Sunday, December 30, 2007

This morning my family and I worshiped in the Francis Auditorium. It is where Crosspoint Community Church (where my friend Pete Wilson is pastor) now worships, but is where Park Avenue Baptist Church used to worship. It was at Park Avenue where my wife Carrie was dedicated as a baby, baptized as a believer, and married to me. It is where I was saved, ordained, and where I preached my first sermon. It is also where I first read Celebration of Discipline and began practicing spiritual disciplines consistently.

Here are some thoughts on section two The Outward Disciplines

Each of these disciplines are hard, but they provide immense freedom. They are all difficult for Westerners who have come to define themselves and seek value through possessions, positions, power, and pleasure. Each of these disciplines works to change a believer's value system to a Biblical one.

The discipline of simplicity is a difficult one, but can provide great freedom. Everyone I know including me has stuff we don’t need. We bought it knowing we didn’t need it and now we keep it even though it has no use. We in the West love to buy and own things. We can’t visit a condo at the beach without wanting to own it. We can’t be happy with a car that safely gets us where we need to be without wanting a new one when we see it. The house we said we had to have is no longer enough even though it provides everything we need.

Simplicity calls us to reality and responsibility. Foster speaks to the heart of the matter when he writes, “Because we lack a divine Center our need for security has led us into an insane attachment to things (p.80).

To exercise the discipline of simplicity is to gain a Biblical worldview. Once we value what God values and pursue what is of Him life gets simple. It is when we value temporal things and pursue short term pleasure, power, and position that we seek to gain security through possessions. To live a simple life you must live as though this world is not your home and believe that what matters most is God.

The discipline of solitude sounds so great until you do it. I hear many stay-at-home moms and hard working people saying bring it on. Well, what we must remember is that “Solitude is more a state of mind and heart than it is a place” (p.96). Solitude is not getting alone to do what you want. Solitude is getting quiet so you can hear God’s voice.

Foster does a very good job of explaining how God leads us through times of solitude. So many times people go through these seasons and doubt their salvation. This is not the purpose. That is what Satan the accuser tells you. We must have such a strong faith that we can go through “the dark night of the soul” and not lose hope, joy, peace, or purpose.

This is a discipline that I have to have help with. I have never gone through the “dark night” or a season of purposeful disciplined solitude without someone coaching me and walking with me. It’s hard and the devil can mess with you if you are not careful and leave you in a place of darkness and despair.

The discipline of submission is one of attitude, but it is liberating. The person who can be liberated from being seen, valued, appreciated, and applauded can change the world. This is what the discipline of submission seeks to produce.

This discipline can also lead to an unhealthy place and I have found it important to have others coach me and walk with me as I exercise this discipline. It is easy to apathetically just give in to people. That is not submission. Submission is giving yourself for the benefit of others. The purpose is to benefit others and that is the discipline. It is not just giving in. That is not necessarily beneficial. It is doing what needs to be done to help others without getting any kind of honor from it.

The final section on service is great. I’m out of time so let me just say that the section “Self-righteous Service Versus True Service” (p. 128) is worth the whole book. As a matter of fact it should be a book.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Inward Focus of Spiritual Development

Thoughts on section one The Inward Disciplines

I have always been fascinated by the fact that my inward life, when disciplined, makes my outward life much more effective. There is for me and I believe all people a direct link between the inner life and the outer life. There is a balance to life when the interior aspects of life are being aligned to God’s will and work. I can have everything going my way outwardly and be frantic if my heart, mind, and soul are not being immersed in God’s presence through the inward disciplines. Likewise, I can have my world turned upside down and be at complete rest when I am focused on God through the disciplines of the inner life.

Over the years I have practiced each of these and have found some success and some failure. The success has come when I have not brought any expectations to the discipline other than obedience and the desire to see God’s face. When I come with a preconceived concept of what I want God to do, I rarely succeed in growing through the inward disciplines.

The discipline of meditation is the most enjoyable of all of the disciplines for me. It allows me to be still and know that God is God and that I am not. It is a refreshing time when I release all responsibility onto God and discover where He is at work so I can join Him there and ride the wave of His power and love.

