Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Becoming Like God...In His Time (1 of 2)

What does your typical week day look like? For some who have been reading this series of posts, you may have considered these Disciplines and considered it impossible to incorporate them into your schedule. But many of these disciplines can be practiced simultaneously. You might be alone with God (silence and solitude), reading your Bible (Bible Intake) and recording your thoughts about your reading (Journaling) while praying for guidance (Praying), praising God (Worship) for what He has done. This could even be done while Fasting. And if you are doing all of these things simultaneously, you are being a good STEWARD of your time.

The reality is that godly people are often busy people, yet they find ways to remain under control. Adding the Disciplines might make you a little busier, but will bring about self-control. More importantly, they can lead us to become godly people. Donald Whitney says it this way, “Scripture confirms what observation perceives: Laziness never leads to godliness.” This is true of laziness in general, but especially spiritual laziness.

Life always demands that you prioritize. The Spiritual Disciplines allow you to determine what needs to go. Adding the Spiritual Disciplines to your life is actually a way of learning what else needs to be purged. Consider the example of Jesus. Jesus was busy, but He was not frantic. Like Jesus, the godly person will remain a busy person. And, while it is true that the busy person is likely to be tempted to lapse in becoming godly, without practicing the disciplines, it is impossible to become godly. Yet, as this week’s posts reveal, we need to persevere in the Disciplines in order to become godly. We can’t do a bunch, for a little while and then think we have arrived. It takes a lifetime – however long God grants us – to become what He is molding us to be. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare – slow and steady often wins the race. Perseverance is the key.

So, how do we persevere? Let me give you three different elements which are involved. These are aspects that are important to our continued perseverance, and therefore our development as people of God.

1. The Role of the Holy Spirit

Don’t miss this: No matter what we do or how much we do it, we cannot become more like Jesus on our own! It is only through the Spirit that we can become more like God. That is so key to this entire series of posts. These are Spiritual Disciplines. They are only truly possible in the Spirit as they are empowered by the Spirit to lead us to be more like God. The main purpose of the Holy Spirit is to magnify Christ. (John 16.14-15). One of the ways He does this is by creating a hunger for holiness. He gives the desire to the believer to be like Christ. This is true of all believers (2 Timothy 1.7).

Consider it this way. Have you ever been tempted to walk away from Christianity? The church? Or Spiritual Disciplines? It is the Holy Spirit that prevents that. Have you ever allowed laziness or excuses to get in the way of reading the Bible, praying, serving, etc.? It is the Holy Spirit that prompts you to continue (or return to) the practice. Now, this is not to say that all who do walk away or give up do not have the Spirit, though that possibility must be considered. What it does mean, at a minimum, is that they are choosing to live according to the flesh, and not according to the Spirit (Galatians 5.16-17, 24-25).

2. The Role of Fellowship

Jesus said He would build His church. The Church represents all Christians down through the ages – nearly 2000 years now. The church is an assembly, which is together referred to as the bride of Christ. To separate from the church is ultimately to separate from Christ. I am not talking any particular church...I am talking about THE CHURCH.

Why is this important? Because our spiritual maturity is not only measured by our devotion to Christ, but also to others (1 John 1.3). This means that socializing is not true fellowship – it can be a part of it, but we can be social without having fellowship. Christian fellowship involves talking about God, the things of God, and life from a Christian perspective. It involves multi-directional communication.

Many people quote Jesus in saying, where two or more are gathered, He is there. But that is not what the verse says. The verse is Matthew 18.20. It says, “where two or three are gathered IN MY NAME, there am I among them.” There is nothing wrong with getting together with other Christians for the sake of fun and socializing, but we need to be careful to think that Jesus automatically endorses what we are doing just because we are Christians, and we are together. But to grow, and to persevere, we must fellowship with others. And our growth in godliness, as Ephesians 4.16 reminds us, should be used to build others up as well. The Puritan, Thomas Watson said the following, “Associate with sanctified persons. They may, by their counsel, prayers, and holy examples, be a means to make you holy.” This is true for you and I who need to grow, and for others coming along after us, to learn to grow.

3. The Role of Struggle

Struggle is a part of the Christian life. And the Disciplines don’t exempt us from struggle, but they can provide comfort and strength to get through them. 1 Timothy 4.7-8, core verses for this series, lead to verse 10 where Paul says to toil and strive. Words like “toil” and “strive” form quite a contrast to the popular phrase “Let go and Let God.” There are times when our faith requires us to let go so God can do His work. But as it relates to our personal growth, we have work to do – along with God. This is not about working for salvation! It is about working from salvation. It is about growing as Christians. The Holy Spirit brings about our growth as we participate in – often by struggling – to live our lives as He leads.

The New Testament reveals three enemies of the Christian – The World, the Flesh, and the Devil. Yet, it also reveals three allies of the Christians. And each ally is specifically matched against each of the three enemies to show that God truly triumphs over all enemies, and we can too by placing our trust in Him, as well as working to become more like Him through the practices of the Disciplines mentioned throughout this series. The following table illustrates this principle.

Sometimes we desire to read the Bible, pray, worship, etc. Other times, the Spirit prompts us, but we are unwilling. We yield to the flesh and forgo these disciplines. As long as we are alive this dichotomy will exist for us. Yet, one day we will no longer need the Spiritual Disciplines. We will no longer need to become like God, because, as 1 John 3.2 says, “we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” This does not mean that we will be God, but His work within us will be complete (Philippians 1.6), and we will no longer need to persevere because we will be with Him for all of eternity.

In part 2 this week, I will provide some thoughts on how perseverance fits in with our JOURNEY and provide thoughts regarding the 4L Model of Discipleship.

*This series of posts is adapted from Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Becoming Like God...In His Wisdom (3 of 3)

The previous post this week ended with the following quote:
“The end of learning is to know God, and out of that knowledge to love Him and to imitate Him.” – John Milton

This statement provides a glimpse of the answer to the question: Why is it important to learn?

