Category: Taking the Next Step

Can I Measure Spiritual Maturity?

The sermon on this topic is available HERE.

Most Christians recognise that God makes a claim upon our lives that nothing else in our lives be more important that our commitment to Him. He’s our #1.

But what does that look like?

street preacher

When I hear talk like that I picture street corner preachers proclaiming the need for repentance and breathing damnation all at the same time.

I picture my chiropractor who greets each crack of my back with a “Hallelujah” or “Thank-you Jesus”.

I imagine people in the workplace who are most known for the disapproval of the latest social trend for the last twenty years who also tell everyone that they should be in church on on Sunday.

As I think a little more deeply, I recognise that making God #1 will look different for everyone. So how can we tell if others are making God their priority? More importantly, how can we tell if we have idols in our own lives?

One helpful way of addressing these questions, is to change the question. Making God our life’s priority covers a lot of ground. It also indicates that it’s something we do, and then it stays that way. If we’re honest, we’ll concede that giving God priority is a growth process that takes years, and we probably never master it completely.

So here’s a bite size question that I find more helpful.

Am I committed to spiritual growth?

All of us want to say “Yes” to that question, but how are we pursuing spiritual growth. I find that most Christians have few tangible steps they can take toward spiritual maturity beyond the big three of: Pray, Read the Bible, and Attend Church.

I doubt that spiritual growth is a “one size fits all” process, but in recent years I’ve stumbled across material from Willow Creek Community Church and Real Life Ministries that I’ve found helpful.

The Willow Creek REVEAL survey identified four stages of spiritual maturity. You can see them in the picture below along with an indicative saying from each stage.

REVEAL growth continuum.jpg

While it’s interesting to consider we might currently stand on this continuum. More important for our question “Am I committed to Spiritual Growth?” is understanding how a person moves from one stage to another. The REVEAL survey provides some ideas there also.

The survey results can be broken down into 4 areas of spiritual life. A spiritually mature Christian will seek to grow in all four areas, but the temptation is to ignore those which feel less comfortable to us. The four areas are:

  1. Spiritual beliefs and attitudes
  2. Organized church activities
  3. Personal spiritual practices
  4. Spiritual activities with others

I can’t list all the catalysts for movement without this post becoming ridiculously long. You can get all the survey results and discussion in a recent book titled MOVE. But here are the Top 5 catalysts for each area of movement:

Moving From Exploring Christ to Growing in Christ

  1. Belief in Salvation by Grace
  2. Belief in the Trinity
  3. Church Activity Serve in a church ministry 1-2 times a month
  4. Spiritual Practice Prayer for Guidance
  5. Spiritual Practice Reflection on Scripture

Bible study 02Moving From Growing in Christ to Close to Christ

  1. Belief in a Personal God
  2. Spiritual Practice Prayer for Guidance
  3. Spiritual Practice Reflection on Scripture
  4. Spiritual Practice Solitude
  5. Spiritual Activity with Others Evangelism

Moving From Close to Christ to Christ-Centered

  1. Belief Giving Away My Life (“I am willing to surrender everything that is important in my life to Jesus Christ.”)
  2. Belief Christ is First
  3. Belief Identity in Christ
  4. Belief Authority of the Bible
  5. Spiritual Practice Reflection on Scripture

In his book “Real -Life Discipleship“, Jim Putman, describes the stages of spiritual maturity in terms of stages of life: Infant, Child, Young Adult, and Parent.

I love his vision of a mature Christian as a parent. A Christian is not mature because they know Bible details. A Christian is not mature because they’re always talking about Jesus. A person is mature because they’re investing in the lives of people around them. Sometimes they’re leading people into relationship with Jesus. Other times they’re helping younger Christians grow.

A christian who regards themselves as mature but isn’t passing on their faith to another generation of believers through personal effort (not by paying the preacher) is deceiving themselves.

There’s a lot to consider here and each of these ideas have thick books behind them. My primary goal is to encourage each of us to continue our quest to grow in Christ: To grow toward spiritual maturity. As we do this we’ll discover that Christ is #1 in our lives.

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Spiritual Health Checklist

I have just completed teaching a series of Bible Classes from the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. Throughout the sermon Jesus makes a lot of comparisons, but in closing he challenges his listeners to make a choice, “build a solid life by following me, or choose your own path and risk your life falling apart. The choice is yours.” [My summary/paraphrase] This closing section contains four choices:

  • Narrow or Wide Gate (v13-14)sermon-on-the-mount 01
  • Good or Bad Fruit (v15-20)
  • Hearers or Doers (v21-23)
  • Wise or Foolish Builders (v24-27)

The Four Choices begin with a command “Enter through the narrow gate.” Will you obey it? Next he warns against deceptive teachers. Observe their lives, not their words. Third, Jesus warns us not to deceive ourselves. Discipleship is revealed in the furnace, not the fireworks. Fourth, Jesus reiterates that the firm foundation is “Jesus words” and building on them requires action.

