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From the Fight for Joy! Journal, 12/31/2016: Spiritual Disciplines for Personal Focus and Growth in 2017
Happy New Year! As 2016 draws to a close, may God grant you a blessed 2017. I mentioned in my recent blog post how a New Year provides us with the opportunity for a fresh start. You can read the article here. I also provided a Bible reading plan where I modified a plan by Professor Grant Horner. Finally, I shared about my recent brush with death in a blog post about A Life (and Death) Worthy of the Gospel.
Individually and collectively, these posts are meant to challenge all of us to grow in our walk with Christ. For me personally, I have decided to focus on four of the spiritual disicplines you will read about in A New Year--A Fresh Start. They are, (1) Private disicplines, (2) Family disciplines, (3) Corporate disciplines, and (4) Neighborly disciplines.
I have written the journal post below to summarize the spiritual disicplines I have chosen for my focus and growth in 2017. These disciplines and the description of each is taken from Developing Healthy Spiritual Growth, by Joel R. Beeke. I have also purchased, In Remembrance of Him: Profiting from the Lord's Supper, by Guilemus Saldenus (1627-1694) and Wilhemas à Brakel (1635-1711), to help me as I focus upon the corporate discipline of making diligent use of the sacraments, the Lord's Supper in particular. You can purchase a print and/or electronic copy of the book at Heritage Reformation Books.
From 12/31/2016: These Spiritual Disciplines have been adapted from Developing Healthy Growth, by Joel R. Beeke. You can download pdf copy here:
I hold no copyright over the above file or below discussion.
Growing through Private Disciplines
Read the Scriptures: Read the Bible daily. Follow a plan to read through the entire Bible in a reasonable cycle of time. Constantly expose your mind to the voice of your Shepherd. The Bible echoes with the voice of He who laid down His life for you. The Holy Scriptures are to be read:
Don’t neglect to sing the Scriptures. Psalm 59:16-17 says, “But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength; yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning, for You have been my stronghold and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my strength, I will sing praises to You; for God is my stronghold, the God who shows me lovingkindness.”
Meditate on the Bible: Psalm 1 describes the blessed man tis way: “His delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2). Colossians 3:1-2 says, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”
The Puritans often spoke of meditating on God’s Word. Meditation is the intentional setting of the mind upon various truths to press them deeply into the heart. Here are some suggestions from the Puritans on how to meditate: (1) Pray for the power to focus your mind on the Word. (2) Read the Bible and select a verse or two. (3) Repeat those verses to yourself in order to memorize them, saying them ten times while looking at the page, then ten times while looking away. Repeat them once a day for retention. (4) Think about what these verses say and imply, probing the book of Scripture (other verses on the same topic), the book of conscience (how you have believed or disbelieved, obeyed or disobeyed), and the book of nature (how this truth appears in experience and in the world). (5) Stir your affections unto love, desire, grief, hope, zeal and joy, as appropriate. (6) Arouse your soul to the specific duty that the text requires, making holy resolutions for the glory of God. (7) Conclude with prayers for divine assistance, thanksgiving for graces given, and singing psalms of praise to God
Growing through Family Disciplines
Release the Power of Regular Family Worship and Catechizing: Ephesians 6:4 says the head of the household has the responsibility to teach Christianity to his children: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Family worship should not be a burden but a delight. Arrange your schedules so that you can have a brief devotion in the morning, then a longer time in the evening. Have a plan for what you do. (1) Read some Scripture. (2) Memorize a catechism question and answer. (3) Pray briefly together. (4) Ask questions. (5) Sing praises. Do you want Christ to fill your home and your family relationships? Welcome Him into your house in regular family worship.
Growing through Corporate Disciplines
Make Diligent Use of the Sacraments: We may not separate the sacraments from the Word any more than we may separate the Word from the Spirit. In the light of the Word, the sacraments are signs that point us to Christ, and to the central moments of His work as the Mediator, His holy conception and birth; His redemptive suffering; His trials, crucifixion and death; His resurrection and ascension into heaven; and his coming again for His Church and to judge the world. Scripture commands us to prepare beforehand, by examining ourselves as to our repentance from sin, our faith in Christ, and the reality of our Christian discipleship; and by considering the end for which the sacraments were instituted. Every Christian should know how to improve his baptism, and what is required before, during, and after the time of administration.