Ultimately, the answer, especially as it relates to God is because of worship! Jesus said God wants those who worship in Spirit (devotion) AND truth (facts). But we often succumb to the tyranny of the “or” – that we must choose option a OR option b. If you are familiar with the Coke Zero commercials, that is a part of their appeal (even for a Pepsi drinker like me). These commercials don’t focus on the “or”, they promote an “AND” way of thinking. Getting back to Jesus statement in John 4, it is not about worshiping in spirit or truth. It is learning to worship in spirit and truth.

Consider the other two alternatives:

To worship in Spirit without truth could lead us to not know what/who we are worship? (Rom 10.2)
To worship in Truth without spirit leads us to focus on mere facts with dead hearts.

Yet, in Jesus’ statement an “or” is present if we look closely. Jesus says we can worship what we know in spirit AND truth OR we can be like the Samaritans, whom Jesus says “worship what you do not know” in the previous verse (4.22).

This week’s letter for the JOURNEY is O – Observe. To know what to observe, we must learn. And if we don’t observe what we learn, then what’s the point in learning?

So what is our next step? Let me tweak our question for this series to make it about learning:

If your growth in godliness were measured by your learning, or your desire to learn, what would be the result?

So what’s the next step in Becoming Like God? NOTICE.

Again, this series is entitled Becoming Like God. The reality is that none of us are there yet. So, we need to learn. And then learn some more. And when we die, we will never cease to learn. And yet, we will never know as much as God. That is a mind-boggling thought. It just shows that we have much to learn. It shows us that in our efforts to become more like God, we can never become God. Yet we continue to strive to be more than we are today. So, specifically, what can you do as it relates to learning? Well, we return to our 4L’s – Learn, Live, Love, and Lead – to provide potential next steps for each of us. Again, consider where you are in your worship RIGHT NOW. And let the Spirit lead you to what you might next do.

Learn about learning. Where do you learn? How do you best learn? What subject do you wish to learn more?

Set aside a little time each day, or each week to learn about that subject or subjects? Be intentional.

Engage in discussions with others about the topic(s). In doing this, we begin to know what we have learned?

Teach others what you have learned. Informally or formally, just help others to develop a desire to learn as well.

*This series of posts is adapted from Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Becoming Like God...In His Wisdom (2 of 3)

In the previous post, a few ideas were provided regarding the benefit of learning for the disciple of Jesus. This post will provide a few insights on how we learn and some options for continuing to pursue the discipline of learning. I have expanded the thoughts a bit, so I am adding a third post this week as well.

How do we learn?

1) We learn by discipline, not by accident.

We can learn by accident, but it is not the usual course for learning. But it can stir us to learn deeper. The old adage that with age comes wisdom promotes the idea of learning by accident. We don’t try to age, we just do. But to become wise we must be intentional. The Bible makes this clear in Job 32.9. Instead, we must “train ourselves” as this series has reminded us (1 Timothy 4.7).

Consider the difference between television and books. Both are sources for data. The TV feeds us what the producers, actors, and more importantly what the advertisers want to feed us. Books allow us to feed ourselves. Sure we can change channels as easily as we can put down a book, but the goal of television is ultimately about money, not education. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against TV, but we must understand that shows designed to entertain or to educate are only on the air as long as it can make money for the network. The fact is because of television and “accidental learning” more people can name more types of beer than they can books of the Bible (and that majority is likely true for Christians as well).

What does this mean? Learning by accident does not lead to godliness. To become mature (1 Corinthians 14.20), we must become disciplined and intentional in our learning, leaving convenient and accidental learning behind.

2) We learn in a variety of ways.

a) Learning is often associated with reading. Certainly, many people struggle with reading. Yet technology today allows us to be read to with our phones, tablets, computers, kindles, etc. In the first post, I gave my life Rule #2. Here is Rule #3: READeem the time. (Consider Ephesians 5.15-17 for a full meaning).

The fact is that growing Christians read. And as the old saying goes, “Leaders are Readers.” Why don’t we read? When we were young, we were often asked to read things that were poorly written, that we didn’t like, or to know facts for a test. That may still be true for some, but as you age, you typically are able to choose what you read.

What if you read one book per month until you died? What if you died at age 80? How many books could you read? Or 90? Several years ago, I had this thought and I was only about 37-38. I realized if I did that until I was 75, I would only read about 450 more books. That was a depressing thought. Now I am almost 45, so the number would be down to almost 360. If I am only going to read 360 more books, I want them to be good. I want to be challenged. I want to grow. I want to learn.

Here are a couple of other thoughts about reading. Read a book by and about something that you disagree. For instance, if you strongly favor one political party, read about a president that you completely disagree with. The point isn’t to make you change your affiliations, but to help you learn and grow.

And do read for recreation too. But make sure some (maybe even most) of your reading will help you grow.

b) The Internet? Maybe! Many people do research how to do things on the internet – this can facilitate learning. But a great deal of reading on the internet is pleasure reading or for facts only. For instance, I am a KC Royals fan, so I read articles about the Royals. I “learn” things about the players, a particular reason why something did/did not happen. But that isn’t the kind of learning we are talking about here. That kind of learning is simply about facts. Facts fill us with information, but the Lord wants transformation. Remember, the Bible is geared toward activating the mind, but ultimately the information needs to impact the heart for any life-change to happen. And that is what God wants.

c) Talking with others. Listen, yes. But engage. Ask questions. Contribute your thoughts. Find a group in which you can express yourself, and not feel threatened by others. We all need people who know more than us, people who are in a similar place in learning, and people we can help to learn as well. In a group of 10-12 people, each person will likely find each aspect of the previous sentence related to various aspects of life. Thus, true learning can be facilitated across a variety of interests, perhaps, and hopefully, while engaging to know and understand God better. For this is the ultimate goal of learning. As John Milton said, “The end of learning is to know God, and out of that knowledge to love Him and to imitate Him.” Or as our series says, to Become Like God.

