Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Aslan is on the Move - The Son is Always Stronger Than Winter

Thanksgiving is past, and Advent is once again upon us. Yet, the daily headlines prove our world is a broken mess, one that we are apparently helpless to fix.   

The conflict we face between our dreams and reality can cause a peculiar mix of emotions. Gratitude is mixed with grief. Anticipation gives way to antipathy. Fortitude is compromised by fear.

This tension is addressed in one of my favorite stories from C.S. Lewis. It’s found in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” It’s the story of the Pevensie children as they stand bewildered and confused in a land they do not recognize as their own. 

If you recall, Lucy, Peter, Edmond, Susan entered Narnia through the portal of a wardrobe, and as they did, they found themselves in a winter wonderland of sorts. It was white and cold. The lamppost glowed somberly in a windless forest blanketed with snow. 

At first glance, it all seems beautiful – but something is missing. This land is nearly lifeless, and the few creatures the children encounter are suspicious and paranoid. There is no joy. 

The kids then meet two talking animals, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, by which they are told that Narnia is under the spell of an evil witch. Everything is pale. Everything is cold. Every moment is governed by fear rather than hope. Every day is as if it is “always winter but never Christmas.” This is the description of life under the witch’s rule. This is simply a land of despair and defeat. 

There is, however, more to the story. In the midst of Mr. Beaver’s description of the evil spell, the children hear sleigh bells ringing in the distance. At first, they are sure this is the sound of the witch’s return, and they hide. 

But it’s not the witch. No, the driver of the sleigh is a giant of a man dressed all in red with a white beard flowing down over the breast of his ample robe. It is Father Christmas

“I have broken through at last,” he shouts. “She has kept me out for a long time, but her magic is weakening.” 

Lucy shivers with excitement. He is here! And he not only brings presents but he also brings peace and joy. He not only brings hot tea with cream and sugar, but he also offers love, warmth and compassion. He brings music, and he brings a message: “Aslan is on the move!” he cries. “A Merry Christmas! Long live the true King!” 

Over 2,000 years ago, the world was suffering through a cold dark winter. Civil unrest was rampant. The power of Western Civilization was crumbling. Rome wielded the sword. Israel picked up stones. Fear killed freedom. Terrorism defeated trust. Even amidst the calm of Pax Romana, there seemed to be a cloud of impending doom. 

Today, many of us feel the same way. The newsfeed on our smartphones chills our bones. We shiver as we try to shelter ourselves from the freezing winds of CNN and even FOX NEWS. Kenosha and Waukesha: Always winter but never Christmas. BLM, CRT, and ANTIFA: Always winter but never Christmas. Riots and revenge: Always winter but never Christmas. COVID-19 lockdowns, required masking, and forced vaccines: Always winter but never Christmas

But in the face of such cold winds, perhaps we would do well to remember the news of long ago when light shined on the hills of Bethlehem and Father Christmas arrived singing a new song. “Do not be afraid.” He declared in a booming voice. “For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.” And on that night, hope and love were born anew, winter began to melt away, and Christmas sprang alive in a stable under the stars. 

“I have broken through at last,” cries Christmas. “She has kept me out for a long time, but her magic is weakening. This is a time of love, not hate, giving, not getting, goodness, not greed. Remember that light always diminishes darkness, warmth always melts what is cold, and the Son is always stronger than winter. 

Aslan is on the move. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. He is the light of men. He shines in the darkness, and he has made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” 

Hilaire Belloc says it well: “Do not, I beseech you, be troubled about the increase of forces already in dissolution. You have mistaken the hour of the night. It is already morning.”

• Everett Piper (dreverettpiper.com, @dreverettpiper), a columnist for The Washington Times, is a former university president and radio host. He is the author of “Not a Daycare: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth” (Regnery) and, most recently, “Grow Up: Life Isn’t Safe, But It’s Good.”

Monday, November 29, 2021

Spiritual Disciples for the Christian Life

by Donald S. Whitney

A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance by Benjamin Montoya 

About the Author

Don Whitney has been Professor of Biblical spirituality and Associate Dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, since 2005. Before that, he held a similar position (the first such position in the six Southern Baptist seminaries) at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO, for 10 years. He is the founder and president of The Center for Biblical Spirituality. Don is a frequent speaker in churches, retreats, and conferences in the U.S. and abroad.


We have probably heard of the spiritual disciplines, but could we list all of them from Scripture? In this book, Whitney explains them from Scripture, provides practical advice for how to put them into practice, and asks his readers to consider several application questions. If we want to grow in godliness, it will happen as we practice these disciplines, not apart from them.

