Friday, September 23, 2016

Nurturing the Habit


You may have noticed that I'm frequently presenting articles on Bible reading.  Why> Because it's that important!  Check out Improve Your Bible Reading With this Course of Action by Ken Brady (via Charisma Magazine)
It's a noble goal and one that every Christian should strive for. Perhaps you just made a personal resolution or you just had a spiritual mountaintop experience and you want to fan the flame of passion you feel for God and His Word.
Whatever it is that has moved you to act, you'll have a better chance of developing a daily habit of time with God if you follow these seven tips for nurturing a daily devotional time with God.
1. Pick a time for your devotional reading. Make it a priority by calendaring it as you would any other important meeting. We set appointments for much less important things like oil changes, haircuts and lunches. How much more important is it to have a daily time with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? The Creator is available to meet with you; are you ready to meet with Him? Set a specific time to meet with Him daily and stick to it.
2. Pick a place for your devotional reading. I have a favorite recliner in my home ... it's "mine." I love to begin my day by sitting in this particular chair with my Bible near me, my copy of Stand Firm (a men's devotional) and a cup of coffee. I find that meeting with God in the same place each day is helpful and helps me to build memories of what God says during my daily devotional time with Him.
3. Pick an accountability partner. When you are trying to establish a new habit, it helps to have someone hold you accountable. I want one or two people to have permission to ask me how my daily devotional time is going, what God is saying to me and whether or not I'm keeping my appointments with God.
4. Tell others. Let your Bible study group, spouse, close friend or children know what you are about to attempt. It is amazing how much more devoted you will be to having a devotional time with God when you know others are watching you to see if you are really serious about it.
5. Don't skip a day. This is not to be legalistic, but to make sure that you don't give yourself an "out." If you choose to have your daily devotional time early in the morning, say 6 a.m., you know that you can't do it if you keep hitting the snooze button on your alarm clock. You may be tempted to skip a day and spend extra time with God the next day, but making up lost time rarely happens, and once time is lost, it's lost. Don't talk yourself out of meeting with God, and don't give yourself permission to skip a day. Do a Google search on creating habits and you'll find plenty of evidence that repeating a habit 21 to 28 days in a row is significant in forming an ongoing habit. Some people may need a little longer than that, but the point is, be consistent and don't skip a day.
6. Reward yourself. While meeting with God is its own reward, of course, consider giving yourself small incentives for consistently having your daily devotional time. For instance, at the end of your first seven days of consistently meeting with God, take yourself out for coffee or a special dessert. Do something like this at the end of each week, and perhaps build up to something big, like buying yourself a new Bible that will become a part of your daily devotional time, and a reminder of your commitment to meeting with God.
7. Persist. Let's face it, our schedules are busy and we lead "time compressed" lives. If you do miss a daily devotional time, don't give up and count yourself a failure. Forgive yourself, recommit and begin again. Don't stop having a daily devotional time. That's exactly what the enemy would like you to do ... so don't.
Beginning a daily devotional time with God can truly be a life-changing experience. You have every possibility of growing closer to the Lord than ever before as you get to know Him through prayer and the reading of His Word.
Your time with God will be motivated by your deep love for Him and the grace He has poured out on your life, not just keeping an appointment so that you can check a box. Allow yourself to experience the blessings of spending time with your Savior and allow Him to transform your heart so that you reflect the image of Christ to others in your family, neighborhood and workplace.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hard Work Pays Off


"Marriage is crazy work, but it is good work. Two people must regularly get over themselves and fight for love. There is no coasting; it’s pretty much foot on the gas forever. Some parts get easier and sometimes not so much, and many of us will fight our way back from disintegration to create something stronger than before - with scars of course."

