grow us in godliness. Some put the disciplines into categories like the following:

The Inward Disciplines:
MEDITATION
FASTING
STUDY
SIMPLICITY
SOLITUDE
SERVICE

The Corporate Disciplines:
CONFESSION
WORSHIP
GUIDANCE
CELEBRATION

Let’s think about each of these for a few moments. Concerning the “inward disciplines,” MEDITATION involves memorizing a passage of Scripture and thinking about it as much as you can. For example, one might memorize Nehemiah 8:10 where he says to the people of Israel, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Now, you might memorize only the “do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength,” although some might focus on the first part of this verse! The point is that during the day (or during the hard night hours) you can say to yourself, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” You might consider reading up on the context of that challenge by Nehemiah to get some background, but the point is to meditate, ruminate, marinate in that verse!

A few words about FASTING. I don’t believe Scripture commands us to fast (that is to go without food for a particular period of time in order to focus upon the Lord). On the other hand, one might quote the Lord Jesus who said in Matthew 9, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (v. 15). The bridegroom has been taken from us. So voluntary fasting makes sense. Missing a meal to concentrate on God’s Word or to prostrate oneself before the Lord in prayer for a serious situation is quite counter-cultural in our frenetic, food-obsessed world, but spiritually healthy. Practicing this discipline is to be private. Jesus criticized the Jewish religious leaders who didn’t keep their fasting private. Jesus said, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Mt. 6:16).

How about fasting from technology? We’ve become more and more dependent on our smart watches, iPhones, and video streaming services. Unplugging from those can do us a world of good in bringing us some quietness, solitude, and focus.

The spiritual discipline of STUDY is very close to my heart as a teacher. I was a lousy student in high school. And even worse when I went through my first year in Bible college. Then I met my wife to be — and all laziness and joy was gone. She looked at me and said, “You have a theology exam on Friday, right?” I knew it would be a mistake to lie, so I said, “Yes, Dear.” Then she said, “Listen, Buster.” (My name has never been ‘Buster.’ So I realized she was serious). “If you do not ace your theology exam on Friday, I will not date you on Saturday.” I aced the exam on Friday, got on the Dean’s list thereafter, and completed a Master’s and a Doctorate over the next few years. All because of religious blackmail.

Believers in Jesus — whether they recognize it or not — are life-long, even eternity-long students! We will forever be studying the character of our God. So let’s get started now. The unstuck believer is pursuing biblical subjects and learning what God wants them to learn.

Life can get quite complicating, can’t it? The spiritual discipline of SIMPLICITY involves the elements of creating margins in our lives, learning to say no when appropriate, and focusing our attention on the Lord instead of the things of this world. Creating some space for ourselves can be a challenge, but a healthy life needs alone time as well as interaction time with others. A great teacher of preachers once said, “Men, learning to say ‘no’ will do you more good than learning Latin!” Active, involved believers are often the first ones to be asked to get involved in a ministry or take on some additional church duties, etc. Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is say, “No. I’m quite involved right now.”

Focusing on the Lord is the third element of SIMPLICITY. We speak with Him in prayer and He speaks to us through His Word. We realize that we are responsible for our thought lives and we ask for help in applying the challenge of Philippians 4 where the Apostle Paul writes, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (v. 8).

The simple practice of SOLITUDE is a piece of cake for an introvert like me. Introverts like to be alone. But biblical solitude is much more than aloneness. It is a concerted time with the Lord, an intentional distancing from others and the distractions of this world to simply spend time with the God who wants to spend time with us.

The great theologian Bob Dylan said, “You gotta serve somebody!” SERVICE is the practice of thinking of others before ourselves, asking how we might encourage another in their Christian life. Ephesians 2 says we’ve been “appointed to good works.” And those works are to be done for the sake of others.

The so-called corporate disciplines have to do with the Body of Christ, the church. We are to engage in CONFESSION as James says: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:16, KJV)

Of course we are to give ourselves to WORSHIP and that should regularly happen with God’s people. GUIDANCE is often given by the Holy Spirit through God’s people. And we should all engage in CELEBRATION as we together praise the Lord and seek to serve Him.

HOMEWORK:
1. Read a book like Foster’s Celebration of Discipline or Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney and J.I. Packer. Discuss your book with another believer.

