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spiritual growth

Christian Life, Discipleship, Spiritual Growth

The Cost of Hiding Talents

July 14, 2016

 

 

 

The Apostle James wrote, “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17) That, I believe, is one of the main points of the Parable of the Talents that Jesus tells to his disciples as he explains what things will be like “at the end of the age.” It’s a message that we desperately need to take to heart.

Hiding Talents

One of the greatest issues for Christians in the western world is that we know a thousand right things to do and struggle to accomplish even one of them. Our knowing has far exceeded our obeying. As Carey Nieuwhof quipped, “the average North American Christian is about 3000 bible verses overweight.” (read his full post here).

Jesus makes the expectations of God clear in the parable of the talents. Matthew records its strange conclusion this way:

He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
– Matthew 25:24-30

What was the issue with the third servant? Is the master a greedy man who just wants more money? No. The problem is, “You knew that I reap where I have not sown”. Because the servant knew his master’s character, the master expected the servant to act accordingly. He never commanded the servants to make more money for him, so I believe we can infer that the issue here is not the money. The master cares that his servants live up to what they know.

My friends, are we living according to what we know of our heavenly Father’s character? Do our actions and thoughts towards others align with the love that the Father has demonstrated in Christ? Are our financial, time, and relational priorities synced with his? He has given us talents – he has given us his Holy Spirit – and he expects to return and find that we have invested them as we have.

Losing talents

If we are the servant hiding or hoarding the talents we’ve been given, this parable gives us cause to tremble. Apparently the kingdom of heaven works in such a way that those who don’t use what they’ve been given have it taken away from them and given to someone who already has a lot. “to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. “

I won’t take time here to delve into these couple verses that seem almost vicious on the surface. Suffice it to say that the intention of the punishment of this wayward servant in the parable isn’t to make us cower in fear. It’s there to motivate and inspire us to invest our talents – to be the one who has wisely worked what they’ve been given and can come before the Master and receive his commendation.

Investing Talents

The beautiful truth is that, for those of us who are in Christ, the Holy Spirit is the engine and the fuel for that investment. He is the one who leads and guides and reveals, gently insisting that we bear fruit as we abide.

If you have little, start investing. As with the woman and her copper coin that received Jesus’ praise, those of us with seemingly minuscule talents can uncover great glory through faith. For both the servant with ten and the servant with five talents, their investment was doubled. Had the servant with one talent invested as well I believe his talent would have doubled again. And again. And again.

Let’s live up to what we know of God’s character. I don’t want to be the servant who comes before his master with apologies and excuses. Instead I want to be able to come and say, “see what I have done with what you’ve given me!” What beautiful glory and honor there is in living in the power of Christ for the glory of God.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Spiritual Growth

Want heart change? Act accordingly.

November 11, 2015

In the Christian circles I live in there’s always been a lot of discussion about how we need heart change in order to actually act differently. The chorus goes something like; “the issue with sin is the sinful heart, not just the actions that flow from the heart. When our hearts change then our actions will change. We need to pray for God to change our hearts and then we’ll be able to act differently!”

While it’s absolutely true and resoundingly biblical that a transformed heart like what’s described in Ezekiel 13 is what we desperately need, it seems to me that somewhere along the way we’ve swung too far to the opposite end of the pendulum, moving from a “work hard and change yourself” attitude to an attitude that says we should sit around waiting for our heart to change before we take action.

Sitting around waiting for God to do something isn’t an act of faith if God has said he’s already it. Waiting for heart change when God has said “I have given you a new heart” is, quite simply, sin.

In Isaiah 58:13-14 the prophet’s logic lays out a challenge to our passive conceptions of heart change. He says,

If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
– Isaiah 58:13-14

Notice the if/then statement here. If you keep your feet….If you call the sabbath a delight….If you honor it…Then you will find your joy in the Lord. The prophet tells the Israelites that if they speak and act as if they delight in the Lord they will delight in the Lord. If they begin practicing and proclaiming the goodness of the Sabbath, then they will find joy in the Lord. The lesson?

When we act in obedience heart change begins.