Like many sermons today, Jesus closed his sermon with an invitation: an invitation to follow him. As Jesus’ listeners heard this sermon, they had to make a decision, “Would they follow Jesus?” However, in reality following Jesus requires more than a decision, he requires active obedience. So even if they accepted his invitation to follow Jesus, they still had to evaluate how consistently their lives matched the will of God.

In the context of the original sermon Matthew describes, the foundational teachings refer to the words of Jesus that the crowd has just heard. Since we now have a much larger canon of scripture that the original audience, we may choose to use other passages or collections of passages as a basis for evaluating our spiritual health. However, I believe that the Sermon on the Mount can provide an excellent guide for examining our commitment to Christ and his mission.

It’s crucial that we not deceive ourselves and build on sand instead of rock. We may have accepted Jesus invitation to follow him long ago, but we always need to reexamine the path we’re on.  Are we hearing the words of Jesus? Are we doing the words of Jesus? (Matt. 7:24)

Based on Matthew chapters 5-7 here’s a little spiritual health checklist. Everyone’s different, but I recommend engaging a process like this at least twice a year.  I encourage you to find a quiet place to take this. Pray. Write down your answers using pen and paper. Share them with someone you can trust to encourage you as you take the necessary steps to improve your spiritual heart health.

1. How well do I know Jesus words?

  • When did I last study the Bible?

2. Would others describe me as humble, empathetic, meek and God-focused? (5:3-6)

  • Can I give an example?

3. Am I merciful, pure, and a promoter of peace in my dealings with others? (5:7-9)

  • Can I give an example?

4. Do I maintain the above character in the face of opposition? (5:10-12)

  • Can I give an example?

5. Do I represent God clearly to those outside the church? (5:13-16)

  • Can I give an example?

6. Do I pursue holiness of heart and hand, or do I rationalize my sins? (5:17-37)

  • What are my strongest temptations?

7. When did I last pray for my enemies?

  • Who are my enemies? (list them)

8. Is my church involvement for God’s benefit, or to impress others? (6:1-23)

  • What was the last good deed I performed in secret?

9. Is there anyone in my life who’s hurt me that I have not forgiven? (6:14)

  • Do I know of anyone who holds a grudge against me? Do I need to ask for forgiveness?

10. My biggest concern right now is……

  • When did I last pray sincerely about this?

11. Do I invest more energy in the care of my soul, or talking about the souls of others? (7:1-12)

  • Who do I know right now that needs Christ in their life? When did I last pray for them?

12. Have I answered these questions diligently and honestly? (7:13-27)

  • Is the kingdom of God the greatest priority in my life?
  • Am I building my life of the rock? Am I doing the words of Jesus? (7:24)

May you draw closer to God and more deeply commit to his mission as you seek to live the life He has willed for you.

HERE’s another Spiritual Checkup resource written by my friend Charles Kiser.

Faith in the Unknown

  • Read Matthew 14:22-32 here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here.

A thought running through my mind for the past few months prompts me to ask, “Do Christians really live differently from non-Christians?” “Do we worry less?” “Do we love more?” “Do we take more risks?” “Do we cope better with uncertainty?”

I’m preaching a short series of sermons on the topic of FAITH. If we have spent a lot of time in church services or Bible classes I think we often lose sight of a particular element of our faith: “Faith requires uncertainty!”

If something is certain, proven, or obvious then it requires no faith. Evidence eliminates faith. Long-term Christians usually become so convicted of our beliefs that they no longer seem “uncertain”. In our minds our beliefs, initially accepted in faith, morph into certain facts. I don’t say this to criticise. In fact it’s healthy. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “proof of things not seen.” (CEV)

When did you last stop and consider how many of the beliefs you build your life around and bank your eternity on are based upon faith. Consider the following points for which I suspect we either rely on logical conclusions, or straight out faith:

  • The Bible is the inspired word of God. (Most arguments defending this are circumstantial. eg. how many early copies are preserved.)
  • Jesus was born of a virgin. (Completely on faith. There’s absolutely no way of proving this.)
  • The deity of Jesus. (CS Lewis’ classic argument that Jesus must either be a Liar, Lunatic, or Lord is completley a logical construct. Here’s a decent overview.)
  • Jesus was resurrected from the dead. (One of the common “evidences” cites the life change of the apostles from hiding in an upper room, to publicly preaching the Gospel. Again, it’s persuasive logic rather than proof.)

Our natural inclination is to defend these beliefs and maybe feel a need to “prove” them. I suggest that instead we can embrace them as statements of faith. Yes, we possess persuasive rational reasons for accepting the truthfulness of these statements. We haven’t plucked them from thin air. But the catalyst turning them from possibilities into convictions is FAITH. Faith is our proof of things unseen.