In tomorrow's post, I will provide a few concluding thoughts and provide the 4L’s for the week as it relates to learning.

*This series of posts is adapted from Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Becoming Like God...in His Wisdom (1 of 3)

Some people may claim that learning is not important to them. Yet, many of these same people read the newspaper or watch the news to “learn” what happened the previous day. Now some would say that isn't learning, but it is. It is similar to accidental learning. Unfortunately, accidental learning usually doesn't amount to much – or is full of one-half facts because many accidental learners only learn from each other. But consider newsworthy names and places of just the last 50 years that most people would have very little knowledge of if not for the media. Consider names such as Lee Harvey Oswald or Monica Lewinsky and places such as Saigon (now Ho-Chi-Minh City) and Kuwait, not to mention business organizations, terrorist groups, etc.

The reality is that we often learn even when we don't think we are. But when it comes to learning about Jesus, many don't want to learn. Some may say, “I did the church thing. I know about Jesus, but I just don't need all that teaching.” Ok, that is an opinion. But God's response might be: "I gave you a brain and I gave you my Word, what will you do with it?"

Being learners does not mean that we need to be brilliant, it just means we must be willing to learn. We need to be like Jesus. (See Luke 2:46-47.) Ultimately, we need to be like Jesus, but we need to learn from Jesus as His disciple. The word disciple, in fact, means follower or learner. So, to be people who are becoming more like God, we need to not only learn about Him, we need to learn from Him.

So what is learning? Learning might be defined as gaining new insights about life. Ideally, it is applying the insights we gain to our lives for the betterment of ourselves and others. From a biblical perspective, let me provide three aspects related to learning.

1) Learning Characterizes the Wise Person (Proverbs 9.9; 10.14; 23.12)

The book of Proverbs contains many sayings about wisdom. The three verses listed above provide insight as to the wise. Proverbs 9.9 suggests that wise and righteous people can never get enough wisdom or knowledge. As many who study the Bible comes to understand, the more we know about the Bible, the more we realize there is to know. Proverbs 10.14 says that the wise lay up knowledge, like someone "stores up" a treasure. And Proverbs 23.12 this implies there is not a time to stop.

I have a set of "rules" or pithy sayings that I have developed over the past several years. Some are fun, some are serious. Rule #2 fits well the context of Proverbs 23.12. My rule #2 is "When you stop learning, you start dying." Personally, I made my greatest progress as a learner when I stopped worrying about grades. Grades are a necessary, if imperfect means, of measuring learning. But many people do just enough to get a grade. Sometime during my Master's Degree I realized that grades were immaterial to my learning. If I focused on learning, I wouldn't need to worry about my grades. However, if I only focused on my grades, I might miss out on the opportunity to learn. My learning became about becoming wise, rather than getting a grade.

2) Learning Fulfills the Great Commandment (Mark 12:29-30)

When you think of loving God, what comes to mind first? Probably not learning. In fact, if this post was not about learning, any consideration of learning would be WAY down the list, if it even made a list. But if we are to love the Lord with all of our mind, we must include learning in the process. The word "relevance" is used in churches today, and being relevant within society does have a place. However, the relevance of God's Word is paramount, and that understanding of the word begins with the human brain and the concept of the mind.

After all, as Martyn Lloyd Jones said, “Let us never forget that the message of the Bible is addressed primarily to the mind, to the understanding.”

3) Learning Fulfills the Great Commission (Matthew 28.18-20)

What is the Great Commission? If you already knew the answer to that question, it is because you learned about it in the past. Perhaps you knew that the Great Commission is found in the verses listed above. But the key for our purposes is the idea of learning within the Great Commission because Jesus says to teach others to observe all that I have commanded you. This implies a great deal of learning has taken place. Not only are Jesus' disciples to go to all nations, but they are teach what they have learned. All of it. And not only teach what has been learned, but how to observe what has been learned. Furthermore, that wasn't just for Jesus' disciples then, that statement applies to us today as well. So, we must learn in order that we may also teach others – this is not optional.

So what should we learn?

1) To Know God

To know who He is and what He has done. This goes back to the previous section – we learn to gain His wisdom, to love Him better (the Great Commandment), and serve Him completely (Great Commission).

2) To become godly.

How can you become something you don't know about? That is the purpose for this blog series.  God's Word must be understood before it can be applied. Or as R.C. Sproul said, “To be central in our hearts He must be foremost in our minds.”

Having provided three aspects of how learning benefits a disciple and two concepts that we must each learn, the second post this week will look at how we often learn and provide a few options to consider as you further engage in the discipline of learning.

*This series of post is adapted from Donald Whitney's book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Becoming Like God...In His Story (3 of 3)

The previous post shared eight reasons that journaling can be helpful to the walk of a Christian. Personally, I don't journal all the time, but I have recently read some old entries and it has encouraged me to begin journaling again. As I read the old entries, I was reminded of some good and some challenging times, and how God brought me through those times. I also saw how I grew in my faith, and can see elements that have continued to play a part of my life through the years.

Yet, as I wrote earlier this week, there is nothing in Scripture that commands us to journal. And because there are no commands, there are no real rules. How often? Up to you! The content? Up to you! The format? Up to you! How long? Up to you! And frankly, this freedom is a reason why some don't journal. Without a structure, some just will not. If that's you, simply choose to begin. Get a notebook or sit at your computer/tablet and sit write a page's worth. Some of mine go two or three pages (again, that's not wrong), but I usually sat down with the thought of finishing a page or so. When I journal now, I tend to do it on the computer. First, I dislike writing by hand. Second, I can't read my handwriting sometimes. But the bad thing is that if you lock yourself to doing it on a computer, and you don't have a computer around, well, will you journal? Of course, tablets and cell phones help with this today.

