Category Archives: Growth

“I Knew That!”

I was struck by something the apostle Paul wrote to the young preacher Timothy.  “Keep reminding them of these things.” (2 Timothy 2:14)  Young Timothy was to have a ministry of reminding!

If you listen regularly to me preach and teach, or any other preacher or teacher, you’ve probably thought to yourself partway through the presentation, or at least at the end, I knew that.

As a preacher, teacher, and writer, I’m well aware I’m not always dispensing new material.  That’s good!  My job’s not to come up with brand new material but to proclaim the best material ever put to paper, the Bible.

When someone’s new to faith much of what they hear and read is going to be new stuff.  That’s exciting.  At some point of spiritual growth, however, we discover we’re hearing and reading the same ideas over and over again.  We have a choice at this point.  We can become bored and tune it out or we can open up ourselves to deeper thinking on the familiar and greater application of that which we already know.

As a speaker and writer I try to come up with fresh ways of expressing the same old truths.  I’m OK with that.  It seems to me that God’s saying to all of us, “And I’m going to keep repeating myself until you get it right!”
Dave

More Input!

“More input!  I need more input!”  The words are from the main character in a 1986 movie called Short Circuit.  The main character was an endearing robot that had become conscious and self-aware.  He delighted in being alive and couldn’t learn enough.  He’d pick up a book and fan through the pages, absorbing the contents of the entire book within seconds, the ultimate in speed reading. 

It seems to me that we can be alive in this physical world but essentially dead to the spiritual dimension of life.  But when we make the choice to believe that there is more to life than what we can experience with our five senses, then we’re opening ourselves up to a whole new way of living.  Living with an openness to God means being open to more input, having a curiosity that grows into a desire that develops into a passion to hear from Him. 

And just how does God get through to us?  My own experience, which is no different from countless millions of others, shows me that there are five ways I can get input from God. 

Creation reveals the artistry of God, His power, His love for coming up with ways things almost always work that we call scientific law.  Creation reminds me of the creator. 

Circumstances are used of God to guide.  He opens some doors of opportunity and closes others.  He uses circumstances to teach.  We can learn so much by what happens to us.  We can grow through all circumstances if we believe we can. 

People are used of God to encourage us, to correct us, to give us advice.  He uses people to be both a good and a bad example for us.  Even the person who is resistant to God can be used of God as a positive instrument in our lives, even if the person has caused us pain. 

The Holy Spirit of God can access the very core of who we are, our soul.  He can relate to us because He can be, if we allow Him, to be in us. 

God’s Word, is what I and many others believe the Bible to be.  It’s a remarkable compilation of historical events, poetry, insights and the good news about Christ.  When it’s viewed as God’s letter to us we find it to be the ultimate way God gets through to us. 

God has never spoken to me, nor to most people, in a big, booming voice.  I suspect He does not see the need to do so, that He has many very effective ways to give us input! 

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Life’s a Journey, a Spiritual Pilgrimage

Many a great story has been all about a journey. Some have been movies such as Road Trip and National Lampoon’s Vacation. The movie, Lord of the Rings, based on the classic book by the same title, is a story of a journey to find a special ring. Many novels have been stories of a journey. I’ve even written one myself, Journey to the Emperor’s Throne

The Bible is filled with stories of journeys including Abraham traveling to a new place and Moses and the people of Israel traveling to the promised land. Jesus’ three years of active ministry were a time of almost constant traveling with His disciples following Him. Paul went on several extended missionary journeys. I give credit to Tony Jones in his book The Sacred Way for reminding me of all these Biblically reported journeys (p. 151). 

It’s not surprising, then, that living out the Christian faith has often been described as a journey, or a pilgrimage. It is, after all, a following after Jesus. It’s a good metaphor to use. We should never be staying where we are in our relationship to the Lord. He is always seeking to take us beyond where we now are. 

We may think we are traveling in circles most days (it’s called the daily routine) with our going through the same motions, doing the same basic things — brushing our teeth after getting up, eating, going to work, watching TV, brushing our teeth before going to bed, etc, but life is to be more than routine. It’s to be a road! We’re to be travelers, pilgrims on a journey. 

