Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Becoming Like God - Series Conclusion

Last week's posts centered on the a possible resurrection for you and I based on the certainty of the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, such a possibility exists only for those who choose to follow Jesus. Two key verses for this series have been Ephesians 5.1 - that God's children should imitate Him - and that we must be purposeful in doing so (1 Timothy 4.7).

In concluding this series of posts, I want to provide a brief reminder of the disciplines we have encountered on this study. These Spiritual Disciplines are empowered by God, through His grace, but require us to do our part as well (see 1 Timothy 4.7 – note the word training, exercising, disciplining, etc. - depending on your translation).

The following table shows the Disciplines.

The words on the left were the different Disciplines covered in this series. The words on the right represent the application in one (or two) key word(s). Take a moment to notice the first letter of each word from the column on the right. What two words do you see as you read down the page? As I mentioned in the second post last week, being justified by God, through the blood of Christ, occurs in a moment. However, becoming like God takes a lifetime of living faithfully, responding to the faithfulness He has shown to us.

The "Next Step" for this week was DECIDE. But DECIDE also depicts our next step as it relates to this series. For last week it represented a need to decide about having faith in Jesus. For the series it represents how to live for Jesus, deciding what to do from here. Thus, in reviewing our 4L’s, I will present them from the perspective of the entire series. The 4L’s – Learn, Live, Love, Lead – are a model to help us grow as disciples. So, specifically what might you DECIDE to do to take the next step in being disciplined? Determine what step is right for you and begin there with the goal of moving forward over time.

How do you decide matters for your life? What motivates your decisions? Develop a vision or purpose to guide you.

Begin to life’s make decisions according to your vision and purpose. This allows us to respond to challenges more effectively when they come – and they will come.

Remember that the Disciplines are a means to an end – not the end. This can help you decide to persevere – to be disciplined and be conformed into the image of Christ (Romans 8.29), which is only fully accomplished in God’s time (Philippians 1.6).

Share with others how living by purpose and conviction makes for more effective living.

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

Saturday, April 11, 2015

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

The first two posts this week (here and here) help us to realize that the resurrection of Christ was not just about His rising from the dead, but paving the way for us to be resurrected as well. Today’s post is brief, but points to our need to make one critical choice which will impact not only our future as we imagine it, but our eternity as well.

Why do I look forward to the future and my resurrection? Two very real reasons.

1) I will be with Jesus forever. This is the most important and nothing else compares, yet everything hinges on this truth.

2) Freedom. Freedom from the troubles of this body, and freedom from the troubles of this world. But all freedom comes from discipline. It was the discipline of Jesus’ which bought my freedom. And now my discipline allows me to be more free than I would be otherwise. Elisabeth Elliott says it this way, “Freedom and discipline have come to be regarded as mutually exclusive, when in fact freedom is not at all the opposite, but the final reward of discipline.”

Donald Whitney says that the desire and the power for disciplines are produced by the grace of God. Well, it is also that same grace and His same power that resurrected Jesus nearly 2000 years ago, and which is available to resurrect us one day as well.

So, our JOURNEY letter this week is all about the J – Jesus. We are to follow Him – not only in life, but through death. To stand before Him at the end of our JOURNEY is our destiny, but what happens from there is up to the decision we make in this life.

So what is our next step? Our recurring question must be asked once more – this time with regards to the resurrection:

If your growth in godliness was measured by your expectation of meeting God face to face, what would be the result?

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

The most important question you need to decide is in answer to Jesus question found in Matthew 16.15: “But who do you say I am?”

For someone reading this, your next step could be your first step in faith. Perhaps you feel a need to DECIDE to follow Jesus for the first time. Do so today! Change the course on your JOURNEY today and begin to follow Him.

For others, maybe you need to DECIDE to begin following Jesus again. There is guilt, and that can be good. But you need not feel shamed. The Holy Spirit may convict you, but it is only the devil that shames you. God wants to redeem you! God did redeem you, but you have to DECIDE what to do with it.

