Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Spiritual Disciplines for success

Much of what is considered "success in life" is determined by the discipline an individual practices or develops over time. There are literally no "overnight wonders" when it comes to success. This is true in literally every aspect of life from education to exercise, good nutrition to drugs and alcohol, to our handling of money and keeping out of debt.

Spiritual disciplines are exactly the same. The Bible encourages us to exercise healthy spiritual disciplines in order for us to enjoy the life God has given to us and protect us from evil influences. (Romans 12:9-12)

Spiritual disciplines may be confused with spiritual legalism but they have completely different motivations and entirely different outcomes. Legalism can be defined as excessive spiritual and moral rules that are imposed by a religious system that impugn our religious liberty. On the other hand, spiritual disciplines are those practices that the individual chooses to follow in order to correct, mold or perfect his or her moral character.

These spiritual disciplines don't make us right with God; we don't get right with God by the good things we do but through faith in Jesus Christ. Spiritual disciplines however do make us more like Jesus as He regularly practiced them all as well.

There are at least seven spiritual disciplines that are found in the New Testament. All of these are activities that when practiced and perfected enable the believer to become more like Christ - - ultimately the single most important definition of success in life.

The spiritual disciplines include:

* Service (Voluntarily meeting the needs of people)

* Prayer & Fasting (Two similar activities that elevate our relationship with God)

* Chastity (Includes modesty and a proper respect fo God's plan for sexuality)

* Stewardship (An understanding that God is the the owner of all things)

* Study (Equipping ourselves with practical, useful and Godly training)

* Community (Cultivating a life that is shared with other believers)

* Simplicity (Voluntarily maintaining margin in our lifestyle)

If you are interested in becoming the person that God wants you to be, the journey starts with these spiritual disciplines. Your quest can start with some very simple questions, "What do I believe God is calling me to do that I'm presently unable to do?" and, "What are the disciplines that I need to develop in order to be used by God and grow in my faith?"

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Daniel Fast

"And when you fast, don't make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth that is the only reward they will ever get.ˇBut when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face.ˇThen no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.ˇ(Matthew 6:16-18)

One of the most important and yet one of the least understood, and least practiced disciplines is a spiritual fast. Notice that I am using the words, "spiritual fast" as there are many that practice a partial fast to detox or fast from selected foods for health benefits.

Jesus assumed we would fast. The Gospel of Mark records that Jesus was asked about his disciples and their apparent lack of spirituality compared to John the Baptist?s disciples or the Pharisees. He replied that there would be a time (when he was taken from them) that we would fast.ˇHe also gave the instruction in Matthew six above regarding the proper way to give, fast and pray ending with His giving us the Lord?s Prayer.

There are a great many reasons to fast. Personally, I think the best reason is to develop a spiritual discipline that places dedication to the things of God above the cares and comforts of the world.ˇAt the same time I?ve learned from experience that I?m not very good at a total fast of more than a day.

One of the interesting fasts that I?ve come to recommend is called the ?Daniel Fast?, so named for Daniels words during his time in exile with Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego: "In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled." (Daniel 10:2)

The Daniel Fast is primarily eating fruits and vegetables, legumes (primarily beans and peas) along with nuts.ˇPeople on the Daniel Fast typically fast for 21 days (Biblical example set by Daniel) and since there is no shortage of food, it?s relatively easy to fit in with the rest of society without anyone thinking that you are starving yourself.

During the fast, the objective would be to be especially attentive to the things of the Lord. Typically you can embrace an enhanced time of bible reading, prayer and even extended time of just being silent before God.

Join me; give it a try for 21 days starting the first of the year.ˇLet?s see what God may have to say to us.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Christmas Story

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is watching "The Christmas Story" with Ralphie being told by his mother that he's going to "shoot his eye out" and his brother Randy struggling to keep up with his bigger brother.

This time of the year, it's good to remember the true Christmas Story. It's more than a family tradition as it's the celebration of the birth of the most influential person in the history of the world.

The best way to understand the true Christmas story is to read it in the Bible. The first couple of chapters in the books of Matthew and Luke have the entire account: Mary and Joseph, no room in the inn, the shepherds, angels and magi. The account of Christ?s birth is presented simply and factually, giving only enough of the essential information for a basic two-fold purpose. John 20:31 gives us this two-fold purpose where it says, ?These have been written that (1) you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that (2) believing, you may have life in His name.?

Throughout the scriptures, God had made known through His prophets and messengers that a Messiah would come. All of the events of Jesus' birth took place exactly as recorded hundreds of years earlier. Over 700 years prior to the scene recorded in Matthew, the prophet Isaiah recorded, "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" or "God with us" (Isaiah 7:14)

The prophet Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah and ministering to the people of Israel during the reigns of King Jotham (750-731 BC) King Ahaz (736-715 BC) and King Hezekiah (715-686) said that the Messiah would be born in the city of Bethlehem , again over 700 years before the actual recorded birth of Jesus.

The birth, death and resurrection of Jesus is perhaps the most widely reported and historical event of all time. At this time of the year it's good to be reminded that it's in believing this simple Christmas Story that we may have life in His name.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Intersections of Life

When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD. (Isaiah 37:1)

Most historians are of the opinion that Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, was not like his evil father. He re-instituted many of the cultural aspects of the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

King Hezekiah’s spiritual life however was going to be challenged. Instead of a just being a kind but primarily secular king, He would quickly find the faith of his ancestors. The King of Assyria had sent armies to Judah and had defeated all of the fortified cities of Judah. A large army was camped now against Jerusalem and Hezekiah feared for his life as well as his people.

King Hezekiah’s response is understandable. When we are pressed and no longer can look to our own capabilities or even the help of our friends or armies, we turn to God.

Hezekiah knew about God so he knew to Whom to turn.

People often turn to God when they are at the end of their rope.

God answered Hezekiah's prayer and he answers our prayers when we find ourselves at these "Intersections of Life" as well.

I once heard that an "Intersection of Life" can be defined as "an intersection of my plans with God's will".

Sudden sickness, life-threatening circumstances, financial hardship etc., all qualify as "Intersections of Life". Just like King Hezekiah being confronted by an army, we turn to God as our provider and only possible help in a time of need. Fortunately, these intersections are often used by God to turn our hearts back to Him as well.

In good times as well as bad, God is our help and our provider. God encourages us to seek His help at these and at all times. In the Bible it says,

"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)"

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