Keep yourself a stranger and pilgrim upon the earth, to whom the affairs of this world are of no concern. Keep your heart free and lifted up to God, for here you have no abiding city.” (Thomas a’ Kempis quoted in The Sacred Way by Tony Jones, p.149) 

Even though we may find ourselves doing many of the same things each day we are to be moving forward in being more the person God wants us to be and being open to His new possibilities for us. Even when life doesn’t seem to be going well we shouldn’t allow it to set us back but, instead, choose to have it move us forward! Yes, we’re on a spiritual pilgrimage. By the grace of God we can enjoy the journey!
Dave

SeeSaw Faith

You might first think that the title of this blog entry is a negative statement, that you’re braced for me writing something critical about a person’s faith being a seeesaw faith.  Quite the opposite!

We human beings have a constant tendency to go to extremes.  We rarely achieve perfect balance in anything.  The only one who was perfectly balanced was Jesus.  The rest of us are in a constant state of adjusting from one extreme to another, from one focus to another focus.  It’s probably just as well that children learn to play on a seesaw because they’re going to be coping with a seesaw existence for as long as they live!

When it comes to our faith we need to recognize that we also go to extremes.  This is why there’s so much misunderstanding, even among Christians.  We have a hard time seeing the good or value in someone else’s ideas or experiences.

I have a goal to do serious reading in different “camps” of Christianity.  For instance, right now in my briefcase I have two books I’m reading.  One is The Sacred Way by Tony Jones, which focuses on the classic spiritual practices such as meditation, sacred reading, walking the labyrinth, spiritual direction, etc.  The other is Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zacharias, a book that is an in-depth apologetic of the Christian faith with intellectual arguments for the existence of God, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, etc.  Very different books!  I’m enjoying reading both!  I’ve decided that, as I get older, I don’t want to get stuck in ruts of thinking.  I want to stay young, on the seesaw of faith!

(The photo is of our granddaugher Ruth enjoying her seesaw!)
Dave

31 Days toward Spiritual Maturity Concludes!

With the entry below I have finished posting 31 essays on the theme of Spiritual Maturity.  The idea for this series was prompted by my reading of the book Simple Church in which the authors argue for churches to have a simple plan of discipleship.  The theme caught my imagination and so I decided to approach the concept from a personal point of view — that there should be a simple-to-understand and easy- to-explain process for becoming a follower of Christ and growing in Him.

I took on the challenge of doing something I’ve never done before, and that was to write and deliver six sermons in our Sunday services, each with five parts to it so that, with an introductory essay, I’d have 31 days’ worth of material.  I’m excited at how it turned out.  They’re now all listed to the right as one of my categories of subjects.  If you know someone who could benefit from spending 31 days working on spiritual maturity then please e-mail the link to my blog, or specifically to the 31 Days category to the right.  Eventually I hope to have them published as a small book.  You might pray about that.  Enjoy!
Dave

31 Days toward Spiritual Maturity — Day 31

LIVING THE JOURNEY WITH CHRIST — Roadwork Ahead 

We hate to see a sign saying “Road Work Ahead” – but it’s a reality of travel.  Even when we’ve walked with Christ long enough that we’re on all five layers of the road, we still have work to do!  There’s always a layer that’s neglected.  (Actually, none of the levels is in perfect shape for any of us, but it’s often best to identify the one that needs the most work.)

For instance, when we’re SERVING WITH CHRIST and become frustrated and judgmental of others, we need to go back to the very first level.  We need to be MEETING CHRIST all over again, realizing that we still depend on God’s grace and mercy and that we stand in constant need of His forgiveness.  Our lack of grace toward others is a sure sign that we’re missing it in our own lives!

We can focus on BECOMING LIKE CHRIST, reading all the right materials on spiritual formation, but if we never lift a finger to help the needy or serve in Christ’s church, we’re not SERVING WITH CHRIST.  We’re unbalanced Christians, trying to travel with Jesus without applying the last layer of the road.  We can focus on BECOMING LIKE CHRIST, but if we’re not also LEARNING FROM CHRIST we may end up with a false spirituality that doesn’t conform to the truth of Scripture – or have faith that’s a mile wide but just an inch deep.

Journeying with Jesus requires that regular attention be given to all five layers of the road we travel on.  The road of our spiritual journey needs regular maintenance!

