A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Keys to a Good Marriage

The state of marriage in the good ole U.S. of A. isn’t so good these days. According to any research you look at the divorce rate is half or more. There are several reasons why. First, people are spoiled and selfish. For a while now we’ve been raising princes and princesses that don’t do well with not getting their way, and that poisons the well of unselfish union that must be the source of any successful relationship. We like to try to justify selfishness by blaming it on love. You’ve heard it before. “I’ve just fallen out of love.” “We just grew apart.” “I think I married the wrong person, this other man/woman just makes me feel so alive.” –And so on.

Before I write another word, please understand I’m not writing to browbeat anyone who has suffered through a failed marriage—even if it was primarily your fault. I’m writing in the hope of helping prevent as much future pain and sin as I can.

There’s no such thing as falling out of love. You can’t “fall” out of it. You can drift away from it by choosing not to maintain it. You can simply decide you don’t want it anymore. You can get so beat up over time (emotionally) that it gets real hard to stick to it. You can leave your soul unguarded and fall prey to lust and flattery, but falling out of love is something we’ve invented to justify breaking solemn oaths made in the presence of God. It’s a deadly serious thing in reality.

It can all be avoided. Every marriage can be a good marriage. It requires four things, and will either be a failed marriage or an unhappy one without them. At the very least it cannot be all it could be without all four!

First is God. God invented marriage (Genesis 2:18-25). It’s his idea and it’ll only work according to his terms and with his help. (Nobody has a right to define marriage in any way other than God’s! “Marriage” between two members of the same sex is illegitimate no matter how many laws are passed allowing it.) God is at the center of a good marriage. The ESV’s translation of Malachi 2:15 (evidently a difficult passage in the Hebrew to translate due to all the variant readings) is fascinating: “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?” Just think about that.

Second is commitment. Our grandparents had harder lives than almost any of us have had, and didn’t have any less personality conflicts with their spouses than we have, but most of them stuck it out until death. Some were married 30, 40, 50, or even 60 years! Some argued with each other half their lives! A wise older gentleman once advised me, “Just say, ‘yes dear,’ for the first 50 years, and argue from then on.” What they had was respect for the permanency of marriage and that enabled them to keep their commitments no matter what. We need a good deal more of that today!

Third is communication—not just the ability to communicate well. Skilled communicators can destroy a marriage by doing an excellent job of communicating their lack of love. No, the kind of communication a good marriage depends on is compassionate, accurate sharing of thoughts and feelings. Speak accurately and so be heard, but don’t spill the beans on every sour emotion you’ve ever felt. Listen carefully and so actually grasp what your partner is saying. Don’t formulate an answer while your partner is speaking. Never be out to “win” when an argument arises, unless by winning you mean both of you come out happier and deeper in love with each other.

Fourth is having the right point of view: Put your marriage on “project status” and keep it there. Whatever you feed grows. Whatever you starve dies. A good, lasting marriage takes work. You have to constantly build it, repair it, fix it up, and contribute to it. In other words, marriage is lifelong courtship.

Now, before I finish this post, a word of encouragement: Seeing your vows through to the end of your days is in your best interests. The blessings that flow from remaining true to the state of holy matrimony are too great to describe. They deeply enrich the final experience of all our lives and send waves of blessings out through our families into society and affect the harmony of the whole human race. Breaking those vows have an equal and opposite effect that no one can deny!

Image: Rosen Georgiev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monday, June 27, 2011

Pricy Weddings, Cheap Marriages

I thought I’d write a little about marriage while June is still with us. Many of our ladies like the new reality shows about weddings. There’s a show all about women picking out wedding dresses. There’s one that’s sort of a competition between weddings to see which couple will win a free trip. There are probably others. I don’t have a problem with the shows. Watch them if that’s your thing. However, it amazes me what people are willing to spend on weddings: Thousands of dollars for a dress—thousands and thousands on the wedding! I just have to shake my head in disbelief sometimes. It seems many in our culture value the wedding day above the marriage.

