Promised Land Living: The Importance of Christian Discipleship

I recently completed two series: four fundamental beliefs and seven fundamental practices of the Christian faith. You might be thinking that it looks like a lot of work. Folks, this is what it means to be a disciple of Christ!

The only part of Christianity that takes no effort is receiving Jesus as your Savior. Accepting him as Lord is a whole different ballgame – it requires effort. You must pick up your cross, deny yourself, and follow him. That means you don’t get to do whatever you feel like doing and also experience the benefits of the fruit of the spirit, such as joy and peace. You can be “saved” from hell but still live a hellish life if you don’t take active steps to take up your cross and follow Jesus as a disciple.

I was excited to receive Dallas Willard’s book, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship, for Christmas, and it’s next in my “book queue” to read. The back cover says beautifully what I am trying to communicate:

The last command Jesus gave the church before he ascended to heaven was the Great Commission, the call for Christians to ‘make disciples of all nations.’ But Christians have responded by making ‘Christians,’ not ‘disciples.’ This, according to brilliant scholar and renowned Christian thinker Dallas Willard, has been the church’s Great Omission.”

It’s not enough for us to receive Jesus as our Savior and secure a “fire insurance policy” that gets us out of hell. That’s the starting point, not the ending point. Church, we’ve got to grow up! It’s time to move forward from receiving Jesus as Savior and also embrace him as Lord. Until we do, we won’t accomplish the purposes that God has placed us on this earth to do, and we sure won’t make the Christian life look very appealing to others.

I received Jesus as my Savior at age 8, but I did not truly embrace him as Lord until age 44. I spent decades living in emotional bondage – bondage that was just as bad, if not worse, than that experienced by many people who had not received Jesus as their Savior. Yes, I could check off my list that I wasn’t going to hell (although I wrestled with that concern on and off), but I was not experiencing the fruit of the spirit. I was not joyful or peaceful as I self-injured and binged on food.

Despite having decades of knowledge about God and “being saved”, I was still a spiritual infant. I wanted God to wave a magic wand and change my circumstance, but He wanted to change ME! That didn’t happen until I started doing what He said to do. God’s promises in the Bible can be your reality, but this won’t happen without effort. You must commit to growing into His disciple and allowing God to change you from the inside out. If you will do this, your life will change radically for the better, just as mine has.

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[Graphic: Cover of Dallas Willard’s book, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship. Courtesy Amazon.com.]

Seven Fundamental Practices: Tithing

moneyContinued from here.

The practice of tithing was perhaps the fundamental practice that I resisted the most. The bottom line was that I did not want to do it. I had many reasons that I won’t elaborate on in this blog entry, but underneath all of those reasons was that I simply just did not want to.

I used to believe that nobody actually gives 10% of their paycheck to their church. I was shocked to learn in a Bible study that I was the odd man out. This was a Bible study through work, and none of us attended the same church. So, nobody in the study had a vested interested in getting me to tithe. Because none of them would receive any sort of tangible benefit from me tithing or suffer any sort of detriment from me not doing so, I was more open to hearing their perspectives. After hearing all of my objectives, one member said the following to me with a big grin on his face:

Grace, you’re making this too complicated. It really is simple: Everything you have belongs to God! You don’t own it – you are a steward. God has told you where to spend 10% of His money, and then you get to spend the other 90% on whatever you want.

I had never considered that perspective – that God owns everything and that He allows me to choose how to spend 90% of what he entrusts to me.

I decided to test God on His promise about financial blessing through obedience. Can you guess what happened? God was true to His word. God tested me on my obedience a few times, allowing the coffers to get low to see if I would continue to tithe. I did, and He always replenished the funds before I ran out. Years later, God revealed a powerful truth to me that I’ll need to write about another time. The short version was that God placed powerfully on my heart that He would have to cease to be God to break his promise in Malachi 3:10.

If you need further reassurance, check out my blog entry on sowing & reaping. Tithing is the mechanism God uses to provide for all of your physical needs (what to eat, drink, and wear). Start tithing, and you’ll never have to worry about God meeting those physical needs again!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling and throwing money in the air. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Seven Fundamental Practices: Sabbath Rest

rest_upContinued from here.

Taking a Sabbath day rest each week is one of my favorite fundamental practices and yet was one of the harder ones for me to commit to doing regularly. American culture does not support a full day of rest. We are a country of workaholics, and far too many Christians feel guilty if they are not running here, there, and everywhere every day of the week. Not taking a Sabbath rest is sin — it’s damaging to you and weakens you.