2. Find an accountability partner with whom you can work on a couple of the inward disciplines. Check up on each other’s progress and consistently pray for one another.

3. Discuss one of the corporate disciplines with some of the leaders in your local church. Ask how you can help them improve those disciplines among the people of God.

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2022 in STUCK!

 

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Social Distancing — A Few Thoughts

As an “expressive introvert” (I’ve taken the tests: Myers Briggs, Briggs & Stratton, etc.), I recognize that my default setting requires a fair amount of alone time. I can identify with the desert monks centuries ago who lived in caves by themselves and contemplated the glories of God away from this broken, fallen world of sin.

However, they could not escape from themselves. We take ourselves with us when we self-isolate. Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician and theologian said, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” Aloneness, solitude, can be one blessing from how our culture is dealing with the Coronavirus.

But we have a supernatural enemy who hates quiet. He majors in noise and often we cooperate with his wicked plans by providing as much noise as we can. It is hard to contemplate when one is immersed in sound. Quietness is a rare commodity in our culture, but one we can pursue with profit.

Here are several benefits of self-distancing that occur to me:

1. We can re-discover reading. You remember reading, don’t you? Pastor John Piper once said, “To most Christians, the Bible is like a software license. Nobody actually reads it. They just scroll to the bottom and click ‘I agree.’” What books do you have in your library that you would read — if you only had the time? Now you do.

2. We can concentrate on conversation. With much of the hustle and bustle of regular life forcibly put on pause, we can talk with our spouse or significant other about life, and suffering, and challenges. And we should focus on becoming better ASKERS rather than TELLERS. Asking good questions of those we love gives them the opportunity of expressing their views and perspectives. Someone has said that “The ability to hold a good conversation has almost become a lost art form.” Edith Wharton once wrote, “Ah, good conversation. There’s nothing like it, is there? The air of ideas is the only air worth breathing.”

3. We can major on meditation. We who know Jesus have no excuses not to meditate on God’s Word. Many of us now have what we seemingly lacked B.V. (before the virus) — and that is TIME. Use it wisely. Develop or re-develop the habit of pouring over God’s Word — and thinking about what you read there. Chuck Swindoll writes, “In place of our exhaustion and spiritual fatigue, God will give us rest. All He asks is that we come to Him…that we spend a while thinking about Him, meditating on Him, talking to Him, listening in silence, occupying ourselves with Him – totally and thoroughly lost in the hiding place of His presence.”

4. We can achieve a new perspective on prayer. Human helplessness in the face of this pandemic is remedied, for followers of Jesus, by the simple practice of prayer. We must pray for our leaders as they make key decisions. We can pray for our neighbors whom we hardly know. We can commit ourselves in prayer that life will be different when we are through this trial. We can pray for our churches which have discontinued meeting together. The church is not finally defined by its services or its building, but by its members who love and pray for one another. Prayer is the antidote to worry. Corrie Ten Boom said, “Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.” And we can pray for others, for our lost neighbors, for those who have turned away from the gospel. J. Sidlow Baxter wrote, “Men may spurn our appeals, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons, but they are helpless against our prayers.”

Your thoughts?

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2020 in social distancing

 

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A Few Thoughts on Prayer (from the book Resilient Ministry)

This book, Resilient Ministry by Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman, and Donald C. Guthrie, is quite helpful. Its subtitle — “What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving” — orients the reader to the book’s (and the study’s) purpose.

Here are several quotes about PRAYER that I found challenging:

“All who have walked with God have viewed prayer as the main business of their lives.” (Richard Foster in The Celebration of Discipline).

The Puritan Thomas Goodwin shared: “That our fallen nature is actually allergic to God and never wants to get too close to him. Thus our fallen nature constantly pulls us away from prayer.”

“For the majority of the Christian centuries most pastors have been convinced that prayer is the central and essential act for maintaining the essential shape of the ministry to which they were ordained. . . . Have conditions changed so much in our age that prayer is no longer fit to be the formative act? Have developments in theology shown other things to be central and prayer at the periphery? Or have we let ourselves be distracted, diverted, and seduced. I think we have.” (Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles).