Our letter for JOURNEY this week is E – Evoke? Remember, Evoke is to stir the hearts. I promise you, my heart was stirred this past week – both good and bad – as I read through an old journal. I didn't have time to read some of the more recent ones. But seeing some of the same issues then, that I face now, even at a very different stage of life, reminds me that I need the grace and mercy of God more than ever. And, what of those who follow us? Perhaps my son or daughter, or grandchildren, etc., will read my reflections some day. My journal can then serve as a witness to others – even after I die of what God did for me, for us. And what He might do for them!

So what is our next step?

Let me tweak our question for this series to make it about journaling:

If your growth in godliness were measured by your journaling about what God has done in your life, what would be the result?

So what words capture the next step in Becoming Like God?
INSIGHT – Consider what insights you might gain.

Again, this series is entitled Becoming Like God. Journaling might not help us become more like God directly, but it can help us reflect on God. It can also help us see where our story crosses paths with God's story, which should bring us closer to God. So, specifically, what can you do as it relates to journaling? Well, we return to our 4L's – Learn, Live, Love, and Lead – to provide potential next steps for each of us. Again, consider where you are related to fasting RIGHT NOW. And let the Spirit lead you to what you might next do.

Consider any historical figure you admire. Research to see if they journaled, or where the information we know came from. Then review the 8 Values to Journaling (Post 2 this week). Do any of those make an appeal to you to begin journaling?

Try it. Don't make any commitments to yourself, to others, or even to God. Just try it occasionally and see if it has any benefit for you.

If you have journaled in the past, go back and read some old entries. See how God has used past circumstances for God (Romans 8.28) and let His work encourage you to continue journaling, or, like me, to start again.

Share your story with others. Perhaps some of your old entries can encourage others. Even those times that are painful cane help. In one of my entries I read this week I had written the thought that God can use your biggest hurt to be your greatest area of ministry for Him.

* This series of posts is adapted from Donald Whitney's book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Becoming Like God...In His Story (2 of 3)

The previous post defined journaling and presented a few questions that might help one to consider journaling. In this post, I will list, and briefly comment on eight different reasons why journaling may be of value.*

8 Values of Journaling

1.  Journaling Helps in Self-Understanding and Evaluation (Romans 12.3)

We should not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Journaling can help because it allows us to be real with ourselves, even if we aren't really with others. We can truly begin to know ourselves. John Calvin, one of the greatest theological minds ever, said, “Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God.”

2.  Journaling Helps with Meditation (2 Timothy 2.7)

We tend to forget the insights we gain from Scripture unless we write them down. Journaling can be like taking notes on what we read, or even what we think, so that later we can properly apply our understanding to our actions.

3.  Journaling Helps Express Thoughts and Feelings to the Lord (Psalm 62.8)

Have you ever felt so strongly about someone (perhaps a spouse) that you just didn't know how to express  yourself? The Bible says that when we can't get the words out, the Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8.26-27). But sometimes just letting the pen flow on the page, or the fingers on a keyboard, can help us reflect and make some sense of what is happening - whether good or bad!

4.  Journaling Helps in Remembering the Lord's Works (Psalm 77.11-12)

Can you think of some specific prayers God has answered? Keeping your requests in a journal and reviewing them will help. Francis Bacon said, “If a man write little, he had need have a great memory.” We easily forget how much God has helped us unless we write it down.

5.  Journaling helps in Creating and Preserving a Spiritual Heritage (Psalm 102.18; Deuteronomy 6:4-7)

Very few people know the names of their ancestors to more than two generations (grandparents). Yet, for nearly everyone, your great grandparents were alive about 100 years ago. So, will your descendants remember you? What might you want them to know? Are you a Christian? Perhaps write of your conversion experience. Perhaps other major life events, both good and bad. What a blessing your story might be to someone in your own family in the generations to come.

6.  Journaling Helps in Clarifying and Articulating Insights (1 Peter 3.15)

If you are like me, you might have a difficult time sometimes remembering what you read earlier today or yesterday. When we write some thoughts down, it helps to seal the thought in our minds, and may even allow us to move from reading or hearing the Word, to doing what it says (James 1.22).

7.  Journaling Helps in Monitoring Goals and Priorities (Philippians 3.12-16)

Many people have to do lists. But do you have a tracking list of things you are doing which take more time? Consider the Spiritual Disciplines mentioned in this series. We have the 4L's to guide us (see this post, for example). Where are you with Prayer? Worship? Fasting? Do you have a goal with one or more of the disciplines? Maybe you want to try fasting, but have questions. These are GREAT concepts for journals – you can track your progress, your struggles, etc.

8.  Journaling Helps in Maintaining the Other Spiritual Disciplines (Psalm 119.11)

We tend to be lazy in many areas of life, especially in our spiritual development. But we are to exercise (1 Timothy 4.7), and build ourselves up in the faith (Jude 20). Again, similar to the previous "help", journaling can help us track how we are doing in a variety of areas.

Having defined 8 ways that journaling can help us, what are some other considerations about journaling? In the next post, I will provide some thoughts as to some potential next steps.

* This series of posts is adapted from Donald Whitney's book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Becoming Like God...In His Story (1 of 3)

Most of us look in the mirror each day before leaving the house. At some point, what you saw looked good enough to you to feel comfortable in leaving. But what if the mirror could reveal your insides? No not the bones and organs, but your emotions and character! What do those insides look like right now? Are they well-ordered and prepared for the world? Are they a little messy, but not too bad? Or are they so badly beaten and bruised that you don't know if you will ever recover? Perhaps it’s fortunate that we don't have a mirror that shows our insides. And it's certainly a blessing that others can't see them all the time. But God does. And here is a fundamental truth – He knows just how beaten and bruised they might be, or how messy things look, or if everything is nice and orderly, and regardless of what state they are in, He wants you to get through this time with them looking better than they do right now. But often for that healing or growth to take place, we have to take the time to reflect ourselves so that we can partner with God in getting things straight.

