Why Practice Spiritual Disciplines?

whyIn Donald Whitney’s post “Remember, Every Spiritual Discipline Is About Jesus” he asks and answers some great questions.

Whitney writes:

Why pray when it appears that your prayers go unanswered? Why keep on reading the Bible when it seems like you’re getting little from it? Why continue worshiping God privately when you feel no spiritual refreshment? Why persist in keeping a journal when writing your entries bores you? Why engage in fasting, silence and solitude, serving, and other spiritual disciplines when you sense meager benefits from doing so?

It’s easy to forget the real purpose of anything that’s as habitual as the activities of the spiritual life. And purposeless spiritual practices soon become . . .

To continue reading follow this link to The Center for Biblical Spirituality.

 

I’m Bored!

Life LinesI’m bored! It isn’t often that I’m able to take two days off in a row, but this week everything fell into place and I am off work today and tomorrow. The problem is I AM BORED! I have already completed my list of things to do today. I’ve finished the laundry, taken out the trash, paid the bills, balanced our accounts, completed my bible study, and had my prayer time. It is only noon and I just don’t know what to do next.

There are several things I would like to do, but I just can’t seem to get excited about them. I don’t feel like watching television, Netflix, or renting a movie. If the sun would come out I might consider golfing. I could get online and check out the posted Black Friday sales, but I like going first thing Thanksgiving morning to buy a paper, looking through the deals, and then drawing up a plan of how to put my head into the mouth of the retail lion that is Black Friday! I could also go over to the mall and try to get my Christmas shopping done early; however, my son’s list is anemic at best and I don’t want to have to make two trips, so I’ll just wait until later. I just don’t have anything to do, so I AM BORED!

So, in my boredom I began to think about what it must have been like a hundred years ago when you worked from dark to dark. You had to get up before the sun, get the fire going in the house, go out and feed the animals, milk the cows, collect the eggs, get the horses ready for working in the field, and then you could sit down and enjoy a quick breakfast. After breakfast you worked out in the field until someone brought you lunch. After your short lunch-break you would get back to work until dusk. Then you had to get the animals back into the barn, feed them, and make sure they would stay warm over night. Then you had to collect enough firewood to get you through the cold winter night, fill the lantern so you could see in the morning, and then sit down for a quick dinner. Following dinner you would spend some time with the family. Then finally it was time for bed to get a few hours sleep in preparation for another day of what you just did today, yesterday, and everyday before that!

I wonder what it was like to live that type of life? What was it like to live life knowing your survival meant doing the same thing every day? That’s when it hit me, “I know exactly what it was like.” It was SATISFYING! Without a doubt it was hard work, but to sit down at night and see the work you had completed with your hands had to be satisfying. Think about it, a creative God made us; thus it only stands to reason that we are creative beings. We find satisfaction in completing things. They may not always be easy or even what we want to do, but there is great satisfaction in marking something off your to do list. Regardless of whether you point to a white board, type on a computer, farm, or run a machine all day it is satisfying to know that you made a difference.

I spend way too much time at work each week for it to only be something I do so that I can have money to spend on my 24-48 hour weekend of “Me Time!” Life as a whole should be satisfying from Sunday through Saturday. Looking back each evening at the work of our hands should bring a smile to our face and sense of accomplishment. “Look what I was able to do today!”

It may not be working a farm, it may not have anything to do with our surviving another day, but today I finished several things that will ensure my wife has plenty of free time tomorrow to do what she wants. And, for better or worse, I wrote this post. It’s not long, it’s not deep, but it is something to think about. And that is SATISFYING!

So, what have you done today that has brought a little smile of satisfaction to your face?

Is Suicide an Unforgivable Sin?

In April 2010, my younger brother committed suicide. It is always difficult to lose a loved one; however, when they die at their own hand it just leaves you feeling guilty. You wonder why you didn’t recognize the signs, why didn’t they call to talk, where is the note telling how much they care. No matter who you talk to there is a sense that you should have done more, that you should have known, that it is somehow your fault.