I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression. Celebrating is divine! Jesus approves of partying about marriage—he did his first miraculous sign at a wedding feast (John 2). A beautiful wedding is going to cost something, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, vanity is… well, vain. It’s drawn from worldly “pride in possessions” which Scripture condemns (1John 2:16). My advice is to feature what really matters in marriage—the love and commitment a man and woman are making to each other in the sight of God. I’d rather see a committed couple jump over a broomstick in plain clothes than attend something that resembles a royal coronation only to know the couple is divorced a few years later.

Contemporary culture often values the ceremony over the substance so we have a lot of pricy weddings and cheap marriages. It just shouldn’t be so. If someone (really) has the means to pay for a “princess” wedding without neglecting more important responsibilities, so be it I guess, but a good marriage cannot be bought with silver, gold, platinum and diamonds! It takes purity of heart, honesty, lots of time, and unwavering commitment to vows made in the face of God—vows made in the face of Almighty God!

Image: Rosen Georgiev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Saturday, June 25, 2011

(Family Devo) Generations

“The LORD came down in a cloud, stood with him there, and proclaimed [His] name Yahweh. Then the LORD passed in front of him and proclaimed: ‘Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand [generations], forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave [the guilty] unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers' wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.’ Moses immediately bowed down to the ground and worshiped.” (Exodus 34:5-8 HCS).

“The same sun that melts butter hardens clay.” That’s an important saying you have to grasp if you’re to understand what God said to Moses about the effects of righteousness and sin on generations of people. Discuss it as a family until everyone gets the concept. (Hint: When God set up the way we would live to allow us to teach our children good things, our free will also made it possible to teach them bad things—thank God his grace and mercy upon we who seek him far outweighs his wrath, though it is to be feared greatly!)

God has so created the world that children learn just about everything they’ll know from watching their parents (and grandparents). His intent is that godly parents will bring children up in his “discipline and instruction” (Ephesians 6:4). The unfortunate truth, though, is that when parents rebel against God, they leave a lasting impression for evil on their children, grandchildren, and sometimes even great-grandchildren. Sin can become a family’s generational curse unless someone breaks the cycle. When some good-hearted soul seeks God with all his or her heart, the impact for good it can have on generations of descendants cannot be measured.

Suggestions:

Grandparents can have as much impact on how children grow up as their parents do. Knowing their grandparents and even great-grandparents, if possible, offers children a deeper sense of rootedness in history and enables them to feel connected to times and events that occurred before they were born. This personal depth enables children to understand the world through more than merely the eyes of their generation. It opens the door to their being able to overcome the trials of their times, and ultimately to wisdom if they seek it.

We stand to lose so much if we do not learn from those of previous generations while we have them with us. The only way a generation can truly progress in any worthy way is by standing on the shoulders of those who came before, so to speak.

Parents, if your children’s grandparents are godly people, do your best to allow them enough time together to build a deep relationship. Encourage your children to ask their grandparents questions that will help them learn life’s lesson the easier way—that is by learning from others without having to make all their own mistakes!

May the Lord bless your family devotionals!

“Didn't God create you to become like one person with your wife? And why did he do this? It was so you would have children, and then lead them to become God's people. Don't ever be unfaithful to your wife” (Malachi 2:15 CEV).

Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Wounded Healer

“And he said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” (Luke 4:23 ESV).

There’s an old saying, “Cobbler’s children have holes in their shoes.” It refers to the once common occurrence of good men neglecting their own needs (or, unfortunately sometimes even those of their families) out of pride in their work, devotion to it, or just plain busyness. No man should neglect his own household (1Timothy 5:8), but one who will sacrifice his own needs out of integrity or love for others is a good man and worthy of admiration.

Everywhere around us people seem to be looking out for their own needs with precious little regard for others. It cannot be allowed to be so among us who follow Jesus. Jesus is the “wounded healer” of all who will come to him. He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17 ESV). Read Isaiah 53 sometime and meditate on passages like, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5 ESV).

Some of the people he came to save saw his poor manner and despised it. Foreseeing their impending rejection of him he challenged the people of Nazareth with the words above. Can you accept that a man who owned nothing more than the clothes on his back is your rightful king? Will you believe the one with mortal wounds can heal you and make you live forever? These are the questions of the ages, and your answers will decide between life and death. He is the wounded healer. Let us in spite of our own spiritual wounds accept the healing he offers through faith, and proudly offer a poor, lowly Savior to a sick and dying world. All who accept his treatment will live!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

(Family Devo) Abba, Father

“And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’” (Mark 14:36 ESV).

“Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’” (John 8:31-36 ESV).

“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6 ESV).

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15 ESV).

The above verses open believers’ eyes to a wonderful truth. Jesus called God, “Abba,” an Aramaic word for father. Slaves weren’t allowed to call the master of a house Abba, only those considered family could talk to him like that. That’s what’s so great about this! Jesus has set free all who have put their obedient faith in him. We’re now sons and daughters of God. We have the right to relate to him as our father, and so much so that, like Jesus, we can say “Father, Father,” which is a very special and intimate relationship. It’s great to know God loves us so much that he wants us to think of him as our “Abba, Father,” and so he is!

When you pray, take special joy in calling God your Father, and thank him for the privilege!

What Is Manhood?

I read this today: “But even though we no longer have a strong culture of manhood, this does not mean there aren’t still individuals who seek out manhood on their own. These men are far fewer in number and are self-motivated. Their desire for manhood comes from within, from an internal drive.” I’m glad to say I have that internal drive.

The post also had this to say: “There are two ways to define manhood. One way is to say that manhood is the opposite of womanhood. The other is to say that manhood is the opposite of childhood. The former… leads to a superficial kind of manliness... I subscribe to the latter philosophy. Manhood is the opposite of childhood and concerns one’s inner values. A child is self-centered, fearful, and dependent. A man is bold, courageous, respectful, independent and of service to others. Thus a man becomes a man when he matures and leaves behind childish things. Likewise, a woman becomes a woman when she matures into real adulthood.”

I agree, and so does the Bible (1Corinthians 13:11).

I was searching for what others had written about manhood. I wanted to find positive ideas about manhood that will help our present generation of Christian males who have been bombarded with decades of attacks from relentless feminists get a clear picture of what we have to restore and be to heal our families, churches and society. Note that I didn’t say females, I said feminists.

The above quotes and the following list come from a neat site called artofmanliness.com. Don’t take this as an across the board endorsement of the site, but what I’ve seen so far fascinates me. You can read the whole post here. It included this list of qualities of manliness:

• Courage
• Loyalty
• Industry
• Resiliency
• Resolution
• Personal Responsibility
• Self-Reliance
• Integrity
• Sacrifice

I agree with the list. My brothers, have the courage and integrity to do the mirror test with it. I dare you!

True humanity is living as people in tune with the life and light of Almighty God. That includes whatever is appropriate to one’s age, sex, abilities, and opportunities, informed by the inspired word. God requires his daughters to act with the maturity appropriate to age and experience, and he expects men to act like men, and that means being strong in all the qualities of godly manhood (1Corinthians 16:13). It means we have to grow up and take on virtue in the name of Jesus Christ. The qualities of manhood are exemplified in what we think of as fatherhood. If you’re a man, consider igniting an internal drive for manliness. Your family, church, and world need a few good men!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It Takes A Man

Just about any male can father a child, but it takes a man to make a father. This Sunday we honor fathers with a special day. We ought to honor fathers every day of our lives. As I write about fathers this week, please understand I mean good fathers unless I say otherwise. Being a father is the highest honor and gravest responsibility a man can ever have. Being a father absolutely requires discipline, self-sacrifice, and a serious relationship with the Heavenly Father.

When I say being a father requires discipline I mean the man must discipline himself. A father is responsible to discipline his children, but he cannot hope to instill discipline in his children he does not possess himself. Fathers must model calm strength in the face of trials, temptations, and disappointments.

When I say fatherhood requires self-sacrifice I mean he must so live and work as to provide the best he can for the sake of his wife and children without regard to his own wants. When the family is well-provisioned both spiritually and physically he may see to satisfying himself, but not before.

When I say a man cannot be a father without a serious relationship with the Heavenly Father I mean just that. Any male can father children, but the title father ultimately belongs to God and it is an honor that he allows some men to wear it worthily. God chose to reveal himself to us as a father, and I cannot conceive of a higher reason to honor the role.

