Sunday, May 30, 2010

Drive On!

According to 1 Timothy 4:7-8 the purpose of spiritual disciplines is GODLINESS. If we are to become more and more like Christ—that is what Godliness means—then we must persevere in the spiritual disciplines.

The one word which describes virtually all people is busy. That was certainly true of Jesus. Read Mark’s gospel and you cannot help but notice the oftentimes frenetic pace of Jesus’ life. He often ministered all day and night, without even time to eat; then He would be up early the next day before dawn to pray, after which He would travel to another town for more ministry (Mark 1).

Scripture confirms what observation perceives: laziness never leads to Godliness. At the same time, business alone never leads to Godliness. The church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) is an example. The point here is that the spiritual disciplines are not intended only for people who have tons of free time. Instead, they are the God-given means by which busy believers become more like their Lord and Savior.

Throughout your life you will need to evaluate and re-evaluate your priorities. Being able to rightly prioritize your life is a key to maturity—not only on a spiritual level but on any level. Do not consider the spiritual disciplines as additional weight. They are actually one means by which God lightens your load. God’s voice regarding priorities will best be heard while practicing the spiritual disciplines.

God offers and provides His life changing grace, not just to people with loads of time on their hands, but to errand-running, hard-working, stressed-out, homework-heavy, extracurricular-busy believers through the spiritual disciplines.

We must be persistent.
  • John 15:9
  • Acts 13:43
  • Galatians 6:9
  • 2 Timothy 2:1-7
  • 2 Timothy 3:14
  • Hebrews 12:1
  • 1 Peter 1:13
  • Revelation 3:11
Here are three resources which will help you to persevere in the spiritual disciplines for the purpose of Godliness.

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit indwells every believer and creates within every believer a hunger for holiness; a desire to be like Christ.
Philippians 1:6— “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform [it] until the day of Jesus Christ.”
2 Timothy 1:7— “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (“Sound mind” means self-control or self-discipline.)

According to Galatians 5:22-24 self-control, among other things, is a “fruit” of the Spirit’s control in a believer’s life. The Holy Spirit will empower and enable the believer to persevere.

Scripture does not explain the mechanics of the Spirit’s ministry. How any spiritual discipline is prompted and produced by Him on one hand, yet on the other hand it is our responsibility to discipline ourselves for the purpose of Godliness is mysterious. Still, these two things are clear:

The Spirit enables every believer to persevere to the end.
The believer must not harden his heart, but instead must respond to the Spirit’s promptings.

Fellowship

It would be a mistake to think of the spiritual disciplines as a part of the Christian life unrelated to the fellowship of believers. Spiritual maturity includes growth in fellowship with God and growth in fellowship with the children of God (1 John 1:3).

Understand the difference between socializing - sharing of earthly life - and fellowship - sharing of spiritual life. We often settle for the former when we urgently need the latter.

One of God’s purposes of fellowship is to supplement the disciplines and to stimulate our growth in Godliness through them. Obviously, the spiritual disciplines have nonpublic applications, but they were never meant to be practiced apart from fellowship in the New-Covenant community - a local church.

Don’t be a lone ranger. Heed the warning of Hebrews 3:13, “exhort [encourage] one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” Fellowship is required in order to “encourage one another.”

The Struggle

Read 1 Timothy 4. Being a Christian doesn’t make your life easy, and the spiritual disciplines will not make your Christian life easier. Serving Christ is glorious, fulfilling, and eternal, but it is difficult and exhausting. It’s a struggle. Becoming like Christ involves a lot more than to “let go and let God.”

Is this works theology instead of grace? Does this mean we are saved by grace but become holy by works of the flesh (Ga. 3:3)? NO! Advance in the Christian life comes not by the work of the Spirit alone, and not by your work alone. It comes by your responding to and cooperating with the grace the Holy Spirit initiates and sustains (Colossians 1:24-29).

Do not be na├»ve. A believer has the Spirit of God within, but the flesh still wars against the Spirit (Galatians 5:17). Realize the reality of this struggle and be motivated to faithfulness in those practices whereby the Spirit of God will enable and empower you to be victorious over the enemies of God—the world, the flesh, and the Devil.

Praise God for the truth of 1 John 4:4, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.”

Stop and Consider
“Oh, God, stamp eternity on my eyeballs!”
- Jonathan Edwards
What are some things and/or people that consume your time?