Growing through Neighborly Disciplines
Have Compassion on People but Flee Worldliness: Christ ‘was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.’ Our hearts should break at the plight of sinners in this world. They are not safe in the fold of the Shepherd but are exposed to the ravenous wolves of the devil. They need Christ or they will be lost forever! May God give us a heart for the lost!
But in our compassion we must remember that they are a people with no king (1 Kings 22:17). Everyone does what is right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25). Therefore we must love unbelievers but separate ourselves from their wicked ways. We must avoid the temptation to believe we must become like the world to win the world. In reality, we must love sinners but we must be different from them. Beware of living a divided life as if you could give part of it to God and part to the world. If salt loses its saltiness, its distinctive flavor is gone and it becomes worthless.
"Listen to the bell Grossbard, it tolls for thee." -- Kramer
Pop superstar George Michael, 53. Actor, author, and mental health advocate Carrie Fisher, 60. Mother of Carrie Fisher Debbie Reynolds, 84. What do these three people have in common? They all remind us death is coming for each one of us. No one is immune. No one will escape.
So why even bring it up? The reason is simple. The Bible teaches us about the brevity of life. James writes, "You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away" (James 4:14). One day, the vapor you call life will vanish away, and when it does, where will your soul be?
"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us’" (Luke 16:22-26).
Will you be like the beggar who died and was carried by the angels into heaven? Or, will you be like the rich man who died and immediately found himself in torment? The choice is yours. "If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15).
I implore you, come to Jesus! Come to Jesus and live. "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31).
And For the record, the Fight for Joy! Journal is my personal spiritual journal that I don't journal in all that often but when I do it's usually worth sharing. I'm going to start doing that here from time to time. My prayer is God will use it to further sanctify and bless you.
DISCLAIMER: Although I am sharing from my journal I am also adding some textual notes, Greek word studies, and other helps to further magnify and clarify what God's Word says and how we might apply it to our lives in sanctification (the process of becoming more like Jesus)--see Romans 8:28, "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love [Him]."
From 10/2/2014: God conceived The Law, revealed The Law, interprets The Law, and applies The Law, and through the sacrifice of His Son, ALL the demands of The Law have been met for those who trust in Him.
Paul wrote, "He who did not spare His own Son (same verb used for the offering of Isaac in Genesis 22:16) but delivered (gave) Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely (graciously) give us all things" (Romans 8:32). If there is a greatest verse in all the Bible, this is it. There is much to ponder and meditate upon here. There is much to consider. In the Greek there is an intensive particle (ge) which magnifies God's deed of not sparing His own Son but delivering Him over for us ("us," of course being all those who, by God's gracious choice, "are beloved of God, called as saints" (Romans 1:6). They are those who, because they are are "in Christ," are not condemened (Romans 8:1).
So, God has given us the greatest gift of all--His Son, whom He "did not spare, but delivered Him over for us all." Delivered speaks of God's active participation in the judicial condemnation of Christ. Luke writes, "This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death" (Acts 2:23). Jesus--the God-Man--was "delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God."
By delivering His own Son "over for us all," is an example of a Jewish argument from the greater to the lesser. Here it is from God to us. The supreme gift of God's Son guarantees the subsequent gift of everything else we need for our full and final glory. Furthermore, the gift of "His own son," according to the late A.T. Robertson, "is the promise and the pledge of the all things for good of verse 28. Christ is all and carries all with Him."
This is heavy, or to put it another way, weighty. It is much to take in, to absorb, to ponder, to meditate upon. "With Christ," and because He has been "delivered over for us all," Paul writes, God will now "also with Him freely give us all things." Paul often uses this phrase (freely give us) to denote forgiveness and may mean that here. If this is true, and I have no reason to doubt this is Paul's meaning here, then every sin a believer commits has been forgiven--every single one--past, present, and future.