In This Book, You Will Learn:

  • What the spiritual disciplines are
  • How to practice them
  • Why practicing them is so important

The Larger Contribution of This Book:

Everyone needs this book in their library. Yes, we all say that the spiritual disciplines are important, but carrying them out is not always as easy as we would like. Books like these are common; but, good books on this topic are harder to find. Whitney’s book remains thoroughly biblical while also being incredibly practical and accessible. Similarly, one can tell that Whitney speaks from his own experience as he has learned to practice these disciplines.

Table of Contents of the Book

Chapter 1  The Spiritual Disciplines … for the Purpose of Godliness
Chapter 2  Bible Intake (Part 1) … for the Purpose of Godliness
Chapter 3  Bible Intake (Part 2) … for the Purpose of Godliness
Chapter 4  Prayer … for the Purpose of Godliness
Chapter 5  Worship … for the Purpose of Godliness
Chapter 6  Evangelism … for the Purpose of Godliness
Chapter 7  Serving … for the Purpose of Godliness
Chapter 8  Stewardship … for the Purpose of Godliness
Chapter 9  Fasting … for the Purpose of Godliness
Chapter 10  Silence and Solitude … for the Purpose of Godliness
Chapter 11  Journaling … for the Purpose of Godliness
Chapter 12  Learning … for the Purpose of Godliness
Chapter 13  Perseverance in the Disciplines … for the Purpose of Godliness

Summary of the Book 

Chapter 1: The Spiritual Disciplines … for the Purpose of Godliness

When we think of the word “discipline,” none of us likely say, “Ah, now that’s what I want.” No, we typically dislike discipline—we think of it only in terms of its negative connotations. But, when it comes to spiritual disciplines, we should avoid such thoughts. Spiritual disciplines serve an important role in our lives.

Spiritual disciplines serve as the means that God uses to help us become more like Christ. Paul writes, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8: 29). That is, God wants us to become like Christ. He uses means to make us more like Christ. Those means are the spiritual disciplines. That is why Paul tells Timothy, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim 4:7). What, then, are the spiritual disciplines?

First, the Bible describes them as both personal and interpersonal. There are some we do on our own and others we do with people. Second, they are activities, not attitudes. Third, they should be limited to what is biblical, that is, in the Bible. The Bible lists several: Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, service, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning. Fourth, spiritual disciplines are sufficient for knowing and experiencing God and, thus, growing in Christlikeness. Fifth, although they are derived from the gospel, they are not divorced from it. They should make us dig deeper into the gospel. Sixth, the disciples are means, not ends. They are means to a much greater end of godliness, that is, of becoming more like. But, God has to work the desire in us to want to do these things in the first place (Phil 2:12–13). We, however, should not neglect them.

There is danger in neglecting them, the primary danger being missing God in our lives. These are the means God uses to work in our lives. But, there is also real spiritual freedom in embracing the spiritual disciplines. We experience the freedom of things like “spiritual lethargy” when we practice the spiritual disciplines. Maintaining these disciplines creates spiritual freedoms we would not otherwise have. If we make good use of them, then we can “enjoy God ad the things of God through the spiritual disciplines.”

Chapter 2: Bible Intake (Part 1) … for the Purpose of Godliness

Bible intake is the most important spiritual discipline of them all. We know God most fully in His written Word. We know the gospel in the Bible. In essence, if we want to know God and grow in godliness, it must be through intaking His Word. Bible intake, has several parts.

First, it involves hearing His Word. We can hear it read and preached in the local church. Second, it includes reading God’s Word. One of the hardest parts about reading God’s Word is making time for it; we need to pray and plan for the discipline to do this. Also, selecting a good Bible reading plan will help us become successful. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Also, when we read God’s Word, we should spend time meditating on a word, phrase, or verse. God can use that to work in our lives as we go about our day. Third, Bible intake means studying God’s Word. Studying involves digging deeper into what we have read. There are plenty of examples of people studying God’s Word in the Bible. It forces us to slow down to make sure we understand what we are reading so we can share and obey it.

This section on Bible intake has several applications. First, if we measured our growth in godliness by the quality of our Bible intake, what would the result be? Second, what is one thing we can do to improve our intake of God’s Word? We have probably all felt some measure of conviction after considering how we come short of what our Bible intake should be. But, where can we start to make progress? Picking just one area will help.

