Are Difficult Times Required In Order To Grow?

Since I have been writing this blog in earnest over the last year, I have chronicled the amazing times, the heartbreaking times, and the really hard times.

This past year has presented some of the richest and most profound times with God I have ever experienced. But as soon as I experience a spiritual high, the next week will bring devastating news about my Dad’s battle with Cancer. An enriching breakthrough spiritually might be happening in the midst of the most difficult moments of my professional life. There is joy and pain often mixed in the same day, sometimes the same hour.

I began to ask myself, are the times of great spiritual growth preparing me for the struggles and the obstacles or are the obstacles and struggles providing the framework for the times of significant growth? Does the crucible of change and improvement with God have to be struggle, hurt, and difficulty? Or was the growth already there and I just needed the difficulty to demonstrate and contextualize the growth?

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I guess what I am trying to say is that I am thankful for the difficulties while at the same time wishing and praying that they would go away. I know that good will come out of struggle while often trying to avoid it.

Jesus himself asked that the cup he had to bear would pass from him but then prayed that if that couldn’t happen, may God’s will be done. I feel that I understand this sentiment on the tiniest of levels and I am starting to see that God’s will is the best place for me to be.

Just don’t make it too hard, Lord.

I Am Not Very Observant

Most of the time, I am too distracted, too busy, too worried, too anxious to notice all the good and meaningful things that are around me.

I recently picked up Eugene Peterson’s book Practice Resurrection. This book is Peterson’s conversation on Ephesians. I had read this book, or portions of it, several years ago, but never knew it was the better written, and more deeply thought out version of what I am trying to do here with this blog. For example, this section from page 2:

The most significant growing up that any person does is to grow as a Christian. All other growing up is a preparation for or ancillary to this growing up…The human task is to become mature, not only in our bodies and emotions and minds within ourselves, but also in our relationship with God and other persons.

The rest of the book is like this. Peterson is reading my mind and heart and illustrating it in a very thoughtful and profound way. His subtitle to the book is, “a conversation on growing up in Christ.”

The thing is,  I have read this book before and remember nothing about this talk on Christian maturity and Growing Up.

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How much truth, how much meaningful content, how many messages from God just pass us by without us paying much attention?

It worries me that Peterson was addressing my own key message and purpose and it barely registered for me. Maybe one of the first steps in maturity is fewer and fewer of these moments and messages pass us by unnoticed. A sign of maturity may mean that we are in a state where we are more spiritually observant and receptive to all God is throwing at us. Our distraction levels are lowered and the Holy Spirit has more room to work.

What is it that you have let pass you by unnoticed? Do you need to read that passage of scripture again? Can you find that sermon online that you should have been paying attention to? Can you take your time with your next book long enough for the words to soak in? Or do you just need to approach the next thing with more receptivity to God’s work in your life?

He is present and he wants to connect with us. Are we listening?

When I Grow Up I Am Going To Be A Good Parent

I am the father of three girls, ages 17, 13, and 8. Parenting is hard enough but having kids at such distinct phases of growing up forces me to wear different hats each time I try to be a father figure.

For my 17 year old, I am thinking about all the things I need to tell her so she can survive a complicated and hard world. For my 13 year old, I am thinking about how can I instill in her how precious she is and that today’s frustrations will be forgotten tomorrow. For my 8 year old, I am trying to demonstrate to her what a father’s love looks like and that she is safe in this world because she has strong parents who love her.

The above paragraph makes me sound so good and noble but the reality is that I am thinking about these things and maybe even acting on these things in the midst of eye rolls, shrugs of disinterest, raised voices, and little patience.

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So much of my work in personal spiritual growth is to be able to manage life as a husband and father. My family is the great laboratory for measuring Christ’s transforming power in me. Everyday I am given a status report as to the improvement I have made in being more loving, or being more merciful, or being forgiving, or being a servant. The old cliche of “parenting will keep you humble” is so true.

The results are not always negative. There are times when I have said something kind and loving that I knew came from a place of Christ transformation and change. There are times when I was willing to sacrifice and extend myself for my children out of care for them and not for myself. There are times when I see past whatever I have planned next and provide words of encouragement, or advice, or teaching that might even resemble what Christ would have said.

I am grateful for my kids and what God has taught me through them and by them. I am grateful that all of my reading, learning, praying, meditating, studying, and work on my own growth in Christ isn’t locked away in a closet but gets a chance to be lived out in a way that stretches me and helps me grow but also, just maybe, benefits the ones that are closest to me.

Satan’s Role In Hindering My Spiritual Growth

Here is one thing I think but have not said:

That Satan possesses people for small moments to disrupt my spiritual growth. I have learned to see this a part of the process of Growing Up but early on, I wasn’t always able to handle this.

What will happen is that I will have a really rich time with God, usually in the mornings, and my whole perspective will change as I see God’s work in my life. My desire in these moments is to live a transformed, Christ-filled existence, and in the joy of those times, I see and have faith that it will happen, even that morning.

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Then, sometime during the day, I am met with such difficulty and frustration coming from other people that it doesn’t just make me doubt the progress that I have made but makes me want to abandon it altogether. The people involved have seemed to be directed to point out and state the one thing that day that would send me reeling away from the progress I have made. It is almost like clockwork. But now, I have learned to expect it and prepare for it  and see it for what it is – a strategy by Satan to counter my growth.

So, if you are just dabbling in Growing Up and are just starting to make progress, let me warn you of these moments. May you be prepared for them and know that you have done nothing wrong unless you let these people or these moments get the best of you. Start to see them, not as trying moments, but as badges of honor to demonstrate to you that you must be doing something right.

Keep Growing Up. Satan doesn’t like it and wants to hinder any progress towards Growth. Trust me, you can withstand these attacks and be stronger when you do.

