Time to Grow Up?

Quart Bottle Milk Family

I just finished an article in the Christian Research Journal by Thomas E. Bergler who asserts that churches need to put spiritual maturity high on their agenda, pointing what we say, what we model and how we lead toward helping Christians attain spiritual maturity.  This post’s content is inspired by Dr. Bergler’s article with much of the content coming from there.  This post contains some tough teaching.  Hang on and hang in there!  There is hope at the end so read it all!

So, So True

The observation by Dr. Bergler that many people in our churches are “juvenilized Christians” (i.e, self-centered, emotionally driven, and intellectually shallow) hit home for me.  I’ve experienced first hand this kind of thinking and feeling from many, many people.  And, I’m not talking about “young” or “new” Christians who just are beginning their spiritual journeys and are expected to be immature in their faith and walk with God; I’m talking about people who have had ample opportunity, ample time and ample experience at least to be maturing, if not yet mature, in their faith.  Maybe that’s you; maybe not.  It’s probably more of you than would care to admit it.  I suspect after you read the rest of this post, you’ll have a better idea of whether you are maturing or not.

Spiritual Maturity is Desirable and Expected

Hebrews 5:11-6:1 – “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.  In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.  You need milk, not solid food!  Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity ….”

Spiritual maturity is expected because it means becoming more and more like Christ.  That’s what being a Christian means: “little Christ.”  Over time, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we should be increasing our knowledge of the Lord as well as our “likeness” of Him.  We should be developing more fully the fruits of the spirit as outlined in Galatians 5:22-26.  We should become like our teacher, Jesus Christ (Luke 6:40).

Here are some of the areas/ways in which we should be attaining spiritual maturity:

Intellectually — A MATURE Christian knows the basics of the faith and is able to communicate them to another.  A MATURE Christian recognizes false teaching and is not swayed by such.  A MATURE Christian is routinely and regularly expanding their knowledge of who God is, what His Word says and what the Word means for all of us. An IMMATURE Christian doesn’t think it really matters what you believe as long as you earnestly believe it.  They don’t seek to dig deeper into the Word and are satisfied with what they think they already know.  They often say things like: “I don’t like to read” or “I don’t have time to study the Bible” or “I’m not comfortable in groups.”

Church commitment — A MATURE Christian recognizes the importance of the corporate church body as a place to connect with one another, and, more importantly, care for each other.  (Ephesians 4:7-16).  An IMMATURE Christian feels that a church home, and in particular regular corporate worship attendance, is an option if you need it or like it.  There is little value placed on commitment to a local church body beyond the individual feeling of whether it “does anything for me and my life.”  Their attitude is often “What has the church done for me lately” rather than “What have I done for the church lately.”

Serving and Kingdom growth — A MATURE Christian lives for others, serves others and joins others in serving others, all for the benefit of showing God’s love and introducing Him to other people.  They are “on mission” for God before themselves.  (Matthew 28:16-20).   They are sacrificial with their time and money.  However, IMMATURE Christians tend to see service as something that can be done to help the community at large, if and only if, they have the time, energy, money or interest to help a particular person or group of people.  They are happy to help someone as long as it fits in their schedule and makes them feel good.  They often point to one “community service project” event in the last year or a once-every-few-weeks service in the church as being “more than enough” to help the Kingdom.

Emotionally — A MATURE Christian is in control of their feelings rather than allowing their feelings to control them.  They do not feel sorry for themselves and they reject feelings of jealousy and anger towards others who are in different places economically, socially or physically.  They recognize that both suffering and comfort are regular parts of the Christian life.  (2 Corinthians 1:3-7; 4:7-18).  An IMMATURE Christian believes that negative emotions, experiences and circumstances are unfair, unique to them, and that they have a “right” not to have them.  They often believe that one of the benefits of being “on God’s side” should be that life should be care-free, struggle-free and happy-me.  They often “get mad at God” because He’s not doing what they think He should be doing in their life, or, at least He’s not doing it quickly enough.

This is just an exemplary list, but it should get us all thinking.  Even while writing this, I had to stop and really, really think about myself and my own spiritual journey.  It was scary.  I have a long way to go.  Too many of the “immature” descriptions described me.  I didn’t like that and I don’t want that for me, for my family or for my church!  So, I had to ask myself these questions:

Am I allowing God to mature me?

Am I satisfied with spiritual milk rather than seeking deeper things of God?

Will I do anything about where I am and where I need to be?