This is such a crucial principle for us to grasp. Obedience is faith. Rather than reading more scripture and hoping that faith will compel us to act by somehow removing every barrier and allowing us to float through the challenge with nary a struggle we need to acknowledge that time and again throughout Scripture faith is defined as action. Abraham’s faith was his action of going to sacrifice his son Isaac at God’s command. David’s faith was his action of stepping out to face Goliath. James makes this point in his epistle, brazenly challenging those who claim their faith doesn’t need action to prove it.

Faith doesn’t sit waiting for God make everything feel easy; faith says that God’s word trumps our feelings.

Instead of sitting still and crying out “God change my heart so that I can do what you have commanded” it says “God, I’m going to do what you’ve commanded no matter how I feel. Thank you that you’ve changed my heart and enabled me to do it.”

Three principles that we can draw from this passage in Isaiah to help us align ourselves for heart change:

1.Actions influence emotions.

We humans have an amazing ability to adapt. Odds are that even if you’re terrified of heights, a couple weeks of hanging around the edges of tall buildings and cliffs would drastically lessen that fear. When Kelly and I first ventured out on our own during our time in Sri Lanka we were both nervous in the unfamiliar territory, but after a day or so we felt almost completely at home.

If you’re struggling with enjoying God, delighting in his word and worship, or being comfortable in the presence of his people, push yourself. Press through. Acclimate. Your actions will inevitably start to influence your emotions.

2. What we speak shapes what we think.

Isaiah tells the Israelites to “call the Sabbath a delight.” Speak out the truth that the Sabbath is a delight and your thoughts will start aligning with that truth. When you’re in the process of learning new spiritual truth, speak it (out loud!) on a regular basis. Bring it up in conversation. Ask questions. Doing so will embed the truth more soundly in your brain.

3. Habits have huge impacts on our beliefs.

Repetitive action and verbalization widens neural pathways and reinforces truth. Take a cue from Isaiah’s words to the Israelites and build into your life habits such as Sabbath, daily time in God’s presence, and regular reading of Scripture. Doing so will, in time, grow in you a delight in the Lord your God that isn’t going to happen if you just sit around waiting for it. Form habits that reinforce your faith by faith. Rather than waiting to desire it start acting as if you desire it and you will begin to.

My friends, don’t sit around waiting for your heart to change. If you are in Christ you are already a new creation. God has given his word that you’ve been given a new heart, mind, and Spirit. Let’s start living in line with that. Preach to yourself what is true and act rightly regardless of how you feel. God will work and transform your heart as you step out in faith.

 

 

 

 

Christian Life, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare

The Sleeping Soul

August 24, 2015

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

– Mark 13:32-37 ESV

 

Three days a week I work at arvato. It’s honestly the most enjoyable “real” job I’ve had. As good as it is, I’ve noticed that there’s something about sitting in front of a computer screen all day that makes it surprisingly difficult for me to keep my mind “set on things above” and to stay tuned in to God’s presence and what he’s saying to me. I started noticing the trend even back in college. If I let myself spend too long watching a show on Hulu or playing a video game or reading a book just for my own entertainment somewhere along the way my spiritual senses would get dull and I would become increasingly likely to sin.

As I’ve observed Christians today I think that our biggest problem isn’t blatant sin. It’s spiritual lethargy and often plain laziness. Our abundance of earthly pleasures and entertainment has dulled our sense of God’s presence and the urgency of Christ’s impending return.

God has given his people the task of being ambassadors and caretakers of this world until he returns. We are the servants left in charge, each with his work. We are the doorkeepers, commanded to stay awake and be ready for our master’s return. We want to do our jobs well but we’re all nodding off in corners, barely able to keep our eyes awake.

Nodding off shouldn’t be a surprise when we’ve let the lights get turned down low, the room filled with comfortable warmth, and all enjoyed meal after rich meal.

If you’ve ever tried driving through the night on a long trip you know that there are some things that make it even more difficult to stay awake and some things that will help you stay awake. It’s not really something that anyone studies or spends hours deliberating. You just know it. Quiet music will make you sleepy, so you throw on something loud to help stay alert. Cold air will help you stay awake while warm air will lead to drooping eyelids.