If Christians so willingly build our lives around a set of uncertain beliefs, shouldn’t we also find ourselves better equipped to handle life’s uncertainties than those without faith?

Three times the New Testament writers quote Habakuk 2:4 (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38) “The righteous will live by faith.” I’m not even sure that each of these quotes uses the statement in the same way, but here’s a basic point. Faith should characterise our lives.

The same faith that can sit in a church pew and “Amen” a description of people walking on water or rising from the dead should also rise to the surface in the face of job loss or a health crisis. Faith should differentiate us.

Christians should be risk takers for God. As long as we make safe and comfortable decisions we’re not living by faith. We’re living by risk management.

Here’s my final question: Is your faith demonstrated by your actions, or merely defined by your beliefs? Is your faith limited to believing that Jesus and Peter really and literally walked on water? Or does your faith inspire you to take your own risky steps to spread the Gospel and bring glory to God?

The Basics of Faith

  • Read Matthew 8:18-22 here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here.

The journey of faith begins with our beliefs. We can’t have faith in something we don’t believe exists. We can’t have faith in something we believe is true. We also can’t have faith in something we don’t know.

In 2008 Willow Creek Association published FOLLOW ME based on their REVEAL research project. They were seeking to identify catalysts for spiritual growth. First they identified four stages of spiritual maturity, then they studied what activities, attitudes and values prompted a person to transition from one stage to the next.

Their research highlighted the importance for young Christians to solidify particular foundational beliefs as a catalyst for moving to the next stage of spiritual maturity. But how do we define “foundational spiritual beliefs”? For the purposes of their study the FOLLOW ME team identified four core beliefs critical to a young Christian’s growth:

  • Salvation by Grace
  • The Trinity
  • Personal God
  • Authority of the Bible

Perhaps there is nothing more important to a person’s ultimate conversion to the Christian faith, and even to the pace and depth of their spiritual growth over a lifetime, than to fully understand and accept the implications of these core beliefs. These spiritual fundamentals are as critical to spiritual growth as basic arithmetic is to learning calculus, or the rules of grammar are to writing a thesis. The church provides an essential learning platform for these fundamental beliefs as well as a faith-based environment for a person’s early impressions of Christian life.” (Follow Me, p57)

In Sunday’s sermon I asked how well all of us could explain these ideas. Here’s my effort in 100 words or less:

Salvation by Grace: We cannot make God do anything. We cannot make him love us. We cannot make him bless us. We cannot make him forgive us. Yet he does each of these things for us. Why? Only because he gives us grace. The sooner we realise that we cannot force God to do anything, the happier we will be and the stronger our relationship with him will be. Yes, it requires humility and dependence to accept this, but it’s a fundamental truth about us and God. (Ephesians 2:8)

The Trinity: The Bible teaches that God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit are all God. It also teaches that there is only one God. Centuries ago the church reconciled these statements by concluding that in a mystical way the three persons are at the same time one. There’s no real logical explanation for this. It requires faith. Yet it involves some wonderful implications. Here’s one: God is by definition loving: three persons bound together in love. (John 17:21-23; 1 John 4:16)

Personal God: It’s easy to look at a verse like John 3:16 “God so loves the world” and feel like we get lost in the crowd. We can visit a church and have the same anonymous experience. But one way God connects with us individually is through the Holy Spirit, who lives inside each of us. When we have a hard time expressing our thoughts to God the Holy Spirit helps. Think about it, “God lives within you”. It doesn’t get more personal than that! (Romans 8:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:19) (This blog also gives a healthy perspective on this issue.)

Authority of the Bible:It’s logically illegitimate to use the Bible to defend the Bible’s authority, but that’s our starting point. The Bible claims to be written by men inspired by the movement of God in their lives. We believe that it accurately describes God’s will for humanity. Since it’s inspired for God, individuals to not have the authority to override or alter it. History affirms the basic facts of the Bible and church history affirms the power of the Bible’s teachings to transform lives. But  only faith can affirm the spiritual significance of the events and teachings found in the Bible. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Rev 22:18-19)

  • Any beliefs you would add to the list of foundational beliefs for new Christians? (Remember, they can’t all be foundational.)
  • Here’s a broad statement. It’s my impression that Churches of Christ have often emphasised congregational purity over individual growth. Agree or Disagree? (eg. I haven’t seen many (any?) lists like this originating from within Churches of Christ, but I’ve seen plenty on the hallmarks of the “true church”.)

Grow Up in Your Salvation

  • Read 1 Peter 2:1-3 here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here.
  • HERE you can read another good post by John Dobbs on the same theme.

