No Pain, No Gain?

When we were told that our youngest daughter would have birth defects, possibly severe ones, did I need that situation to develop a sense of ruthless trust in God?

Would I have ever made Jesus the Lord and center of my life if I didn’t have a breakdown full of darkness, depression, and frustration?

Did I need to be cut from my high school basketball team to know that God can still value me despite personal disappointment and failure?

Did I need to be a lonely college student to take advantage of long stretches at a lake setting with just me and God?

Did my Dad have to die and my friend drink himself to death for me to learn to love God even when I don’t agree with how he has allowed things to happen?

Is pain and struggle a prerequisite for growth?

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Job, in the Bible, needed one catastrophe after another in order to finally make this statement about God, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job’s struggles awakened his spiritual senses to truly appreciate and savor God.

Paul begged for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh” but God didn’t. Instead, God told him this, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul would then come to this realization, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Paul needed hardship and difficulties and weakness for God to be his strongest. I don’t know if I can say that I delight in struggles and disappointment just yet but if that is what it takes for God to be the strongest in my life then I will sacrifice my comfort and ease along the way.

For I have seen too much growth, too much of God’s presence, too much of God’s provision, and too much of a change in myself to think otherwise.

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Creating Bullet Proof Christians

If our interactions with Christ can move from mere belief to a trusting relationship, then wonderful things such as obedience, holiness, and love follow. We Grow Up.

This kind of trusting relationship comes from knowledge of Christ. In one of his letters, Paul discusses knowledge of Christ and that knowledge leading to endurance, joyfullness, and an inheritance of God’s kingdom. He is not talking about knowledge, as in memorizing some facts and figures to regurgitate later but knowledge that comes from a relationship.

When my wife and I play games like Charades or Fish Bowl we have a way of understanding what each other is hinting at way before others are able to catch on. This is because we know each other well enough to know what is inside their head at a given moment.

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That is the type of knowledge that Paul is talking about when it comes to knowledge of Christ. When I rely and trust Jesus to be who he says he is, then I am not just relying on facts to see me through my days but I am relying on the knowledge I have gained from interacting with Jesus and developing an understanding of what is close to the heart of Christ.

Could it be that the entirety of scripture is not to prove that God exists but to prove that God can be relied upon and trusted? This is a huge difference. When God is unhappy with his called out people, the Israelites, he doesn’t criticize their belief in him, he criticizes their disobedience and their willingness to chase after replacements for what God can bring them. Similarly, Jesus discusses people’s lack of faith, not their understanding of doctrine.

By combining knowledge of Christ, as described above, with trust in Christ we have a recipe for growth that can create individuals that can endure, that can withstand trouble, that can change the world. The early church is proof of this and we can be too.

*This post was inspired by portions of Scot McKnight’s book, The King Jesus Gospel.

Why You Have To Plan To Grow Up

Each week, I will be providing a glimpse into the discipleship training program that I have just started. This is a way for me to show you what I am learning and also allow you to progress along with me. For more information, I encourage you to read this. Also, if you like what you are reading, will you consider donating so I can continue with the program and be able to provide more helpful content so we can all reach true Christian maturity.


So, if it is true here and here, why does Growing Up still seem so hard? Why does my spiritual life often seem like one step forward and two steps back.

To have the faith of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, shouldn’t I be making more progress than I am?

Here is where we get to the part of the Growing Up plan that involves our input. In order to cultivate our faith muscles and be obedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit we have to participate in Growing Up Exercises (traditionally these are referred to as Spiritual Disciplines or as James Bryan Smith calls them, Soul-Training Exercises).

The concept of Growing Up Exercises is simple – working directly on our spiritual selves so that God can have the largest impact on our lives.

Sure, could God completely change me and turn me from an impatient person to a patient person, from a greedy person to a generous person, from a angry person to a loving person on the spot? He absolutely could and does, on occasion, but his preferred method is to give us his promises and tools and work with us to create change.

Even Paul talks about his need to Grow Up. His life was turned upside down on the Road to Damascus but there were still parts of Paul that needed to Grow Up. So it is with us, and spiritual disciplines allow us to train so that God has the biggest impact.

The list of Growing Up Exercises are vast, you can find the most helpful ones here and here. The issue is not which exercises you are doing but are you in training? Are you working to Grow Up because you know that your call to salvation under Christ is also a call to a mature, transformed, fulfilled life?

God has provided the gifts, tools, and power but there is a part for us to play. So start Growing Up and get training!

 

photo credit: Robert Hruzek

Apprenticeship With Jesus: Day 3

For Lent, I am walking us through a book called Apprenticeship With Jesus. You can follow along by reading my highlights and reflections. Extensive previews of the book, including excerpts, can be found through Google Books and Amazon, as well as eBook purchasing options.

Day 3: Why Paul Rarely Quoted Jesus

–  Paul only quoted Jesus three times – Acts 20:35, 1 Cor. 11:23-25, 2 Cor. 12:9

–  Paul refers to us being “in Christ” or to Christ being “in us” 160 times

– Paul stressed the possibility of entering into union with Christ

–  Key passage – staying connected to Jesus – John 15:1-5 (Vine and branches)

– “I do good because of Christ in me not because I read the Sermon on the Mount”

I found this chapter very enlightening as I have struggled with the apparent differences between Jesus’ emphasis and Paul’s. Recently, the topic has also been hotly debated among scholars and theologians. Moon makes a great case for Paul’s understanding that Jesus’ teachings were only doable as long as the believer is attached to Jesus and Jesus attached to them. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” – Colossians 1:27.

Apprentice Activity: Take Communion Forty Times A Day

–  Because of God’s vastness and greatness as well as his intimacy with believers, to breathe is to commune with God

– List three things that you will do frequently over the next 24 hours

–  When you do these things, take a 20 second break and work through the following:

1. Inhale and say, “Jesus, I invite you to the center of my being”

2. Exhale, “I don’t way to be a Vampire Christian.”

3. Inhale, “Christ, I want a total transfusion of your life into my own.”

4. Exhale, “Live your life through me.”

The three activities that I chose were: placing things in the trash can, going to the bathroom, and being stopped at a stop light. Because these things are so common place, it took me a while to remind myself to work through the statements above. In the bathroom was probably the easiest to remember. I started this activity on a Saturday which means that I was at home. With three kids under the age of 12, the days are not filled with quiet rhythms and reflection but with frequent interruptions and distractions. This activity not only helped me stay focused on God during the day but also helped me in my interactions with my kids. “Live your life through me” became a much repeated prayer throughout the day.

What is Jesus teaching me? I am a pretty disciplined person. I set a goal to shoot baskets for 15 minutes everyday when I was in fourth grade and I didn’t stop until I was a senior in college. So, practicing the things of Jesus isn’t always my problem but doing them in the strength and power of Christ within me is something that I am just recently coming to realize. My will power is no comparison to the resurrection power of Christ working in my life. In James Bryan Smith’s book, The Good And Beautiful God, he stresses that Christians are “Ones In Whom Christ Dwells”. Facing up to that narrative in our lives is enough to change our thinking and begin to change our actions.

Are you one in whom Christ dwells? What does that reality mean for you now?