If we assume that the Ten Commandments were written in priority order, then the Sabbath actually outranks the prohibition against committing murder and committing adultery! God also provided a more detailed explanation of the Sabbath than the other nine commandments, so it clearly matters to God.

If you believe that the commandment to keep the Sabbath “went away” after Jesus, check out Hebrews 4:1-11, which specifically states:

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. ~ Heb. 4:9-10

There’s no getting around it. God has commanded us to take a day of rest weekly, and choosing to ignore this command is disobedience.

Now for the good part … Sabbath rest is AWESOME!! I look forward to it all week. As the week progresses, I find myself losing steam, but then I remember that I get to take a Sabbath rest in three days … in two days … in one day … Then, I wake up and have the glorious realization that I get to rest ALL DAY LONG!

My Sabbath feels like it goes on for days, in a wonderful way. It’s like time stops, and I get to relish every glorious minute of freedom from work. It’s like my battery is being recharged all day. Then, when I awaken the next morning, my battery is fully charged, and I am ready to face another week of productivity.

On the rare occasion that I fail to observe the Sabbath, I can feel the difference. I have less energy, and I accomplish less in seven days than I usually do in six. Thankfully, taking a Sabbath the following week gets me back on track, but it’s a L-O-N-G week in the meantime.

This is another topic I will need to write more about later.

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[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding a pillow and blanket, saying, “Rest up.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Seven Fundamental Practices: Prayer

Continued from here.

praying_for_youPrayer matters. I used to not appreciate just how much it does. Trying to have a relationship with God without prayer is like trying to have a marriage in which you and your spouse never talk to each other – you might stay married, but you aren’t going experience the joys of functioning as partners.

Prayer is simply talking with God. Just as with your spouse or a friend, this can happen in a number of ways: indoors or outdoors, alone or in a group, crying out or silently, standing up or kneeling, and even on the fly. What matters is that you are talking with God.

Be authentic when you pray. God already knows everything there is to know about you, even the things you don’t know about yourself! You aren’t going to surprise Him with anything you say. He knows your heart, so there’s no point being anything other than authentic with Him.

On her television show, Enjoying Everyday Life, Joyce Meyer advises us to be real with God when we pray. For example, she says not to bother telling God that you will never do a particular sin again. She says, “Yes, you will!” And she’s right! Because of her advice, I have changed my prayer to ask for forgiveness as well as for God to change me to enable me not to engage in that particular sin anymore. Without His help, I am powerless to stop.

Joyce Meyer also gave me a huge chuckle when she shared her own experience with forgiving others. Out of obedience to God, she prayed that God would bless those who hurt her but then followed up with, “but I don’t really want you to do it.” Of course, the audience laughed, but she made a great point – God already knew that about her, so why pretend otherwise? She then provided excellent advice that I use daily – I can sincerely pray that someone who hurt me will come to know the height, depth, width, and breadth of God’s love for him or her. People who truly know they are loved are less likely to purposely give offense to others.

Prayer is so important that you need to set aside specific time to pray daily. Also, remember that a conversation works both ways, so spend some time in silence to “hear” (sense) God’s response to you. There’s so much more I would like to share about prayer. I’ll have to write a series on that topic later.

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[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace kneeling by her bed in prayer and saying, “Praying for you.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Seven Fundamental Practices: Praise & Worship

amenContinued from here.

I went through a season in which I did not engage much in praise and worship. I didn’t realize how thirsty I was until I attended a Beth Moore Living Proof Live event. I couldn’t get enough of the singing! I soaked in praise & worship like a parched woman who could finally drink in as much as I wanted.

Praise (focusing on what God has done) and worship (focusing on who God is) are powerful ways to get your focus off Why? and How? and onto Who? Brian Johnson of Bethel Music put it best. I was unable to locate the quote online, but when I heard him speak live at a conference, he said that praise & worship are the anesthesia for the Word’s surgery.

Think about the implications of praise & worship being anesthesia. Why do people drink alcohol, take drugs, overeat, overspend, and overindulge in numerous other ways? They are seeking to anesthetize themselves from pain. That’s why I binged on food for so many years. Binge eating enabled me to “stuff down” the pain so I didn’t have to feel it for a little while. Unfortunately, the pain would always come back, and then I also had to deal with the aftermath of having abused my body

Praise & worship provide us with anesthesia for our pain without the drawbacks! There’s no “downside” to praising & worshiping God. As we choose to focus our thoughts on what God has done and on who He is, we pull our focus off our problems and pain, giving us relief as we draw near to God.