Our congregational theme this year is Taking the Next Step. This certainly applies to our congregation as we seek to increase our involvement with out community. It also applies to each of us individually. The theme hopefully challenges people to resist complacency which I believe poses a great threat to many Christians’ faith in western society.

The Bible consistently urges Christians to continue to grow. The New Testament authors continually encourage Christian to persevere in their faith. Christians are to persist through difficulties and persecutions to ensure we are faithful when Christ returns.

In 1 Peter 2:3 we find an intriguing phrase, “grow up in your salvation” (TNIV). The Common English Bible translates it “grow into your salvation”. Initially, this phrase poses a puzzle, particularly when we recognise that it’s written to Christians. Does my salvation have degrees? Are some people more “saved” than others? Can I grow my salvation?

There really are NOT degrees of salvation. But if we agree that our salvation isn’t actually realised until we’re in eternity with Jesus, then some of us are closer to realising our salvation than others.  As I understand the phrase, it’s saying that we need to grow in our relationship with Christ, and as we do we are more likely to endure to the end and secure our salvation.  Let me demonstrate this with a little exegesis.

2:1 opens with “therefore”. This connects it to the previous discussion about Christ’s death and resurrection: the Gospel. Because of the Gospel which you’ve accepted, get rid of sin.

2:2 I paraphrase this verse by connecting it with 2:1, “In place of sin, crave pure spiritual milk“. Many opinions exist regarding the nature of the spiritual milk. The King James Version translates the phrase “sincere milk of the word”. It’s certainly possible that the apostle refers to the fundamental teachings that young Christians need. (Consider Hebrews 5:11-14 that also uses the metaphor of milk.) Also, chapter1 concludes by reminding the readers of the “word” that was preached to them.

Others, drawn to the tenderness of the image, equate the spiritual milk with God’s kindness and mercy. The broader section begins in 1:3 referring to God’s “great mercy” and concludes in 2:10 with the statement “you have received mercy.” In addition, 2:3 reminds them that they have tasted of the goodness of God. So linking “spiritual milk” with “tasting God’s goodness” may well be a legitimate move.

Personally, I don’t want to make the definition too specific. I read it as simply saying “crave the things of God“. Reject sin. Crave God.  Crave the life-giving words God has for you. Crave the goodness, kindness and mercy of God. Even though we’re now saved, the apostle, Peter, insists that we continue to crave the things of God, just like a baby seeking a 2am feed.

2:2b This brings us to our key phrase “so that by [the pure spiritual milk] you may grow up in your salvation“.  I’ll just quote a couple of different translations to demonstrate the variety of views here.

  • Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God.The Message I don’t like this one because the Greek definitely mentions “salvation” which this translation just sweeps under the rug.
  • So that you will grow into a full experience of salvation.NLT This translation may be closer to the intent, but they’ve added the word “experience” as a way of explaining the difficulties.

Since the larger section of which this verse is part of starts at 1:3 I’m influenced in my understanding by 1:5 which looks forward to the future salvation that will be revealed at the return of Christ. Also, in 1:9 persistence of faith through persecution leads to “salvation of your souls”. In this context salvation is a future event obtained through endurance of faith. That faith is fed by a constant craving for the things of God.

New Christians enter a state of salvation. But if their faith doesn’t grow, they risk their salvation. Our understanding of salvation and all its implications must grow over time if we’re to make it to the finish line. In that sense the NLT translation is helpful. Our “experience” of salvation will grow as our relationship with God deepens. As we’re increasingly exposed to His pure spiritual milk.

2:3 Our motivation for continuing this three step process is our experience of God’s goodness. How do we taste God’s goodness? Is it the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Is it the love, support and encouragement of God’s people? Is it the way the Bible speaks to us? Is it awareness of the love that motivated the sacrifice of Jesus? Is it the assurance we have that our sins are forgiven?

I believe it will be different for each of us, but our taste of God’s goodness keeps us committed to 1. Removing sin from our lives; 2. Replacing it with a craving for God’s pure spiritual milk; and 3. Committing to growing our relationship with God.  There’s no place for apathy or complacence.

Simple Time With God: part 2

I make to claim to being an expert on the topic of Spiritual Disciplines. Reading on the topic of Spiritual Disciplines doesn’t automatically make me (or you) an expert. Yet, paradoxically, I understand their importance and appreciate their benefits when I do practice them. I struggle to maintain regular times of prayer and personal devotional Bible reading. I often allow the inane busyness of life and leisure to steal my simplicity of time with God.

I have not spent a week with Trappist Monks, though I know some preachers who have. Neither do I have a spiritual adviser I talk to regularly, although I know other ministers who depend upon a relationship like this.  Still, here’s a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.