This week's discipline is the Discipline of Journaling. It must first be noted that the idea of journaling is never given in Scripture as a command or expectation of God like we have seen of so many other disciplines, such as praying, worship, fasting, etc. But we have entire books of the Bible that are essentially a collection of journal entries (the Psalms) and at least one long one, if not a collection (Lamentations). In addition, Proverbs, and many of the historical narratives in Scripture (Numbers, Deuteronomy, the book of Revelation, and others could very well be journal entries.

Apart from the Bible, consider some of the biographies you might have read. How do we know such things about people if they had not recorded their thoughts, etc.? You may say, well, sure, but nobody cares about me. I haven't done anything worthy? My first question is in whose eyes? Your eyes, the eyes of others, or God's eyes? My second question is, what would you like your family to know about you? That can be a part of journaling! As we will see in the next two post this week, journaling can help us to better understand God and ourselves as we go through life.

First, let's define journaling. Donald Whitney defines journaling (which is synonymous with a diary) as "a place (tangible or digital) in which a person records information important to him or her personally for preservation or consideration. As a Christian it is a place to document the works and ways of God in your life."

Again, journaling does not have a Scriptural mandate. Many great Christians have journaled. Many haven't. A few biblical characters who obviously did were David, Jeremiah, Solomon, John, and others. Yes, their words were inspired by God. However, the written record is the prayers, meditations, questions, insights, praise, etc., of many different men. Although many others could be listed here, the journals of some Christians (e.g. Augustine and John Edwards) have been compiled into well-known works.

Take a moment to read Psalm 88.1-7. We all have days when we feel like this – do you remember one from a few years ago? How did God get you through it? That is what journaling can do! It can remind you of your past JOURNEY, and encourage your future steps.

In John 21.24-25, the author postulates how many books could have been written about Jesus – at that time. At the time that was written, some might consider that statement a bit absurd. But consider how many have been written since. A few years ago, the number was 6000 new Christian books each year. Now, I wouldn't suggest that all the books are good, or even "Christian" (it would depend on how the researcher defined "Christian"), but certainly thousands are written and with what people post to Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. on a daily basis, it is mind-numbing to consider how much is written about some aspect of God – just from a positive perspective each day. Indeed, John 21 was right.

But what about journaling? In the next post, I will list 8 values (as originally shared by Whitney) with some small comment on each. I will say just a small something about each in hopes that you might be encouraged to begin, or resume, journaling yourself.

* This series of posts has been adapted from Donald Whitney's book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Becoming Like God...In His Serenity (3 of 3)

In the previous post, I provided 9 biblical reasons to engage in the Disciplines of Silence and Solitude. In this post, I will provide some concluding thoughts, and the options for next steps.

While many benefits may be gained by engaging in Silence and Solitude (including enhancing other Spiritual Disciplines), the main benefit is spending time alone with God. Whenever you want to develop an intimate relationship with someone, you need to find time to be alone. Of course, the same is true of our relationship with God.

Our letter for our JOURNEY this week is R – Revere. Psalm 46.10 says, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” During the busyness of our lives, we can know God is there. During this series, we have mentioned that what we do can be an expression of worship. But, just like fasting often enhances our prayers, being alone in silence, before God, often enhances our knowing of God. Those moments of intimacy with God can truly help us know Him, and exalt Him, as the verse says.

So what is our next step? Before answering that question, a few questions each of us needs to ask ourselves? Well, what is noise (to you)? Is it a necessity? Or is it a problem? If it is a necessity – why? If it is a problem, do you use times of silence as a time of reflection on the Lord? Too many people don't take to reflect on much of anything, and therefore like me, on the lake, miss everything. Perhaps you have sensed God speaking to you about becoming His child, or taking a new step in your faith, and have just turned the thought away or never took the time to reflect. Why not take that time now?

For those who have already committed to follow Jesus, let me tweak our question for this series to make it about spending time in silence and alone with God:

If your growth in godliness were measured by your time alone with God, what would be the result?

So what's the next step in Becoming Like God? Listen – to God. And in order to listen, we have to make ourselves be quiet.

Again, this series is entitled Becoming Like God. We have reviewed several examples from Jesus' life that showed His being in seclusion spending time with the Father. Again, if it was important for Him, how much more is it for us? And beside the examples of Jesus, plenty of other biblical examples were shared this week showing that God thinks this is serious enough business to provide thoughts and examples for being silent and alone with Him.

So, specifically, what can you do as it relates to Silence and Solitude? Well, we return to our 4L's – Learn, Live, Love, and Lead – to provide potential next steps for each of us. Again, consider where you are related to fasting RIGHT NOW. And let the Spirit lead you to what you might next do.

LEARN: Consider where in your schedule you can make time to be silent before God, to spend time with God – alone.

LIVE: Schedule time each week (ideally, daily) to spend alone with God in silence. Even short times can be helpful.

LOVE: Take time for an extended break occasionally. Set aside a few days to read, study, pray, fast, etc.

LEAD: Encourage others by your testimony.

*This series of posts is adapted from Donald Whitney's book, Christian Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Becoming Like God...In His Serenity (2 of 3)

In this week's first post, I set the stage by telling a story of when God brought about an opportunity for me to be silent and have a time of solitude to set the stage for this second post – taking a biblical look at reasons to engage in these two Disciplines. (I will simply list several Scriptures and provide a brief comment on each.)

1) To Follow Jesus Example.
Matthew 4.1 – Jesus also fasted during this time.
Matthew 14.23 – Jesus sent the crowds, and those closest to Him away, to spend time with God.
Mark 1.35 – Jesus got away from the crowds to prepare for the day ahead (and recover from the previous days.
Luke 4.42 – Jesus COULD meet all their needs. But He did what HE needed first.