What we understand intuitively on a physical level we somehow keep ourselves ignorant of on a spiritual level. That ignorance has us all in a car gradually drifting into the other lane. We need Jesus’ warning in Mark 13 – “ stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

Start tuning in to the Holy Spirit and your own spirits and learning what dulls you and what sharpens your spiritual senses. It will vary from person to person somewhat – what may thrill my spirit might be a thorough “meh” for you. However, there are some things that – like warmth, quiet music, alcohol, and dim lighting do for us physically, will most likely affect everyone negatively, and others that will affect everyone positively.

Find what awakens your soul and fill your life with those things. Cut back on the things that lead your soul to slumbering. The master has left us to tend to his kingdom. When he returns we want to be awake and prepared, ready to have the joy of presenting his kingdom and ourselves to him as servants who have done well and not been found asleep.

Christian Life, Commentary, Spiritual Growth

Draw Near and Listen

March 18, 2015

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.

Ecclesiastes 5:1

 

We are quick to sacrifice for God, probably because we assume that that’s what he wants. We think the thing that will most honor and please the Lord is us giving up our time to “go to the house of God,” whether that be spending time in church, reading the word, serving the poor, or an action that is considered God-glorifying.

The writer of Ecclesiastes challenges the assumption that God primarily wants something from us when he declares that “to draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools”. According to Ecclesiastes 5:1 God doesn’t want something from us, He has something for us.

We are to come to the house of God to listen and to receive, not to give. As Psalm 40 declares, sacrifices and offerings aren’t what God’s after. He’s the one who create. He’s the own who owns all things. He’s the one who is infinitely rich, powerful, joyful, and satisfied. He doesn’t need some foolish offering from us. Our time, money, energy, and even our worship ultimately don’t add anything to God. Those things, though good, aren’t the true core of what he’s after.

What he wants is people who will come before him and listen to his voice. He wants us to enter in to his presence and enjoy companionship with him. As we sit there, in the house and presence of God, love is planted and grows like the mustard-seed kingdom of heaven into a plant that bears the fruit of spiritual sacrifices pleasing to God rather that the sacrifice of fools.

Since the gathering of our Threshingfloor community last Thursday I committed to let the 75% of my prayer time that I normally spend talking be replaced with listening. It’s been so good so far. The peace that is poured out by the Holy Spirit when we take time to draw near and simply listen in the Father’s presence is exactly what so many of us need in our chaotic lives.

Let’s sit down and shut up for awhile. It’s better to drawn near to listen than it is to be constantly offering stuff to God. Let’s be the people who carve out time to come before God not as fools but as blessed sons and daughters who delight in their Father. We won’t be disappointed.

Christian Life, Commentary, Spiritual Growth

The Secret to Praying Without Ceasing

February 8, 2014

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV

If you’ve been a involved in the church for any amount of time you’ve probably heard the the apostle Paul’s command to “pray without ceasing.” In a world of a million distractions it seems impossible. Paul’s time was simpler, slower one; no cell phones or internet or cars. People had space to engaging in ceaseless prayer then, but not any more. And so we soften Paul’s words and make them a recommendation or an ideal to simply be moving towards. He means, “pray often,” and not really “pray without ceasing,” after all, even Paul couldn’t have really been praying all the time, right?

We need to beware the kind of thinking that takes God’s word and softens it. Jesus says that “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5). Friends, I don’t want us to be the least in God’s kingdom. I firmly believe that Christ has massive, mountain-moving things for each of us to engage in, but to fulfill that destiny must not “relax one of the least of these commandments.” When Paul commands, “pray without ceasing,” I believe he really means it. He’s not saying, “set aside regular time to pray,” he’s saying pray all the time, constantly. That’s why he restates himself in the next phrase, saying, “give thanks in all circumstances.” Not some. All. He then concludes with the massive statement, “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” To say it a different way, this is God’s command for you who are in Christ. It’s what He wants for you. Pray without ceasing.