I hope that you ask yourselves these questions too.  And, that you answer them!

The Fate of Hypocrisy

"The Smallest Church in the World"

 

Sermon Notes from July 7, 2013.  You can catch the audio sermon on the Adventure Church website.  This message was based on scripture from Mark 11.

“Hypocrisy” – means to act or to pretend.  In short, it means to act like something that you are not.  The world is full of hypocrites, including the church.  But for Christians, it is especially important that we seek to be “real” and “authentic” all of the time.  Our witness is mostly who we are, not what we say.  As many as 72% of unchurched people say that the church is full of hypocrites.

“What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.” – Emerson

The Hypocrisy of False Appearances

Mark 11:13-14, 20-21 — Jesus sees a fig tree in the distance full of leaves.  It appears to be healthy, but he finds it to be fruitless and curses the tree.  The next day, the disciples find the tree completely withered.

We can too easily live in such as way as to appear that everything is “good” or “fine” when in fact, our real life is far from such things.  We are broken inside.  We hurt.  We sin.  (note: illustration – ‘Dust if you Must’ – when we clean our homes for company, we shove all of our clutter and dirt in the closet or under the bed.  Do we do the same with our spiritual and emotional clutter?)  When we live like this, it is destructive to ourselves and the people around us, especially our kids, who are watching us.

Such hypocrisy is detestable to God, is known by Him, and will be destroyed.  Just like the fig tree, God knows if our lives our bearing fruit.  He knows our real selves.  And, when we try to live a double life, it destroys us.

Also, see Luke 6:45 – “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man things out of the evil stored up in his heart ….” — What is on the outside comes from what is in our inside, our heart.  Fruitlessness shows that we have a heart problem.

The Hypocrisy of Wrong Focus

Mark 11:15-16 – Jesus enters the temple area and turns over the tables of the money changers and prevents them from transacting business.  He teaches the crowd by saying “Is it not written: My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.”

The temple was the centerpiece of the Jewish faith.  By his actions, Jesus showed that they had come to worship the acts of holiness, the rituals, instead of worshipping God, the only one who is worthy of our worship.

As individuals and churches, we can slip into the hypocrisy of wrong focus.  Instead of spending our lives worshipping God himself, and living for His purposes, we get caught up in our buildings, our attendance numbers, our great music.  We can even allow ourselves to fall into a place of “pious fellowship” whereby we spend time with one another and are “happy” to be with each other, as long as there is no sin mentioned or demonstrated.  We don’t want broken people or personal filth to interrupt our “holy fellowship” times in our small groups or pot-luck dinners.

This type of hypocrisy is opposed to God’s purposes and will be exposed by Him.  God will not allow us to continue to worship things that are not aligned with His purposes or that conflict with our worship of Him.  He exposes our inauthenticity – to us, to others, to the world.  And, just as Jesus upset the money changers’ tables, when our focus is wrong, and it is exposed, it upsets our lives in uncomfortable ways.  But, that’s how God gets our attention.

The Hypocrisy of Willful Ignorance

Mark 11:27-28 – Jesus engages in yet another verbal exchange with the religious leaders.  The leaders try to trap Jesus once again with a question, but Jesus poses a question back to them.  The leaders choose not to answer and in refusing to do so, expose their hypocrisy.  The refuse to listen to God’s Word, instead choosing to be worried about what other men will think of them.

This may be the most devastating of all of the hypocrisies.  Willful ignorance simply means that even though the Word is right in front of us, even though we can read the Bible, hear the Word preached, etc., we choose not to take it to heart.  We know what we should do, or what we should not, but we choose against those things in favor of what is most expedient or most comfortable for us.

This hypocrisy shows up in our lives as we fail to live as God directs in our marriages, our relationships, in how we forgive others, in what we do at work or at school or on the golf course.  The bottom line is that we purposely sin because we willfully ignore God’s Word.  What can be more hypocritical than that?

Such hypocrisy is repugnant to God and will be defeated.

The Bottom Line

1 Peter 2:-2 – “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.  Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation ….”

Note: illustration about deer getting addicted to junk food to the point of not being able to consume anything healthy.  It lead to their destruction.

We must crave pure spiritual milk from God.  We must get rid of our hypocrisy, for the sake of ourselves and the kingdom, by feasting on what is good, allowing God to transform our hearts so that we can bear good fruit.