Principle here – Jesus was always with the crowds, so He had to find a time alone – to keep His priorities straight, and to maintain His spiritual strength.

2) To Minimize Distractions in Prayer.
The examples of Jesus from #1 – Also Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
1 Kings 19.8 – Elijah hearing God in the low whisper (vv. 11-13) - requires silence.
Habakkuk 2.1 – Habakkuk entered a guard post to get alone with God.

Many have an addiction to noise. Background noise can be ok, but do you NEED it? More than you need God?

3) To Express Worship to God.
Habakkuk 2.20 – All of the earth will be silent in awe of the Lord.
Zechariah 2.13 – Everyone will be silent before the Lord.

Worship can be through words and songs, but it can also be in silence.

4) To Express Faith in God.
Psalm 62.1-2, 5-6 – David waited for God, because He knew God was the true source of his hope.
Isaiah 30.15 – God offers salvation through rest and strength through quietness and trust, yet the people were unwilling and pursued their own ends.

What does the world offer? Noise, busyness Spending time away from noise can show a longing for God

5) To Seek the Salvation of the Lord.
Lamentations 3.25-28 – Jeremiah was in agony over the fall of Jerusalem, but knew God's faithfulness was great and that being quiet before God was the appropriate response.

Seeking salvation of the Lord can apply to those who do believe in God and those who don't believe.

For those that don't believe, this salvation is from sin and the consequences of it. Luke 18.13

For those that do believe in God, this is a salvation from present circumstances. Psalm 64.1-5

6) To Be Physically and Spiritually Restored.
Mark 6.30-32 – Jesus encouraging His disciples to restore themselves after a time of ministry.

Above we saw that Jesus needed to be restored for ministry. If Jesus needed this, how much more do we?

7) To Regain a Spiritual Perspective.
Luke 1.20, 59-64. The story of Zechariah, the father of John the baptizer was made silent. At the time of his boy's birth, Zechariah wrote the name "John" on a tablet, and his ability to speak was restored.

8) To Seek the Will of God.
Luke 6.12-13 – Jesus went off to pray all night before calling His disciples.

Have you ever pulled someone aside to ask someone a question? This is kind of the same idea. It is as if you are inviting God to meet you in private in order to ask a question.

9) To Learn Control of the Tongue.
Proverbs 17.27-28 – A silent fool may be considered wise.
Ecclesiastes 3.7 – There is a time to speak, and a time for silence.
James 1.19 – Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.
James 1.26 – Without control of the tongue our religion is worthless.

These are 9 biblical reasons to engage in the combined Disciplines of Silence and Solitude.

Spending time in silence and solitude allows us to learn to listen. These Disciplines allow us to hear what might not otherwise be heard – like me on the lake. The noises were there all week, but I just wasn't listening, because I was caught up in the noise – the noise of the jet-skis and boats....the noise of the people riding along...the noise of laughing and screaming. And the noise of life – simply being too busy to appreciate what was around me – including, and most importantly, God.

We need to take time be silent. We need to find times when we can be alone. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, these Disciplines can help us become more like the people God desires us to be – a person more like Him. In the final post this week, I will convey some ideas on how to apply these Disciplines to our lives.

*This series of posts is adapted from Donald Whitney's book, Christian Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Becoming Like God...In His Serenity (1 of 3)

Have you ever been somewhere and you've been so busy doing “stuff” that you have missed everything around you? I have. Let me share a brief story.

Once, when I was helping at a youth church camp, I was one of several people assigned to help with the water recreation during free time. This camp was at a lake, and I was asked to drive a jet-ski for any youth that signed up each day. Their fee – quote that day's memory verse. A pretty good deal for them and a lot of fun for me too. Well, after driving youth around over four afternoons, it was time to call it quits. All the youth were finished, so I decided to take one last ride by myself. Long story short, the jet-ski got flooded while I was far from anything. It was nearing dinner time so boat traffic was extremely light. No noise, no movement, nothing.

And I realized at that moment that I was alone. Yet, not really, because God was there. I had been in the midst of this beautiful place all week. I had driven past the trees, the grass, the animals, all of it, all week, but hadn't noticed it at all. Oh, I had seen it. But I hadn't paid a bit of attention to it. Now, in the stillness, in the silence, in the solitude, I was taking it all in. I could hear small animals scurrying in the woods. I could hear the water gently lap upon the shore. I could hear the leaves lightly blowing. I could see fish jumping not far away. I could look across the channel and see the gorgeous treeline that stretched as far as I could see around the edge of the cove. I could look up and see a few clouds drifting slowly across the sky. But most importantly, I knew that God was there.

We had been at camp all week, and there had been great lessons, great times of corporate worship, and great times of discussion and fellowship. But being stuck on the jet ski was my moment at the camp that year. And if it wasn't for the jet ski getting flooded, I would have seen all of those things all week and yet, I would have still missed it. After about 15 minutes of just sitting on the jet-ski, I tried to start it, and it fired right up. I rode to the dock, and while I don't remember much else from that week, I have vivid, and fond, memories of literally being stuck in the middle of the lake.

Psalm 46.10 says – “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!” That day, I began to learn what that meant!

I tell you this story because this week's Discipline is actually a combination of two disciplines that are very related – Silence and Solitude. These Disciplines continue our series on Becoming Like God by becoming disciplined, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to train ourselves for godliness (as 1 Tim 4:7). Following is Whitney's definition of each:

Discipline of Silence – the voluntary and temporary abstention from speaking so that certain spiritual goals might be sought. This absence of speaking does not mean intentional self-talk, or prayer.

Discipline of Solitude – the voluntary and temporary withdrawal to privacy for spiritual matters – minutes to days.

Given that each has a definition, they can be distinguished, but are usually found together. Having set the stage to discuss these disciplines, in this week's second post I will share 9 biblical reasons for engaging in them.

