Tagged: personal

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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Bible Reading Plans

I heard on the radio this week that there’s a new resolution in the Top-10 of New Year’s Resolutions this year: Read more.  Perhaps the new Kindles and e-readers everyone received for Christmas inspired this, but it’s a great goal.

Reading more is a particularly great goal for Christians if it refers to the Bible. I guess it is possible to read too much, particularly if we’re not living our lives for Christ.  But I suspect that most of us steer well clear of that danger.  I want to encourage you to develop a habit of spending time with God.  There are lots of ways of doing this, but time spent reading the Bible and praying is a very good starting point.

So, how should we choose a Bible reading plan?

I know that reading the Bible through in a year is a very popular approach.  But that’s a big challenge.  It’s easy to fall behind early and give up because there’s too much to make up.  Also, while there’s value to reading the WHOLE Bible, speed reading isn’t the most effective form of learning.  So if you’ve never attempted this I encourage you to give it a go, but don’t feel like a wimp if you choose a different plan.

If you’ve never attempted a regular time for talking with God, or if you’ve struggled to maintain the habit, I recommend finding a Bible reading plan that runs for less days, or requires less time each day.  This allows you to ease yourself into the habit and grow it. No one climbs Mt Everest as their very first mountain climb.  Some simple plans include:

  • Read a chapter of the NT a day (it has 260 chapters so even if you take weekends off you’ll be done in about a year.)
  • Choose a Gospel to read at your own pace between Christmas and Easter. (It would be OK to read half a chapter a day or less if you want to make it last all the way to Easter.)
  • Read the Gospel of Mark in January. (Half a chapter a day will take you 32 days.)
  • Read Proverbs in a month. (31 chapters)

There are lots of combinations you can create on your own.

As I looked around the internet the best resource I found for locating reading plans was YouVersion.com. The site is a bit techy, but I think most people should be able to navigate it just fine.  They have several nice features in addition to a huge choice of reading plans:

  1. Every day they’ll email you that day’s reading for the plan you selected.
  2. You can let your friends know your goals and the website will allow them to check up on your progress.  Great if you struggle with accountability.
  3. If you have a smart phone, home computer, work computer, i-this or i-that it will sync between all the devices and keep you on track.
  4. If you fall behind, you can go to the website and adjust the settings so they’ll start sending the emails again from where you’re at.

May God bless the reading of His Word.

If you start a reading plan this year, please share with readers which one you chose and how you liked it.  Did you complete it?  (It’s fine to brag here…or encourage others. 🙂 )

Christian Mission – Part 2: The Christian

  • Read Ephesians 4:11-16 here.
  • Read Part 1 of this series here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here.

In many ways, separating the mission of the church and the individual is a false dichotomy.  The church only exists due to the presence of individuals.  The church only functions due to the actions of individuals. The church only speaks due to the words of individuals.  So is it possible for the church and individuals to have separate missions?

I believe it’s at least possible for the church and individual Christians to have different emphases to our mission.  I 100% believe that we all share the basic mission of “physically and tangibly representing the resurrected Christ to the world.”  In doing this the church shares with Christ a primary mission task of “seeking and saving the lost” (Lk 19:10). It’s important to realise that the “saving” in this statement is not a one-time event.  It includes a moment of salvation, but also encompasses the vital responsibility of preserving the saints. The church fails in its mission if it seeks the lost, saves the lost, and then loses them again. (Consider the parable of the soils in Lk 8:1-15.)

When I consider the primary mission focus of the individual Christian, it seems to me that first and foremost we have the goal of remaining in relationship with God.  However, that’s a minimum level goal. To word it more positively I would say that our basic mission as a disciple of Christ is to grow in our relationship with God. (2 Peter 3:17-18)  This sounds like a fairly selfish goal, because it is.  Every other possible mission falls apart if we stop growing, or worse yet, lose our relationship with God.

This brings me to an interesting contradiction.  The church represents Christ by seeking and saving the lost.  Yet, the individuals who make up the church represent Christ by (selfishly) growing in their relationship with Christ.  I reconcile this contradiction in my mind by recognising that all Christians are at different stages of maturity.  In each progressive stage of maturity the definition, or description, of “growing closer to Christ” increasingly turns outward until our personal faith in God is sufficiently strong that we can say our personal mission is to “seek and save the lost”.  However, if our faith regresses, our mission once again turns more “selfish”.

I’m not suggesting that every mature Christian must become a full-time evangelist.  According to an individual’s spiritual gifts, some will concentrate on seeking, while others will focus on saving.  Some individuals will also come to regard their primary mission as shepherding, teaching and preserving the faith of those who’ve decided to commit their lives and eternity to Christ. (The apostle Paul describes this diversity of gifts and ministries well in the passage from Ephesians 4 I reference at the opening of this post.)

Even the mission emphasis on seeking resists a one size fits all approach.  In my previous post I mentioned how the ministry of Christ could be summarised as “preaching, teaching, and healing”.  Recognising the uniqueness of each individual, some mature Christians will also represent Christ by finding their niche in the ministry of healing: emotional; physical; relational; and ultimately spiritual.  The mission of seeking and saving has many different looks to it.

  • Do you agree that it’s possible for the church and individual Christians to have divergent mission emphases? Or is that logic fatally flawed?
  • Do you agree that the individual Christian has a primary spiritual responsibility to “grow their relationship with Christ”?
  • The “how” of growing in our relationship with Christ is a huge topic.  Help me out by sharing some critical steps or stages in your faith journey.