Chapter 3: Bible Intake (Part 2) … for the Purpose of Godliness

Another part of Bible intake is memorizing Scripture. This part of Bible intake has many benefits. First, it supplies spiritual power. The Holy Spirit can bring it to our attention when we need it the most. Second, memorizing Scripture strengthens our faith. Recall the words of Proverbs 22:17–19, “Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge, for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips. That your trust may be in the LORD, I have made them known to you today, even to you.” Third, memorizing Scripture prepares us for witnessing and counseling. Fourth, memorizing Scripture provides a means of God’s guidance. Recall the words of the psalmist: “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors” (Psalm 119: 24). Fifth, memorizing Scripture stimulates meditation. When it is stuck in our minds and our minds wander to it, we can meditate in a way that we otherwise could not. Sixth, memorizing Scripture makes our way prosperous. Consider Psalm 1:3, “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” This person is the one who dwells in God’s Word. The Bible gives us so many benefits and promises in the OT and NT for memorizing God’s Word. Now, you may be reading this and think, “If only I could memorize Scripture!”

You can. It begins with having a plan; discipline works with a clear plan, but never without it. Here are some tips. Writing out the verse helps. Drawing picture reminders help carve the verse in our minds. Memorizing the verses word-perfectly still matters; we need to memorize what it says, and nothing less. Having someone to hold you accountable to memorize consistently can help provide positive peer pressure to stay disciplined in this area. Reviewing and meditating daily will be important to maintain your memory of the verses. Also, having a clear method, or set of methods, can help.

There are many memory methods; here are fifteen suggestions to help us.

  1. Try emphasizing different words in the text as you memorize the verse: praise the Lord, praise the Lord, praise the Lord.
  2. Rewrite the text in your own words; although memorizing word-for-word is important, this method helps us paraphrase to check for our understanding, not just rout-memory.
  3. Formulate a principle from the text to help remember what the text means.
  4. Tie the verse to a memorable image.
  5. Look for applications of the text.
  6. Consider how the text points to the Law or the gospel.
  7. See how the text connects to Jesus.
  8. Discover what problem or solution is solved by the text.
  9. Pray through the text.
  10. Memorize the text.
  11. Create an artistic expression of the text.
  12. Ask the Philippians 4:8 questions of the text: what is true? What is honorable?
  13. Ask Joseph Hall’s questions of the text: what is it you are meditating on? What are its divisions or parts?
  14. Set and discover a minimum number of insights from the text.
  15. Find a link between all the paragraphs or chapters you read.
  16. Look for how the text connects to your current issue or question.
  17. Make use of meditation mapping.

Chapter 4: Prayer … for the Purpose of Godliness

The next spiritual discipline to consider is prayer. First, prayer is expected of us. Recall that just before Jesus gives His disciples the model prayer, He repeats, “When you pray…” That is, He expects that His disciples will pray. Furthermore, just before He provides the model prayer, He says, “Pray, then, like this” (Matt 6:9). Paul also commands Christians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). In addition to biblical teaching, people throughout Church History have emphasized the importance of prayer. For example, Martin Luther said, “As it is the business of tailors to make clothes and of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray.” This point is probably one that we all know. God expects us to pray. Nevertheless, it is not easy to pray. We struggle with it; we want to do it, because we find it difficult. How, then, can we learn to pray?

Second, then, we need to learn how to pray. One of the easiest and best ways to learn how to pray is to pray through Scripture. That is, we use Scripture to pray. We use a verse to pray through whatever it is that we want to pray for. As we meditate on it and pray through it, our prayers are enriched. Another way to learn how to pray is to do it consistently. If we never try, it is not going to happen. Also, praying with others can provide the needed encouragement to pray. Furthermore, reading good books on prayer can fuel our desire and knowledge of how to pray.

Third, God answers prayer. Scripture teaches this point in several places including Matthew 7:7–8. We are supposed to be persistent in prayer. Christ commands it of us. George Müller also observed:

The great fault of the children of God is, they do not continue in prayer; they do not go on praying; they do not persevere. If they desire anything for God’s glory, they should pray until they get it. Oh, how good, and kind, and gracious, and condescending is the One with Whom we have to do! He has given me, unworthy as I am, immeasurably above all I had asked or thought!

To apply this chapter, we should consider the following questions:

  • Because God expects us to pray, will you pray?
  • Since we need to learn how to pray, when will we do it?
  • Will we pray consistently since we know God answers it?

Chapter 5: Worship … for the Purpose of Godliness

“Worship” is a term that many are familiar with but perhaps few could define it beyond saying something like, “singing.” The Bible, however, gives us a much larger picture of what “worship” means. First, worship is focusing on and responding to God. If we recall John 20:28, Thomas bowed down and worshipped the risen Christ and said, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas’s focus was not on singing; yet, the Apostle John describes what Thomas did as worship. John did this because Thomas was focused on and responding to God in the person of Jesus. “To worship God means to ascribe the proper worth to God, to magnify His worthiness of praise, or better, to approach and address God as He is worthy.”