By the Spirit Paul wrote: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19).

Family names come from our fathers, and that we bear the names of our fathers is derived from God’s willingness to call us his daughters and sons. A man is worthy of the name when he models strength, faith, knowledge and love to his family. May God bless all godly fathers!

Image Source: Dynamite Imagery / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fasting

The discipline of fasting is all but lost in western Civilization. There is a pervasive sense of entitlement that exerts a negative influence on us, and a more or less innocent tradition of three square meals a day that, combined, have left us disconnected from the practice and at a loss as to its purpose and how to do it. Add to that the prevalence of eating disorders and health issues like diabetes that limit one’s ability to fast and we don’t have the best background to draw from. We just don’t get fasting anymore, so we don’t do it. Many Christians are confused as to whether or not we should. I’m aware of no outright commandment in the Bible requiring fasting, but Jesus seemed to assume his followers would do it (Matthew 9:15; Mark 2:20; Luke 5:35).

Foster writes, “Throughout Scripture fasting refers to abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. It stands in distinction to the hunger strike, the purpose of which is to gain political power or attract attention to a good cause. It is also distinct from health dieting which stresses abstinence from food for physical, not spiritual, purposes” (Celebration of Discipline, pp.48-49). Biblical fasting is abstaining from all food for a reasonable period of time. It isn’t normally abstaining from water. The body can’t survive without water for much more than three days or so, and you could end up hospitalized in less time than that. I encourage anyone wanting to experiment with the spiritual discipline of fasting to continue to drink water. That was nearly always what Bible writers had in mind.

Why do it? For most of us it won’t be easy. We’re just not culturally conditioned for us. For Westerners, serious fasting can be like trying to swim up a waterfall—not easy. However, if salmon can do it, we can too! Foster (pp.55ff) encourages starting out slow and training yourself to handle fasting. Start with a fast from all foods other than fruit. Progress to liquids only, and then graduate to water only when you’ve trained your body to handle not eating for the desired period of time. Personally, I don’t encourage anyone to fast for more than a few days at most. I don’t encourage most teen girls to try it at all. Folks with health issues like diabetes can only fast as much as their conditions will allow. Diabetics have to take in enough food to keep their blood-sugar levels healthy. There are still ways diabetics can observe partial fasts. In Celebration of Discipline, p.59, Foster offers extremely valuable information about what to expect as you progress in the discipline of fasting.

This still leaves us with the question, “Why?” In Zechariah 7:5, through the prophet, God asks his people if their fasts had been directed to him, or for him. The implication is that they had not, and therefore their fasts had not been acceptable to the Lord. True spiritual fasting is for or to God. It isn’t a way to try to get God to answer our prayers some specific way, it isn’t to prove anything to ourselves, and certainly isn’t to give us something to boast about (Matthew 6:16-18). It’s simply to spend time disconnected from the needs of the body to focus our minds as exclusively as possible toward God. Times of fasting should usually correspond with times of prayer and meditation on the word. The three go hand in hand.

I certainly cannot make demands on anyone more strictly than God’s word. It nowhere clearly requires fasting, but I think this is one of those areas of spiritual endeavor in which it would be a mistake to dismiss it simply because it isn’t absolutely required. There’s a blessing in it that cannot be found elsewhere. Try it if you’re willing, but do it humbly as a means to worship the Lord and focus on him if you do.

(Family Devo) Spirituality is Priority #1

“What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14 ESV).

Life is short. It can seem long. The younger you are the longer it can seem, but something people of any age can grasp is that time has passed to lead to the present moment. Time will continue to pass and moments yet to come will eventually become the present. Perhaps billions of people have lived and died on this earth. For each of them life may have seemed long at some points, but whether long or short death came. Time passed nearly always seems to have been short.

The Holy Spirit led James, Jesus’ half-brother to compare the span of our lives to the mist that rises up some mornings. I’ve seen it cling to valleys and spread into fields while on long drives that began before sunrise. As soon as the sun fully rises the mists melt into memory. Morning mists are real and beautiful, but they’re extremely sensitive to environmental conditions, and so fleeting and temporary. That’s exactly what our lives are like. We’re fragile. Our present bodies are temporary, and even the longest life seems short when considered in view of passing time, much less eternity.