Finally, for others, your decision to follow Jesus may have been cemented long ago. And as you have, whether for days or years, it is still a daily decision each of us must make to live our lives in a manner which is becoming more like God. And that is what this series has been about. As God’s dearly beloved children we learn to imitate Him (Ephesians 5.1) by training ourselves to be godly (1 Timothy 4.7). The practice of the Spiritual Disciplines allows that as we are led by God’s Spirit to become more like Him. Like Mary, seeking after Jesus, is the best place to begin.

The final post this week will provide a conclusion to this series on Spiritual Disciplines.

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

Friday, April 10, 2015

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

A part of the promise of Christ’s resurrection, is that we too may be resurrected. Today’s post provides four considerations for this truth.

First, to be resurrected with Christ, you must first die to self. Galatians 2.20

Paul has willingly crucified his own ambitions and desires so that he can better reflect Christ. In fact, Paul laying down his life to Christ, is similar to Christ laying down his life for us. It doesn’t have the same ramifications, but the willingness is similar. What I mean is that Jesus willingly gave Himself over to die. Yes, He was arrested and beaten and hung on the cross, but He also stated that He could be removed at a moment’s notice if He so desired. I agree with the old phrase that says, “It wasn’t the nails that held Jesus on the cross, it was His love.” Likewise, Paul gave his life over to Christ. His body still existed within the context of his flesh, but it was not his flesh that lived any longer, it was His faith that guided Paul to live as he did.

Second, to be resurrected with Christ, you must be a new Creation.  2 Corinthians 5.17

What do I mean by a new creation? Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3 that to enter the Kingdom one must be born again. Born again. Truly to become a new creature. And like any new creature learning is involved. For instance, a new baby has to learn to move, to crawl, to walk, to feed him/herself, etc. Likewise, a new creature in Christ must learn to live as Christ. That is why Jesus said to his disciples (his learners), “Follow me.” Jesus certainly meant as He traveled. But more importantly He meant to follow His example. To imitate Him. Or, as this series has been entitled, to become more like God.  As a new creation, God supplies the power, but we still have to do the work. To paraphrase Charles Spurgeon, “We must work as if everything depends on man, and pray as if everything depends on God.”

Third, to be resurrected with Christ may come after you are already with Him. 2 Corinthians 5.8

This verse has been traditionally rendered, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Later in 2 Corinthians, Paul talks about entering the third heaven. I believe this took place when he was stoned to death at Lystra (Acts 14.19). 2 Corinthians 12 makes clear that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was given so that he would not be prideful about the wonders he saw in heaven. Yet, Paul admits in that passage that he did not know whether he was in his body or not. Frankly, he didn’t care as he simply states – “God knows” (12.3).

But Paul also writes elsewhere that the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4) at the last trumpet. Then, those who remain alive at that time will rise. So, the resurrection of the dead is real, but it doesn’t happen until Christ returns. And He will return. The words of Jesus, Himself, as recorded in Revelation  22.20 – the next to the last verse of the Bible – “Surely I am coming soon.” (Lest we think it isn’t still soon, to God a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day – 2 Peter 3.8. God is not bound to time, but even if He was, this verse could suggest that, in God’s time, it has been less than 2 days since Jesus’ resurrection.)

So, if you die as a follower of Christ, you will be with Him in some form even before the resurrection. Let me make one further clarification. Our form will not be the form of an angel. When you die, despite popular belief, we do not become angels. The Bible is clear that angels long to understand salvation (they don’t receive it). Paul says that we will judge the angels, not become one. So, whatever form it is that we take after our death before the resurrection, it will not be as angels.