Second, worship is done in spirit and in truth. Jesus speaks to this matter in John 4:23–24, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Worshipping in spirit and in truth refers to several things. We must have the Holy Spirit to worship God in the first place. As we seek to worship, our worship must involve both head and heart. We should have passion, but that should be fueled with the truth of God’s Word. Overemphasizing or deemphasizing one or the other creates unacceptable worship.

Third, God expects us to worship Him publically and privately. In Hebrews 10:25, Christians are commanded not to neglect meeting together. “There’s an element of worship and the Christian life that can never be experienced in private worship or by watching worship. There are some graces and blessings that our Father gives only when we ‘meet together’ with other believers as His family.” Yet, the Bible also commands us to worship individually. We are supposed to grow closer to Christ as we worship him privately on our own for the purpose of godliness. Our private worship will also fuel our public worship. Our daily enjoyment of who God is will flow over into our times of public worship.

Fourth, worship is a discipline to be cultivated. Although the Bible commands us, we will never do it unless we discipline ourselves to do so. We practice so many other things so that we can make progress, and worship is no different. “To worship God throughout a lifetime requires discipline. Without discipline, our worship of God will be thin and inconsistent.”

Some questions for us to consider are as follows:

  • When will we commit ourselves to daily worship?
  • When will we worship in spirit and in truth?

Chapter 6: Evangelism … for the Purpose of Godliness

Many professing Christians find evangelism to be exceedingly difficult. They become fearful at even the thought of it. When it comes to evangelism as a spiritual discipline, how are we to practice this? We need to begin by reminding ourselves that evangelism is expected. Christ commands us to share the gospel with other people in the great commission in Matthew 28:19–20. We can only make disciples after we proclaim the gospel. But, Christ does not leave us there to complete this work on our own.

Evangelism is also empowered. In that same Great Commission, Christ promises that He will be with us until the end of the age. From reading elsewhere in Scripture, we know that Christ is referring to his presence via the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers us to share the gospel. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit empowers the gospel message itself. He uses it to transform people.

Evangelism is a spiritual discipline for the purpose of godliness.  It should be the natural overflow of the Christian life. But, it requires discipline. If we will not discipline ourselves to do it, we will simply never do it. Recall that Colossians 4:5–6 tells us, “walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that they may know how you are to answer each question.” This verse speaks to evangelism. “Making the best use of our time” and “be[ing] careful about our speech” both refer to evangelism.

We all need to consider the following questions regarding evangelism.

  • First, because evangelism is expected, will we obey the Lord and share the gospel?
  • Second, because evangelism is empowered by the Holy Spirit will we believe that God can use our words in the salvation of others?
  • Third, because evangelism as a discipline will we plan for it?

Chapter 7: Serving … for the Purpose of Godliness

We are all called to serve in and outside of the church. First, Christ expects Christians to serve. “When we are born again and our sins forgiven, the blood of Christ cleanses our conscience according to Hebrews 9:14, in order for us to serve the living God.” This verse means that we are reborn to serve. At least six things should motivate our service.

First, we should be motivated by obedience. Second, we should be motivated by gratitude. Third, we should be motivated by gladness. Fourth, we are to be motivated by forgiveness, not guilt. Fifth, humility should motivate us. Sixth, love should compel us to share the gospel. In addition to having the proper motivation we should also remember that Christ equips us for service. Every Christian is a gifted to serve. When God saves us, He gives us spiritual gifts. The purpose of our spiritual gifts is to serve the church. Paul reminds us that in Ephesians 4. The Holy Spirit equips the church with gifted people for the sake of serving the church, not ourselves. But, this does not mean that serving will always be easy.

Serving can be very hard work. When we serve it is meant to remind us that we need the Holy Spirit to work through us. Paul often described ministry in terms of agony. He referred to it as toil, even. That means that ministry is true work. Now, ministry can be very fulfilling and rewarding. But, that does not mean it will not be difficult sometimes.

To apply this chapter, we should ask ourselves the following question:

  • Since we are expected and gifted to serve, are we willing to serve? It will require a lot of us, but we need to remember that that is why we are here.

Chapter 8: Stewardship … for the Purpose of Godliness

Another spiritual discipline is stewardship. When we think of “stewardship,” we likely only think of money. Stewardship involves both time and money. Let’s consider each of these in more detail.