        - Jen Hatmaker

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Beware the Sinkhole Syndrome

Spiritual Disciplines and the Sinkhole Syndrome by Donald Whitney at Tabletalk Magazine
You know the story. A man has been a believer in Christ for decades. To all outward appearances he’s a man of Christian faithfulness and integrity. He has maintained a reputation as a fine example of public and private faithfulness to the things of God for decades. Then, without warning, it all collapses into a sinkhole of sin. Everyone wonders how it could have happened so quickly. In most cases, it soon becomes known that—like most sinkholes—the problem didn’t develop overnight.
Several years ago, this man likely had a relatively consistent devotional life through which the Lord often refreshed, strengthened, and matured him. But with each passing year, his busy life became ever busier. Increasingly he saw his devotional life more as a burden—a mere obligation sometimes—than a blessing. Because of the massive doses of Bible teaching he’d heard—in addition to the knowledge gained teaching church Bible classes himself—he began to imagine that he needed less private prayer and Bible intake than when he was younger and not as spiritually mature. Besides, he had so many other God-given responsibilities that surely God would understand that he was too busy to meet with Him every day.
One small concession led to another; one plausible rationalization led to the next, until the devastating day when a tipping point was reached and the spiritual weakness developed by too many private compromises could no longer sustain even the appearance of Christian integrity. And into the sinkhole fell his reputation, witness, ministry, and perhaps much more.
If you’re a strong, young Christian, passionate about the things of God, and you find it impossible to imagine yourself coming to such a condition: beware. This situation could easily be yours in a few years. The words of 1 Corinthians 10:12 are an apt admonition here: “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
I’ve been in pastoral ministry for twenty-four years. For fifteen years I’ve been a professor of biblical spirituality. I’ve written several books and many articles related to spirituality. I speak on the subject to future ministers and missionaries on a daily basis in the seminary classroom, and in churches and conferences around the country almost every weekend. And yet I will freely admit that it’s harder for me to maintain my devotional life now than ever in my life. That’s because I’m busier now than ever. I have many more responsibilities than I had as a young man. And they all take time, time that must come from somewhere.
As the pressures of life increase and more deadlines loom, it becomes harder to maintain time for the devotional life. And herein is where the erosion begins.
At the outset it’s likely that very few will know when the hidden part of your spiritual life begins crumbling. Just as imperceptible movements of water underground can carry away the earth beneath long before anyone on the surface perceives it, so the pressures of life can secretly displace the soil of our private spiritual disciplines long before the impact of their absence is visible to others. The more public parts of a Christian’s life, such as church involvement and various forms of ministry, can often continue with little observable change right up until the awful moment of collapse and the hypocrisy is revealed.
I’m sure you’re already familiar with many factors that undermine intimacy with Christ. Realize that it’s almost certain that the “time-thieves” trying to steal from your time with God will only increase as the years pass. My hope is that this article will alert you to this subtle, creeping tendency so that it won’t overtake you.
Never be deceived by the temptation to think that with the increasing spiritual maturity you expect to come with age, the less you will need to feast your soul on Christ through the Bible and prayer. What Jesus prayed in John 17:17 for all His followers—“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth”—applies to us all throughout our lives.
Jesus practiced what He prayed for us. While Jesus is infinitely more than our example, nevertheless, He is also our example of sanctified living, of life coram Deo. The Bible tells us that Jesus regularly attended when God’s people assembled to hear the Scriptures (Luke 4:16) and also that He would get alone to meet with His Father (Matt. 14:23). Jesus’ followers need both the sustaining grace that comes through the public worship of God as well as that which comes to us when we meet with Him individually.
I don’t want to minimize the role of the church in preventing spiritual shipwreck in the life of the believer. In this piece, however, I am writing to warn those who will increasingly be tempted to think that frequently meeting God with others can compensate for seldom meeting with Him alone.
There are seasons of life when our devotional habits may be providentially altered. But the general rule is that those reconciled to God through the cross of His Son need conscious, personal communion with Him every day until the day they see Him face to face. And the ordinary means by which He gives it is through the personal spiritual disciplines found in Scripture, chief of which are the intake of the Word of God and prayer.
Pursue the Lord with a relentless, lifelong, obstacle-defying passion. Resolve never to let your daily life keep you from Jesus daily.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Simple Trinity Prayer

A Simple Trinity Prayer by Richard Rohr (via Internet Monk)


God for us, we call you “Father.”
God alongside us, we call you “Jesus.”
God within us, we call you “Holy Spirit.”
Together, you are the Eternal Mystery
That enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,
Even us and even me. 
Every name falls short of your goodness and greatness.
We can only see who you are in what is.
We ask for such perfect seeing—
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.
Amen.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Fire The Committee

"You and I are not integrated, unified, whole persons. Our hearts are multi-divided. It's like we have a board room in every heart. Imagine: a big table, leather chairs, coffee, bottled water, and a whiteboard. A committee sits around the table in your heart. There is the social self, the private self, the work self, the sexual self, the recreational self, the religious self, and others. 

