Refocusing

Stephen Arterburn

When Jesus walked the earth, He directed the focus off of the apparently ‘good’ people doing apparently ‘good’ things,’ and redirected people’s focus on to God. The religious leaders were pointing to the rules; Jesus pointed to Himself, through whom relationships are restored to God.

A healthy, growing faith is always focused on the person of God Himself, not on cheap substitutes. A healthy faith begins and ends in God, not in rules, regulations, and sheer duty. Jesus Christ, not religion, is at the core of a robust Christian faith.

Today Jesus Christ offers men like you and me the same opportunity He gave to those people in the early church. The choice is ours. We can insist on performing and conforming out of obligation and can try to feel good by chalking up good deeds.

Or we can choose Christ’s way. We can love God with all our heart, mind, and soul. We can experience His love and come to know Him intimately. We can stop hiding behind religious facades and meet Him right where we are. We can focus on Him and find sanity, rest, and peace when all hell seems to be breaking loose around us.

Men, it’s not about you. Surrender yourself to Christ’s love and acceptance. Grow closer to Him. Make Him’not your ‘good deeds’ or anyone or anything else’the focus of your life. You’ll never regret it.

Discipline or Discipleship

I have been pondering the difference between discipline and discipleship lately. I won’t presume to have a solid grasp on the answers to any of the questions this has produced in me, but it has certainly opened my eyes to some destructive tendencies that have come out of a life overly focused on discipline alone. I find that discipline alone tends to lead toward legalism, and legalism sounds the death knell of faith.

Before I go on let me be clear about the issue of discipline. I do not believe that exercising discipline is wrong or unwise. God even expects us to be disciplined (orderly) in how we approach our faith and our lives. But as I observe people, and especially take inventory of my own life, I find that many of us have crucified faith on the altar of discipline. In other words, we worship our discipline(s) rather than the Divine One.

This is not what God designed us for.

The more I study God’s Word and engage in conversations with Him, the more I realize how deeply passionate He is about my devotion to Him. He wants (and deserves) every part of me to be in total submission and surrender to Him. He desires this, not only because He is deserving of it, but because He understands the benefits that such devotion brings to my life and relationships. Single-minded focus on God produces the fruit of abundant life.

So I believe a shift in focus must occur if we as Christians are going to experience this abundant life that Jesus’ spoke of so long ago. This shift in focus must move us from seeing discipline as the “end all” of our Christian faith to embracing discipleship as our process for becoming what God designed us to be.

Discipleship focuses on God in the context of relationship; first with Him, then with others. This is a forever changing, forever growing, forever exploring adventure. Discipline alone, on the other hand, tends to draw our focus toward the “task” of relationship rather than simply interacting with God and others.

How does such a shift in focus affect our struggle with sexual temptation? Shouldn’t we be more focused on discipline so we can resist each temptation we face? I would argue that when we lock in too intently on discipline alone as the answer for resisting temptation, we actually end up more frustrated and defeated. Discipline often deceives us into thinking that our resisting of temptation has something to do with our own power or strength. It doesn’t. The truth is that only God can defeat the temptations in our lives and cause us to walk away. Therefore, it is through discipleship, or a growing intimacy and connection with God, that we are truly set free to live a daily life of sexual purity.

A final significant difference I must mention between discipline and discipleship is that discipline can often be pursued in isolation, whereas discipleship requires relationship. This is key in understanding the immeasurable value of becoming a disciple of Christ. We were never designed to live in isolation and disconnection; from God or others. This is where discipleship takes us out of our comfort zone, but this is ultimately for our good. In fact, God has mysteriously designed our accountability relationships with others to act as a hedge of protection, helping us fight the battle against sexual lust. Our discipleship relationships form a sort of ‘purity team’ that aids in strengthening our individual fight for purity. We need godly teammates in order to win this ongoing battle.

What’s the bottom line here? Discipline is important, but it is through discipleship that your life is transformed.

Where can you begin in shifting your perspective to developing more of a balance between these two? Take a look at your relationships and see if there are some individuals with whom you can go deeper, inviting them to be part of your purity team. Also, evaluate your relationship with God and ask Him to show you how to grow in your intimacy with Him. In the long run, you will be glad you got serious about discipleship.