*This series of posts is adapted from Donald Whitney's book, Christian Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Becoming Like God...In His Care (4 of 4)

As we turn towards the end of this message, let me give you a fact that might surprise you. Fasting is found in the Bible more often than baptism. Only by a couple – about 77 to 75, but that shows how important fasting is. We call ourselves Baptist because of the importance of Baptism. What might you think if a group of Christians called themselves “Fasters?" That sounds strange, but for many who don't believe in God, they think being called Baptist is odd.

I have mentioned that fasting is very misunderstood. Again, that is the reason for the extra post with the biblical summary of fasting – so you might have several Scriptures that will help you to view fasting from a biblical perspective.

I have shown that fasting is expected. Jesus gave one command based upon “when you fast.” And, in answering a question about His disciples not fasting, He said that soon, “they will.” Well, those disciples may be gone, but as His disciples today, the question is “Will we?”

Our letter for JOURNEY this week is N – Nurture. Specifically, allowing God to nurture us. By fasting, we are trusting our care to God. We are saying we are more dependent on Him, than we are on food. We are trusting in His provision not our own. We reveal our hunger for righteousness is greater than our hunger for food. And, in doing so, we allow Him to mold us and care for us in ways that aren't possible when we are worried about caring for ourselves.

So what is our next step? Let me tweak our question for this series to make it about fasting:

If your growth in godliness were measured by how often you fast, what would be the result?

So what's the next step in Becoming Like God? Pass – Pass on food occasionally, and realize God is your true portion.

Again, this series is entitled Becoming Like God. Jesus fasted, and He was God. Many servants of God, both great and small, have fasted. In fact, serving God is often made all the more possible by humbly giving up our basic needs through fasting and allowing Him to strengthen us for the task (Jesus, Moses, Elijah, Paul, etc.).

So, specifically, what can you do as it relates to fasting? Well, we return to our 4L's – Learn, Live, Love, and Lead – to provide potential next steps for each of us. Again, consider where you are related to fasting RIGHT NOW. And let the Spirit lead you to what you might next do.

Use the handout in your bulletin as a guide to study more about fasting.

Prepare yourself to fast as often as you feel led by asking these three questions:
1) From what will I fast?
2) How long will I fast?
3) Why will I fast? (What is your biblical purpose for fasting [see previous post]?)

Integrate regular times of fasting into your life. Develop a deep hunger for God as you do!

Share this information with others. Print off the biblical summary and study it with others. Also, help others better understand fasting by sharing your experiences – both the positive and the negative.

*This series of posts is adapted from Donald Whitney's book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Becoming Like God...In His Care (3 of 4)

This post contains a summary of the various types of fasts, the lengths of fasts, and biblical purposes for fasting. This list is not necessarily exhaustive, but is very representative of the various fasts as found in the Bible.

Types of Fasts in the Bible (our terms, not the Bible's)

  • Normal – from food (not water) – Matt. 4.2 (Jesus was hungry, doesn't say thirsty)
  • Partial – limitation of diet – Dan. 1.12; Mt. 3.4
  • Absolute – no food or water – Ezra 10.6; Esther 4.16; Acts 9.9
  • Supernatural – extended – Deut. 9.9; 1 Kings 19.8
  • Private – not to be noticed – Matt. 6.16-18
  • Congregational – in fellowship – Joel 2.15-16; Acts 13.2
  • National – not just Israel – 2 Chron. 20.3; Neh 9.1; Esther 4.1; Jonah 3.5-8 (Nineveh)
  • Regular – Day of Atonement – Lev. 16.29-31
  • Occasional – as needed – 2 Chron. 20.3; Esther 4.16; Matt. 9.15
Today, most would be normal, private, and occasional.

Lengths of Fasts in the Bible

  • Partial to one day – Judg. 20.26; 1 Sam. 7.6; 2 Sam. 1.12; 3.35; Neh. 9.1; Jer. 36.6
  • One night – Dan. 6.18-24
  • 3 days – Esther 4.16; Acts 9.9
  • 7 days – 1 Sam. 31.13; 2 Sam. 12.16-23
  • 14 days – Acts 27.33-34
  • 21 days – Dan. 10.3-13
  • 40 days – Deut 9.9; 1 Kings 19.8; Matt. 4.2
  • Unknown – Matt. 9.14; Luke 2.37; Acts 13.2; 14.23
Purposes of Fasts in the Bible
To Strengthen Prayer – Ezra 8.23; Neh. 1.4; Dan. 9.3; Joel 2.12; Acts 13.3

“Fasting does not change God's hearing as much as it changes our praying.”
– Donald Whitney

To Seek God's Guidance

Judg. 20.26; Acts 14.23

Fasting does not ensure God's action, but it does make us more receptive to His guidance.

To Express Grief

  • over someone's death – 1 Sam. 31.13 (Saul/Jonathan – 2 Sam. 1.11-12)
  • over our sin not to pay for our sin (Jesus did that)
  • sins of others 1 Sam. 20.34 for church, country
Admission is not confession. Confession of sin comes from realizing the grief sin causes God.

To Seek Deliverance or Protection:

  • Jehoshaphat – 2 Chron. 20.3-4
  • Ezra – Ezra. 8.21-23
  • Esther – Esther 4.16
  • David – Ps. 109.24 (may have been an unusually long fast)
Fasting should be one of our first defenses against persecution.

To Express Repentance and Return to God

1 Sam. 7.6; Joel 2.12; Jonah 3.5-8

As we get closer to God, our sins will be more exposed. We must deal with them and repent.

To Humble Oneself Before God

  • Ahab – 1 Kings 21.27-29
  • David – Ps. 35.13
Fasting is not humility, but it is an expression of humility toward God. (see Luke 18.12-13)

To Express Concern for the Work of God

Neh. 1.3-4; Dan. 9.3

Both Nehemiah and Daniel prayed for God to intervene, but were both active in living out their faith.