The immediate context of James 4:14 tells us our realization of how short life is ought to make us put the Lord’s will first and view life through faith in God. We ought to make spirituality priority #1. Since the vast majority of each of our existences will be spent after this life is over, it only makes good sense for us to prepare for what’s to come. Seek the things of the spirit. Seek the Lord! Nothing else matters as much.

Note to adults: I’m writing this on my 36th birthday. I’m not one to worry about getting older. I enjoyed turning 30, and now having past halfway to 40 it doesn’t bother me. I rather enjoy it, for what it’s worth. It’s definitely a constant learning experience, getting older. The first 18 years seemed to take a lifetime to pass. The second didn’t take half as long, or so it seems. If what I’m told by those who’ve lived a third or fourth is true, well, let’s just say I’ve always been aware of my mortality, I’m just realizing more and more how soon its work will be done. Spirituality is about the affect the unseen realities have in this present time, and about how I live now responds or rejects those unseen realities and the eternal consequences of it. Life is short. Eternity is long. The only wise course is to pursue the things of the spirit, and that means to love Jesus!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Community

An awful lot of people think spirituality is just a private, personal thing. You see it when people say, “I’m not religious, but I am spiritual.” Sometimes people say they like Jesus, or they believe in him, but don’t care for church. Maybe that’s your point of view. If so, please don’t tune this out. Give me a chance to reason with you for just a moment.

I intend to get to what the Bible says, but some readers don’t presently accept the authority of the Bible so I want to reason from common experience first. Spirituality encompasses all the qualities of life that are rooted in what we don’t see. Now don’t tell me it isn’t real if you can’t see, hear, touch, taste or smell it. You can’t do any of those things with courage. You can’t see hope. You’ve never actually tasted freedom (in spite of the perfectly acceptable figure of speech). We’ve all seen the effects of the unseen realities, but we’ve never experienced the realities themselves with the five senses. That’s how it is with God and with spirituality. Oh, it’s real. God is real! You don’t have to see, hear, touch, taste or smell him to know it.

So, all the virtues are inseparably part of spirituality. Spirituality encompasses ethics and morality, justice and charity—all of it. An immoral man is spiritually stained. You don’t need the Bible to prove that. Does that make sense?

My point is no one can reach spiritual maturity alone. There’s a time to take a personal retreat or pilgrimage, but true spirituality doesn’t make hermits! True spirituality will always motivate me to acts of moral virtue, kindness and service to God and my fellow creatures. It will also open my mind to the thrill of participating in expressions of spirituality with other spiritual people. That’s part of what the Bible calls, in the Greek, “koinonia,” or fellowship.

The Bible says: “We should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things. Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that” (Hebrews 10:24-25a CEV). “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself” (Romans 14:7 ESV). “So we, though we are a number of persons, are one body in Christ, and are dependent on one another” (Romans 12:5 BBE).

Community is essential for spirituality! God’s plan for this is the church. I’m part of a good one. You’re invited!

Image: xedos4 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Simplicity

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46 ESV).

I’m trying to learn the lesson that complex doesn’t necessarily equal deep. I think John’s Gospel is deepest, yet its language is simplest. Jesus spoke more profoundly than I ever have and he usually spoke with more simplicity than I often do. I’ll get better with time. In the meantime, the above passage is a deep one from Matthew’s Gospel. It’s a one sentence parable, and as deep as the ocean!

With the above parable in mind, consider the following. In Celebration of Discipline, R.J. Foster quotes Kierkegaard as writing, “Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.” Now, that’s deep, so stop and meditate on it for a moment. Jesus said, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13 ESV). The gospel of Christ is such good news that it calls us to forsake all else and follow Jesus. Mature Christians get this and as soon as they do, the prison bars spring open and the shackles of materialism fall to the floor with an impotent clang. The simple gospel frees us to eat our meals with “gladness and singleness of heart” (Acts 2:46b KJV). The simplicity of true spirituality lets us look up and actually experience the blue sky and stars, to feel the breeze, and to stop and smell the roses. The simple man who’s sold the world for Christ, in return is granted ownership of everything! (Matthew 5:5). Read Luke 12:16-32.