Finally, fourth, to be resurrected with Christ, is about Him, not us. Philippians 3.10-14

Let me summarize Philippians 3. Paul had it all. Everything a Hebrew could desire, he had. But he gave it up because although he was completely blameless according the law, it did not make him righteous before God. Only God can do that. So he voluntarily renounced every right he had so that he could gain what truly mattered. Reminding us of the first two points, he died to self, and became a new creation in Christ.

But this was not the end. He was “saved”, but there was still something missing - a perfection that comes from God. In today’s terms we talk about being saved. What most people mean comes down to a theological term – justification. This is like the judge striking the gavel and saying, “Innocent.” But justification is just one part of salvation. If it was the end of the process, why do we remain here after we are saved?  The truth is, for one who receives Christ as Savior, they are saved, but they are still being saved. This second part of being saved is called being sanctified. It is the process of becoming holy. Here, we become holy in part, in eternity we will be truly holy (or glorified). That is what Paul means regarding the prize of the upward call. That he would receive His glorified body – the body we receive after we are resurrected. Our perfect body – a body without sin, without pain, and fully glorious. This is the kind of body that Jesus had after His resurrection, to which he refers in John 20.17. He could eat, but He also passed through a locked door. Do I understand that? No. But I don’t need to understand it. I just need to believe God is capable of it. And in placing my faith in Jesus, who was the first to rise from the dead (1 Corinthians 15), I too, will one day experience a similar resurrection and be with Him forever.

In this week’s third post, I will provide a conclusion to this week’s blog regarding the resurrection and point to the series concluding blog (the final post of the week).

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

Monday, April 6, 2015

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

Yesterday, we celebrated Resurrection Sunday. I began my sermon with the following question, “Why are you here today?” My answer, for the congregation, was one of three reasons:

1) Some because they want to be.
2) Others because they have to be.
3) Others because it is tradition.

But really each of those ideas was secondary. The reason people go to church on Resurrection Sunday is because of what happened nearly 2000 years ago. A man, who claimed to be God, proved it, in part by rising from the dead.

Now, you might not believe that. Or maybe you do. But either way if you were in church on Sunday, April 5, 2015, that is why. For instance, if you don’t believe Jesus is risen, well you probably weren’t in church last week, or the week before, or last month. Yet, many who fit that description were in church yesterday whether by choice, by tradition, or even if forced. Why? Because someone asked/or made them come because of what Easter Sunday means on the calendar to Christians all around the world for nearly two millenia.

But my message on Sunday, and what I want to write about here this week, is not where you were yesterday, but where you will be 2000 years from now. It won’t be wherever you were yesterday. Or last week, last month, last year. It will not be in your hometown, nor in any town on this or any other planet – at least that currently exists (perhaps you will be on the new Earth though – see Revelation 21). No you will have died. The face you see in the mirror, the body you dress and undress daily, the joys and pains experienced in this body will have long ceased. So where will you be? Well, the choice is up to you. You won’t be dragged somewhere. You won’t be anywhere because of a tradition or based on a date on a calendar. However, where you are will depend on a choice you make in this body before you die. That choice will impact you, literally, beyond whatever our minds can fathom. So where will that be? And how do we know a choice exists?

Take a moment to read John 20.1-18. I will summarize here. According to this account, a woman went to the tomb and found the stone rolled away and the body of Jesus was gone. But He really wasn’t gone – He was back! So this woman ran to tell the disciples and two of them rushed to the grave and found out it was true. They then went back to their homes. But not Mary Magdalene. No, she waited. I love how verse 11 starts,  “But Mary”. Mary stayed...searching for Jesus. And she was rewarded.

And just like Mary was rewarded, we, too, will be rewarded, if we stop and seek after Him. And a part of that reward is a future resurrection for us. So, this week’s blog, with the truth of the Christ’s Resurrection fresh in our minds, will reveal the truth that a resurrection awaits us in our future – at least for those who choose to believe and follow after Jesus.

In the second post this week, I will provide four aspects relating the possibility of our resurrection with the certainty of Jesus’. In post three, I will provide a conclusion to this week’s blog regarding the resurrection and point to the series concluding blog which will be the final post of the week.