The question then is, how? How do we pray without ceasing in an age of unceasing demands on our attention? I believe that the answer is, honestly, pretty simple. Uncovering this truth several years ago revolutionized my spiritual life. The secret to praying without ceasing, as I’ve seen it, is to turn your inner monologue into a dialogue with God.

We all have an inner monologue, even the most introverted of us. (I’m pretty sure the introverts make up for external silence by their internal conversation!) We converse with ourselves from the moment we wake up till the moment we fall asleep. We talk to ourselves about how tired we are, ask what we want for breakfast, plan out the day, question whether we want to wear this outfit or that one, comment on our frustration with the slow driver in front of us, debate what our co-worker will think of the new proposal, roll over the day’s highs and lows as we lay down to sleep, and so on.

The secret to unceasing prayer is to direct that inner monologue upwards and let it become a constant dialogue with the Lord. The thought, “ehhh, need more sleep,” becomes a request for strength and energy after a sleepless night. The “these people don’t know how to drive in winter,” becomes a quiet thankfulness that God is in control of time. The constant rush of thoughts is pushed to stillness as we silence ourselves in order to listen for the Lord’s response.

This is simple, but it’s not an easy shift to engage in. It’s shifting your mental rhythms. We love to hear ourselves think. We’re used to letting our minds run where they like. To turn our mental attention away from ourselves onto the Lord takes training. Two practical things you need to do to turn your inner monologue into a dialogue with God are,

  1. Pause between tasks to direct your spirit upward. This is a great way to begin training yourself. Whenever you’re shifting gears, whether that’s finishing breakfast and heading out the door or finishing a chapter in your textbook, take that moment of transition and – perhaps literally – look upward. Begin reminding yourself that God is present always. When I’m reading I do this by thanking God for my ability to read and asking him to point my mind to what I need to learn every time I start a new chapter.
  2. Practice mental silence. A dialogue means that there are times where you need to stop talking and listen. Learn to quiet your thoughts and listen mentally. God still speaks. Usually our minds are just too full to hear him since he rarely yells. Practicing mental silence and leaving space for the presence of the Lord will lift anxiety, fear, and stress from you like little else will.

I want Threshingfloor and the church at large to be full of people who walk in the presence of the Lord. One of the main ways that we do that is by praying without ceasing. I can’t encourage you enough to do this. For me it has freed me up from so many of my worries weights of mental anxiety as I’ve learned to cast those cares on the Lord as they come upon me rather than attempting to juggle them within my mind. Praying without ceasing leads to constant thankfulness, which frees us for infinite joy. And that’s a very good way to live.

May the Lord soon hear the beautiful sound of our unceasing prayers!

Quotations, Spiritual Growth

Take Hold and Believe

December 11, 2013

The following is from one of the books that has, outside of the Bible, had more impact on me than any other. It’s rare for me to read a book more than once, and I’ve read this small paper back perhaps five times since first discovering it back in 2007. From The Complete Green Letters by Miles Stanford, p. 65-67;

—-

For most of us, it is time to stop asking God for help. He didn’t help us to be saved, and He doesn’t intend to help us live the Christian life.

Immaturity considers the Lord Jesus a Helper. Maturity knows Him to be Life itself. J. E. Conant wrote, “Christian living is not our living with Christ’s help, it is Christ living His life in us. Therefore that portion of our lives that is not His living is not Christian living; and that portion of our service that is not His doing is not Christian service; for all such life and service have but a human and natural source, and Christian life and service have a supernatural and spiritual source.” Paul insisted, “For to me to live is Christ”; and, “I can do all things through Christ” (Phil. 1:21; 4:13a).

William R. Newell said, “Satan’s great device is to drive earnest souls back to beseeching God for what God says has already been done.” Each of us had to go beyond the “help” stage for our new birth, and thank Him for what He has already done on our behalf. God could never answer a prayer for help in the matter of justification. The same principle holds true for the Christian life. Our Lord Jesus waits to be wanted, and to be all in us and do all through us. “For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him” (Col. 2:9, 10).