God gives us only so much time in our lives. Scripture speaks to making the most of our time. Thus, we should make disciplined use of our time. First, we should use our time wisely “because the days are evil.” Second, we should use our time wisely because our use of time is preparation for eternity. Third, time is short. Fourth, time is passing. Fifth, the remaining time that we have is uncertain. Sixth, time lost cannot be regained. Seventh, we are accountable to God for our time. Eight, time is so easily lost. Ninth, we will find that we value time even more so at death. Tenth, time has value in eternity.

God also cares about how we use our money; Scripture has a lot to say about our use of money. If you recall, Paul in 1 Timothy 5:8 says that we should provide for our family well, and if we do not, we have denied the faith—and are even worse than unbelievers. How, then, can we use our money in a godly way?

First, we need to realize that God owns everything that we think we own. Recall that Psalm 24:1 says, “the earth is the Lord’s.” God owns literally everything. We are simply stewards of creation. Second, giving is an act of worship. When we give the money that we have a way we are worshiping God by doing so. Third, giving reflects faith in God’s provision. When we realize that God owns everything and has everything, we will feel more able to get away what we have because we know that God will provide for us. Fourth, giving should be sacrificial and generous. Paul commends the Corinthians because they gave sacrificially to the people in Macedonia in 2 Corinthians 8:1–5. Fifth, giving reflects spiritual trustworthiness.  Sixth, we get out of love, not legalism. Seventh, we should give willingly, thankfully, and cheerfully. Recall that God tells us that we should consider how much He wants us to give and give cheerfully because He loves a cheerful giver her, as Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 9:7. Eighth, giving is an appropriate response to real needs. The early church shows this example Acts 4. Ninth, giving should be planned and systematic. Notice that 1 Corinthian 16:1–2, Paul instructs giving to happen on the first day of the week, that is, on Sunday. Thus, as we meet on the Lord’s Day, we should be prepared to give. Eleventh, generous giving results in bountiful blessings. Jesus explains in Luke 6:38, “give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. With the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

There are a number of application questions we can consider.

  • First, are we prepared for the end of time?
  • Second, are we using our time as God would have us use it?
  • Third, are we following God’s principles for giving? Fourth, are we giving like we mean it?

Chapter 9: Fasting … for the Purpose of Godliness

Let’s take a quick poll: count up the number of people that you know that fast. I am guessing that you can probably count them on one hand because it is likely that you know no one who does it. Why is that? To as a more personal question, why do we avoid fasting? Should we fast?

Fasting is perhaps one of the most misunderstood spiritual disciplines. We should do it for the purpose of godliness. But, before we get in to some of the techniques that we can use to fast, we need to explain it further. Fasting is for believers in Christ. There are people who do it as unbelievers for physical reasons. That is not the kind of fasting that is described in this chapter.

The Bible describes a variety of fasts. There are partial, public, conversational, and national fasts. Fasting is always done by abstaining from food. God expects Christians to fast. Recall that in Matthew 6:16–17, Jesus repeats the following phrase twice, “and when you fast…” Nowhere does the Bible command Christians to fast. Some have taken that to say that they do not need to fast. This interpretation, however, encounters problems Because Jesus uses the same kind of language for giving and for praying. Perhaps no one would question that Christians no longer need to do those things—mentioned in the same context. Thus, Christians are indeed called to fast.

Fasting should be done on purpose, and that purpose is for godliness. A lot of the times when people fast, they only think of their hungry stomachs. When we feel hunger pains while fasting, we need to remember the purpose of our fast. Coming up with a specific purpose related to godliness will help us with the hunger pains of fasting. No, it will not make them go away; rather, it will give us a reminder to pray and think carefully about why we are fasting. There are a number of reasons why we could choose to fast.

First, we might want to strengthen our prayers. Second, we may need to seek God’s guidance on something specific in our lives. Third, we may wish to fast to express grief. Fourth, fasting can be used for the purpose of seeking deliverance for God’s protection. Fifth, fasting can express repentance and the return to God. Throughout the Old Testament people used fasting for this purpose. For example, after Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh, they fasted for this reason. Sixth, we can fast to humble ourselves before God. Seventh, fasting could be used as a means of expressing concern for the work of God. Eight, we can fast to minister to the needs of others. Ninth, fast and can be used overcome temptation and to dedicate ourselves to God. Tenth, fasting can express love and worship to God because we are saying that he means more to us than food.

It is much easier to talk and read about fasting that it is to do it. But, if we are going to grow in God and us then we need to learn how to fast. We should consider the following application questions. Will we confess and repent of any fear of fasting? Will we fast as the Holy Spirit directs us to? Will we plan a fast dedication now as an expression of our willingness to fast from now on?