And it's not just our sins that have been forgiven. We have also been "freely [given] all things." This is similar language to what we find in Ephesians, where Paul writes, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing" (Ephesians 1:3). God has freely given us all things--every spiritual blessing--everything we need for forgiveness of sins, the life He calls us to live here and now, and future grace--all that God promises to be for us in Jesus Christ from this time forth and forevermore! It is whatever is necessary to complete the purpose He had in choosing you and me.
APPLICATION: I believe that in order to begin to apply these truths we must think about what God's Word says here. This is called biblical meditaiton. Allow the words of Romans 8:32 (and the supporting passages) to sink into your thinking and into your heart. As you do, sanctification and transformation will occur. Here are some practical suggestions for meditating on this passage. Think about these things:
1. God delivered His own Son over to death for you. He died a judicial death in your place.
2. God has through His act of delivering His own Son over for you, now freely given you all things--every spiritual blessing--everything you need for sanctification and transformation--your so called Christian life. Here's another way of thinking about that: Jesus Christ is your life! (Read the whole book of Colossians for more of God's Word on that!).
3. God has, through His supreme gift, guaranteed the subsequent gift of everything else you need for your full and final glory. In other words, the Gospel will bring you all the way to glory. There is no such thing as a defective salvation. You have been saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved. You've got God's Word on that!
4. Because of the supreme gift of His Son, God is going to provide you with and do everything necessary to complete the purpose He had in choosing you. So make your life's goals to Treasure Christ, Live the Word, Make Disciples, and Finish Well!
5. Finally, think about this...Because of the pledge of His Son, God promises to fulfill all things for good in your life (Romans 8:28).
I recently blogged about how the New Year provides us with a fresh start when it comes to our spiritual disciplines in our walk with Christ. I am still considering which disciplines I will seek to focus upon in 2017 but I believe I have, at the very least, narrowed down my focus as it relates to Disciplines of Personal Devotion. To refresh your memory, they are:
1. Read the Scriptures. (See my post on Regular Bible Reading)
2. Meditate on the Bible.
3. Pray and work.
4. Keep a journal.
I keep a journal once in a great while so that will not be my focus. I have always felt like I fall short when it comes to daily Bible reading. I plan, therefore, to focus on reading and meditating on the Scriptures in 2017. This does not mean I will neglect other disciplines. I also plan to give special attention to Family Disciplines (Regular family worship and catechizing), Corporate Disciplines (Sanctify the Lord's Day), and Neighborly Disciplines (Evangelize sinners with the gospel).
To help me focus upon and ultimately meet my goal of regular Bible reading and meditation upon the Scriptures, I have modified Professor Grant Horner's Bible Reading Plan. I did the same thing two years ago but failed to faithfully follow through. I pray 2017 will be different. You can download a copy of the modified plan here:
I hold no copyright over the above file so please feel free to make and distribute copies.
In his regular plan the reader will read through Proverbs and Acts every month. In my modified plan I have moved Psalms in with Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. I have moved Acts over with the Gospels. Readers using my modified plan will read through Daniel, Proverbs, Romans, and Revelation every month or so. I can think of no better books to read more regularly. Daniel and Revelation contain much prophecy concerning the times in which we live and the near future. Romans is the greatest book ever written and is intensly focused upon the righteousness of God and why we need that righteousness and how we can have it.
The plan calls for reading 10 chapters daily, one from each list provided. By following this plan the reader will never read the same 10 chapters together again. This will help prevent bordem as it keeps things interesting, so to speak. With my modfied plan you will be reading Revelation every month and Revelation is the only book that promises a special blessing to the reader just for reading it. For those who might find 10 chapters daunting you can also modify the plan so that you are reading five chapters a day instead of 10. You can also read each page every other day but have one day where you read all 10 chapters. I've even heard of some who read 10 chapters daily during the week and then five chapters on the weekend (Saturday and Sunday). And, if you're like me and miss a day or two once in awhile, don't panic, just pick up where you left off and keep going.
It is also important to remember the Bible teaches us sactification (the process of becoming more like Jesus) occurs as we renew our minds with God's Word. Paul wrote, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2). God told Joshua the same thing in Joshua 1:8, "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 good success." The Psalmist wrote, "Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105).