We should give attention to all five levels of the spiritual road not only as individuals, but also as churches.  Everything a church does should be geared to helping people build or maintain one or more of the five levels of the road toward spiritual maturity.  In their book Simple Church Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger stated that “Churches with a simple process for reaching and maturing people are expanding the kingdom.” (p.14)

Jesus invites us to join Him on the journey of a lifetime!  The psalmist declared, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.” (Psalm 84:5)  May we set our hearts on following Jesus completely, ever moving toward maturity in Him!
Dave

31 Days toward Spiritual Maturity — Day 30

LIVING THE JOURNEY WITH CHRIST — Missing a Layer of the Road

A road is built with layers, and it must be done in the right order.  We’ve been suggesting that there are five key layers of the road of discipleship.  Unfortunately, it’s possible to skip a layer or two – and that can cause all kinds of problems.

For instance, people can try SERVING WITH CHRIST when they’ve never really experienced MEETING CHRIST.  They may work diligently in a church and think that being in church, working in the church, and doing nice things for Jesus make you acceptable to Him.  They’re operating on salvation by good works, which is against everything the gospel of Jesus stands for!  They aren’t actually serving with Christ; they’re working for Christ, because they don’t know Him personally.  You have to experience MEETING CHRIST as Savior if you want to know Him personally.

People can try SERVING WITH CHRIST without following Him.  They act religious in church but act differently behind closed doors at home or in the workplace.  They’ve never really made Christ the Lord of their lives.

People can try SERVING WITH CHRIST without LEARNING FROM CHRIST.  They’re so busy doing things in the church that they never have time to take a class or join a small group.  This is a sure formula for burn-out!

People who try SERVING WITH CHRIST without giving attention to BECOMING LIKE CHRIST will eventually get their feelings hurt and walk away or get angry and lash out.  That happens because they’re trying to do Christ’s work without making an effort to be more like Him!  Without the first four levels – MEETING CHRIST, FOLLOWING CHRIST, LEARNING FROM CHRIST, and BECOMING LIKE CHRIST – it’s won’t work to try SERVING WITH CHRIST.

We could take any one of the other levels of the road and show what happens when it’s missing.  For instance, people who have experienced MEETING CHRIST but haven’t yielded to FOLLOWING CHRIST are what some people call “carnal Christians”: they have the Lord’s forgiveness but they don’t want to live for Him.  They’re taking advantage of God’s grace, which Dietrich Bonhoffer called “cheap grace.”  Someone can be LEARNING FROM CHRIST but not move on to BECOMING LIKE CHRIST.  They have head knowledge of what’s in the Bible but have never let it travel the eighteen inches to their hearts, letting it transform them.

The five levels of the road to spiritual maturity in Christ must all be laid.  We need them all to continue the journey successfully.
Dave

31 Days toward Spiritual Maturity — Day 29

LIVING THE JOURNEY WITH CHRIST — Step by Step with Jesus

We can’t know where we should be going on a journey if we don’t know where we already are!  You can’t get from here to there unless you know where “here” is.  Where are we on the journey of becoming who God wants us to be?  Where are we in our walk with Christ?  Let’s look at each of the five levels of the spiritual road we’re meant to be on and ask ourselves whether we’re traveling with a firm footing on each of the levels.

Have we experienced MEETING CHRIST?  Do we think that our acceptance by Christ is based on our being good enough?  Do we feel that we’ve messed things up too badly to be called Christian?  If our answer to this kind of question is “yes,” we haven’t grasped the most important fact about a spiritual journey with Christ: we start the Christian walk by accepting His forgiveness.  We can’t be on much of a spiritual pilgrimage until we do that.  It is He who saves us, not we ourselves.  Have we ever actually, consciously, accepted Him as our Savior?

Are we committed to FOLLOWING CHRIST?  Are we led by what we want to do or by what circumstances seem to dictate?  Is our day-to-day living much different from that of someone who doesn’t think that God is important?  The real question is whether or not we’ve made a once-and-for-all commitment to living His way instead of our own way.  Have we ever accepted Him as the Lord of our lives?

Are we regularly LEARNING FROM CHRIST?  Do we read our Bibles at least several times a week?  Do we regularly participate in some kind of class or small group that has a focus on Christ?  How much do we really know about the Bible?   Can we quickly find a book in it?  Can we list even three of Jesus’ disciples by name?  If these are easy questions for us, let’s not be smug; there are always harder questions!  There’s always more to learn from God’s Word.