"The committee is arguing and debating and voting, constantly agitated and upset. Rarely can they come to a unanimous, wholehearted decision. We tell ourselves we're this way because we're so busy with so many responsibilities. But the truth is that we're just divided, unfocused, hesitant, and unfree.

"That kind of person can 'accept Jesus' in two ways. One way is to invite him onto the committee. Give him a vote too. But then he becomes just one more complication. 

"The other way to "accept Jesus" is to say to him, 'My life isn't working. Please come in and fire my committee, every last one of them. I hand myself over to you. I am your responsibility now. Please run my whole life for me.'

"'Accepting Jesus' is not just adding Jesus. It is also subtracting the idols."

        - Ray Ortlund, Christ Is Deeper Still - blog

Reading Jesus Centered

I'm always looking for ways to improve my Bible reading experience, and ways to help others in the same way. Check ou Two Simple Steps for Changing the Way You Read the Bible by Stephanie Hillberry at Lifetree
I’m just going to come right out and say it: applying the Bible to our lives is overrated. When we apply it to Jesus instead, we unlock unexpected insights that prove to be more valuable than practical application. But learning to read the Bible in this new way can take a little practice, plus a few good tools. Here’s what helped me make the transition:
Two simple steps for how to read the Bible with a Jesus-centered approach
First, get a Jesus-Centered Bible.
I mentioned that a few good tools help to shift our focus off ourselves and onto Jesus while reading the Bible. The Jesus-Centered Bible is one of those tools because of its’ unique features that make focusing on Jesus easier.
But first, if you’re thinking, “isn’t my Bible already Jesus-centered?” the answer is Yes–of course it is. There are references and insights about him all the way from Genesis to Revelation, and you can start digging deeper into them right now.
But if you have trouble spotting his story in the Old Testament (which most of us do), or if the epistles of the New Testament seem like they’re as much about the apostles and the early Christians as they are about Jesus, then the Jesus-Centered Bible can help in a way that other Bibles don’t. Because it was created exclusively to frame all the books of the Bible with Jesus as the central character, he’s easier to spot. Blue letters, for instance, reveal him in the Old Testament, and red letters highlight his name in the entire New Testament (a really simple feature that’s surprisingly eye-opening). And throughout all the pages you’ll find commentary and questions directly about Jesus. Even the year-long Bible reading plan features chapters that uniquely focus on Jesus.
Sure you can find him in other Bibles, but the Jesus-Centered Bible makes it really hard to miss him. And that’s what we want.

Second, get a journal.
Whether you normally journal or not, you’re going to want to jot down new insights about Jesus as you read. You can use the journaling method that works best for you, or start with some ideas based on what’s worked for me lately. Regarding the latter, here’s what I do when I’m reading a Bible chapter.
>> I read through the text once just to get the overview.
>> Then I reread it with a question in mind. My favorite questions to ask while reading come from Rick Lawrence’s suggestions in The Jesus-Centered Life. They include:
  • What’s one thing for sure I know about Jesus based on what I just read?
  • What did Jesus do/see/say here? What didn’t he do/see/say?
>> Then I write my observations. Personally I’ve found it helpful to write them like I’m having a conversation with Jesus. For instance, from Colossians chapter three I might write:
(v1) You raise us to new life with you.
(v1) You sit in heaven in a place of honor at God’s right hand.
(v3) You’ve hidden our lives with you in God. You’re a protector, a guardian.
(v4) You’re all that matters. Anything that isn’t about you doesn’t matter.
(v11) You forgive us. You’re forgiving in nature. You don’t hold a grudge.
(15) You offer peace to rule our hearts. You don’t offer strife or anxiety. You are the source of peace.
(v16) Your message is rich and fills our lives. Your message isn’t shallow. It isn’t deficient. It’s better than the messages from the world/culture.
(v17) You appointed us as representatives. You’re trusting. You’ve entrusted your message to us. You believe in us.
Do you notice how focusing on Jesus in this way shifts the entire perspective? After years of writing more “me’s” than “you’s” in my prayers and journals, this simple tweak has been powerful. In a culture that constantly preaches self-fulfillment, it’s refreshing to realize how liberating it is to not put ourselves at the center. Call it a paradox or heavenly wisdom, but Jesus wasn’t lying when he said that when we die to ourselves, we’ll actually find ourselves. Or, rather, we’ll find him, and our lives tucked in with his.
This Jesus-centered approach to reading the Bible sounds simple enough to start, right? Get your Bible and journal today and spend the next thirty days practicing these two steps. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Ready to Recharge