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2019 in prayer

 

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Habits of Holiness: #1- Working in God’s Word

Imagine that I went to my doctor yesterday and he said that I only had six months to live. [I didn’t, so don’t panic!]. But imagine that I received that kind of news. What would I do for the next six months? How would my life change? What priorities would take center stage in my life? How would such news impact my relationship with others — my unsaved friends, my fellow Christians, my wife, my children and grandchildren?

I’ve been going through the book of Ephesians through email with a good friend in New Jersey. In Ephesians 5 we read, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” No one needs to prove that these are evil days, do they?

If I want to live these last six months as wise, not as unwise, then I need to make the most of every opportunity! So I will be using the next few posts as the chance for me to think out loud. What spiritual disciplines ought I to practice as I get ready for the next life?

The first holy habit that occurs to me is investing myself in God’s Word! What am I doing with the Bible on my desk? For me the question is what am I doing with the Bible I can access in a nano-second on my laptop ((BibleGateway.com)?

Here’s where having a daily blog really helps me stay in the Word! I’ve committed myself to writing a post everyday, so the discipline of spending time in the Word is going pretty well. I would encourage everyone to start their own blog (it’s free at wordpress.com) — and you don’t have to worry if anybody else reads it! It’s for you. And the Lord, of course.

I enjoy studying a book of the Bible for several weeks or writing a series of preliminary sermon outlines (such as my study of Titus from the perspective of the spiritually healthy family). I know I should do more unit-reading of the Scriptures (this refers to reading through an entire book of the Bible at one sitting. Quite useful for 65 out of 66 books — not recommended for the book of Psalms!).

Mind if I give you an assignment? Unit-read a book of the Bible and write down which book you read in the comments section below. Deal?

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2019 in spiritual disciplines

 

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STUCK! Ten Areas That Will Bury You as a Believer and How to Dig Your Way Out! (Area #9- SOLITUDE)

My daughter Amy and I are introverts.  We don’t care for crowds; we like our SOLITUDE.  In fact, she says she going to get me a t-shirt that says, “Introverts Unite!  By yourselves!  Alone!  At home!”  (I’d wear that t-shirt!).

In an extroverted world, we introverts are often thought anti-social (and we pretty much are).  How do Christians get STUCK in SOLITUDE?

What we are thinking of are the Christian disciplines that ought to mark healthy, Jesus-following lives.  SOLITUDE is one of those practices that can draw us closer to Jesus.

The classic treatment of the spiritual disciplines is the work done by Richard Foster in his Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (Harper, 1998).  He divides the disciplines into three categories.  The inward disciplines are:  meditation, prayer, fasting, and study.  The outward disciplines are: simplicity, solitude, submission, and service.  The corporate disciplines are:  confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.  You won’t agree with all that Foster says about these practices, but each has biblical support and is valuable for the believer who doesn’t want to get STUCK!

Our text for this area of STUCKNESS is Mark 6:30-34 where we read,

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” 32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

Let’s think about this passage for a moment.  Note that the apostles had been quite busy doing what Jesus had commanded and teaching others. They were so busy in fact that they did not have time to eat.  Jesus invites His disciples to “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (v. 31).  They needed SOLITUDE.  They needed rest.  They needed to be away from the crowds.  Jesus’ invitation to His followers is refreshing.  He knows our frame, our weaknesses, our need for quiet and rest.  Just being alone — with Him.  Have you tried that lately?  (to be continued)

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2017 in christian growth

 

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Psalms of the Salter: Some Thoughts on Really Living for the Lord (Psalm 117)

Psalm 117

Praise the Lord, all you nations;screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-7-26-45-am
    extol him, all you peoples.
For great is his love toward us,
    and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

Praise the Lord.

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2017 in busyness of life

 

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Some Rantings and Ravings from Someone Who’s Been in Christian Ministry for a Long Time!

screen-shot-2017-01-25-at-4-50-23-amOkay.  Okay.  Maybe I’ve not yet entered the rank of an old curmudgeon who’s always complaining, but I do have some concerns which I want to share.

I’m writing this before my Emmaus Bible College’s conference “Christian Ministry Seminars” which will be (was) held on Feb. 6-7.  I will speak (spoke) on the topic “Anti-Intellectualism Isn’t Spirituality” and I hope it will go (went) well.  Whew!  I’m confused with these verb tenses!