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

Thursday, April 2, 2015

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

In this week’s first post, three aspects to our ability to (learn to) persevere were mentioned – the role of the Holy Spirit, the role of fellowship, and the role of struggle. Three enemies and three allies of the Christian were also mentioned. This post will conclude the thoughts on the Discipline of Persevering (and our need to persevere in the Disciplines), and provide a few thoughts on how to proceed.

First, let me mention the passage found in 2 Peter 1.5-8. When reading this, you will notice that steadfastness (or perseverance) is between the virtues of self-control and godliness. So, first one must develop self-control (be disciplined), then with perseverance, one can become godly - and becoming godly is the entire point of this series. Yet, most don’t like the idea of discipline even though it is a necessary component to our lives. Furthermore, persevering in discipline is even more difficult. Is it any wonder that many people never grow and become mature Christians? And yes, I admit I fail in this endeavor far too often, so this is not merely the pot calling the kettle black. The reality is that too many people want to live life completely spontaneously, but without discipline, our spontaneity leads nowhere. Whitney provides the following example through the short story of a farmer, as provided by John Guest in an article in Christianity Today.

            “The spontaneous person who shrugs off the need for discipline is like the farmer who went out to gather eggs. As he walked across the farmyard toward the hen house, he noticed the pump was leaking. So he stopped to fix it. It needed a new washer, so he set off to the barn to get one. But on the way he saw that the hayloft needed straightening, so he went to fetch the pitchfork. Hanging next to the pitchfork was a broom with a broken handle. ‘I must make a not to myself to buy a broom handle the next time I get to town,’ he thought...
            By now it is clear that the farmer is not going to get his eggs gathered, nor is he likely to accomplish anything else he sets out to do. He is utterly, gloriously spontaneous, but he is hardly free. He is, if anything, a prisoner to his unbridled spontaneity. The fact of the matter is that discipline is the only way to freedom; it is the necessary context for spontaneity.”

Spontaneity can be good. But it only brings freedom in the overall context of discipline. Imagine, spontaneously deciding to take a road trip across country. No real plans, just a dream to see God’s great design. Well, that is great, but if being completely spontaneous, you will only get as far as the amount of gas you have in the tank. Spontaneity in this case requires gas, which requires money. So, the larger context of being disciplined allows for the spontaneous person to thrive.

How does this idea of persevering apply to our JOURNEY? Well, it encompasses the entire word this week. The J is for JESUS, and the Y is for YOU. We need to be disciplined in every part of our JOURNEY to properly be connected with Jesus. We need to OBSERVE His commands, UNITE with others, REVERE Him, NURTURE one another for the sake of ministry, and EVOKE the hearts of ourselves and others with the truth of the message of the Gospel. In doing so, we (the YOU) can be fully connected with JESUS, and thus become more like Him.

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

If your growth in godliness were measured by your perseverance, what would be the result?

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

Again, this series is entitled Becoming Like God. And the example we have in Jesus is one who endured. In fact, Hebrews 12.2 says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him. That joy – a restored fellowship with the Father and a possible fellowship with us, if we will receive Him as our Savior, making Him Lord. That is how we endure. We must think beyond our current situation and remember the hope that lies beyond.

So, specifically, what can we do as it relates to persevering? 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.

God may be more interested in holding you as you work through your trials than He is in healing or removing you from them.

Stand strong. Remember that the challenges you face are short term – most are short in this life, but especially in the scope of eternity, no struggle will last but for just a brief time.

Recall that God uses each event in our lives to mold us – conform us to the image of His Son. Remember that Jesus endured for you, and in your time of struggle, He is providing you an opportunity to be more like Him (Romans 8.29).

What lies beyond. Remind others of the challenges you have been through and how God has seen you through them. Help others to learn to see beyond the present situation and keep their hope in the future.

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

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.