SILENCE

I’m tempted to leave this space blank as a tribute to literary silence, but that wouldn’t help anyone very much.  In Habakkuk 2 the prophet describes idol worship as a waste of energy, but he concludes that list by saying “But the Lord is in his holy temle; let all the earth keep silence before him.” So often we come into God’s presence and rush to pour out our hearts to him. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but it also seems reasonable just to silently absorb his presence and then talk with him. There’s little virtue in treating God like a giant vending machine in the sky and all we have to do is walk in and punch the right buttons to have what we want come down the chute.  “Let all the earth keep silence before Him.

When I was in campus ministry we held a retreat one year that included different stations of spiritual disciplines. One of those was silence. We blackened a room and over 15 minutes nothing was said but every 5 minutes the facilitator read a verse relevant to our theme for the weekend. I’m not suggesting you need to blacken your room, but silence does require the removal of distractions. It’s also a good idea but not a necessity to have a Scripture or thought to guide your silence.

Our time of silence can take place in a blackened room. It can equally occur in a park with kids playing on a nearby playground, or next to a lake just watching the waves. At night, gazing at a the stars is a good time for me to be silent with God.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from Randy Harris book Soul Work (p126). He spent 40 days in mostly silence with some real life hermits in southern Texas. This chapter shares some of his experiences and observations. He refers to silence as “listening prayer”.

As you enter into this listening prayer and being with God, you are going to have all sorts of intuitions, urges, and feelings. Not all of those are the Holy Spirit. You have to be discerning. When you think that God is calling you to do something, one of the things yo do is take it back to God in prayer. The other thing you do is open up to the community for their discernment too. That’s why prayer is both a personal and a communal experience.

When I think God is calling me to do something other than what I’m doing, one of the first things I want to do is to gather four or five people around me who know me well, who love God deeply and who love me. I’;m going to say, “I think this is what God is calling me to do. I want you to start praying over this and I want us to see what we have here.” Because I am so self absorbed, there is virtually nothing that I cannot talk myself into and make it turn into the will of God. And the only protection I have against that willfulness is the wisdom of the community. Continue to pray over it, offering it up to the community for discernment.

Silence is a type of fasting. If you’re not ready for full-blown silence, you might attempt a period of hours or days without something that adds noise to your life: Internet, cell phone, television, etc. (not spouse and kids!) and make the effort to fill that space with some God time.

SPIRITUAL CONVERSATION

This one is my own invention, which doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t proposed it, I just don’t remember hearing about it before. 🙂

At practically every church service I’ve ever attended, as soon as the closing “Amen” is said, the conversation turns to family, football, lunch, weather, holiday plans, school, almost anything except the service everyone just experienced for the last 60-90 minutes.

When do you talk about God?

More specifically, when do you talk about your relationship with God?

Is that a weekly, monthly, annual event, or not at all?  Who do you talk with?

I think women will generally find this easier. Men generally have a hard time discussing things like emotions and relationships.  Unfortunately, spiritual health gets lump into that same bundle. It takes discipline to share our spiritual victories and struggles with others. Yet the biblical picture of the church is of one who aches and rejoices together when one member experiences pain or triumph.

John Eldredge (Wild at Heart, 174-5) teaches men,

Don’t even think about going into battle alone. Don’t even try to take the masculine journey without at least one man by your side. Yes, we need men to whom we can bare our souls. But it isn’t going to happen with a group of guys you don’t trust, who really aren’t willing to go to battle with you.

My take away from that is the importance of investing in relationships to develop trust so that we care share our spiritual journey. Don’t just grab the first guy or girl you see. Choose someone you can trust to provide insight and feedback on your life and relationship with God.

In the book “Why Men Hate Going to Church” (p224), David Murrow states that

Men comprehend relationships in terms of activity. Ken has his work buddies, his fishing buddies, his football buddies and so on. Ken would never approach another man and say, “Hey Roger, can we have a relationship?” Such a  request would arouse suspicion, because it’s not expressed in terms of activity. Instead Ken would say, “Hey Roger, let’s go fishing.” Ken and Roger could go fishing every weekend for thirty years and never describe what they have as a relationship.

So if you’re a guy looking to find a spiritual support system, find some other Christian blokes that you can do things with and go for it. But make sure you’re intentional about discussing your faith. It’s real easy to spend 5 hours riding around with someone in a golf cart and never have a meaningful conversation.

HERE is an interesting article I came across on the value of Spiritual Conversations. The article also has some tips on what makes a productive Spiritual Conversation as a mentor.

If we can’t discuss our faith and our relationship with God with other Christians, how on earth do we ever hope to share the Gospel with the non-Christians in our lives?

Simple Time With God

I make to claim to being an expert on the topic of Spiritual Disciplines. Reading on the topic of Spiritual Disciplines doesn’t automatically make me (or you) an expert. Yet, paradoxically, I understand their importance and appreciate their benefits when I do practice them. I struggle to maintain regular times of prayer and personal devotional Bible reading. I often allow the inane busyness of life and leisure to steal my simplicity of time with God.