It is a time of great worship. When we meditate, “we create the emotional and spiritual space which allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary of the heart” (p.20). It is very important that we learn the difference in Biblical meditation and that of other religious and psychological camps.

Prayer is a constant struggle for me. I would love to say that it is because I am so busy doing things for God that I don’t have time to pray. The fact of the matter is I don’t want to change and discover what God wants done. I just want to do what makes me happy and what makes me look good. That is my sin. Foster points out well that “If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer” (p.33). Change is hard for a control freak and an insecure soul that seeks the applause of people. I must discipline my heart and mind in meditation before I can pray effectively. I must do that because “In prayer, real prayer, we begin to think God’s thoughts after him: to desire the things he desires, to love the things he loves, to will the things he wills” (Ibid).

I have been most successful in prayer when I schedule a specific time and place. It is also helpful for me to pray using the A.C.T.S. method. A is for adoration. It helps me to remember who I am praying to. C is for confession. When I reflect rightly on God, it is easy to see my sin and acknowledge it to my gracious King. T is for thanksgiving. When I consider God’s grace and goodness I cannot help but give Him thanks. S is for supplication. Having purified my heart and prepared my mind I can pray for the needs I know of confidently in the name of Christ.

The discipline of fasting is the most difficult discipline for me. I find comfort in food. Under pressure I will reach for M&Ms. Fasting forces me to stop relying on me and to rely solely on God as my peace and comfort.

It is weird, but what I am doing when I reach for food as comfort is seeking to make food save me. I am asking food to do something it cannot do. That means that I will not be satisfied or at peace. I must discipline myself to seek the Savior who can comfort me and give me peace. His name is Jesus.

To enjoy Jesus I must from time to time release my compulsion to find comfort in food. Fasting is a way to do that. “Food does not sustain us; God sustains us” (p.55). Fasting provides that reminder of reality.

There are many reasons and seasons for fasting. I have fasted most often when a decision had to be made or when I felt my focus on Christ slipping. It is helpful to fast a day or two a week and then to have a time (a week or more) of fasting. Foster provides basic instructions on how to do that, but there are other books by Bill Bright and John Piper to name two that can help you.

What I have found most effective is to schedule the fast and to let my wife and accountability partners know about it. This helps in meal preparation for my wife (she doesn’t make my favorites). My accountability partners help watch my attitude as sin is revealed: fear, anger, resentment, etc.

Study is the easiest of the disciplines for me. I have always been a reader and a thinker. Study is more than reading books. It is examining all of life. Foster is right, “To read (study) successfully we need the extrinsic aids of experience, other books, and live discussion” (p.68). That is why this last year when we “Walked in the Word” I asked our people not only to read the Bible, but also to worship and hear my preaching on the books of the Bible - experience, to read D.A. Carson’s devotion for commentary - other books, and to get in a small group to discuss what was learned - live discussion. That is the way to truly study.

These disciplines form the foundation of a life that can grow in grace and find strength through spiritual development.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Power Is in God NOT in Us

Thoughts on the Introduction of Celebration

There is a great danger in practicing the disciplines. The danger is twofold: self-loathing or self-sufficiency. Self-loathing comes when we are not able to overcome sin by our own means of willpower. Self-sufficiency and pride comes when we have some level of success over sin through the means of our willpower. In either case the focus and source of strength is self.

The power of the disciplines is God. All that the spiritual disciplines do is put us in a position for God to change us. We cannot change ourselves. We can make behavior modifications, but that only goes skin deep. We need a change of heart and passion and only God can make those changes. Changes of the heart and desire produce fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22). Fruits of the flesh produce legalism and death.

When we exercise the disciplines we are functioning like farmers. We are preparing the field that is our life so God can make a harvest of Godliness grow in us. When we fast, study, meditate, serve, and commune with other believers we are making our lives capable of spiritual renewal. When we study Scripture and pray we place the Gospel seed in us. When we gather with other believers and worship we water the Gospel in us. But make no mistake. It is God who makes us grow in grace and in the knowledge of truth and changes our hearts and makes us like Jesus. “God has given us the disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us” (p.7).