I can think of no greater responsibility we have as Christians than that of renewing our minds through reading and meditating upon God's Word. Will you join me in 2017 by commiting to the spiritual discipline of regular Bible reading and meditation? I believe God will honor your commitment by transforming your mind and heart thus making you (and me) more like Jesus Christ.
"Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off" (Proverbs 23:18). It's hard to believe 2016 is nearing an end. A little over a week from now a new year will dawn. As 2016 draws to a close and 2017 looms on the horizon I wonder how many of us will take the time to reflect back over this past year and consider our accomplishments and our shortcomings.
What about all those New Year's Resolutions we set for 2016? If you're like me, you probably resolved to do a thing or two only to come up short! But it need not be this way. A new year provides us with the opportunity to make a fresh start. I think that is one reason God gives us a new year every January 1st.
God is, after all, in the new business. The Bible reminds us, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). John wrote, "And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new'" (Revelation 21:5).
As we prepare for the New Year we ought to pause and think about where we are spiritually and where we want to go. The Old Testament prophet Haggai wrote, "Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Consider your ways'" (Haggai 1:7). As 2016 draws to a close and 2017 looms before you, will you stop and consider your ways? Will you think about where you are spiritually and where you need to go? How will you seek to become more like Jesus in 2017?
Paul prayed, "For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light" (Colossians 1:9-12).
Several things are mentioned in Paul's prayer to God for us. I list them here for your consideration:
1. A prayer for knowledge, spiritual wisdom, and understanding. Our faith is not a blind faith. It is based upon the knowledge of Christ and His Word.
2. A prayer for a Christ honoring and God glorifying life. This is the result of the knowledge, spiritual wisdom, and understanding Paul initially mentions in his prayer.
3. A prayer for a life pleasing to God.
4. A prayer for a life that bears fruit through good works that honor and point others to Christ.
5. A prayer for increasing knowledge. Again, our faith is based on what (who) we know--Jesus.
6. A prayer for Godly strength.
7. A prayer for patient endurance. Life is not easy and, as believers, we are called to patiently endure life's trials.
8. A prayer for joyful thanksgiving. One of the many reasons we have joy and are to give thanks is because of what God has done for us in Christ--He has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints.
As you prepare to begin a new year, take time to think about Paul's prayer for you. Although written nearly 2000 years ago, the prayer still rings true today. God is still hearing and answering this prayer. Furthermore, consider what you can do in 2017 to grow in your relationship to Jesus Christ.
In his book, Developing Healthy Spiritual Growth, Joel Beeke offers a list of sixteen spiritual disciplines that God uses as means of grace to make us more like Jesus. He writes, "Think of the list of sixteen disciplines as a catalog of books you receive from a great book publisher. You can't buy everything in the catalog (sadly!), but you can buy two or three books. So you flip through the catalog and circle the books that most appeal to you... In your mind (or in your notes), circle the ones that you need to work on most, then invest yourself in getting a grip on them." Remember, private time devoted to communion with God is central to growth. Here are the sixteen disciplines:
Disciplines of Personal Devotion:
1. Read the Scriptures. (See my post on Regular Bible Reading)
2. Meditate on the Bible.
3. Pray and work.
4. Keep a journal.
1. Regular family worship and catechizing.
2. Make your home the center of hospitality and fellowship for others.
3. Discipline your children in love.
4. Counsel your children in major decisions.
1. Hearing the preached Word.
2. Make diligent use of the sacraments.
3. Participate in the fellowship in the church.
4. Sanctify the Lord's Day.
1. Evangelize sinners with the gospel.
2. Serve people with your time and money.
3. Have compassion on people but flee worldliness.
4. Intercede for the world.
Dr. Beeke concludes, "Let us seek wisdom from God, and the Spirit's grace, in order to turn knowledge into practice, for we do not truly know anything until it is translated into action... It is challenging to grow in Christ's pattern and in pleaseing God. That's why we need the spiritual disciplines. Thanks be to God, He has given us many ways to apply the Word and prayer to our lives, not just in private disciplines but also in the family, church, and neighborly relationships."