Having made that opening disclaimer, here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way that may be useful for you.  I’ve found most churches give very little instruction on Spiritual Disciplines while expecting everyone to engage in them. Whether you’ve never made a serious attempt before or are looking to refresh you current routine, I hope you find these simple tips useful:

PRAYER

Josh Graves recently shared an interview with Mother Teresa who commented “I don’t think that I could do this work for even one week if I didn’t have four hours of prayer every day.” Do you feel intimidated? I do. That’s admirable discipline on her part, but probably not a realistic target for most of us.  But the only way of having any hope of getting anywhere near that is to take small steps.

The biggest mistake I’ve made with the discipline of prayer has been trying to get through my whole list every time I sit down to pray. I can easily make a long list of friends, family, church members, missionaries I know, world causes… and then it would take me at least an hour and that’s without getting to my personal thoughts and desires.

If I’m new to spiritual disciplines then I need to take baby steps. If I can pray 3 times a week for 15 minutes and maintain it for 2 or 3 months, that’s tremendous progress.  Attempting an hour a day (or four hours!) is like running a marathon with no training. It’s almost always doomed to fail.

So my big tip here is to break your list up into smaller lists. Maybe there are some people or situations you pray for every day, but others that you only pray for on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Or you can give every day a different theme: Thanksgiving, Church needs, Family members, People outside of Christ, etc.

A last practice I’ve employed from time to time is to carry a list in the car with me.  When I get a red light, rather than cursing the delay, I use the time to pray for the next person on my list. Some days I get a long way through the list and the red lights bring me closer to God, rather than tempting my patience.  Just remember to keep your eyes open so you don’t get honked at when you miss the light turning green!

READING SCRIPTURE

Again, my first advice here is not to get too ambitious. I know many people that want to start or renew a habit of regular time in God’s Word, so they commit to read the Bible in a year.  That’s a least half an hour a day.  And that’s half an hour of constant reading.  There’s certainly a place for reading the Bible in a year as it greatly increases our familiarity with Scripture, but it’s not necessarily the best way.  (Check out www.YouVersion.com for a huge range of reading plans including shorter readings and shorter periods of time. They’ll even email you the reading every day if you want.)

If you’re setting aside 15 minutes for Bible reading every day, or a couple of times a week, I recommend that you plan for at least 5 of those minutes to involve reflection on what you’ve just read.  You might want to give yourself a standard set of questions to consider.  For example:

  • How would I feel I was reading this as the original reader? (offended, reassured, comforted)
  • Does this chapter or passage speak directly to a situation in my life?
  • Is there a particular word that caught my attention for any reason? (take some time and think on that word)
  • How do I need to respond to this reading? (as a whole, or a particular verse)

Then close your time by praying in a way that includes what you’ve just read.

FINALLY, if you have more like half an hour, in Rick Warren’s book, Bible Study Methods (p39-40), he recommends using the S-P-A-C-E-P-E-T-S acrostic to direct your meditation.  After you’ve narrowed your contemplation down to a shorter passage or verse, work through these questions.  Is there any…

  • Sin to confess? Do I need to make any restitution?
  • Promise to claim? Is it a universal promise? Have I met the condition(s)?
  • Attitude to change? Am I willing to work on a negative attitude and begin building toward a positive one?
  • Command to obey? Am I willing to do it no matter how I feel?
  • Example to follow? Is it a positive example for me to copy, or a negative one to avoid?
  • Prayer to pray? Is there anything I need to pray back to God?
  • Error to avoid? Is there any problem that I should be alert to or beware of?
  • Truth to believe? What new things can I learn about God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, or other biblical teachings?
  • Something to praise God for? Is there something here I can be thankful for?

In both prayer and Scripture reading, look for God to speak to your life.  God’s goal is for us to be transformed into His image, so be prepared to change. Don’t expect God to just pat you on the back and tell you to keep doing what you’re already doing.

Tomorrow, I hope to post some tips on the disciplines of silence & spiritual conversations.

Daily Steps of Salvation: BELIEVE

  • Read Hebrews 11:1-6 here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here.

This week is the second in my sermon series demonstrating that the Six Steps of Salvation (Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, Be Baptised, Grow) are not one-time events. (Read all the posts here.)

I really don’t think I need to spend a lot of words convincing people that their salvation depends upon belief in God, and the Gospel. Of all the steps it seems to me that the necessity of BELIEVE jumps off the page for all Christians. Our beliefs set us apart from each other and other religions. In that sense, our beliefs create our identity.