The disciplines are the means. With that in mind let’s not forget the wise words of the Puritan William Secker, "Neither be idle in the means, nor make an idol of the means." What he is saying is that we must exercise the disciplines. We must not “be idle in the means.” We must practice spiritual disciplines in order for God to work in us. But we must not trust in the means and make them our focus of worship. We cannot trust in our ability to study, pray, and worship. We do those things to enable God to work in us. We must avoid the temptation to “make an idol of the means.” The means or spiritual disciplines are only tools.

My wife keeps our home well organized and clean. Her goal is not to sweep, dust, and vacuum. Her goal is a well organized clean home. She uses the means of sweeping, dusting, and vacuuming to reach her goal. What gives her a sense of satisfaction is not that she used the tools, but that the tools produced a clean house.

In growing in Christ we must use the tools of spiritual disciplines. The goal is to be made clean or sanctified in Christ. God is the one who cleans us and makes us like Christ. The disciplines are the tools we use to position ourselves to be changed by God.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Fight of Your Life

Every year at this time I find it helpful to reread “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster (now in mp3 for those who don't like to read). There are a number of good books on spiritual disciplines, but I have found this book helpful for the past fifteen years and continue to use it as a reminder and as a basic plan for the upcoming year.

As I reread it this week, I will attempt to post my thoughts and observations on what I rediscover in it. This book provides a great deal of application, but the foundation of each discipline is a core need that we all have. I am going to share whatever I can on the functions of the disciplines and also the need for self-control in our lives.

Before I begin reading this book I like to remind myself why it is so important that I receive this reminder and force myself to focus on my need for discipline.

There are many writers both living and dead that help me understand this need in my life. One of them is Oswald Chambers. In his classic devotion “My Utmost for His Highest” on the day of December 21 he writes, “Be ruthless with yourself.” This is my and all believer’s greatest need.

So many Christians focus on the wrong enemy when seeking to fight the good fight of faith. Many times they seek to manage their circumstances or even look to engage spiritual forces with prayers and power statements. The fact of the matter is that our greatest foe and enemy of faith is us. If we can ever discipline our lives and keep our bodies and emotions in check, we will have won most of the spiritual war we face.

So I am going to seek to be ruthless with myself. I am not going to make excuses or allow myself to feel sorry for me. I must face the fact that I am not a victim. I am a blood bought soldier of the King of Kings and I have His Spirit living in me. I have been redeemed by His grace and have been given my orders. I am to live in obedience to Him out of a great love and a strong sense of appreciation.

Another writer that helps me force myself to focus on my need for discipline is John Owen. In his classic “The Mortification of Sin” he tells Christians to “Be busy killing sin or it will be killing you.” Sin is not a joke. It is not a mistake. It is not a slight vice. It is a deadly disease to your soul and it will rob you of life. It will job you or joy and peace. It will lead you to destroy your life and the lives of the people closest to you. It will seek to steal the hope you hold.

We must constantly seek to kill this sin that so easily entangles our thoughts and desires. We must starve it out. We must drive it out. We must vanquish it from our head, heart, and hands.

Foster’s book helps us understand how to do that. That is why I will be rereading it again this year as I have for several years now and I hope you will join me and begin practicing these spiritual disciplines.

Monday, December 24, 2007

How the Grinch Steals Christmas

It is becoming more and more difficult to define the reason for the season. So many have taken the Christ out of Christmas and have made it into something far less.

Not everyone is making it commercialized chaos. Some are taking another route that is cheaper, but possibly even more dangerous because it is good, moral, and sentimental.

Many are going the way of the Grinch.

I love the movie “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” but let’s face it by the end of the movie the Grinch still doesn’t get Christmas. He understands the need for relationships and the value of community, but Christmas? I don’t think so.

It’s like a Christmas card we received this month. It had the picture of a dear friend’s new born child and the caption underneath it said “our reason for the season.”

I do not mean to undermine the importance of family. I love family and it is a core Biblical value. But family is not the reason for the season. Kindness, compassion, and community involvement are not the reason for the season.

Christmas is a celebration of God becoming flesh in order to redeem man from sin by dying as the atonement for the sin of those who believe in Him. It’s great that families can get together and people are more charitable and considerate, but the fact of the matter is that unless the Christmas loving Ebeneezer Scrooges of the world repent of their sin and submit their lives to Christ as Savior and Lord they face a dark dismal Godless future.