Over the years, I have noticed that one of the first questions people ask is about the eternal home of those who commit suicide. As if the guilt of not being there to help them wasn’t enough, now the fear of wondering if their trying to escape what seemed like an impossible situation could have led them to an eternally worse torment. You see, there are those who believe that suicide is an unforgivable sin. There is no way you can take your life and repent afterward; therefore, the soul is lost for all eternity, forever separated from God. Clearly this is a question that needs to be addressed, and there is no better place to look than the Bible.

In the New Testament, Jesus teaches that the only unforgivable sin is “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” (Mark 3.22-30). Mark says the scribes were accusing Jesus of healing people by the power of Beelzebub—the prince of demons. The scribes believed Satan and his demons were behind Jesus’ power instead of the Holy Spirit. Jesus quickly warns that to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness and carries a punishment of eternal condemnation. To blaspheme the Holy Spirit, one refuses to acknowledge God’s completed work through Jesus Christ His Son.

This idea is clarified in 1 John 5.10, “He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son.” Here we are told the person who does not believe the Holy Spirit’s convicting witness about Jesus as God’s Son and our propitiation has made God a liar. Clearly those who do not believe in Jesus are declaring that the message from the Holy Spirit is a lie. The Bible teaches that God cannot lie and that Satan is the father of lies (Titus 1.1-2; John 8.44). Therefore, those who do not believe are calling the Holy Spirit a liar; which is another name for Satan.

There is no forgiveness for those who reject Jesus as the only way to heaven. Since suicide is clearly not ascribing the works of the Holy Spirit to Satan then it cannot be the unforgivable sin.

The Bible also helps us find hope in Christ’s finished work. There are several passages which show that at salvation we are forgiven of all sin—past, present, and future.

  • “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ”         (Romans 8.1)
  • “For He made Him who knew no sin [to be] sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5.21)
  • Jesus, “who does not need daily…to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Hebrews 7.27)
  • Christ “with His  own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9.12b)
  • “…once at the end of the ages, [Jesus] has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9.26b)
  • “…we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10.10)
  • “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit…” (1 Pt 3.18)

These verses make it clear Jesus’ substitutionary atonement was once for all time. Those who believe in Him are justified before God. There cannot be any condemning accusation brought against them as Jesus has already taken their punishment. God has taken their sin and cast it as far as the East is from the West (Psalms 103.12). Since this is true, then the sin of suicide is among the many sins Christ has forgiven.

It has been four years since my brother’s death. Prior to his suicide I knew what I believed about forgiveness and suicide; however, in light of his death I was forced to put my faith to work in the promises of God. I spent hours studying God’s Word and praying for clarity and wisdom. In the end I simply had to trust God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and the promises of His Word to keep those secure who have trusted in Him. I know the life my brother lived and the faith he had in Christ, so today I am sure that he is with Jesus in heaven.

In closing let me say this, in writing an article of this nature there is a fear that there may be those who say, “Hey I can take my life and still get to heaven.” Please, please don’t take all this as a reason to escape the troubles of this life. I have not written this to make it easier for you to take your life, but for those who live every day with pain because of a loved one who took their own life. The pain, loss, guilt, and fear we live with every day can only be softened by the hope that is found in Jesus. If your life seems hopeless and the only reasonable solution in your mind is suicide, please do me a favor and call someone. Go to a hospital, a pastor, a family member, a co-worker, or even a good friend. Just find someone and tell them you need help. There is hope for a better life. It might take time to overcome whatever is causing you such great pain, but I promise, if you will trust Jesus, He will lead you to an abundant life here and now. Please believe me, Jesus is your hope!

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (for the hearing impaired TTY 1-800-799-4889) or visit the website.

Joy Inexpressible

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1.3-9 NASB)

Finding Outrageous Joy!

A few weeks ago I posted an article by Paul Tripp, “Don’t Confuse Knowledge and Success with Maturity.” It was a reminder that mental assent is not a true measure of our spiritual growth. In our efforts to grow in Christ we can find prideful joy in what we have learned and begin to think we are maturing in Christ. This mindset can lead to more learning and less serving.