Let me reason frankly with you. The true Christian spirit renounces the pursuit of this world’s wealth and fame. It isn’t concerned with being a “baller” or “princess” or “diva.” I hesitate to offer this disclaimer, but being wealthy isn’t wrong, nor is being successful in your field, whatever it is. Having nice things may or may not be, depending on why you have them. If you’ve begun (or advanced in) viewing happiness as depending on a certain high standard of living you’re not on the path of simplicity, and you are to one degree or another seeking the things of the flesh. You can’t serve Christ on that road, because he isn’t on it and isn’t waiting with open arms at its end.

The spiritual discipline of simplicity isn’t simple-mindedness and it isn’t poverty. “We cease from showy extravagance not on the grounds of being unable to afford it, but on the grounds of principle” (Foster, p.80). The mind set on the flesh doesn’t get it, and can’t believe it’s the better way, but man it is. It just is! Live your life with a simple focus on Jesus. Trust him on this. It’s the good and right way of truth, freedom and happiness.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Meditation

The word meditation conjures images of eastern monks sitting amidst a cloud of incense, palms raised, eyes closed; probably making some kind of humming noise. Maybe you think of brown robed Franciscans echoing their chants off the stone walls of some cold monastery. Whatever image springs to mind, the word just refers to reflection or contemplation—it sometimes refers to communicating what one has discovered through reflection, or may be a talk intending to cause one to contemplate something. The word appears several times in the Bible and is a thoroughly Christian concept.

There are distinct differences between eastern meditation and the kind the Bible teaches. The eastern model, influenced by Buddhism, is often employed as a means of emptying oneself of thoughts. The Biblical model is just the opposite of that. Biblical meditation is basically immersing oneself in thought about something with the intention of gaining deeper understanding. Biblical meditation follows Bible study, and should involve prayer, but the actual meditation is simply spending quiet, focused time trying to distance oneself from all distractions to think deeply about something spiritual.

Consider these passages: “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (Joshua 1:8 NKJ). “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2 NASB). “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8 ESV). I think there’s value in the way the CEV words it: “Don't ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.” That’s true spiritual meditation!

God’s idea of meditation isn’t to empty yourself of thought, but to fill yourself with it so that having worked out the questions of life and wrestled with his mind as revealed in the word you may “be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 ESV). So, think on these things…

Image: Evgeni Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Spiritual Disciplines

A couple of years ago I was responsible for teaching a class on spirituality. Super-important subject; central to everything; I didn’t have a clue where to start. At a local ministers’ meeting I sought advice from a preaching brother well known for his wisdom and experience and with a warning about some objectionable content he suggested I look into Richard J. Foster’s, Celebration of Discipline, the Path to Spiritual Growth. I followed his advice and am glad I did.

The objectionable content came in the form of some of Foster’s beliefs about the activity of the Holy Spirit which I don’t understand to be in accord with the whole truth, but those things aside, the book is well worth reading. In the book Foster explains spirituality as relationship with God and the process of growing in that relationship as practicing the “spiritual disciplines.” He organized them into three categories: Inward, Outward, and Corporate.

Foster’s “Inward Disciplines” include meditation, prayer, fasting and study. His “Outward Disciplines” are simplicity, solitude, submission, and service. The “Corporate Disciplines” he lists as confession, worship, guidance and celebration. This week I plan to write about spirituality—specifically these spiritual disciplines essential to growth. I must give considerable credit to the brother who advised me, and to Foster for starting me down a path that has produced considerable thought these last couple of years, but I’ll approach the subject in my own way as I’ve come to understand it, and I hope in a way that will be right and true, and helpful to each of you who read this week’s posts.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

(Family Devo) When Your Tank's on "E"

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16 ESV).

Whether you see the proverbial cup as half full or half empty, the fact remains it aint full! (Pardon my grammar.) We know all too well our gas tanks won’t stay full unless they stay sitting still. Since we live in a highly busy, highly mobile society, they just don’t seem to want to stay still and we find ourselves pumping more hard-earned dough into the tank again, and then before we know it, it’s back to “E” again.