To Minister to the Needs of Others

Isaiah 58 reveals that God did not answer their prayers because their motives were wrong. Compare vv. 3-4 with vv. 6-7.

To Overcome Temptation and Dedicate Yourself to God

Matt. 4.1-11

Jesus was strengthened by the fast to overcome, and prepare Himself for His ministry (v. 17 - “From that time”).

To Express Love and Worship to God

  • Anna – Luke 2.37
  • Jesus – John 6.51 (Jesus, as the Bread of Heaven, is more satisfying than food.)
“What we hunger for most, we worship.”
– John Piper

*The information summarized here is adapted from Donald Whitney's book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Becoming Like God...in His Care (2 of 4)

Part 1 provided a brief explanation of the Discipline of Fasting. This post discusses two distinct situations when Jesus taught about Fasting.

Fasting is Expected

In Matthew 6.16-18, Jesus says, “When you fast...” This is just a few verses after the Lord's Prayer which follows “when you pray” (6.5-7). It is just a couple of paragraphs from Jesus talking about our need to give (6.2-3). Last week's posts included our need to give; and a few weeks ago I posted about prayer. In the verses following 16-18, Jesus taught about seeking first God's Kingdom and His righteousness. If you are a Christian, you have likely heard many lessons or messages on these passages, and the teachings are accepted because they are much appreciated Christian concepts. Yet, between these teachings is the idea of fasting – which is, at best, overlooked but is more likely ignored, which is far worse.

Lest we think that the idea of fasting died with Jesus, Acts 9.9 shares that Saul fasted after his conversion. Acts 13.2 reveals the church at Antioch was fasting as a part of their worship. And in Acts 14.23, the Bible reveals that Paul and Barnabas fasted before appointing elders (pastors) at the churches they planted. Plus, as we will see in the second passage, Jesus anticipates our fasting even more now. But first, let's look a little deeper at Matthew 6.16-18.

Matthew 6.16-18
  • When you fast (Jesus makes an assumption that His followers will fast.)
  • Don’t be like the hypocrites (Jesus states a negative, primarily against the Pharisees, as most Pharisees fasted every Monday and Thursday, and often wanted attention for it – see Luke 18.12).
  • Anoint and wash yourself (Jesus gives a positive command on how to present yourself while fasting. Don't be gloomy and sad-faced, God knows and the purpose of the fast is for Him anyway.
  • The Father will reward you (This is the promise. Jesus doesn't say how or when, but it will be good – see some of the upcoming verses [Matthew 6.26, 30; 7.9-11]). And this reward is the result of the assumption, “when you fast.”
It is often said that “God looks at the heart.” Well, let me provide two observations related to fasting.

1) Fasting takes the focus off of us, and places it upon God. As humans, we may do a lot of good things, things that get the attention of others, but God wants the heart. And if we are willing to give up a need as basic as food – something Jesus just taught them to pray for just a few sentences earlier – our daily bread – then we are putting aside our needs for the purpose of knowing God and His needs better.

a) Jesus says He is the bread of life. He is much more satisfying than the best of foods.

b) “Fasting does not change God's hearing as much as it changes our praying.” – Donald Whitney

Again, just a few verses earlier (in the Lord's Prayer) is the statement, “Thy will be done.” Jesus was purposeful in discussing fasting immediately after praying.

2) What does the heart want?  Look at the very next verses 19-21. Again, Chapter 6 is one of the most taught chapters in the Bible and yet nobody says anything about fasting. How can this be?

a) This gives so much credence to those who say that Christians only pick the parts of the Bible they like.

b) This is why I don't do series like this very often. When you pick a book of the Bible to teach, you have to teach the verses as they come. I may pick which parts deserve emphasis, but I can't choose to leave parts out.

The second passage today is Matthew 9.14-15.
  • They will fast – again Jesus provides an assumption in part of his answer to the question.
  • The Bridegroom was leaving – Jesus is the Bridegroom and would leave them behind (a negative).
  • The present time was thus a time to feast (the positive).
  • The Promise includes a feast as well – The Wedding Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19.6-9).
Right now, He is not only preparing a place for you eternally (John 14.2-3), but He is preparing a place at His banquet. And He will come again (John 14.3) to get His bride (the Church) that we might be with Him forever.

The background for this short teaching is as follows. In Matthew 9, Jesus heals a man, then calls Matthew as a disciple. On arriving at Matthew's house for a meal, the Pharisees ask why Jesus would dine with such filth? His answer, “The sick need a doctor, those who are well don’t.” After the Pharisees, next come the disciples of John the Baptist. They don't care why He is there, but their challenge is that, like the Pharisees, they fast, so why doesn't Jesus’ disciples? Jesus response, “No mourning allowed while I am here. But one day, when I depart, they will mourn.”

So, since Jesus is now departed should we eat? Absolutely, food is a gift from God. Not only is the food itself a gift, but God has gifted certain people to do spectacular things with food. We can honor God by eating of the gift and from those gifted in preparing it. And eating can be worship too. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

So if food is good, why fast?   Fasting reminds us to keep our focus on the Giver (God), rather than on the gift (food).

We are to fast now (v. 15 - they will fast) because He is not here. Not always, but often. Again, Matthew 6 talks of giving, praying, and fasting. How often do you give or pray? How often should you fast? That is between you and God, but one thought might be whenever you feel your hunger for God waning, that might be the perfect time to fast.

Regardless, from Matthew 9 we see that the joy of the bridegroom in their midst meant that it was not a time for fasting then. And one day, we will be in the midst of the bridegroom eternally, so there will no longer be a need to fast. But, in the meantime, fasting reminds us that we are not with God, yet utterly dependent on God. As John Piper says, “Christian hunger, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God.”

I will conclude these thoughts on Friday (Post 4 for this week). Tomorrow’s post will be a bonus post that contains a list of the various types, lengths, and purposes for fasts as recorded in the Bible.

*This series of posts is adapted from Donald Whitney's book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.