Head knowledge is nothing if it is not put into action. Knowledge, wisdom, and understanding are all gifts from God; however, these gifts have been imparted to us in order to give them away to others. As empty vessels, God fills us with spiritual gifts, then He desires to empty us into the lives of others that they too might be filled and then emptied. In Matthew 28.18-20 this is called the Great Commission—our assignment to go make disciples.

Making disciples, growing in wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and serving others only happens after our salvation. Once we placed our faith in the finished work of Christ we begin our spiritual journey “until we all attain to  the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a  mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the  fullness of Christ” (Eph 4.13). This should be the burning passion of every Christian—growing into the “fullness of Christ.”

With our hearts set aflame with the consuming passion of glorifying Christ we find a life of great joy and fulfillment. However, just as our joy cannot come from mental assent, we cannot allow our joy to be rooted in ministry success. It is easy to find joy when everything you touch turns to gold for the kingdom. Joy comes easy when your Bible study group or church is growing rapidly. Joy isn’t hard to find when God is graciously using your testimony to lead numbers of people to Christ. Nevertheless, these successes should not determine our joy. They should lead us to a heart thankful to God for His Holy Spirit working through us, but they cannot be the reason for our joy.

In Tony Reinke’s post, “Why Rooting Joy in Ministry Success is disastrous,” we get a clear picture of where our true joy is to be found.

Reinke writes:

Is there a greater thrill than to know someone’s life has been permanently transformed because you reached out to them?

It is sweet to know your sister was saved through your series of conversations, or that you helped to disciple a struggling couple whose marriage was headed toward an inevitable divorce, or that you preached a sermon that God was kind enough to use in someone’s spiritual awakening.

Each of those things are treasured experiences — but none of them are intended to sustain our joy.

Jesus’ chose 72 of his followers and sent them out in his name. And they found incredible success in healing the sick and in watching demonically sabotaged lives get radically and immediately repaired. The experience must have been intoxicatingly fun.

But ministry success wasn’t the most stunning thing, and Jesus warned his followers of that when they returned. He told them to look beyond the fruit and see an eternal foundation: “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

Written in heaven. That’s what he wanted them to see and us to see. Our highest joy is to know that our names are written in heaven. Knowing we are heirs to the bliss of God’s eternal presence is the foundation for our greatest joys.

And knowing that means:

  • Pastoring is not the most important fact about the pastor.
  • Missions is not the most important fact about the missionary.
  • The spiritual gift is not the most important fact about the Christian.

In the Slump

But Jesus’ words apply to ministry “sag” just as much as they apply to revival.

By unplugging the disciples’ joy from their ministry effectiveness, Jesus likewise protects them (and us) from depression during seasons of seeming fruitlessness. Seasons of what appears to be effectiveness and ineffectiveness come and go. Seasons of revival are replaced by seasons of stagnation.

Perhaps we can include all of the fluctuations of life. Marriage, parenting, work, school — all areas of life where we are called by God to bear fruit. Our joy is not rooted in our successes, and it’s not extinguished by our failures. Our joy is rooted in the unalterable fact that in Christ our names are written on heaven’s roll-call.

Paul reminded his ministry associates of this point (Philippians 4:3). And I need that reminder every morning. Because whether ministry is flourishing or not, we need to remind ourselves, and remind each other, that our names are written in heaven. And it is in heaven, in the presence of God forever, where our joy is rooted. May God protect us now, in the bustle of life and the wins and losses in ministry, from losing the sweetness of that truth.

Our joy should be rooted and grounded in our salvation. We are saved from sin, death, the grave, and hell. We stand fully justified before God. We have received the imputed righteousness of Christ. Our joy is found in this, “For God so  loved the world, that He  gave His only begotten Son, that whoever  believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3.16). When our joy is rooted and grounded in the fact of our salvation then we will live life with an outrageous joy!