As I promised, I don’t have all the answers. Just some thoughts rattling around in my head about some contrasts between discipline and discipleship. Maybe they are helpful thoughts. I know they have helped me to be more aware of the moments when I have preferred to grasp onto discipline rather than grow in my relationship with God. By God’s grace, I pray we will become the faithful disciples He desires us to be.

For help in developing grace based discipline born out of discipleship, please see Every Man’s Battle.
Also click here to view more helpful resources for men.

Jonathan Daugherty

Lessons from the Desert

Ed Grant

Recently I escaped with a number of other pastors to the Cafa Franciscan Spiritual Retreat Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. We were there to learn how to be quiet with God. You might think this an easy task for those committed and trained to care for God’s people. Truth be told, those who speak for God need to better learn how to listen to Him. I came away from the experience with a greater determination to make time to hear from God through more relaxed times of prayer and by taking smaller bites of His Word, allowing time to meditate instead of rushing through it.

One of our assignments was to take a walk in solitude around the arid property, wonderfully landscaped with many varieties of cactus. These thrive in arid environments that receive minimal amounts of rainfall and survive by storing it in their thick branches. I took some time to contemplate the cacti, some looking like green pancakes connected at the edge, some looking as though they were victims of a stick-up as they held their hands up, and others resembling elongated bulbs protruding from the ground. I noticed that each was naturally protected with prickly needles or spikes protruding from the branches. These intimidating spikes threatened harm to any creature that dared to take a bite.

Mixed in with the desert flora were lovely palms and other varieties of trees.

There was also a “Healing Garden” on the border of the property where winding paths were shaded by leafy citrus trees: grapefruit, orange, lemon, tangelo, and tangerine. Obviously these trees didn’t belong here. They flourished only because an intricate irrigation system had been built throughout the garden. It was here that the Holy Spirit began to open my eyes to some important truths.

The unbelieving world is like the prickly cactus plants that have adapted to arid conditions, living on the minimal amounts of water. Their limited resources have to be protected from those who would steal them. They have no spiritual resources to share with others. As people perennially thirst they try to find something that will truly satisfy their longing. St. Augustine said it well: ‘O God, You have created us for Yourself and our souls are restless and searching until they find their rest in You.’

Those who have received the Savior into their lives are like the citrus trees and palms planted in the healing garden. They are not native to the desert climate and cannot long survive without regular care and watering. St. Peter refers to us as “aliens and sojourners.” As the author of Hebrews describes the difficult experiences of members of his “Hall of Faith” he calls them ‘aliens and strangers.’ He writes, ‘People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own’ (Hebrews 11:14). We also long for the place Jesus prepared for us when He went to the cross! But for now, the life we have must be sustained through regular times spent with Jesus, the One Who comes to us as Living Water. Faithful, unhurried prayer and a patient meditation on God’s Word are the means through which our love relationship with Him is sustained.

Unlike the desert flora that diligently guard their meager resources and have nothing but their beauty to share with others, God’s Spirit intends something more than beauty and survival for us. He delights to produce a variety of fruit through us for others to enjoy. The fruit miraculously grown in the arid world gives ample evidence to a source the thirsty world longs to experience.

As the high priest led the procession into the temple carrying a golden pitcher of water, he halted, looked to heaven and was about to pour its contents onto the ground. His action would be accompanied by a prayer for the rains to water the earth anew the following year. Suddenly Jesus’ voice pierced the reverent silence of the gathered congregation like a trumpet blast. He shouted in a loud voice, ‘If a man is thirsty, let Him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him’ (John 7:37b-38). Those streams, a clear reference to the Holy Spirit, are the source of the life giving fruit Paul has in mind in his letter the congregation in Galatia, called ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:22ff.).

May we be like the psalmist who recognized his thirst and went to the One he knew could satisfy it: ‘O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for You in a dry and weary land where there is no water.’ (Psalm 63:1)

Need a taste of God’s living water, a mini-retreat?  Please join us for a New Life Weekend.