Marriage Matters: Love Geography

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“Love Geography”

note:  These are my sermon “notes” from this Sunday’s message.  (They are notes, I haven’t written this as an article so please excuse the abbreviated words and sentences.  To get the most out of this message, please go to the Adventure Church website and listen to the audio).  You also can read my notes from the first message:  What If I’m Not Married?

If you were going to place your marriage on the “Love Map”, where would it be right now?

The Beach? (honeymoon feeling, a party, everything’s perfect)

On a Mountain Top? (things are going fantastic, we are super blessed, great things are happening to us and our family)

In a Valley? (things are going poorly, something’s wrong, we are arguing often, life is a struggle being married to this person)

In the Grand Canyon? (there is a crisis, someone is having an affair – physically or emotionally, divorce seems like the best option)

On the vast and fertile Plains? (life is good, there is nothing that is dramatically exciting but neither are there any serious problems, day-to-day we are generally content, our children are doing well, we rarely argue and when we do it’s not a knock-down drag-out fight, or, if it is one, we apologize quickly and move on) (note:  most of marriage is going to be in the Plains)

In the Desert? (life was good, but for some reason our relationship is dry and generally lifeless, we are missing nourishment and refreshment, days are hot and difficult, nights are cold and distant)

In the middle of a busy City? (we are very busy, everywhere we turn there is something to do and another responsibility, our kids keep our schedules full and we are running non-stop)

Where are you?  and  Why does it matter?

note:  Marriage is a journey and a destination.  You can probably see your marriage in one of these geographical locations (and can surely remember some times when you were in another location).  Where we are in the journey, and how to navigate the journey matters because:  God presents Himself to us in the marriage relationship (husband to wife, and wife to husband).  He also presents Himself through our marriage to others:  our children, our friends, our church and the world.  Marriage is a means by which we experience God and His grace.

How do we navigate the journey of marriage?  Here are some travel tips:

See the Whole Map

(note: we tend to only see where we are right now and fail to see all that marriage can, and does, bring.  It is important for our marital health and the success of our journey to see the big picture of marriage by seeing the whole map).

It’s not Unusual – remember that where we are is not unusual.  All marriages travel through different locations, and most, at one time or another, will travel through every location.  You are not the first to be in your current situation and you will not be the last.

It’s not Permanent – Your situation won’t last forever.  Circumstances change.  We change.  God changes us and others.

It requires Commitment – Mark 10:9 “What  God has joined together, let man not separate.” – note:  The way to successfully and joyfully navigate the marriage journey is to recognize that you have made a commitment to each other and to God as well.  Commitment is being willing to stay through the difficult times (desert, valley and canyon) even when it’s not enjoyable, in large part because you know that the plains and mountains are there to be experienced.

Recognize Where You Are

It takes Communication

Truth Telling CommunicationEphesians 4:25 “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”

Gentle, Non-Advesarial CommunicationEphesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Reflect on How You Got There

note:  good or bad, it’s important for us to notice how we got to where we are.  When we take notice of such things we will see patterns of:  being in the Word (or not), being in community (or not) (especially accountability), serving others (or not).

It takes Examination2 Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.  Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?”

It takes ConfessionJames 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

note:  confession isn’t easy or fun.  but, confession removes the “splinter” from our souls that is festering and hurting (maybe not all of the time, but it keeps showing up).

Pack Correctly

note:  on the journey of marriage, we must “pack” with us the right things.  Here are a few things to make sure we pack:

Patience“Love is patient” note:  it can take a while to get out of a valley or through a desert.  It can take a while to learn how to climb a mountain to the top.

Sacrifice“Love is not self-seeking”  note: your marriage should be about the other person, giving 100% and expecting nothing.  (when we do that, we are all more blessed in the end).

Forgiveness“Love is not easily angered, Love keeps no record of wrongs”  (we forgive even before forgiveness is sought and definitely before forgiveness is earned, if ever.  that’s what Jesus did for us on the cross – He forgave us before we repented!)

Remember the True Destination!

note:  the true destination:  Your marriage is not as much for you as it is for others.  Marriage is meant to be a representation to the world of the relationship that exists between Jesus and His Church.  It is:  unconditional love, sacrificing, forgiving, patient, etc.

We Always Reflect Something

[ F ] Lucian Freud - Self-portrait in a  hand ...

Lucian Freud – Self-portrait in a hand mirror (1967)

This article continues my series on spiritual disciplines titled “Why Men Need Discipline.”  Today’s article is called “We Always Reflect Something” and addresses a question all Christians should ask themselves:  “Do I always reflect who Christ is?”  Spiritual disciplines help us to be able to answer that question with “YES!”