Chapter 10: Silence and Solitude … for the Purpose of Godliness

To this point in the book, most of the spiritual disciplines have probably been quite familiar. This chapter, however, addresses a spiritual discipline that is perhaps uncommon. Silence and solitude is a spiritual discipline that we should use for the purpose of godliness. But, before we can ever hope to practice it, we need to seek to understand it as it is taught in the Bible.

We should clear up any potential misunderstanding before we consider the Scriptural teaching. Silence and solitude are complementary to fellowship, not contradictory. We often confuse socializing with fellowship. Socializing is important, but just because we are socializing does not mean that we are actually fellowshipping as the Bible calls us to. Biblical fellowship refers to talking about God and the things of God. Thus, first we should consider silence and solitude as complementary to fellowship, not a replacement for it. Second silence and solitude are usually found together though we should keep in mind that they are two different things. Third, we need to recognize that cultural conditions have caused us to become comfortable with noise and crowds not with silence and solitude.

There are several valuable reasons for silence and solitude. First, Jesus gave us this same example. In the Gospels, He got away to be silent and fast alone. For example, before He was tempted by the devil in Matthew 4, that’s exactly what Jesus was doing. Second, silence and solitude can help us to minimize distractions in prayer. When we are not truly alone, it is too easy to become distracted by everything that we have around us. Third, silence and solitude can help us express worship to God in a way that being with others cannot. Fourth, silence and solitude can help us seek the salvation of the Lord. Fifth, silence and solitude can help us to be physically and spiritually restored. Sixth, they can also help us regain a spiritual perspective. It is easy to get caught up in an unbalanced worldly perspective, but silence and solitude can help us get away from that to remember the things that really matter for eternity. Seventh, silence and solitude can help us seek the will of God. Throughout Church History, men and women have used silence and solitude to do just that. Eighth, silence and solitude can help us learn how to control our tongues. Thus, we have many good reasons why we should practice silence and solitude. But, how can we do it if we have never done it?

Here are several suggestions for practicing silence and solitude. First, schedule a minute-retreat. This shorter retreat could happen shortly before meal to say a prayer. Plus, this kind of retreat is more doable on a regular basis. It is short, clearly, but is a start. Second, try to set a goal of a daily time of silence and solitude. Various life stages and commitments will determine how much time we will be able to have. But, whatever time we are able to devote to it to make a difference for the purpose of godliness. Third, getting away for silence and solitude can also help. This could happen perhaps a special place or some sort of retreat center. Fourth, another way to practice silence and solitude would be to schedule a trade-off daily responsibilities day with perhaps a friend or spouse. This would involve trading off your daily responsibilities so that you can get away to practice silence and solitude for the purpose of godliness.

To apply this chapter, there are several questions that we should reflect on. First, will we seek daily times of silence and solitude? Second, will we seek extended times of silence and solitude? Third, will we start even now? Fourth, will we commit ourselves practicing spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude? If we believe that they are biblical then we have no choice but to do so.

Chapter 11: Journaling … for the Purpose of Godliness

The next spiritual discipline to consider is journaling. How can journaling be a spiritual discipline? Journaling is a way that we can include an account of daily events, a record of personal relationships, and a notebook of insights into Scripture or a list of prayer requests. “A journal is one of the best places for charting your progress and other spiritual disciplines and for holding yourself accountable to your goals.”

When we look to the Scriptures, we find that the practice is biblical. For example, when we look at the Psalms, we have a record of David’s journaling. Look at Psalm 86:1. David asked God, “Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me; for I am afflicted and needy.” This is an example of David pouring his heart out to God in the form of a journal. Yes, it is inspired Scripture, but it is still a journal entry of King David.

Journaling is valuable. First, it can help in understanding and evaluation. Second, it can help with meditation. Journaling is a way that we can use to reflect further on Scripture or an event in our life. Third, journaling can help express thoughts and feelings to the Lord. Fifth, journaling can help us remember the Lord our lives. Fifth, journaling can help in creating in preserving a spiritual heritage. Six, it can also help in clarifying and articulating insights. Seventh, it can help in monitoring goals and priorities. For example, Jonathan Edwards wrote his resolutions in a journal. Other well-known Christians like George Whitfield have used journaling to help keep themselves accountable.

There are many ways that we can journal. First, there is the old pen-and-paper approach. Second, we can use the ever-increasing developments of technology. We can use computers, smartphones, and even tablets. To help yourself get started, it would probably a good thing to start out by using a Bible verse to help guide your journaling to reflect on the Bible verse.