Practice the spiritual disciplines in light of eternity. Would you spend your time and make choices differently if you saw everything from the perspective of eternity? The practice of spiritual disciplines when viewed through eyes “stamped with eternity” become a priceless priority because of its intimate connection with Godliness. This has always been God’s plan - 1 Timothy 4:7-8.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

School is Always in Session

According to 1 Timothy 4:7-8 the purpose of spiritual discipline is godliness. If we are to be like Christ—that is what Godliness means—then we must discipline ourselves in the area of learning.

“We must face the fact that many today are notoriously careless in their living. This attitude finds its way into the church. We have liberty, we have money, we live in comparative luxury. As a result, discipline practically has disappeared. What would a violin solo sound like if the strings on the musician’s instruments were all hanging loose, not stretched tight, not ‘disciplined’?” - A.W. Tozer

In his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney describes one deacon in a church he pastored. This man once said to his pastor, “I never liked school, and I don’t want to learn anything when I come to church” (pg. 223). Obviously, that kind of thinking is wrong. However, there are also people in some churches who know all the doctrinal facts but have little or no passion in their heart for the Lord.

Both extremes are dead wrong! This is not an “either/or” issue but a “both/and” situation. In other words, a Biblically balanced Christian desires both a bright mind and a burning heart; both light and heat. This does not mean that believers must be brilliant. It does mean that believers are to be intentional learners just as Jesus was Luke 2:46-47. The word “disciple” means not only ‘a follower’ but ‘a learner.’ We must discipline ourselves in the area of learning for the purpose of Godliness!

“Christians must realize that just as a fire cannot blaze without fuel, so burning hearts are not kindled by brainless heads. We must not be content to have zeal without knowledge.” - Donald Whitney
Learning Characterizes the Wise Person

An obvious place to look for wisdom is the Bible, specifically in Proverbs.

  • Proverbs 9:9— “Give [instruction] to a wise [man], and he will be yet wiser: teach a just [man], and he will increase in learning.”
  • Proverbs 10:14— “Wise [men] lay up knowledge: but the mouth of the foolish [is] near destruction.”
  • Proverbs 18:15— “The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.”
  • Proverbs 23:12— “Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge.”

Wise people cannot get enough of it. They crave more, and their learning does not make them proud; it makes them humble. The wise are teachable. They store up treasure because they realize its value. They desire to learn, and seek opportunities to learn. Learning is a life-long discipline that characterizes a growing, joyful, believer.

Learning Fulfills the Great Commandment
Mark 12:29-30— “And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments [is], Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this [is] the first commandment.”

God wants your love, and one way that love is demonstrated is by Godly learning. God is glorified when we use the mind He gave us to learn more about Him, so that we may better live for Him. The learning is for living!

Learning is Essential for Increased Godliness
Romans 12:2— “be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

The Word of God must go through your head for it to change your heart and life. No one is changed, but many are deceived, by an unread Bible.

Learning is Mostly by Discipline NOT by Accident
Job 32:9— “Great men are not [always] wise: neither do the aged understand judgment.”

Age and experience alone do not increase your spiritual maturity. Being Christ-like does not happen by accident or automatically. The discipline of learning will enable you to be intentional, rather than accidental, learners.

How may you be an intentional learner?

  1. The discipline of reading - 1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 2:15; 4:13 - You have too much to gain by not reading and too much to gain by disciplined reading. Discipline yourself to learn by reading, and choose your books well. Relatively speaking, you will read few books in your (brief) lifetime. So read well!
  2. Meaningful conversations Malachi 3:16 Much of our dialogue with one another is meaningless. Make it a point to talk about the eternal, the weighty, the important issues of life. When was the last rich conversation you had in which the things of God were discussed?
  3. Disciplined usage of time. Ephesians 5:16

Paul said to the church at Corinth (and to this one in Garland), “Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.” In other words don’t be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. With that, and this just finished lesson in mind, consider these questions.

Questions to Consider

  • Will you discipline yourself to become an intentional learner?
  • Where will you start? What habit will stop, and what habit will you begin? What about your reading, your conversations, your time usage?
  • When will you start? When does your plan begin? Wisdom says that the soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied. Proverbs 13:4 There is a sense in which everybody “craves” to learn something, and every Christian wants to be more like Jesus. But only those who diligently discipline themselves to learn will satisfy those desires.