We Always Reflect Something

How long has it been since you looked at yourself in a mirror?  I mean, really looked at yourself?  I tried it today and was startled.  As I stared at myself I began to see things that I just simply overlook most of the time.  Some of the things I saw were good.  Some were not!  It was those “nots” that I wished were not there.  So, being a man of supreme and extreme logic (chuckle, chuckle), I closed my eyes and “wished” those “nots” were not there.  I opened my eyes and guess what?  They were still there.  I just couldn’t wish away part of my reflection.  It is what it is.

Whether we like it or not, whether we agree to it or not, as we live our lives, as we interact with people, as we make choices and engage in relationships, we always reflect something.  And, that “something” is what is inside of us.  We reflect what is in our hearts.  We reflect what is in our minds.  We reflect what is really important to us.

Sometimes what I reflect isn’t very pretty (and I’m not just talking about my face).  My words can be harsh.  My temperament can be inpatient.  My values can be skewed.  My goals can be selfish and prideful.  None of those things is Christ-like.

If asked, I would never “choose” to reflect such things.  But, unfortunately, at times that’s what people see from me and in me. That’s the thing about reflections — they show what IS, not what we WISH.

“A New Command I Give You”

When you became a Christian, you also became an ambassador for Christ.  The “world” should be able to look at you and see who Christ is.  I am using the word “should” on purpose because ambassadorship is one of things you are committing to when you decide to follow Christ.  One of the ways that God shows Himself to people is through His people — through His disciples.  And, Jesus tells us what the world should see:

 

“A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

 

We reflect Christ when we love.  When we love, people see Jesus.

The Bible describes “love” as being patient and kind, as not self-serving, as having a spirit of forgiveness and gentleness, and as doing what is right even when it is difficult to do so.  Love is honoring and protecting our wives.  Love is raising our children to know the Lord.  Love is caring for the widow, the orphan and the disenfranchised.  Love is feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoner, and clothing the naked.  The Bible tells us that “God IS love” (1 John 4:8).

Spiritual Discipline Helps Us Make Christ Visible

Oh, is that all?  All we have to do is just love everybody all of the time?  Obviously, the problem is that none of us naturally is all of those things all of the time.  In fact, it is in our nature to war against such things much of the time.  That’s where spiritual discipline comes in.

Spiritual disciplines help us make Christ’s loving characteristics supreme in our lives.  For example, attending corporate worship reminds us of who is God (God) and who is not (us).  Learning to react appropriately and Godly in situations by controlling our tempers and our speech reminds us that our lives are about more than our immediate desires.  Regularly meeting with other men in Christian fellowship provides opportunities for rebuke and encouragement so that we will stay motivated to do what is right.  Actively and intentionally serving others reminds us that we are to be servants first.

When we regularly and continually engage in those types of spiritual disciplines, as well as others, God uses them to mold our hearts and shape our thoughts.  Our minds and hearts actually start to become more Christ-like as we “train” to be Christians, and soon we begin to “reflect Christ” to the world.

The Bottom Line

Being a Christian is a wonderful gift from God.  It is also an awesome responsibility.  Who we are to the people of this world shows what we really believe and who we really follow.  Our actions and our words reflect what is in our hearts and minds.

What’s Next?

Jesus Christ was the most influential person who ever lived, and is the most influential person living today.  Are you preparing yourself so that you always reflect who He really is?  Or are you just leaving your reflection to chance?

Ask at least three people in your life (if you are married, make one of those of people your wife) to make a list of the qualities you REALLY reflect.  You will have to give them permission to be completely honest and promise them that you will not hold anything they say against them.  Be prepared to be a little hurt because there will be some things on those lists that you probably won’t expect (remember my looking in the mirror) and that will not be very Christ-like.

Once you receive your list, make a plan to engage regularly in at least two more of the spiritual disciplines we previously discussed in What is a Spiritual Discipline, Anyway?  Then watch how God begins to change the things on your lists that are not reflective of who Christ is.

 

Men Are Easily Distracted

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This is the third article in my series on spiritual disciplines titled “Why Men Need Discipline.”  Today’s article is called “Men Are Easily Distracted” and begins our discussion of the obstacles men face in engaging in spiritual disciplines routinely, over time, in an ever-increasing measure.

The first article, “What is Discipline?” defined “discipline” as a means of God training us versus God punishing us.  The second article, What is a Spiritual Discipline, Anyway? provided some examples of spiritual disciplines.