There are many ways to apply the content from this chapter. First, we will see fruitfulness from practicing this discipline as we practice it, just as with any of the other disciplines. Second, journaling requires persistence through dry times. We may feel something like we have writer’s block, at times. But, persistence will pay off. Third, journaling is something that has to be experienced before we can understand its true value.

Chapter 12: Learning … for the Purpose of Godliness

The next spiritual discipline is learning. Learning is a spiritual discipline that is commanded and several different places. First, in Mark 12:30 Jesus commands us to love the Lord our God with all of our mind. Second, the Great Commission commands disciples to learn and obey everything that Jesus has taught. Thus, the spirit of anti-intellectualism in some churches today has no place in the Christian life. We cannot divorce love and learning because Jesus ties them together. Learning is an essential part of the Christian life. We have to learn about the gospel before we can ever hope to trust in Christ. Learning, then, is a necessity. Learning is not something that happens by accident. It requires discipline.

There are many ways that we can learn as a spiritual discipline. First, we can read books like the one you are reading about right now. Second, we can have meaningful dialogue with other Christians about spiritual matters. Third, we could take a course of some kind. Whatever means we use, we should emphasize learning by reading. We learn the Bible primarily by reading it. There are so many excellent books that we can read to help us.

To apply this chapter, there are several questions that we should ask ourselves.

  • First when will we devote ourselves to be coming intentional learners?
  • Second, where we start?
  • Third, when will we start? We also need to remember that the goal of learning is not to make ourselves look smarter; rather it is Christlikeness.

Chapter 13: Perseverance in the Disciplines … for the Purpose of Godliness

The final spiritual discipline to be considered in this book is perseverance. In the Christian life, we are reminded of the need to persevere. The Bible commands us to persevere in the faith in texts like Philippians 2:12–13. It tells us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. The way that we do that is by making use of the spiritual disciplines throughout our entire lives. But, we are not working on our own. The Holy Spirit works in us. Recall that in v. 13, Paul reminds us that God works in us both to will and to work according to His good pleasure.

It might also be attempting to read this book in such a way that we think that spiritual disciplines are something that we can do all on her own. To be clear, no one should read this book that way. The role of fellowship plays an important role in our spiritual life because it is commanded in the Bible. In fact, if we forsake fellowship with other Christians in the local church, the New Testament says that we are not Christians at all. Thus, as we seek to grow in Christ likeness, we need to do it in fellowship, not apart from it. We may find this point to be difficult because we often experience more socializing then fellowshipping in the local church. Nevertheless, we need to persevere to make fellowship a real part of the local church we serve.

Struggles in our lives will make it difficult to persevere in the Christian life. We will experience agony in this life in various ways. But, we still need to continue to persevere as Christians in the spiritual disciplines. We will experience struggles with the world and with our flesh. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit, true fellowship, and the recognition of the ongoing struggle in the Christian life will help us persevere in the practice of the spiritual disciplines.

There are several ways to apply this chapter and this entire book. But, there is one primary question to close this summary with:

  • Do we want to be godlier? If so it will only happen through the practice of the spiritual disciplines that require perseverance.


Sunday, November 28, 2021

A Cradle, a Cross and a Crown

Billy Graham preached the following Christmas message at the White House in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Dec. 16, 1973.

This has been a very disturbing year in American history. Millions of Americans at this moment are confused, discouraged, cynical, frightened and disillusioned. Each day seems to add to our problems.

In the midst of all this upheaval and crisis and difficulty and problems and fear comes the message of Christmas with all of its hope, goodwill and cheer.

I think the message of Christmas has been terribly misapplied and misunderstood for many years. Some think of business profits, shopping, gifts, tinsel, toys and celebration. Others think only of Bethlehem, of the star in the sky, shepherds in the field and angels singing. Still others cynically ask, “Where is this Prince of Peace in a world filled with so much trouble?”

But the real Christmas message goes far deeper. It answers all the great questions that plague the human race at this hour. The Christmas message is relevant, revolutionary and reassuring to us today. I believe it can be summed up in three words: a cradle, a cross and a crown.

“The central message of Christmas is that Jesus Christ, by His death and resurrection, can transform both individuals and society.”

First, the cradle. On that first Christmas night, the Bible tells us about the angel coming to those fearful shepherds and saying, “Fear not, I bring you good news” (Cf. Luke 2:10). What is the real meaning of that Good News?

During World War II, many a mother would help her children remember their father, who was away at war. One mother I heard about took her son every day into the bedroom and showed him a large portrait of his father. One day the little boy said, “Mom, wouldn’t it be great if Dad could just step out of the frame?”

That’s what happened that first Christmas. For centuries people had looked into the heavens longing for God to step out of the frame, and at Bethlehem that’s exactly what God did.

