Month: January 2015

The Problem with Spiritual Disciplines

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We need to stop the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible reading.

Ok, so that isn’t exactly the most truthful way of putting what I’m going to talk about, but hopefully that will get some attention.  Let me try that again: we desperately need to stop thinking of prayer and Scripture reading as spiritual disciplines.

When you speak of a ‘discipline,’ it implicitly states that the discipline is an additional part of your life.  So, for instance, let’s say that you decide to take up running.  This is your new discipline of running.  You were surviving before you started this discipline, and you’ll survive once you stop it.  Sure, you may be better off when you’re running–you may have more energy, be in a better mood, become healthier, but your legs aren’t going to fall off if you give up running.

I could give you more examples, but I think you can see where I’m going with this: when you see prayer and Scripture reading as a ‘discipline,’ you’ve already categorized it under the wrong mindset, because now you already think of it as something I ‘should do,’ not something that is essential.

Imagine if that you met someone who said that he practiced the discipline of eating.  You’d think that he was nuts, and, well, he probably would be.  Eating is not a discipline, because it is what keeps you alive.  If you stop eating for for two months, you’re going to die (or come really close to it).  If you stop running for two months?  You’re going to be less in shape than you were, but you won’t be in any danger of dying.

And so it is with prayer and Scripture reading.  Thinking of these two ways of communing with God as ‘disciplines’ shows that we have no idea how important that they are to our lives.  When you aren’t consistently praying and reading God’s Word, you’re not just gaining a few pounds, but rather you’re on your own little hunger strike, starving yourself of God’s presence in your life.

Now some may think that this is a form of legalism.  Isn’t there grace offered to those who fail?  Absolutely.  When I first wrote this post, I had written down ‘breathing’ instead of ‘eating,’ but I changed it because if you stop breathing for more than a day, you’re going to die.  God offers grace to those who are inconsistently communing with him, but we should not use that grace as an excuse to lackadaisically commune with our holy God.

Who is This #2: Mk. 1:1-8

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Unlike Matthew and Luke (and even John to some extent), Mark contains no birth narrative.  Mark is the shortest of the four gospels, and one can tell from the very beginning that Mark often gives the minimum level of details (just look at the resurrection story at the end of the gospel).  Because details are so few and far between, each and every detail that Mark gives us should be considered in your reading.

In the beginning, Mark states, the coming of Jesus was prepared by John the Baptist.  John comes baptizing in the midst of the wilderness; but why does Mark specify that John was baptizing in the wilderness?  Is that a specific place?  Is it significant at all?

The wilderness refers to the Judean wilderness, the desolate area of Israel near Jerusalem.  Now in the Gospel of John, the Apostle John tells us the more specific location of John’s baptizing (Bethany across the Jordan; John 1:28).  Why does Mark specify that it was in the wilderness, but not the specific location?

In the Old Testament, the wilderness was seen as a place of preparation.  It was in the wilderness that the people of Israel were refined and prepared before they entered the Promised Land.  Mark quotes both Malachi (3:1) and Isaiah (40:3) at the beginning of his gospel, and both quotes refer to preparation.  John is baptizing in the wilderness in order to prepare the way for the coming Lord.

One could say that today we are in the wilderness once more.  We have been rescued from the from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of his beloved Son (Col. 1:13) through the work of Jesus.  Our passing over from slavery to sin to being God’s holy chosen people is similar to the Exodus generation, who passed from slavery to Egypt to being God’s holy chosen people.  After they received the Law, they remained in the wilderness, being refined until they were ultimately able to enter the Promised Land.  In the same way, we are now in the midst of this dark world, being refined and prepared until the day that we are able to fully enter the rest of the true Promised Land (cf. Heb. 3:7-4:13).

Throughout history, God has used the wilderness as a place of preparation for his people.  We see it in the Old Testament several times, and it is found in the way that John is preparing the way for Jesus in the wilderness.  And even now, we are in a metaphorical wilderness; how is God preparing you for the ultimate arrival in the Promised Land?

Awake My Soul

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A combination of two of my favorite things: worship and rap.  (I know this is old, but it’s still great!)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWpvknKuYrg]

Ezek. 37:1   The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” 

 

Ezek. 37:7   So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

Ezekiel 37:1-10

Our Motivation for Faithfulness: the Second Coming (Lk. 12:35-48)

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J.C. Ryle, an Anglican bishop from the nineteenth century, once wrote, “To be ever looking for Christ’s [second] appearing is one of the best helps to a close walk with God.” I don’t know if Ryle’s statement was said in association with this passage, but it is certainly influenced by these verses: faithfulness is the result of an expectant longing for the return of Jesus.
We just finished the season of Advent, where the church prepares for the coming of God in the person of Jesus Christ.  Yet the church does not live in a season of Advent only one month every year–we are in the second advent, waiting and longing for the second coming of God in the person of Jesus Christ, this time as victorious ruler.  Too often the church is guilty of complacency, not having a deep and active longing for the return of Jesus, but Luke’s words here are clear: we will be responsible for the gifts–talents, personality, time, money, etc.–that God has given us.  We are not called to be successful in the world’s eyes, only faithful.
Prayer:
God we desire to be faithful in your sight.  Forgive us for the times when we are complacent and long for the things of this world more than you.  We ask that you would show us how to be faithful with the things that you have given us, so that we may one day here you say, “Well done, my good and faithful servants.”

Revive Us Again

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A revival hymn, based on Habakkuk 3:7.

We praise Thee, O God!

For the Son of Thy love,
For Jesus Who died,
And is now gone above.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory.
Hallelujah! Amen.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory.
Revive us again.
We praise Thee, O God!
For Thy Spirit of light,
Who hath shown us our Savior,
And scattered our night.
All glory and praise
To the lamb that was slain,
Who hath borne all our sins,
And hath cleansed every stain.
All glory and praise
To the God of all grace,
Who hast brought us, and sought us,
And guided our ways.
Revive us again;
Fill each heart with Thy love;
May each soul be rekindled
With fire from above.