Men Need Discipline Because We Are Easily Distracted

Are you still reading this blog?  Great!  You passed the first barrier!

It surprises me that I am such a poor driver.  Fortunately, I haven’t had a serious accident or caused any severe damage to my car or the cars around me.  But, the truth is that while I am driving, especially when there is not a lot of traffic around, I find myself to be easily distracted by what’s around me.

“Look at the deer!”  “Wow, there’s a new Starbucks!”  “I wonder how many of these reflector things are on this road?”  “What time is my meeting this afternoon?”  “Oh yeah, I need to call Bob about the thing.” — Those are the things that often go through my mind while I’m driving.  Yes, I am easily distracted.

Distractions for Men

Men can have a tendency to become distracted by the newest, most exciting thing around them.  We are curious.  We want more.  We like new things.  We want to be successful.  We have a lot on our plates.

So, it is not uncommon for us to allow the new, shiny thing to distract us from our priorities, especially those priorities where we do not have to “officially” give an account to anyone today.

Sports, women, cars, friends, kids, jobs, to-do lists, golf games, elections.  Those are all things that can become the focus of our minds, and our time, and eventually our choices, if we allow them too — IF we are not disciplined.

The Problem with being Distracted

The problem with living a distracted life is that we are “trading” what is currently before us in exchange for what is “most important” to us.  Distraction causes us to short-change our spiritual growth, our families and our churches because instead of spending our time investing in those things which we would declare are most important to us, we “accidentally” spent 40 minutes watching SportsCenter or a couple of days reading through car magazines fantasizing about our next car purchase.

Obviously, the end result in such situations is that those things we declare most important suffer at the hands of the distraction.

The Benefit of Spiritual Discipline

One of the benefits of developing spiritual discipline in our lives is that we become more focused; and, more importantly, we become more focused on the One who matters most, Jesus.

As we engage in the discipline of finding a quiet place and time to read and pray for example, we are choosing to not allow the world to distract us.  The reason I’m so easily distracted while I’m driving … is because I’m driving.  New things are all around me literally every second.  But when I choose to be in a quiet place – no t.v., no radio, no phone, no kids running around, my mind is able to give God and His Word the attention they deserve.

As we engage daily in the disciplines of prayer, study and Bible reading, we hear God’s voice more clearly.  He starts our days off in the right direction with reminders of what He wants for us and for those around us.  He reminds of us our responsibilities so that when the moment of distraction presents itself, we are prepared to say “no” to it.

As we engage in the discipline of offering ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, i.e., worshipping God with ALL of our lives (see Romans 12:1-2), we begin to see changes in every other area of our lives.  We become more productive at work.  We are better husbands and better fathers.  We speak differently to our family and those at work.  We are less stressed.  We spend our money differently.  We approach problems in a new way.  Everything begins to change.

The Bottom Line

We are not changed into perfect men overnight when we become Christians.  Instead, God uses a training process to transform us into the people He desires.  The first step in this process is removing distractions from our lives and developing routines focused on improving those things which we have consciously CHOSEN as most important.

What’s Next?

To get started with this process answer these questions honestly:

What is most important in my life?

How am I currently spending my time each day?

Where and what are the things that “distract” me?

What steps can I take tomorrow to eliminate the distractions so that I can begin to focus on the things I have identified as most important?

In my next article, I will address another reason why men need discipline:  because we think we know more than we really know.

What is a Spiritual Discipline, Anyway?

This is the second article in my series on spiritual disciplines titled “Why Men Need  Discipline.”  You can see the first article here: What is Discipline?” 

In today’s post, What is a Spiritual Discipline, Anyway?, we will discuss various forms of spiritual disciplines.

Spiritual Disciplines: A Definition

A spiritual discipline is something we either do or refrain from doing, repeatedly over time, so as to become trained in the habits of seeing God, hearing God, obeying God and doing God’s will.

As we engage in spiritual disciplines regularly, over time God uses them to change our hearts and our minds.  We become transformed into someone who more closely reflects Jesus Christ in our mood, our speech, our attitudes, and our decisions.  We become less focused on ourselves and on the things of the world, and more focused on God and His desires for our lives.

Some Examples of Spiritual Disciplines

A few examples of spiritual disciplines include:

Prayer – communication with God.  Allowing Him to speak to us and our bringing to Him praises, thankfulness, confession, adoration, worries, fears, troubles, anxieties and much more.  We also should pray for others and for the church.