For my fourth and final message I want to vigorously challenge the students at Emmaus on several areas of the Christian life.  Let me divide my concerns into three categories:

(1) The Christian life in general:  I’m deeply concerned with Christians of my generation screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-6-33-00-amwho lived like they could simply glide to glory.  Some did not take personal Bible study very seriously.  Few (it seems to me) have a strategic prayer list that they go through on a regular basis.  Very few have unsaved friends.  Only a handful volunteer for work in the local church.  Many don’t know what spiritual gift or gifts they have — so how can they be deployed in serving other believers?  I’m equally concerned with this generation of young people who have far more and far more addictive distractions than my generation did.  Social media tends to make people anti-social (just look at a family of four in a restaurant fixated on their devices rather than conversing with each other).  TV programs on demand tempt us now at all hours of the day to watch whatever we want on whatever device we presently hold.  “Binge watching” can consume hours upon hours of mindless “entertainment.”  Someone has said, “If and when American civilization collapses, future researchers will sneer, ‘They entertained themselves to death.'”

Where are believers re-discovering the “spiritual disciplines”?  Where is real mentoring going on?  Even church leaders, it seems, appear to be content only that the one hour of the week (Sunday morning) “goes well” and is well-attended.  But what about discipleship?

Are Christian leaders feeding the flock — and protecting them from unbiblical ideas which bring ruin to the soul?  Which leaders are standing up and saying, “I’ve read the newest best-selling Christian book — and it’s dangerous and ruinous to your spiritual health.  And here’s why . . .”?

(2)  Ministering in our culture:  We are not like Jesus.  Let’s face it.  He had unsaved friends.  He was a friend of publicans and sinners.  We usually aren’t.  We excuse our friendlessness in a variety of ways.  But the bottom line is — we don’t take the time and screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-8-11-49-aminvest the energy to develop meaningful relationships with lost people.  And we wonder why we see so few come to know the Lord.  We surround ourselves with Christian music, Christian books, Christian wallpaper, and Christian cookies and we seem oblivious to those around us who don’t have a clue about the gospel.  This is a day of good news — and we’re doing a great job of keeping it to ourselves!

Some look at the Christian life as if there is no room for FUN!  It is all duty, drudgery, and discipline. screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-8-06-41-amSomeone has said that the mentally and emotionally healthy are those that have learned when to say Yes, when to say No, and when to say Whoopee!  Where are our “whoopees”?  Where does the world see Christians having a blast, enjoying God’s good world, interacting with screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-8-52-13-amGod’s creation with a thankful heart (see I Timothy 6 here.  Michael Witmer’s Becoming Worldly Saints is also quite helpful in this area).  Jesus did not say, “I have come to give death” but “I have come give LIFE and that more abundantly!”  Some of us act as if Jesus gave us a misery pill and told us to go out and medicate the world!

(3)  Christian careers:  Some of us come from a background which criticized “denominational” churches.  We’ve inherited a suspicion (sometimes legitimate) of professional ministers (= clergy) and rightfully challenge the idea of the omni-competent pastor.  All believers have spiritual gifts and should be encouraged by the local church’s leadership to exercise those gifts for the screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-8-48-46-ambuilding up of the body (Eph. 5).  HOWEVER — we need qualified, trained servants of God in our local churches to help equip believers in their ministries.  We need men who can faithfully and carefully teach the Word of God, women who can lead effectively in the areas in which God has called them, and young people who are developing the skills to serve our lost and dying world.  We need Bible colleges and seminaries which provide excellent training for an impatient generation that will vote with its feet when the local church has poor preaching and unwise leadership.

Some Christian parents hardly blink when they decide to send Johnny or Susie away to college and graduate school for six or seven years to become an engineer or a lawyer or a physical therapist.  But what about our church leaders?  Three or four years in a solid Bible college plus three years in a reputable seminary appears to many to be out of the question!  “Where’s the money in that?”, they might not ask out loud, but think to themselves.

I guess it all depends on what kind of currency we’re attracted to.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2017 in christian life

 

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CARTOON MONDAY! Culture of victimhood?

Questions:
1. How do we contribute to a “culture of victimhood” in our Christian churches?
2. How do the spiritual disciplines (studying Scripture, meditating, silence, etc.) provide a remedy to such sad excuse-making?

 

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