The only world we’ve experienced is one that runs down. The Laws of Thermodynamics are scientific fact. It takes energy to do work and work consumes energy. Sooner or later you have to replenish the source or work will stop.

We each have a spirit within us made in God’s likeness. Human existence continues on after the body fails. Your body’s tank will eventually run bone dry and its engine will clank to a halt no matter how hard you try to stop it. At best you’ll just delay it a few years. Your spirit can run out of steam too, though. Scripture promises a new body (1Corinthians 15). You only ever get one spirit. Enter into eternity with the spirit’s tank on “E” and there’s no cure. Facing life’s challenges, resisting temptations, walking the straight and narrow; these things drain you spiritually. You have to refuel. Faithful prayer, study, and participation in the spiritual community of the church are like endless gas pumps for your soul. Stop in the station often and don’t let your tank get too low. You never know how many miles you may have to travel before seeing another station. Think about it.

Suggestions: Talk about how important it is to feed your spirit. Talk about why you go to church, and be sure your children see you both praying and studying the Bible. They need to see you refueling so that they know what to do when their own tanks start to run dry. Also remember, if you’re trying to spiritually “run on fumes,” it won’t go on forever. Eventually you’ll sputter to a halt. That’s usually not pretty, so be disciplined as parents and your children will most certainly pick it up!

Image: nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, June 3, 2011

Purpose & Merits of Bible Classes

For a little more than 200 years, traditional Sunday Schools have been changing the world. The concept of Bible Class is as old as doctrine. Ancient Jews of the diaspora created the Synagogue for the purpose of teaching the Scriptures to their people. Paul taught “daily in the school of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9). Go to biblegateway.com and do a search for “he taught” (use quotes) and you’ll find no less than nine passages on the first search results page showing Jesus regularly taught the word of God (often in class-like settings). The church is obligated to teach everyone in the world everything Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19).

The purpose of having Bible Class separate from the worship service is to meet a need. People need time together to read and study the word of God in an intimate, informal, organized manner. There is absolutely no way on earth one will ever get the kind of time in the word he needs to fully grasp God’s will by just coming to worship services and listening to a preacher for a half hour or hour a week. I’m not minimizing the importance of preaching at all—on the contrary—I’m just saying it isn’t near enough.

There are many ways to go about organizing an education program (i.e. the plan and structure of Bible classes and other efforts to teach the word). I usually over-generalize and refer to the traditional model and contemporary models. Truth is, most contemporary models aren’t really new, but were just not practiced as widely until the present time. Most of the variations are with regard to the children’s portion of the program.

The traditional model for kids is what most people expect: a teacher, lesson books or handouts, charts and maps, a blackboard or whiteboard, crayons and crafts for younger kids, memory verses—you get the picture. The version for adults is similar, minus the crafts and crayons (in most cases). Some people believe it’s a tired, ineffective model. I believe it’s invaluable. If anything’s tired about it, it’s the overworked deacon solely in charge of the whole thing in many churches (or his tired wife)! A lot of churches speak highly of their traditional Bible schools, but don’t put their money where their mouths are. You know how that works out; and the blame is usually put in the wrong places.

If you’re weary of running a traditional Bible school program, you ought to think twice before pursuing one of the “traditional models.” While it isn’t so in every case, they’re usually more difficult to organize and maintain. I’m aware of a number of non-traditional models. Some churches have large classes for children of all ages divided into centers through which the students rotate by age or grade. During a class, kids might have an audio center, a crafts area, something on computers with which to interact, and so on. Another is the model we’re using at Highland for our summer program. I wrote a little about that earlier this week.

For adults, non-traditional approaches usually mean something including donuts and coffee, or, all kidding aside, needs-based or small-group-oriented approaches either during regular Bible class hours or at other times either at the church facility or in members’ homes. There are some really valuable things these approaches have to offer, but they require diligent and capable oversight to have them work properly.

I’m unaware of a way the church can fulfill its obligation to teach the word without some form or another of Bible classes. I find merit in a variety of approaches. I hope you recognize the value of Bible class. Whether the church you’re part of does them traditionally, in some other way, or in some combination, I hope you’ll make it a high priority to participate, and remember, it is so not just for kids!