Bible reading – just reading the Bible with no purpose other than to hear from God.  The Bible is God speaking to us.

Bible study – going deeper into the meaning of God’s Word.  Study is different from just reading.  I read the newspaper but I don’t study it.  When we study God’s Word, alone or in a group, we should use a variety of means to get the most out of what the Word has for us to learn.

Worship – this is not just an event on the weekend, but a way of living.  At times, we worship together corporately, but most of our worship should be in the form of our daily lives as we give up what may be important to us in exchange for what is most important to God.

Christian Fellowship – spending time with other Christians.  Doing life together.

Giving – returning a portion of what we have been given to God by making regular offerings to our churches, to missionaries and to others in need.

Service – putting our gifts, talents and passions to work in practical ways to help the church with its mission and to help our communities, particularly those who have need.

Meditation and silence – getting away from the busyness and hustle of the daily grind, freeing our minds to think about what God is saying to us.  Being in silence allows that to happen more freely.

Rest and Sleep – getting enough rest and sleep so that we are not physically exhausted.  This allows us to be our best for Him, for our families, and for all of the work that God has for us to do.

Health – taking care of our bodies so that we can be most useful to God and others and also so we will be good examples of discipline to others.

Evangelism – inviting people to learn about Jesus.  Inviting people to church and to our homes and other small group events.

Reactions – learning to react in Godly ways to all situations.  Controlling our tempers.  Not allowing fear to dominate our lives.  Staying confident and positive, even in times of great distress.

Choices – learning to make wise choices that are based on scripture and not on selfish desires.  Choosing rightly regarding who we spend time with, what we spend money on, where we go and don’t go, etc.

Again, these are just some of the things that could be considered “spiritual disciplines,” but it’s a good list to use to start!

The Bottom Line is Relationship Building

The bottom line is still relationship building!  God uses our effort in becoming disciplined in areas that matter, allowing Him to train us to be righteous, in order to draw us closer to Him and to increase our desire to connect with others more closely and in more holy ways.

What’s Next …

Some reasons why men specifically need to develop spiritual discipline is the topic of my next post. . . .

Why Men Need Discipline, Part 1 – “What is Discipline?”

Recently I was asked to speak at a Men’s “Advance” (I refuse to acknowledge that we should “retreat”) on the topic of Spiritual Disciplines. Based on the material from that talk, I have developed a several-part series that explores “spiritual disciplines” — what they are, why we need them, how to implement them in our lives, and what the consequences will be if we choose not to develop spiritual disciplines in an ever-increasing measure.

This article is the first in the series and is titled What is Discipline?

Is Discipline the same as Punishment?

When the word “discipline” is mentioned, what images come to your mind?  What do you immediately think about?

If you are like me, one of the first thoughts in my mind when I think of “discipline” is “punishment.”  In fact, when I looked up “discipline” in the dictionary, the third definition was “punishment inflicted by way of correction.”

Growing up, I can remember very well what it meant to be disciplined, at school and at home.  It went something like this:  if you break a rule, there is a consequence, and that consequence always was unpleasant and almost always involved pain.  So, the word discipline for me doesn’t always conjure up the most rewarding of images.   I literally chuckled to myself when I read that definition, thinking about what it must be like for some non-Christians to hear a preacher urge them to “engage in spiritual disciplines.”  (Sometimes, the language we use in the church without enough explanation probably can cause some pretty strange thoughts in people’s minds.)

Discipline in Spiritual Matters is about Relationships

But “discipline” is not, in and of itself, negative.  In fact, when speaking in terms of “spiritual disciplines” it is not negative at all.  Rather, “discipline” as it relates to our spiritual lives means the development of habits relating to the choices that we make regarding what we do with our time and energy.  It involves how we involve our minds and our hearts in our daily activities.  It is about acting a certain way because we have been trained to act that way, even when we don’t feel like acting that way.  It is about our priorities.

Spiritual disciplines lead us to make choices, form habits and develop priorities in our lives that enhance our understanding of who God is, determine God’s purposes for us, and keep us focused on Him even when we don’t feel like it.

Spiritual disciplines help us make wise choices in the moment, change how we speak to and work with others, direct how we love our wives and husbands, and impact how we raise our children.

The Bottom Line is Relationship Building

The bottom line is that spiritual disciplines are about moving us into deeper relationships with God and with others on behalf of God.

What’s Next …

What specifically constitutes a “spiritual discipline” and why we need to develop them in an ever-increasing measure are the topics of my next post. . . .