Who wants a prayer recharge? Here's 8 Ways to Recharge Your Prayer Life by J. Lee Grady
How would you grade your prayer life these days? Are your spiritual batteries drained? Do you need a recharge? It's easy for prayer to become monotonous and predictable, but the Holy Spirit is always willing to offer a jumpstart. Even if you feel like a failure in this area, He can turn a spiritual wimp into a warrior.
After a recent string of answered prayers, I've discovered a fresh excitement about my own prayer journey. I've also realized that if I want to mature spiritually, my prayer life must go to a higher level. Here are eight ways you can turn up the heat:
1. Develop your spiritual confidence. Many Christians live on the far edges of God's blessings because they don't believe they have been made righteous by Christ's sacrifice. You will never expect answers from God if you think He is mad at you. Don't act like a slave who begs for things. You are His heir, and He has given you His royal robe, His signet ring and His estate. He wants to give you the kingdom. God tells us to "draw near with confidence to the throne of grace" (Heb. 4:16). You can ask Him for anything.
2. Be more specific. Zig Ziglar used to say: "If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time." That's why vague prayers are inferior to specific ones. I have recently begun the habit of making a "Top Seven List" of prayer requests. When I did this during my recent out-of-state move, the Lord answered six of my seven requests within two months. One of my prayers was that when I bought my new house, my new house payment would not be more than my old one. It turned out to be one dollar less! I was reminded that James 4:2 says: "You do not have because you do not ask."
3. Ask big. We can limit what God wants to do in the Earth by praying in a puny way. Why would we settle for less when God can do the impossible? Elisha boldly asked his mentor, Elijah, for a double portion of the Holy Spirit—and God gave him that mantle. God may want to double what you are requesting of Him. The Lord said: "Ask of Me, and I will give the nations for Your inheritance... " (Ps. 2:8). His vision for your life is far greater than what you supposed.
4. Become more aggressive. Status quo prayers won't be enough in seasons of spiritual battle. There is a time to go to war in the spirit, and this will require a militant attitude toward the enemy. When Elisha told King Joash to take arrows and strike the ground, in preparation for a battle, the king halfheartedly hit the ground only three times. Elisha said: "You should have struck five or six times, then you would have struck Aram until you would have destroyed it" (2 Kings 13:18-19). Too often we are satisfied with small victories because we didn't pray with enough intensity. Your zeal will often determine your outcome.
5. Groan when necessary. People who have allowed God to use them in intercession know that certain situations require travail. This is not easy prayer—it is the spiritual equivalent of childbirth! When Elijah prayed for rain to end a seven-year drought, the Bible says he "crouched down upon the earth and put his face between his knees" (1 Kings 18:42). If you really want a crime wave to end in your city, or a nation to find Jesus, or your own children to be saved, let the Spirit pray through you in a deeper, messier and noisier way.
6. Combine fasting with prayer. Fasting is not a way to bribe God. You do not need to forfeit food to get His attention. But fasting helps you focus on the Lord—and it can intensify prayer power. There are certain spiritual obstacles that need an extra push. When speaking of a demon that needed to be cast out, Jesus told His disciples: "But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting" (Matt. 17:21). If you are hitting a spiritual brick wall, it may be time to fast.
7. Do a night watch. I am not the kind of guy who typically gets up at 3 a.m. to pray. I like my sleep! But there are moments in our lives when the Lord may woo you to spend time with Him in the night hours. In Song of Solomon, the bride hears her Beloved calling her to get out of bed (5:2-6) and she doesn't respond quickly enough. Many of us are too distracted by the busyness of life to hear God call us to a season of prayer. Yet the Lord is looking for people who will carry His burdens. Will you let Him pray through you?
8. Expect God to fill in the gaps. I used to fight discouragement about my prayer life because I didn't feel my prayers were powerful enough. But then I read Ephesians 3:20 in a new light. It says God is able "to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think" (Eph. 3:20). That means after I pray, God adds His own miraculous ingredient. My prayers may seem feeble and flawed, but He is able to amplify them. Like the tiny lunch of five loaves and two fish, Jesus can take something insignificant and feed a multitude. When you pray, expect Him to increase the impact. What you whisper in your closet can shake the world. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Reservoirs