Whenever I am feeling depressed or frustrated, I force myself to engage in praise & worship. While this does not require music, I am musical by nature, so singing praise & worship songs is the best anesthesia for me. I previously shared some of the songs I turn to when I am struggling emotionally. Those songs help me take my mind off my problems and focus on God, which always makes me feel better – not always in the moment, but soon. Remember that we reap what we sow, so planting seeds of praise & worship helps us sow a harvest of joy and peace.

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[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up her hands and saying, ”Amen.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Seven Fundamental Practices: Local Church Involvement

churchContinued from here.

Local church involvement – both regular attendance and service to the local church body – are critical fundamental practices. If you are like me and have been hurt by a local church body, that might be a tough pill to swallow, but it’s biblical. Like many of you, have I seen hypocrites in the church. I have seen local church bodies take advantage of people, try to control them, and do all sorts of other ungodly things in the name of God. I’m not advising you to connect with a local church that does not follow God’s ways.

In the United States, we are blessed with religious freedom that many people in other parts of the world only dream about. Don’t waste this freedom! There’s no shortage of local churches to choose from. Pray for wisdom and discernment about which local church body to connect with, and then start visiting churches.

When my husband and I moved in 1999, it took us over a year to find our local church body. We visited many churches, most of which were not a good fit for a variety of reasons. We narrowed it down to three possibilities, but each of the three had something that kept us from feeling like they were “home.” Don’t get me wrong – all three were wonderful church bodies – they just weren’t quite the right fit for us.

I then decided to scout out a church that was a little outside the distance radius that we had set. As soon as I walked in the door, I knew I had “come home.” I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, and it just “felt right.” My husband felt the same way when he joined me the next week. This local church body has been our Church Family for over 15 years now, and we cannot imagine our lives without it! See this blog entry for an example of why.

Note that your only consideration should not be what you can get from a church but also what you can give. God has blessed you with at least one spiritual gift that He intends for you to use to bless your Church family. You cannot do this without plugging into a local church body.

If you are not connected with a local church body, you are missing out! So many blessings await you. Find a local church and plug in. Attend the services, and pray for discernment about the ways God wants you to serve that local church body. Your relationship with God is not just about you. You are an integral part of the Body of Christ.

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[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace praying in front of a stained glass window. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Seven Fundamental Practices: Daily Quiet Time with God

no_1Continued from here.

As I shared here, other than receiving Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior, the most important decision I ever made was to spend daily quiet time with God. The Bible promises that we will find God if we will seek Him with all our hearts.

Note that seeking requires effort. When you play Hide & Seek, the seeker must make an effort to find the hider. Otherwise, the game is a waste of time. The seeker does not just go about his day and occasionally glance around. Seeking is an activity that takes effort, focus, and time.

If you are a Christian, when someone asks you what your #1 priority is, you will likely say God. However, if someone were to watch everything you do for a week, would that priority be evident in your actions? Do you set aside any time during your day for one-on-one time with God?

I didn’t! I was leading Bible studies but did not prioritize God. If you has asked me if God was the most important part of my life, I would have said yes, but my actions said otherwise. I would squeeze in doing my Bible study “homework” while waiting in the carline or cram it all in the night before we met. I would say prayers to God on the fly, mostly when I needed something. (Not to say there isn’t a place for that – I’ll get to that when I discuss prayer.)

However, I certainly set aside time to watch my favorite TV shows, to hang out with friends each week, and do other activities that I valued. Sadly, I valued them more than I valued God, and this was evidenced by the fact that I set aside regular time for those activities while squeezing in time for God.

All of this changed when I made the life decision in March 2013 to tithe the first hour of my day to God. Instead of giving God the scraps of my time, I made Him my first priority, and that was when I found Him. Of course, God was always with me, but when I started setting aside quality time with God, I started being with God.

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[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling while holding a red ribbon that says “#1.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Seven Fundamental Practices: Bible Study

bibleBible study is critical to growing your relationship with God. Sadly, many Christians do not seem to appreciate the power packed into that book. The Bible is God’s Word, and God used His words to speak the world into being. God’s Word is a spiritual weapon that you can use to fight back whenever you are tempted to believe something contrary to God’s perspective. The Bible is also “medicine” you can use to heal whatever ails you, whether that is anxiety, fear, or anything else that steals your joy, peace, and contentment.

Your Bible isn’t doing you any good sitting on your bookshelf. You need to get God’s words into your heart and spirit, and that happens by studying it. While reading the Bible has its place, you will best “arm yourself” by studying it, and that happens as you meditate on a passage of scripture.