So, in which two or three spiritual disciplines do you want to make the most progress during 2017? What will you do about it? Also, in what ways would you like to see 2017 different from 2016? What will you do about it? Finally, consider what one thing you can do to improve your prayer life in 2017.
The New Year provides an excellent opportunity to consider where we are spiritually and where we want to go. I hope you will take the time to consider these important matters, and by God's grace, set about to see spiritual transformation in your walk with Christ during 2017. May God bless you as you endeavor to become more like Jesus, who has "rescued us from the domain of darkness" (Colossians 1:13a).
"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27a). As followers of Jesus Christ we are to live lives that are consistent with what we say we believe, teach, and preach.
For me, life is about Treasuring Christ, Living the Word, Making Disciples, and Finishing Well. I am no where close to perfect when it comes to living a life that encompasses these four goals but I do, by God's grace, strive to meet them.
I came pretty close to finishing recently. I'm not too sure it would have been well but by God's gracious provision I have been granted an extension of life. Only God knows how long this extension will be. The Bible reminds us God is behind it all. Whether we're talking midlife surprises at 39 or open heart surgery at 45, His providence neither gets it wrong nor lets us go, ever.
So what happened? I recently had open heart triple bypass surgery--at 45. I spent a total of 11 days in the hospital with five of those days in ICU. For a little over a month I had been having chest discomfort and pain. My cardiologist finally decided a heart cathertization was in order. The cathertization revealed multiple blockages with the so called "Widow Maker" having a 99% blockage. I was only a few slices of bacon away from a major event followed by sudden death.
I was admitted to ICU, put on various intraveneous drugs meant to keep me alive until they could perform the surgery. I spent those two days between the cathertization and the open heart surgery thinking about the fact I was hanging--very literally--by a thread between time and eternity. I knew I could die at any moment yet strangely enough was at perfect peace. I give God all the glory!
By God's grace I'm still here. The Bible teaches us God is sovereign over our lives so much so that He has already determined the number of our days. Job writes, "You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer" (Job 14:5).
Paul said something similar in his letter to the Philippian believers. "[It is my] earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death" (Philippians 1:20). He recognized God's sovereignty over his life. He, therefore, stived to exalt Christ in life and in death.
My recent hospital stay brought this verse powerfully home. I have had to reassess my life and seriously consider whether or not this verse is my prayer also. It all ties into finishing well. "Whatever happens," Paul writes, "conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27). Whatever happens. In other words, if you live, conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. If you die, let it be said of you, "He conducted himslef in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ."
I must admit, there was a part of me that wanted to, as Paul wrote, "To depart and be with Christ" (Philippians 1:23). In fact, the first couple of days following my surgery when the pain was almost unbearable, I prayed to die. It is clear to me now, however, that it is God's will that I "remain on in the flesh" (Philippians 1:24). I believe this was out of necessity for my own sanctification, my ministry to my family as spiritual leader, and the gospel itself which I will continue to proclaim until that time when I do see Jesus face-to-face.
Anway, I learned a lot through this ordeal and God used it to reveal some things about myself that still need sanctifying. Perhaps I will share more at a later time. But for now, I'll leave you with this. During the 3 days I spent in ICU before my heart surgery, strung out on blood thinner and nitroglycerin keeping me alive, I thought I may die at any moment. After all, as I mentioned above, my life was hanging by a thread between time and eternity and only needed 1% to completely block off the Widow Maker. Sometimes I would look around the room to make sure no one else was in there with me...you know, no one from the unseen world.
Sometimes I would think about what it was going to be like to see Jesus face-to-face for the very first time. Then I'd pray for my boy and his mama. This went on until they put me to sleep Monday afternoon but I never told anyone...until now. "Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:50-58). Where is your hope?
You are welcome to leave comments and you don't have to necessarily agree with me. However, I expect a civil tone and charitable spirit. We can disagree with one another without being disagreeable. "Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt." (Colossians 4:6)
Striving to glorify God by becoming more like Jesus.
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