If we cease to believe in the self-proclaimed identity and mission of Jesus (the Gospel) then we have no reason to follow him and cease relying upon him as our saviour.  Our beliefs about Jesus establish the foundation of everything that follows. So when I think about verses like John 1:12 or John 3:16, they don’t say that I only have to believe once at a given point in time. The really say something like “you enter a state of believing in Jesus”. And as long as we’re in that state we’re okay.  It follows that if we leave that state of belief we also leave our salvation.

Of all the names available, the new testament writers most often use the term “believers” when referring to Christians.  The NIV only uses the name “Christian” 3 times.  Yet if you listened to most traditional Church of Christ preachers you’d swear the most numerous term would be “Baptised Believer”.  Church of Christ terminology tends to emphasise baptism because our beliefs concerning baptism distinguish us from other churches.  We’ll ask, “When were you baptised”, not “When were you converted (or saved)?”. Similarly, we generally don’t refer to ourselves as “believers” because we need to reinforce that there’s more to the story than just belief (and we don’t want to be mistaken for a Baptist).

When it comes to making our beliefs a Daily Step of Salvation, we need to stress the importance of practicing our beliefs.  In today’s language I think we generally call this faith.  We seem to define belief an intellectual assent to an idea while faith is also academic but has more of a leaning toward action.  I find it fascinating that the older versions of the Plan of Salvation use “believe” and “faith” interchangeably.

Scripture consistently teaches the importance of correct beliefs, but also that our lifestyles demonstrate those beliefs. The reverse is also true.  Scripture consistently teaches the importance of Godly lifestyles, but also the importance of Godly motivation. So my bottom line question for this Daily Step of Salvation is simply, “To what extent do your beliefs/faith motivate your life?

  • Consider all the places you go in a week.  How many of them involve a purpose for God?
  • Consider all the people you talk to this week.  How many of those conversations express your faith?
  • Consider each of the tasks you’ve undertaken this week.  How many arise from your belief in the Gospel?

We each have different motivators in our lives.  That’s okay. But if you rank their importance, where does your faith fit in?  Here are some other possible motivators:

  • Putting food on my table
  • Providing for my retirement
  • Accomplishing goals at work
  • Seeking fame and recognition
  • Making the world a better place
  • Eradicating cancer

Some people wake up each day motivated by these goals. Hebrews 11 lists examples of people who woke up each morning motivated to live by faith in God.  As Hebrews 11:6 puts it, they “believe that God exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

What’s your motivation?

  • Do you think it’s helpful to distinguish between faith and belief? Do you know a better way of distinguishing them?
  • How long has it been since you did something that could describe as an act of faith?
  • Can you suggest some other motivations people have? (leave a comment and I’ll add it to my list above)

POSTSCRIPT:

Minutes after completing this blog, I walked out the door to attend the memorial service of Glenn Olbricht in Syracuse.  Glenn was a missionary in Germany, and a church-planter around Syracuse before settling into a long ministry and eldership with the Wetzel Rd Church of Christ in Liverpool (a suburb of Syracuse), NY.

His 4 children composed a description of their father’s life that they modeled on Hebrews 11.  The first words that were read instantly recalled what I had just written, “Everything Glenn said and did was motivated by his faith in God.”  What a legacy!

Daily Steps of Salvation: HEAR

  • Read Colossians 1:9-14 here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here.

I am convinced that the 5 Steps of Salvation (or is that fingers) which are so familiar within Churches of Christ give a misplaced emphasis on one moment in time.  They give the impression that the completion of these 5 steps will move a person from “outside of Christ” to “inside of Christ” as though that is the most important moment of a person’s life.  In reality our lives are full of important moments.

Logically, there must be a point of transition from “outside” to “inside”.  However, we must acknowledge that the “Steps of Salvation” or “Plan of Salvation” are never collated in Scripture.  We have lists of Beatitudes, Fruit of the Spirit, First and Second Commands, Qualifications of elders and deacons, characteristics of love, and many more, but no listing of the Steps of Salvation.  Odd.

The Steps of Salvation result from a careful study of Scripture and the compilation of texts teaching that if you do x, y, z, you’ll inherit eternal life, or you’ll be saved, or some similar wording.  That doesn’t mean these steps are wrong or unimportant. I just think we need to pause and remind ourselves of this from time to time.

For a website that gives a clear listing of the Five Steps of Salvation with relevant Scriptures, click here.

In this series of sermons and articles I hope to demonstrate that the Steps of Salvation are NOT one time events. They may involve one time events, but they require attitudes and actions that continue throughout our lives.

I’ve always thought the first step (HEAR) was a bit silly.  I know that Romans 10:17 says “Faith comes by hearing.” But this verse occurs in a context of telling the church to get out there and spread the Good News of Jesus.  It’s a message to the church, not to the person seeking Christ.  It just never made sense to me to say to someone (who’s already listening to me) that they need to hear. It seems self-evident and after the fact.