Incredible and unbelievable as it may appear to a modern man, the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ was a visitor from outer space. He was God Incarnate. That virgin-born baby was God in human form. He humbled Himself. He took the form of a servant. He was made in your likeness and mine. He identified Himself with the problems of the human race. And thus it was that the Apostle John wrote, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14).

What a difference the baby born in Bethlehem’s manger 2,000 years ago makes to our world today: the educational systems He has inspired; the social reforms that His teachings have instituted; and the transformation of families and lives that have come about as a result of a baby born at Bethlehem! The whole world was thinking of Caesar. The whole world was thinking of Rome. But in God’s eternal plan, He was thinking of a baby in a manger in the little tiny town of Bethlehem.

Second, there’s the cross. Christmas, to have meaning, cannot be separated from the cross. The angel said at the birth of Jesus, “He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus Himself said, speaking just before His death, “For this cause was I born” (John 18:37). He was the only person in history who was born with the purpose of dying. The Apostle Paul, years later said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).

The central message of Christmas is that Jesus Christ, by His death and resurrection, can transform both individuals and society. Almost everyone at some time or another feels moral guilt and failure. In every newspaper or magazine that we pick up, and in every newscast that we watch, we see a picture of hate and lust and greed and prejudice and corruption—manifested in a thousand ways. The fact that we have police and jails and military forces indicates that something is radically wrong with human nature.

The Bible teaches that the human race is morally sick. This disease has affected every phase of our life in society. The Bible calls this disease by an ugly, three-letter word: sin.

The Bible teaches that the only cure for sin is the blood that Christ shed on the cross. Christ became the Lamb of God who bled and died on the cross for our sins.

The cross and the resurrection stand today as man’s only hope. It was on Good Friday and Easter that God did for man what man could not do for himself. From these momentous events, God is saying to sinful man, “I love you. I love you so much I gave my Son.” But He’s saying more than that. He’s saying, “I can forgive you, because of what Jesus did on the cross.” This is good news this Christmas!

Some may dismiss it as ridiculous that a man dying 2,000 years ago could be relevant today. Paul anticipated that we’d say that. He said, “The preaching of the cross is, I know, nonsense to those who are involved in this dying world, but to us who are being saved from that death it is nothing less than the power of God”           (1 Corinthians 1:18, Phillips).

“At the cradle, He was in the stall of an animal. At the cross, He wore a crown of thorns. But when He comes again, it will be as Commander-in-Chief of the armies of Heaven.”

I believe that America stands on the threshold of divine judgment. Morally, socially, economically, politically, spiritually, we are in deep trouble. We’ve turned away from God, and every month seems to take us further away from the only One who can reverse the tide, forgive our sins and forestall the imminent judgment. We must alter our course if we are going to see many more Christmas seasons as a free people.

Our greatest need is a change in the hearts of people. That is why Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). That’s why He said, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Paul, in his famous sermon at Mars Hill, said, “God … commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world” (Acts 17:30-31).

Who should repent? Everybody. This is what the cross calls for. The heart of its message is simple: Repent or perish.

The Scripture says, “A broken and a contrite heart God will not despise” (Cf. Psalm 51:17). If we as individuals and as a nation would humble ourselves and turn from our sins, God has promised forgiveness, healing to the nation and eternal life to the individual.

Third, there’s the crown. Chiseled into the cornerstone of the United Nations building is a quotation from the Bible that has never yet been fulfilled. It reads, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4). This is a thrilling thought. It has often been repeated by those who long for peace. However, this quotation must not be taken out of context.

The passage speaks of the time when the Messiah will reign over the whole earth. This is the era about which Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer to pray: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). This is the time when He who came as the baby of Bethlehem shall come back as King of kings and Lord of lords.

The Bible teaches that there will be an end to history as we know it. Man will have his last Armageddon. But when it seems that man is about to destroy himself, God will intervene. Christ will return.

At the cradle, He was in the stall of an animal. At the cross, He wore a crown of thorns. But when He comes again, it will be as Commander-in-Chief of the armies of Heaven. He will take control of this war-weary world and bring the peace that we strive for and long for. A new world will be formed, a new social order will emerge. Sin will be eliminated. Tears will be wiped from every eye. Disease shall be no more, and even death will be eliminated from the human scene. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and war shall be no more.

This is the promise of Christmas. This is our hope. This is the Christmas star that lights our darkness. This is the assurance that a new day is coming, through the Messiah, whose name is called by Isaiah the prophet, “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

This is God’s gift of Christmas: the cradle—His Son; the cross—His life; the crown—His coming kingdom. ©1974 BGEA