God is not trusted, not honored, in our continually asking Him for help. In the face of “my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19), how can we beg for help? Our responsibility is to see in the Word all that is ours in Christ, and then thank and trust Him for that which we need.

Sooner or later we must face up to what F. J. Huegel declares: “When a Christian’s prayer life springs from a right position (a thorough adjustment to Christ in His death and resurrection), a vast change in procedure follows. Much of the mere begging type (though of course asking is always in order for the Lord says. ‘Ask and ye shall receive’) gives way to a positive and unspeakably joyous appropriation. Much of our begging fails to register in heaven because it fails to spring from right relations with the Father in union with Christ in death and resurrection: in which position one simply appropriates what is already his. ‘All things.’ says the Apostle Paul, ‘are yours . . . and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s’ (1 Cor. 3:21, 23).”
Since “. . . without faith it is impossible to please him” (Heb. 11:6). we might consider several more strong but true statements to further clarify the attitude of faith that does please His heart.

“In our private prayers and in our public services,” A. W. Tozer writes, “we are forever asking God to do things that He either has already done or cannot do because of our unbelief. We plead for Him to speak when He has already spoken and is at that very moment speaking. We ask Him to come when He is already present and waiting for us to recognize Him. We beg the Holy Spirit to fill us while all the time we are preventing Him by our doubts.”
S. D. Gordon admonished: “When you are in the thick of the fight. when you are the object of attack, plead less and claim more, of the ground of the blood of the Lord Jesus. I do not mean, ask God to give you victory, but claim His victory. to overshadow you.”

Watchman Nee startles many by saying, “God’s way of deliverance is altogether different from man’s way. Man’s way is to try to suppress sin by seeking to overcome it; God’s way is to remove the sinner. Many Christians mourn over their weakness, thinking that if only they were stronger all would be well. The idea that, because failure to lead a holy life is due to our impotence, something more is therefore demanded of us, leads naturally to this false conception of the way of deliverance. If we are preoccupied with the power of sin and with our inability to meet it, then we naturally conclude that to gain the victory over sin we must have more power.

“’If only I were stronger,’ we say, ‘I could overcome my violent outbursts of temper,’ and so we plead with the Lord to strengthen us that we may exercise more self-control. But this is altogether wrong; this is not Christianity. God’s means of delivering us from sin is not by making us stronger and stronger, but by making us weaker and weaker. This is surely a peculiar way of victory, you say; but it is the divine way. God sets us free from the dominion of sin, not by strengthening our old man but by crucifying him; not by helping him to do anything but by removing him from the scene of action.”

The believer does not have to beg for help. He does have to thankfully appropriate that which is already his in Christ: for. “. . . the just shall live by faith . . .” (Heb. 10:38a). And dear old Andrew Murray encourages us with, “Even though it is slow, and with many a stumble, the faith that always thanks Him—not for experiences, but for the promises on which it can rely—goes on from strength to strength, still increasing in the blessed assurance that God himself will perfect His work in us (Phil. 1:6).”

 

 

Christian Life, Spiritual Growth

Sanctification and Disciplemaking

November 30, 2013

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

– John 17:17-19, ESV

Growing up I always thought of “spiritual” things as inherently individual activities. Prayer and study of the Scripture were laid out as the main means of growing closer to the Lord and were best done alone. The holier a person got the more detached from the world they became. After all, the Greek word for holy means “set apart.” Of course people would become more apart from the earth and the people on it as they were sanctified and grew in holiness. Then, in our solo holiness we would somehow glorify the God who made us.

We were made, creatures fashioned to glorify our creator. Ephesians 1 makes it abundantly clear – as does the rest of Scripture – everything is for the glory of God. He’s the one at the center of the story. And that’s the problem with a sanctification that separates us from the world. Jesus’ ultimate holiness as the Son of God did nothing to prevent him from coming close to the world in all its sinfulness. Quite the contrary. In John 17 as Jesus prepares to leave his disciples and move toward his crucifixion he makes a statement that is often overlooked. “For their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (v.19)

For Jesus his sanctification through total submission to his Father’s will, the essence of holiness, was done not simply for his own sake. He didn’t go to the cross, consecrating himself as a sacrifice simply so that he could regain access into heaven. It was “for their sake” that he was set apart. For the sake of the disciples then and disciples now. Jesus, through his consecration, bought men and women from every tribe, tongue, and nation on the earth to be priests to God.

