Category Archives: Spiritual Disciplines

By Anything but Prayer

 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Mark 9:26-29

prayerI can still remember the first church dispute I officially mediated. I had been involved in literally hundreds of mediations as an attorney/mediator, many involving issues worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Then there was this conflict in a tiny church involving a dozen or so people and I thought to myself, “How hard can this be?” I remember whispering a short prayer or two on my way to the church, thinking this would be a simple matter to iron out…three, maybe four hours, tops. Two days later, the church split, the pastor left, and I had almost certainly done more damage than good. It was by far the most humbling experience of my life.

The lesson there had nothing to do with mediation skills. It had everything to do with prayer, and the only meaningful source of power for anything at all having to do with Christ’s church. Unfortunately, I did not learn the lesson then. There have been many more occasions in my own church since then where my own “expertise” or efficiencies have gotten in the way of what God was doing. I have come to see this problem as a part of the human condition…or at least MY human condition.

It was certainly the lesson for the disciples in Mark 9. A very short time before that failure at …

Contentment: The Church’s Goliath

And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” 1 Samuel 17:37

David fighting GoliathI have known the story of David and Goliath most of my life. It is possibly one of the most familiar stories in all of scripture. We use it every time we need to illustrate an unlikely hero overcoming impossible odds to defeat a seemingly unstoppable foe. So, as I am studying 1 Samuel 17 this week, thinking about the “foes” whom Christ followers face in our current culture, I am asking myself, “Today, who/what is the church’s Goliath?” The list of possibilities is long. I think I have the winner, but first, here are some things that are NOT our Goliath:

  1. Different worldviews from ours are NOT our Goliath. Whether it is the Muslim world, or atheists, or people who vote differently from you in national elections, our Biblical worldview does not mean our struggle is with these groups. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…Eph. 6:12;
  2. A culture that is increasingly hostile to Christianity is NOT our Goliath. It is a fact: from a global perspective, persecution of Christians is at an all-time high. And, though we in the U.S. would be hard-pressed to call our difficulties “persecution” at this point, we have certainly seen the needle moving in that direction as anti-Christian sentiment seems to grow stronger with each news cycle. Nevertheless, we really must stop acting so shocked and surprised by this.  “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first… you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out

I Might be an Idol Worshipper

And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only. 1 Samuel 7:3-4

In this story from 1 Samuel, it took the people of Israel 20 years of being back in the presence of God to finally turn back to Him. It was more or less their version of “just doing church”, without their hearts being in it. Samuel’s word to them at that point was, “if you are serious about your faith, you need to lose your idols.” So what about us? Are we willing to lose our idols?

I might be an idol worshipper if other people’s words on Social Media (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. or any combination of them) take up more of my thought time each day than does God’s Word;

I might be an idol worshipper if I spend more of my money on my personal comfort than I do on the furtherance of God’s kingdom;

I might be an idol worshiper if it turns out my god’s heart aligns perfectly with one political party’s platform or the other;

I might be an idol worshipper if my greatest hope for our world’s social ills is the next election;

I might be an idol worshipper if my deepest regret for our world’s social ills is the last election;

I might be an idol worshipper if my ability to listen to you is intractably related to your politics;

I might be an idol …

Leaving the Oasis

Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water. They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai…Exodus 15:27 – 16:1

Some time after they occurred, Moses sat down to chronicle the events of the Exodus. In his telling of the story, he included this obscure little detail in a single sentence in Exodus 15:27. It was very early in their journey, just about the time the reality of the wilderness would have set in (no water, no food, vast wastelands). They found an oasis, complete with shade and with natural spring water, and they stayed there for a short while…a very short while…so short, in fact, that nothing meaningful happened there. And then they left.

comfortIt seems important to note that nothing particular chased them from that place of comfort. They were no longer running from an Egyptian army. They were no longer frantically fleeing for their lives, running to any safe harbor at all. This oasis was a place of comfort and a place where all their physical needs were being met. Logic alone would have said to stay right there for a while, maybe even indefinitely. Couldn’t this have even been God’s answer to their prayers? Couldn’t this have been a “promised land” of sorts?

But Moses is quick to point out that they did not stay there long at all, that they left almost immediately, and who led them to leave this place of comfort was God Himself. The pillar of smoke and fire with which God led them was leaving this place and was beckoning them forward and outward into a vast wilderness …

Loving Obedience is Caught, not Taught

Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22

loving GodMy dear (now deceased) friend and Board member, Warren Clark, loved telling a story about teaching some of our materials on reconciliation in a church in Eastern Ukraine some years ago. He was in the middle of the teaching when people started getting up and leaving the church building. Not all at once…just a few here and then a few more there. During a break in the conference, he asked the pastor if he had done something wrong to offend them, since they were leaving. The pastor smiled at him and said, “No, brother, not at all! They are hearing a word from the Lord about reconciliation and they are going to reconcile with brothers and sisters. Isn’t that what you want?” Well, of course it is. We in the American church would just never have expected it.

Immediate and complete obedience is really the only obedience.  Anything less (delayed obedience, partial obedience, etc.) is just a form of disobedience. That was Saul’s lesson in 1 Samuel 15. And that will be the lesson ultimately for the American church, I fear. We talk a lot about God and Jesus and God’s Word and other such spiritual things…we can argue theology all day long, thanks to 200 years of freedom to study it…we can write books and blogs about building churches and vision and preaching and small groups and creative programming…but in the end, it is going to matter to God that his people followed some social or political or personal agenda first, and His agenda second. Any agenda, you see, which comes before God’s …

Creating a Culture of Bible Study

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17

Bible StudyAfter some 40 years of studying the Bible and some 25 (or so) years of teaching it, I can safely say I am more thirsty for it today than ever before. My prayer is that God will keep me ever more thirsty for it my whole life. So far, so good.

Today’s post begins a Summer Tuesday series on Spiritual disciplines which church leaders should be practicing and fostering. These are valuable habits in making and growing disciples…routines about which the church should be intentional. You should be teaching these disciplines and, in some cases, you should have a system in place for insuring their practice in the lives of your congregants. The first of these disciplines is Bible Study.

At my church, we call it our Re:Verse system. We all study the same passage all week long, meditating on it each morning, reading our pastors’ daily devotional thoughts on it. We study it again in our Sunday morning Bible Study groups, and we hear a sermon on the same passage in any of our Sunday morning worship services. Lastly, in the following week, we look back at the passage in our small accountability groups, gently pressing the truths from that passage into one another. Of course, the details of the system are not the point. Having the system in the first place is the point. It is important that a church’s structure and programming and culture all hold Bible study as a high value. Few spiritual disciplines will have a bigger impact on our people.

But getting our people to study the Bible …