"If then you are wise, you will show yourself rather as a reservoir than as a canal. For a canal spreads abroad water as it receives it, but a reservoir waits until it is filled before overflowing, and thus communicates, without loss to itself, its superabundant water. In the Church at the present day, we have many canals, few reservoirs."

      - St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Thursday, September 15, 2016

What Nobody Talks About

From a Facebook post by Kay Warren -
Growing up in church we didn’t talk much about our problems, much less about emotional problems. If we did, it was mostly in hushed whispers, and we said things like “She had a nervous breakdown.”  I never knew what a nervous breakdown was, but I knew it was something I didn’t want to ever happen to me or to someone I loved.  And nobody – absolutely nobody – talked about suicide.
But then suicide knocked on my door and I couldn’t pretend anymore that it didn’t exist.  A sweet neighbor who found herself in the middle of an unwanted divorce let her suicide note on my front porch. I made frantic calls and left notes on her locked gate to let me know she was ok. But later that day the call I had been dreading came; she had shot herself and was not going to survive.  
Years later suicide drew even closer as the husband of my dear cousin, a wonderful, warm and caring pastor of small churches in Texas, took his life when the shame and guilt of financial difficulties and a secret alcohol addiction overwhelmed him.
Then suicide came to my family.  My funny, creative, loving and severely mentally ill son, Matthew, killed himself after decades of pain and suffering. His hopelessness almost became my hopelessness as I went down into the depths of catastrophic grief and loss.
Major depression and anxiety were present for my neighbor, my cousin’s husband and for my son. Fear and dread of perhaps a bleak future colored their thinking until they couldn’t see any other way out. Depression is not only hard to live with, it can be lethal.
With millions of people around the world living with varying levels of depression – including me – we have to get better at disclosing it, talking about it, seeking help, and continuing to offer hope to each other.  Communities of faith can embrace those suffering with mental illnesses, offering solace, comfort, practical help and unconditional love – especially when depression doesn’t go away.  
I have the utmost respect for people living with depression and anxiety – those who continue to trust Jesus and follow him even when it seldom feels good.  Let’s admit it – when you feel good, it’s fairly easy to trust God and believe that He is in control of the details of your life, and to have hope that pesky problems will resolve themselves quickly.  Praise and worship songs stir your emotions and you lift your hands in joyful abandon. But when the dark thoughts of doom, despair, anxiety, and fear become your constant companions – even though you’re doing everything you know to do to feel better – trusting God, believing better days are ahead, and retaining hope become epic feats of courage and endurance.
We honor military heroes – rightly so, because they are willing to offer their lives for the good of our country.  But there are other heroes, mostly unrecognized and unsung, who get up day after day to face the deafening roar or the toxic whisper of depression that taunts them to give in; to end it all.  There are beautiful heroes who refuse to surrender their joy to the voices that never stop reminding them of their brokenness, their perceived failure and unworthiness. These brave men and women have much to teach us about faith and trust and mostly, about HOPE. 
So don’t hide your struggle, please.  Instead, teach the rest of us how to live courageously even when it doesn’t feel good. We need you!


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Grace In The Moment

GRACE, AGONY & COMPASSION: "Such grace is given for crisis moment, and it does not mean that anyone...is free from low periods of depression and recurrent agony from time to time. We must not expect each other to float above the reality of loneliness and wondering 'What if…'"

    ~ Edith Schaeffer, Affliction