And here I was, thinking that my sanctification was all about me getting closer to God. That’s not what it’s about. Friends, it was Jesus’ sanctification as the sacrifice for sin that brought us close to God. We can’t get any closer to him that “seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Our sanctification isn’t about us, ultimately. Like Jesus, our sanctification is “for their sake…that they also may be sanctified in truth.” Our growth in holiness, our prayer and private worship, our study of scripture isn’t an end goal in and of itself. It’s for the sake of disciple-making, because making disciples who submit themselves to the Father’s will like Jesus did is what brings the greatest glory to the Father. The way that we most glorify God is through making disciples of Christ. Sanctification is for the sake of disciple-making.

Our sanctification is for other believers.

In John 17 Jesus makes it clear that his consecration is for the sake of his disciples. Similarly, in Ephesians 4 Paul points out the array of gifts that God has given his body, all given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (v.12). In 1 Thessalonians the Apostle points out that it was the Thessalonian’s sanctification and obedience that made them “an example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia.”

God gives us the gift of spiritual growth so that the other believers around us will be drawn closer to him. Jesus called the twelve out from the crowds no just so that they could get to know him well, but so that they could take their knowledge of him and the gospel and use it to train up the others who had believed but hadn’t been as close to the master. Their sanctification was given to them for the sake of building up other believers.

Our sanctification is for non-believers.

Like Israel the body of Christ is to be holy, a distinctive culture in the midst of a world consumed by sin. 1 Thessalonians 4 begins by describing what it looks like to be sanctified, exhorting believers to “control his own body in holiness and honor,” which leads to, “so that you may walk properly before outsiders” (v.4, 12). The sanctification of Christ’s followers is so that they will be a witness to the world by their very lives that the resurrected Christ still has power to change men and women. Through the spiritual fruit of love, joy, patience, kindness, etc, we become glorious proofs of the gospel we proclaim.

 

When I thought of sanctification as a solo activity that would slowly move me closer to the Lord it was a weight on my shoulders that I was never quite able to bear. But that’s never what it was meant to be. Christ is our salvation and our sanctification. No manner of spiritual activity will gain us deeper access into the Father’s presence. We already have “every spiritual blessing” and can come “boldly before the throne of grace.” Sanctification is for the sake of the people around us, that they might see and desire greater things. God is answering Jesus’ prayer. We are sanctified in truth. As the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus has sent us, consecrating us to himself for the sake of discipling those around us because only the disciple is the one who gives the Father the glory he is worthy of.

Best Of, Christian Life, Commentary, Spiritual Growth

Growing Your Spiritual Boldness

October 10, 2013
When Moses first encountered the Lord his response wasn’t joyful adoration or even earnest attentiveness. His response was fear. “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3:6)  He didn’t know the God who he was speaking to; didn’t know his character or his habits. As a result Moses had no real desire to know more about this terrifying God who had just called him to, for all he knew, go back to Egypt to be executed for the murder he’d committed years earlier.

 

I’m convinced that most believers in our day stand in the same place as Moses did that day at the burning bush. We’ve got our shoes off out of respect and honor for the one we know is God, we’re willing to listen intently when he speaks, and we’ll even follow his commands, but we have no real longing for going deeper. Honestly, we’re a bit afraid. We don’t really know this God. We know of him, but we don’t know him. We’ve read the books and heard the sermons. We’ve tasted his grace, gone on the missions trip, even teared up during worship, but we don’t have first-hand experience of his character and power.Our day desperately needs people who know the Lord well enough to make bold requests of him. There are nations falling apart, societies glorying in sin, and people are are trapped in addictions, blinded by Satan, and satisfied with poison. Who will come before the Lord on their behalf? If we don’t have the boldness to ask great things of the Lord how will our world be changed?