BUT, Jesus often told his disciples, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (eg. Matt. 13:9) In saying this he doesn’t mean, “Do you hear the background music at the restaurant Bartholomew?” He’s urging his disciples to pay attention to his words, to listen, to think, to question, and ultimately to learn.  So here’s my First Step of Salvation for Daily Living: Never Stop Learning.  Never stop listening to God.

Colossians 1 has become very meaningful to me lately.  I love the prayer in verses 9-14. The opening phrases of verse 10 amaze me, “so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way…”.  (A quick survey of paraphrase versions shows that this verse has a lot of different punctuation and translation possibilities.  For now, I’ll work with the NIV although deeper study may prompt me change my mind down the road.)

First, it’s possible to live a life worthy of the Lord.  I so often feel completely inadequate for that task. I’m glad God reminds me that I can.

Second, I can please him in every way. Because we so often focus on our shortcomings before God, I believe we often overlook the idea that we can also please Him. It’s so reassuring to me.

So how do we live worthy of God and please him?  Paul gives a list of ways, but for this article I want to highlight #2, “Growing in the knowledge of God”.  Studying God. Learning about God. Listening to God. Understanding God.  When we invest in knowing God we please God. I believe this is consistent with the First Step – Never Stop Learning or Listening to God.

How do we grow in our knowledge of God?  Here are a few of my suggestions:

  • We read the Bible; we read other books; (they might be thick books, or they might be 10 minute daily devotional books, but we expose ourselves to God’s word.)
  • We attend worship on Sunday morning,
  • We prioritise our Bible Classes and Small Groups.
  • We spend time with other Christians learning what God’s doing and done in their lives.
  • We listen to God in prayer.
  • We meditate on his word, not just speed read it.
  • We might attend a conference.
  • We can listen to other preachers and teachers online or on the radio or TV.
  • We can subscribe to blogs of influential teachers.
  • We might find a more mature Christian to guide us in our Christian walk.
  • We might find a less mature Christian to guide.
  • We serve others.
  • Can you add to the list some ways that we can continue to learn about God?
  • Were you taught to include “hearing” as one of the Steps of Salvation?  Does it belong?
  • as we “grow in our knowledge of God”, what’s the most recent thing you’ve learned about God?

Taking the Next Step

  • Read 2 Peter 1:3-11 here.

    Via Dolorosa – Christ took the next step for me… and the one after that…

  • You can listen to this sermon here.

Quite correctly, Christians direct a lot of time and energy toward convincing the world that Jesus is the only Way, Truth and Life.  Jesus final words recorded in Matthew 28 direct his followers to perpetuate his teachings and spread his influence throughout all nations.  The world needs to hear and accept the Good News of Jesus, and we dream of God’s kingdom expanding to defeat Satan and the forces of evil.

The risk in emphasising conversion, or new births, or baptism, or whatever event you wish to count is just that: it’s an event.  It tends to create a mindset that I have moved from lost to found, from peril to rescue, from orphan to family.  In short, it tells us that we’ve arrived.

I don’t possess the words to describe the importance of my state of salvation to my life. While I was still a sinner, Christ died for me. However, Scripture teaches me that I have NOT yet arrived. (Eph. 4:11-16) I am still God’s work in progress. My redemption will culminate, not in my acceptance of Christ as my Saviour, but at the return of Christ and the ultimate establishment of his kingdom.

Jesus intends for his disciples to continually grow. The basic premise of the New Testament epistles indicates that Christians should grow. The NT authors are writing to Christians with instructions on beliefs, church life, personal and corporate ethics, etc.  There is never a hint that since these Christians have accepted Christ’s sacrifice for their sins they have fulfilled God’s expectations for them. Paul, John and others continue to prompt the new followers of Jesus to deeper levels of commitment.

In 2 Peter 3:18 the apostle concludes his letter by directing his readers to “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Standing still was not an option.  This conclusion fits the letter, because in 1:5-7 Peter lays out a pathway of spiritual growth that his audience should take: one step at a time.

Add to your FAITH –> GOODNESS –> KNOWLEDGE –> SELF-CONTROL –> PERSEVERANCE –> GODLINESS –> MUTUAL AFFECTION (tNIV) –> LOVE.

Keep Moving.

I’m excited that our church has chosen this theme for 2012. It provides so many opportunities for congregational and personal growth.  It reminds us that God has something planned for us that is more that our present circumstances.  It prompts the congregational leadership to search for opportunities God is presenting to the church.  It prompts us individually to conduct a spiritual inventory and evaluate how we can deepen our relationship with Him. It directs us to spiritual disciplines, but also reminds us to put our faith into action: to keep moving, to take the next step.

Just two questions this week:

  • What thoughts does the phrase “Taking the Next Step” (in a context of faith) bring to mind for you?
  • What Next Step is God laying on your heart?