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Posts Tagged ‘Christian disciplines’

Fastidious, Pt.1

If the Ikonographer poses a trivia question and nobody answers, does it make a sound? Man, I know my readership is not that great, but no takers? OK. I want to get the whole thing over with, but I have some other things on my mind that I want to get to while they are fresh.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I am curious about fasting. I’ve been studying Christian disciplines and fasting is one discipline mentioned that I have never done. More to the point I’ve been under the impression (I’m not sure why), that fasting is not for the church age. If it is a valid way to grow spiritually, I want to do it. istock_000004322751xsmall.jpgAll the same, I want to be sure about it. It’ll take me several posts to work through it. I thought I’d do it publicly for our mutual edification.

If I have one major hang-up about fasting, it’s the teaching of Colossians about spiritual maturity. Paul is VERY clear in Colossians that physical denial of the body is not a means of godliness (col 2:18-23). The relationship between the body and the soul is a one-way door. The soul influences the body, but the body can’t touch the soul. Paul explains that Christ is the creator of the physical world and he made things, so things can’t in themselves be bad for us. Rather, it’s how we use things that is sinful. Alcohol is a prime example. Christians can enjoy alcohol in moderation, sinners get drunk.

The teaching of Colossians on the true nature of Christian growth has been IMMENSELY liberating for me. It really helped me move beyond me early understanding of holiness which had grown somewhat legalistic. I learned about enjoying all things to the glory of God. I got back some things that I enjoy that I thought I had to give up. I learned that Christian life is about freely acting out of love (Galatians 5:13-14), rather than selfishly avoiding certain behaviors.

The law of Christ, or the law of liberty is a beautiful thing. The book of Galatians is a valuable bookend to Colossians in this respect. Where Colossians is about the danger of exceeding Scripture for the purpose of holiness, Galatians is about misunderstanding Scripture itself for the purpose of holiness. Both books present different angles on the pursuit of holiness. In both epistles the cure is to understand the finished work of Christ and Christian liberty.

What I am getting at here is that I do not want to go backward and submit myself to a yoke of self-denial (Galatians 2:4). If fasting is Biblical, then it obviously can’t conflict with the law of Christ (James 1:25, 2:12).

So as I view the Scriptural view of fasting I have to bring these two truths together:

  1. Scripture does not advocate or prohibit fasting, but it does describe it and give some guidelines. When it is seen to occur, it is a good thing.
  2. Scripture does teach that self-denial does not equal maturity.

I am looking for the right view of fasting that upholds its use as a Christian discipline that does not deny the teaching of Colossians. The only time that Scripture speaks negatively of fasting is when those who are fasting have the wrong motive (Isaiah 58:5). I particularly want to understand the relevance of Christ’s comments about the old and new cloth, old and new wineskins, and the relevance of the bridegroom’s presence in Mark 2, a critical chapter regarding the New Testament understanding of fasting.

OK, I am officially getting ahead of myself. More to come. I hope this is helpful to some of you.

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Dessication is desolation

Don Whitney was our guest at Omaha Bible Church last weekend. As expected, he dispensed wisdom of the subject of spiritual disciplines. One thing he said that I appreciated was that the spiritual disciplines had to be easy. Referring to 1 Cor 1:26 “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many not many noble;” he pointed out that given God’s preference of the worldly weak, He was bound to make the was to relate to Him simple. I think that was of great encouragement to many in the audience that had struggled with their disciplines.

What i really enjoyed was the afternoon session. Addressed to pastors, Whitney outlined the risks of engaging in spiritual disciplines quite a lot. He noted how many of the students he has seen in seminary have lost their way and ended up out of ministry, for a variety of reasons. Studying the Bible a lot can result in losing the power and transcendence of God’s Word. Praying regularly can result in mechanical and empty petitions. He challenged us to work hard at keeping our devotions productive, to be on guard against spiritual dryness. In Whitney’s words we must “beware the barrenness of business.” In other words, don’t let ministry be the reason your ministry fails.

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Earplugs: Sounds out or brains in?

As I’ve mentioned, lately the learning has been coming fast and furious. It’s all I can do to hold on to as much of it as possible.

Tonight is a good example:

I’ve just sat down from jamming through much more reading than I’m accustomed. The leadership meeting to plan our ministry year for Ikon Youth Ministries is Saturday and I’m trying to plow through a couple of books that we will be reading in the next couple of months. One is Don Carson’s “The Cross and Christian Ministry” and the other is “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” by Don Whitney. Both are awesome.

“Spiritual Disciplines” though, is delighting me with it’s mix of observations and practical suggestions. Maybe one reason more that I’m loving it is that it is matching some personal conclusions I’ve reached on my own. Smart guy, that Don Whitney. Still, I find myself running to my computer immediately afterward to add some of Don’s ideas to a curriculum for student discipleship that I am developing.

Discipleship, that is, how it should be done, has been dominating my mental agenda for months now. This is because of some breakthroughs of my own. I have certainly engaged myself in all of the major disciplines (reading, praying, learning, serving, evangelizing etc) but I have recently learned to be more effective and consistent in those areas, and the difference has been notable. At least to me it has.

Let me burden you all with one central observation that has fallen on me like a grand piano: Prayer and Scripture study are the cornerstones of Christian growth.

WOW! I should write a book and spin it off countless times in progressively derivative and watered down installments.

I feel a bit sheepish to say that I have been very impressed lately with this fact of spiritual growth. It’s such a compelling fact that I find myself looking around the room and sizing up people’s spiritual habits.

Here’s the caveat: People that don’t pray and study their Bibles don’t change. They look OK, but they lack passion and they don’t grow. ALL those who are dynamic, passionate, and growing are pray-ers and read-ers. Exceptions (and fakes) aside, that’s how it goes.

As I’ve been run over by this understanding, I have dedicated myself over the last year to be good at those two things. Everything else has been following. It’s exciting.

The scary thing is that a year ago, I understood less about what I was lacking. It is the grace of God that has continually pushed be and not allowed me to be content. His Spirit ensures that my dedication to these disciplines yields fruit. Praise God for His dedication to overcoming my thick-headedness. Praise God for his willingness to supply everything, including my obedience, by His Spirit.

As I work to master these disciplines myself, pray that my efforts to impart these disciplines to others would be fruitful.

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