So enjoy time with friends and family and be nice to strangers – things Christians are to do everyday. But celebrate Christmas as the reminder of the fact that God made His dwelling among us and became man by being born of the Virgin Mary in a stable in a small town in Israel. Remember that this miraculous birth lead to a sacrificial death and out of awe and wonder worship the One who has won the victory over sin and death – Jesus the Christ.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

He's One He's Walking He's Well

One year ago today Asher James Pettus was born.

He weighed 8 pounds and 3 ounces. He was 19 and 1/2 inches long. Yesterday for his one year old visit he tipped the scales at 28 pounds and 13 ounces and was 32 and 1/2 inches long. He's a keeper.

We have been blessed this year to enjoy this precious boy. Carrie and I dedicated him to Christ in the spring and we understand that we are stewards of his life and are taking that responsibility very seriously. We pray daily for his salvation and are raising him in an environment where the Gospel is shared and celebrated.

As we look forward to his next year of life we do so with great joy and thanksgiving. His older siblings Mackenzie who is now 11 and Jackson who is now 8 are enjoying playing with him and teaching him the ropes of what it means to be a Pettus.

Please pray for Asher that he will love Jesus and live his life for the glory of God. Ask God to keep him healthy. Pray also for Carrie and me and the kids that we will provide him with Godly training, love, discipline, and purpose.

Friday, December 7, 2007

If It’s Easy It's Probably Wrong

Last night I watched LSU give up a 21 point lead to Villanova with less than 8 minutes left in the game. They had the thing won, but then they stopped pushing. They stopped hustling. They stopped working. They took it easy. They got comfortable and it cost them.

The same is true for us. It should never be easy. We have an enemy, the devil, that prowls around looking to devour us. He cannot have our souls, but that is not going to keep him from trying to destroy our families. He cannot have God’s glory, but that is not going to stop him from trying to make a mockery of God’s grace by getting you or me to fall into embarrassing sin.

Every day we must allow God’s Word and God’s Spirit to hurt our pride and humiliate us. We must daily seek to see how far we have to go and then by God’s grace in the power of His Spirit through the hope of Jesus’ redeeming blood press on toward the goal to win the prize we have been called to that is heavenward.

Here is what Oswald Chambers had to say on the matter.

The entrance into the Kingdom is through the panging pains of repentance crashing into a man’s respectable goodness; then the Holy Ghost, Who produces these agonies, begins the formation of the Son of God in the life. The new life will manifest itself in conscious repentance and unconscious holiness, never the other way about. The bedrock of Christianity is repentance. Strictly speaking, a man cannot repent when he chooses; repentance is a gift of God. The old Puritans used to pray for ‘the gift of tears.’ If ever you cease to know the virtue of repentance, you are in darkness. Examine yourself and see if you have forgotten how to be sorry.

If following after God is easy for you. You are probably not following well. It should be a daily dose of reality and of disappointment with self and an amazement with God’s mercy and love. which leads to repentance and a deeper desire to be Godly.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Who Do You Admire and Listen To?

On occasion I am asked who it is I like to listen to preach and who inspires me to love Jesus more and serve His Kingdom purpose with my life.

There are a number of pastors I love to hear preach. Here is a short list of people I listen to regularly. They are different in so many ways, but similar in the ways that matter most to me. They believe, as I do, in the sufficiency and infallibility of Scripture. They believe, as I do, in the divinity of Christ and in His penal substitution on the Cross. They believe, as I do, that the church is God’s chosen people called by Him to reach the world for Christ. They believe, as I do, in the one true triune God.

Tim Keller is one of those pastors I admire and listen to. Here is a page that provides some background on him and some resources that I believe will bless you.

John Piper is another pastor that helps me think theologically and challenges me to live a holy life for Christ. Here is the ministry he leads and provides resources that can help you.

Bob Coy is a pastor that makes me laugh and helps me think practically about the Christian life and the Word of God. Here is the ministry that he leads and provides good sermons.

Two more would be not just the pastors, but also their churches. Andy Stanley is the pastor of Northpoint Community Church and you can find out more about this ministry and hear him preach here. Joel Hunter is the pastor of Northland Community Church and you can find out more about this truly missional church and hear him preach here.