What exactly do I mean by this? Let me provide you with a concrete example…

Let’s say that you struggle with feeling unloved. Use Biblegateway.com or a concordance to locate Bible verses that tell you God’s perspective on whether you are loved. One verse you might find is Psalm 36:5:

Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens,

your faithfulness to the skies.

You know how when you feel unloved, you worry about it? You think about one example after another that supports the lie that you are unloved. You roll the thought around and around in your head. Do the same thing, only do it with God’s words instead.

This passage says that God’s love reaches to the heavens. Think about how high that is – from the ground all the way up to the stars. Considering the sun is a star, think about how far away each star must be to appear that small in the sky. Now think about filling up all of that space with God’s love for you. Where can you go that you are not surrounded by His love?

Now, think about God’s faithfulness reaching to the skies. We see the sky during the day but the stars at night. Perhaps we are better attuned to His faithfulness when the sun is shining, hence the comparison to the skies, but in the darkness of night, our vision stretches far beyond the skies to the heavens. God’s faithful reaching the skies is high enough, but His love reaching the heavens? That’s even into other universes. I cannot even wrap my mind around the height, depth, width, and breadth of a love that transcends this one universe.

Do you see how powerful Bible study is? It’s critical to a strong walk with God because it enables you to digest what He tells us about Himself until it becomes a part of who you are.

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[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace reading the Bible. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Seven Fundamental Practices of the Christian Faith

will_doI have just completed a series on four fundamental beliefs that are critical to experiencing joy, peace, and contentment in God. While you might agree that all four are biblically based and that you “should” believe them, you might not actually believe them yet, no matter how much you want to.

I have learned that for me to fully believe all four, I must be engaging in seven fundamental practices regularly. Whenever all seven are a regular part of my day-to-day life, the four fundamental beliefs come much more easily. Conversely, when I am unable to engage in one or more of those practices for a period of time, I’ll notice that I am having a harder time resting in those beliefs.

Here are the seven fundamental practices of the Christian faith that I will be discussing:

Note that I used bullets rather than a numbered list. This is intentional because one fundamental practice is no more important than the next. If you are not engaging in any of these fundamental practices regularly, you are likely to encounter resistance to the four fundamental beliefs. All seven work together to build your faith and strengthen your relationship with God.

I sometimes go through seasons in which I am unable to engage in all seven for a period of time, and I can feel the difference. My most recent season was over the holidays. I missed three weeks of church – Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and the following Sunday. My family had other plans for Christmas Day, we traveled for New Year’s Day, and then our church was closed the follow Sunday due to inclement weather.

While I did not feel guilty about going a month between church services at my local church, I felt weakened. I missed my church family and felt “hungry” for Christian fellowship. I also felt “off.” I was more easily tempted by anxious thoughts, and I knew why. I could not wait to return to my local church, not out of obligation but out of necessity!

If you are not engaging in one or more of the seven fundamental practices, I strongly encourage you to incorporate those practices into your day-to-day life. You will be amazed by how much easier it is to believe God when you are doing all seven!

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[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding a pen and clipboard, saying, “Will do.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Four Fundamental Beliefs: Differing Perspectives

mountain_ltd_perspectiveContinued from here .

Your perspective will determine whether you believe that God is bigger than your problems. To help explain this, the first graphic shows the perspective of someone focused on the problem. Notice how the problem fills up the frame. All you can see is the problem and how much larger it is than you are.

This is what happens when we ask Why? and How?. Those questions keep us focused on our problems, and this is the norm for most people. We study our problems, mull them over in our heads, and obsess over them. We try to come up with ways to manage them, but some problems are simply too large to be managed. Then, we wind up creating other problems to help us escape the first one through dependencies, such as drinking, drugs, food, compulsive busyness … you can fill in the blank for yourself.

The first graphic represents how I viewed overcoming the child abuse. I couldn’t go over, under, or around it, and the child abuse filled the frame of my perspective. So, I ate to “stuff down” the pain, which just erected another problem in the form of an eating disorder. The more I fixated on food, the larger the problem became until that was all I could see in my frame.

However, check out the graphic of your perspective when you take your eyes of your problem and, instead, focus on your God by asking Who?.

mountain_full_perspective

While your problem continues to be much larger than you, it pales in comparison to the size of your God. When you shift your perspective to include God, you find much more room in the frame of your perspective for His joy, peace, and contentment. While both views are true, only one is complete.

[Graphics: First: Cartoon of Grace standing in front of a large cube with “Problem” written on it. Second: Same drawing, but a huge triangle behind them with “God” on it makes Grace and the “problem” cube appear small. Courtesy Bitmoji and Grace Daniels.]