 

Fast forward in Moses’ story. God calls him to Egypt and through him performs mind-boggling miracles, frees the Israelites, parts the Red Sea, provides food and water for hundreds of thousands in a desert, and ultimately leads them to the promised land. During those weeks and months Moses spends hours in the Lord’s presence, seeking guidance and help for the tasks before him. The culminating moment takes place at Mount Sinai.

There on the mountain Moses proves himself to be a very different man than the one who hid his face in fear from a burning bush. Instead, Moses utters the words, “Please show me your glory.” (Exodus 33:18) What a transformation! In a matter of months Moses goes from hiding himself from the Lord to making perhaps the boldest request any human has ever made. Moses’ spiritual cowardice was transformed into spiritual boldness. How? I believe there’s one simple principle that makes all the difference:

Following the Lord’s leading fosters a longing for his presence.

As Moses followed God’s commands and experienced first-hand his power, love, mercy, justice, and patience he learned who this God was. He learned, and he wanted more. He asked for what he wanted and God, in his amazing grace, gave it to him. For perhaps the first time since Adam and Eve in the garden, God showed his glory to a human being.

When our longing for the Lord languishes I’m convinced that it’s often because we are refusing to follow his leading. The Spirit has been prompting us to speak, to move, to act, but we’ve ignored him, all the while praying “God, let me know you more.” The thing is, God reveals himself to the people who obey him. People who, like Moses, do what they have been called to do even though they don’t know for sure if it’s even possible or if it was really God who spoke to them.

I for one am eager to overtake Moses in his encounter with our Lord. I want to see God’s glory move in mighty power in and through my life. Moses was used by God to free Israel from enslavement to the Egyptians. We now, empowered by the same Spirit, are sent by Christ to free the nations from enslavement to sin and Satan. As we go out and make disciples, being the ambassadors of reconciliation, we will see our longing for His presence increase in amazing ways.

Don’t be comfortable with a life that is humanly possible. The Christian life is a supernatural one, one that is filled with things that are inconceivable apart from the presence and power of our God. That, my brothers and sisters, is the life that we are called to live.

 

Spiritual Growth, TF Basics, Threshingfloor

Threshingfloor Basics – Part 3 – Discipleship

August 22, 2013

This is the third post in the Threshingfloor Basics series. Read the rest here:

  1. The Mission
  2. The Disciple
  3. Discipleship
  4. The Four Spaces
  5. Our Passion

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Discipleship is an ongoing process, and we believe it is something that begins long before a person is “saved.” Our goal as individuals and communities is to create environments where young adults, both Christian and non, are drawn increasingly closer to Jesus, to each other, and to serving others. The three sections below make up our frame of reference for our progress in discipleship.

We are greatly indebted to Bob Thune from Coram Deo Church and Mike Breen from 3DM for helping shape the language and theology of these concepts, and we highly recommend you listen to and read their stuff.

Up: connecting with Christ

The greatest command the Christian has is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” (Matt. 22:36-40) Our love for God is grown as we read and hear his Word taught (Rom. 10:17), come before him in prayer, worship him in truth, do life with other disciples, and serve the lost through gospel action and proclamation. Everything begins by connecting “Upward” to God through faith in Christ. Discipleship is the process of moving ever-upward.

Questions to ask:

Personal level: Are people growing in their passion and love for the Lord? Is their biblical knowledge deepening? Are they learning to apply the Gospel to all of life?

Communal level: Are word and prayer regular parts of the community? Do conversations naturally turn to the Gospel (what we talk about is proof of what we love!)? Is the Lord’s presence real when we gather? Do people pray for each other spontanteously?

 

In: connecting with each other

Jesus follows the Great Commandment with the words, “a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:39) As we move upward by growing in love for God love for others overflows naturally. This love for other people begins, first and foremost, with a love for other believers. Shortly before his crucifixion Jesus told his disciples that is was their love for each other that would tell the world they were his followers. (John 13:35) This is why we emphasize forming communities of believers and doing life together rather than simply attending events. The “Inward” movement of the disciple connects them intimately to other believers so that there is a powerful love for each other, just as is described among the first Christians in Acts 2:42-47. Discipleship is the process of moving ever-inward into closer community with other believers.