I Choose Pain

Recently, as I was filing some old emails, I came across a few that brought back sad memories. They were emails from people who have moved on and are no longer a part of my daily life. Some moved far away, others changed churches, and some had graduated to glory. As I read the emails it was as if I had been transported back in time. All the pain and sorrow that I had felt months or even years ago came rushing back. I have to admit the intensity wasn’t the same; however, the sadness and disappointment of these dear friends no longer in my life was a source of pain. I am thankful to the Lord for helping me through these various losses and very grateful for His strength to endure even the most trying of circumstances.

Bearing the weight of pain, disappointment, betrayal, or the loss of loved ones takes a toll on the heart. As a pastor, I am amazed how much agony the human heart can endure. I have seen families torn apart by divorce, parents broken and grieved at the death of a child, others shocked that they have been betrayed or deceived by a close friend, and I have seen the disbelief on the face of those being told they have some debilitating disease and only given a short time to live. I have sat with those who are filled with what seems to be deteriorating agony which will eventually lead to their death. It is underneath this crushing pressure of pain that many have said, “I wish I could just stop hurting. I don’t want to feel anything. I just want the pain to go away.”

I can still vividly remember times when I wanted the pain to go away. There were times I wanted to seclude myself from the rest of the world so that I would never hurt again. I didn’t want to love for fear of rejection. I didn’t want to trust for fear of being disappointed. I didn’t want to confide in anyone for fear of being mocked. I just wanted to be protected from any and all pain. Have you ever been there?

It is quite simple to live a life of seclusion; however, what you lose is far too precious. C.S. Lewis put it this way:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.

I don’t want to be a someone whose heart is as hard as stone. I don’t want to live a life protecting my heart if it means being cold to everyone around me. The pain from rejection, betrayal, and death can be debilitating; however, the reason we hurt so much is because of love. When someone we love departs, for whatever reason, there is great pain, sadness, and loneliness. However, our hearts are only moved by these emotions because we have exchanged so much love with the person who is gone.

I have met with those whose spouse had just passed away. They cried and talked about how lonely life would be without their “better half.” But after a while, something would happen—with tears in their eyes they would smile and start telling stories. They would tell me about their wedding day, the birth of their first child, living over-seas, buying their first home, or about their favorite vacations. By the time they finished we all were laughing and thanking God for the time we had together. These joyous meetings would never have happened if they had closed themselves off from the danger of pain. That kind of joy in the midst of great pain only happens when we have invested ourselves in loving others. You know, loving them like Jesus loved the world and gave Himself up as a sacrifice that we might spend eternity with Him.

So, I guess I am determined to live a life of pain. Pain that comes from loving others with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Pain that comes from building loving relationships that distance, differences, or even death cannot steal the joy of friendship.

 

“The Reason for Joy”

Here is a great quote from Timothy Keller on “The Reason for Joy.”

If you’re a Christian, you know that Christianity is supposed to be about joy. You probably also know that you’re supposed to experience joy in spite of circumstances. The Bible clearly teaches that joy is available that should make us happy no matter the circumstances. There’s a joy that the deepest trouble can’t put out and, if properly nourished and nurtured, can even overwhelm the greatest grief.

When Jesus prays to the Father in John 17:13, he prays for us – his followers. He says, I pray that ‘they may have the full measure of my joy within them.’ One chapter before, he says to his disciples, ‘You will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy’ (16:22). That’s pretty amazing! He’s talking to the twelve disciples, men who are going to be persecuted. They’re going to be robbed of everything they own, tortured, and put to death. Yet Jesus promises to give them a joy that will withstand all that. Nothing – not disease or persecution or alienation or loneliness or torture or even death – will be able to take it away.

I often wrestle with that concept. I have to ask myself, ‘Why do things affect me so much? Why is my joy not relentless?’ Sometimes I wonder, ‘Do we have that kind of impervious joy?’ I’m afraid not. I don’t think we understand the nature of this joy.

Romans 8 is all about living in a suffering world marked by brokenness. Paul talks about trouble and persecution and nakedness and poverty and how Christians are supposed to live in a world like that. In 8:28-30 he offers three principles for finding joy in suffering. Paul tells us that if we follow Christ, our bad things turn out for our good, our good things cannot be lost, and our best things are yet to come. Those are the reasons for our joy.