Are we really BECOMING LIKE CHRIST?  Would the people who are closest to us say that we’re more spiritually mature than we were a year ago?  How are we doing when it comes to exhibiting the “fruit of the Spirit” found in the book of Galatians?  Are we exhibiting more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control than we did a year ago? 

When it comes to SERVING WITH CHRIST, how are we doing?  Are we regularly sacrificing time, effort, and money to do something we wouldn’t be doing if we weren’t following Christ?  If we feel we are doing something significant, do we ever do it primarily by our own strength, fussing and complaining?  Do we do it out of duty rather than delight?

These are hard questions, but they deserve some serious reflection.  Whenever we travel – and it’s as true for our spiritual journey as it is for any other journey – we need to ask ourselves, “Where am I?”
Dave

A God of Surprises

“The high spots of my life present themselves in retrospect as a series of surprises.”

So writes one of my favorite authors, 67 years a Christian, J. I. Packer (author of the best selling book Knowing God)  His recent article in Christianity Today Magazine (March 2008) describes the various turning points in his life that were unplanned on his part, but apparently not unplanned on God’s part.  He goes on to state that “believers serve a God of happy surprises.”

It occurred to me once while reflecting on the miracles of Jesus that virtually all of them were not planned by Jesus.  The miracles happened when Jesus met people who were in need.  As far as we can tell He didn’t plan on meeting the people, it just happened.  Jesus’ life was filled with surprises that He took advantage of, surprises from the Heavenly Father.

I prefer to plan ahead and don’t care for a day with a lot of surprises.  That’s going to limit what God can do with my days!  Apparently God likes to plan surprises.  In other words, He likes to plan for me what I haven’t planned for myself!  I don’t know if I’ve ever heard it put this way but it seems to me that part of faith is a willingness to be flexible!
Dave
(Photo is of our grandson Casey)

31 Days toward Spiritual Maturity — Day 28

LIVING THE JOURNEY WITH CHRIST — A Road of Five Layers

The Christian faith often lacks clear focus and direction.  It can be the ultimate example of aiming at nothing – and hitting it!

In an effort to lay out a simple-to-understand path of discipleship, we’ve suggested that the road is made of five layers – five levels or stages – that we must move along.  They’re all necessary if we want to be maturing in our relationship with Christ.

The first thing that happens on this road is MEETING CHRIST.  We don’t have to find Him; we just have to let ourselves be found!  He meets us where we are, and He’s willing to forgive us as He finds us.  We experience acceptance by Him.  We could never be good enough to be accepted by such a holy One as He is: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)  Christ comes to us and offers us forgiveness.  He’s already done all the work by dying for our sins on the cross; we just need to accept Him as our very own Savior.

FOLLOWING CHRIST is the next step on our spiritual journey.  Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)  We live for ourselves and also live for Him.  We’re supposed to give Him leadership of our lives.  We’re not supposed to follow our own whims; we’re meant to follow His will!  We experience a calling on our lives.  There’s no higher purpose than living for Him!

The third level we’re to step up to is LEARNING FROM CHRIST.  Throughout the gospels Jesus was called “teacher,” and He still is that!  “You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for this is what I am.” (John 13:13)  We’re His disciples; the term “disciple” means “student,” and we should always be learning from Him.  Jesus endorsed every part of the Bible, from the books of Moses (the first five books of the Bible) to the law and the prophets, and on to what His own followers would someday write that would make up our New Testament.  We’re His students, and it’s all meant to be our textbook.

BECOMING LIKE CHRIST is the fourth level of the spiritual road we’re to be traveling on.  Following the gospel record of His example, we’re supposed to be like Him.  We’re supposed to be close to Jesus, because the closer we walk with Him the more we put ourselves under His influence!  We’re also meant to take what He teaches and put it into practice: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. . . . Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:15,17)

SERVING WITH CHRIST is the fifth level of the road of our spiritual journey.  He has a purpose for our being here!  We have a calling from Jesus to serve Him by serving the people He puts around us.  Thankfully, we don’t have to do this by our own strength; He comes beside us and helps us.  Jesus used the imagery of a yoke, the wooden apparatus that’s placed over two oxen and to which a plow or wagon is attached.  “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)  He doesn’t invite us to work for Him; He invites us to work with Him!
Dave