Questions to ask:

Personal level: are people initiating get-togethers outside of official events? Are people learning that their time is not their own – that Jesus gets to direct it? Do people know the “one-another” commands of scripture?

Community level: are DNA groups forming to dig deeper into life together? Do conversations at the gathering go beyond surface level? Is there a communal love? Does everyone share the burden of life together (making meals, hosting, giving as needed)?

 

Out: connecting with the world

Love for others doesn’t stop with Jesus-followers. We follow the example that Jesus set as he gave his life to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) and work as individuals and communities to serve and evangelize the people we are connected to, the cities we are in, and the cultures we are surrounded by. The “Outward” movement of discipleship pushes people to befriend non-believers, pursue justice, serve the needy, and give and go generously toward world missions. Discipleship is the process of moving ever-outward to reach the lost world that Jesus has placed you in.

Questions to ask:

Personal level: are people engaging in intentional relationships with non-believers, or are they in a “Christian bubble”?  Are they giving to world missions? Are they praying for  and discipling specific non-believers?

Communal level: Are there stories of how God is using your community to reach the lost? Are you serving together? Do you give to a cause as a community? Would a non-believer be welcomed and comfortable at your gathering? Do you have people you’re regularly praying for?

Christian Life, Spiritual Growth

Three Truths About Spiritual Growth

April 23, 2013

Holiness is a community project

Three or four years ago my conception of holiness was something that demanded separation from the world and was achieved through more study, reading, and meditation. The more knowledge I had about God the more holy I would become. That, however, is a severe distortion of the image of the holiness Christ calls his people to throughout scripture.

Jesus, the holiest of all men, lived his entire ministry life in a community of believers. He also spent a significant amount of time surrounded by people who were considered by the “religious” of his day to be unclean. The Apostles grew in the context of shared experiences, surrounded by others. There wasn’t much go off alone and study time in Jesus’ ministry. Quite the contrary. Communal living was the center of Christ’s sanctification process. God has structured his world so that we need other people in order to progress spiritually. Piety is no a private activity; holiness is something that grows in the soil of relationships.

Sanctification isn’t for sanctification’s sake

Tied in with the above point is the realization that sanctification isn’t for sanctification’s sake. God isn’t making us accurate reflections of Jesus so he can put us all in a room to admire each other and compare how accurate our imitation of Christ is. Jesus told his disciples, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8)

Trees don’t bear fruit for their own sakes. They bear fruit so that others can eat it and so that they can reproduce. Our sanctification is for the sake of mission. Jesus has sent us to be his messengers, and when we go out to proclaim his message he will transform us to be accurate representations of him. Our sanctification is for the sake of showing the world the glory of our God.

I need the Spirit more than I need the fruit

For many years there was this conception in my mind that I needed to, one by one, gather the fruits of the Spirit and develop them in my life. In my struggle with pornography and my leadership of the Threshingfloor crew I’ve realized that what I needed wasn’t just more fruit – I needed more of the Spirit. In John 15 Jesus says that those who abide in him bear much fruit. You don’t get the fruit without the vine. Watchman Nee, in his classic book The Normal Christian Life, writes;

And this is the truth. God will not give me humility or patience or holiness or love as separate gifts of his grace. He is not a retailer dispensing grace to us and packets, measuring out some patients to the impatient, some love to the unloving, some meekness to the proud, and quantities that we take and work on as a kind of capital. He is only given one gift to meet all our need: His son Christ Jesus. As I look to him to live out his life and me, you’ll be humble and patient and loving and everything else I need – in my stead. Remember the word in the first epistle of John: “God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath the life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life. (1 John 5:11-12)

Often we try to gather the fruit of the Spirit and yet ignore his presence. We need to realize that God has given us more than just sections of moral excellency. He has given us the vine from which they grow. Rather working so hard to improve in love, joy, peace, patience, and all the other things we know we’re supposed to have we need to focus more on Jesus. The secret to spiritual growth is simple. Be connected with the the vine, then the growth just happens.