Look at this passage and see what comes after perseverance. Godliness is possible, through the power of Christ, but it is essential that we find our way through these attacks in order to reach our goal of Growing Up.

 

Two Mistakes We Make In Growing Up

Jesus, in the Greatest Sermon Ever Given, talked about these things:

Anger

Lust

Lying

Revenge

Pride

Greed

Worry

Judging

Falseness

Our great defense mechanism as humans is to recognize these traits in other people but not in ourselves.

If we start reading Matthew 5-7 and get to teachings on pride or lust or anger we let other people’s face cross our mind’s eye instead of our own. We think that because I have heard this passage before or have heard a few sermons where Greed is discussed, I have already figured these things out. Someone else must have a problem with these things and not me. What a mistake this thinking is and what a tool of Satan to have us dismiss these crucial teachings as not pertaining to me.

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Just this past week I have struggled with Worry about many things. I have lusted. I have delighted in someone who I am not fond of getting some comeuppance. I have judged constantly. I have stretched the truth. I have let Pride dictate some of my actions. I have grown Angry and lashed out at people around me. I have wanted something to happen strictly for financial purposes only.

I am in need of a daily heart transformation that only Christ can bring and discusses in the Sermon on the Mount and so are you. Forget the obligation of obedience, imagine what your life could be if you made progress in just one of the areas above?

If our first mistake in transformation is not seeing the need for it, then our second mistake is thinking that change will only come from our will power and determination. This will only take you so far. Many people are finding this truth out as their New Year’s Resolutions are losing steam.

No, the only determination you need is to make progress and to daily let Christ work in your life. To be open to Christ’s work and whatever form that takes. To take him in and let him be the Lord of your life. Change will come, transformation will come.

I have told you that I have a long way to go but I am better than I was 10 years ago. But self-improvement is not the goal. Being a light to the World and fulfilling God’s plan on earth is why I need to reflect the nature of Jesus in all that I do or become.

 

If You Do These Two Things, You Are On Your Way To Growing Up

Growing Up doesn’t have to be hard. If you take yourself off the throne of your own life and place Christ there and then you seek the guidance and teaching of Christ inside you, then you are on your way. Those two things will take care of 70 percent of your growth and seem relatively easy.

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When I did this, I became hungry for God and that made reading the Bible less of a chore. I wanted to change, so I was eager to try out spiritual disciplines that may have intimidated me before such as fasting, meditation, and lectio divina. I knew the great example of service that Christ showed on earth and I wanted to follow his example. These changes were all a part of my transformation. All of this was relatively easy and progress was attainable.

Sure, you will still have a ways to go and some big spiritual hurdles to cross. I am still struggling with some of the same sins and same hang ups that have haunted me for 30 years but God has brought me so far and most of that growth has been 90 percent God and just a little of myself.

Have you been hesitant to Grow Up because you thought it would be too much work? Are you fearful that you couldn’t change? Does some of what is required seem foreign to you?

I am here to tell you that there is attainable growth when you focus on Christ, quit trying to be King of your own life, and by surrendering to his Lordship and transformation.

We will discuss the hard parts later. Right now, let’s revel in the abundant growth that is already available to us.

 

photo credit: Jan Tik

 

Sometimes You Have To Do Something Crazy

I am fascinated with Grand Gestures. Those out on a limb efforts that signal a no turning back approach to pursuing a goal or completing a task.

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In 2002, my wife and I, and young daughter, made the Grand Gesture to leave a comfortable, safe existence with a clear career path for a ministry with inner city families and the poor. We had the promise of a place to live but little else and those around us thought we weren’t being very sensible and some thought we didn’t know what we were doing. But God did, and he provided us with an income, a vehicle, and other needs that I have probably forgotten about.

In the Gospels, I love the stories of Jesus calling his disciples. He is inviting them to take a Grand Gesture and leave their livelihood and the comfort of their home and surroundings and see what following Jesus may do for them. The scandal of the “rich young ruler” is not that Jesus asked him to sell everything that he had but that the young man was unwilling to make a Grand Gesture on account of his faith.

Now, I am not leaving my job, or moving hundreds of miles away but I am making a Grand Gesture towards the next stage of God’s plan for my life. I am pursuing an 18 month training in discipleship and spiritual growth. I have long desired to pursue something like this because I knew I would be enriched by it but I also knew that I could help other Christians. There are so many  that desperately long for a mature faith full of wisdom but don’t know where to start and don’t have someone to guide them.

I want to be that guide. And just like in 2002, I am willing to step forward with God’s plan even when I don’t know how exactly that plan is even possible.

Will you help me?

Please consider giving towards my fund raising efforts. You have been reading my blog and you know my heart and my desire to Grow Up and help others do the same. My Grand Gesture needs your Grand Gesture of giving. There are all sorts of gifts I will send your way if you give but more than anything,  I will have the testimony of God’s faithfulness to share with others just as I did back in 2002.

Give Now

 

4 Reasons Why You Need To Grow Up: Reason #4 It Is Biblical

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I am not a Bible scholar so I won’t do a deep dive into a passage here (I teach Bible study classes at my church where I attempt that). I would tell you that if you want to see what a Grown Up Christian looks like, then your best to look to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), John 15, and Colossians 3.

The verses that speak to me the most about maturity are the ones that pinpoint the dying of the old self and the putting on of the new self. Galatians 2:20 starts off, “I am crucified with Christ and I no longer live…”Matthew 16:25 talks about gaining life by losing it for Christ’s sake. Ephesians 4:22-24 says to “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

In these verses, there is no question what your life is supposed to look like. There is no temptation to just sprinkle a little moralism, some self help mantra, and some vague religiosity over your life. The call is severe and drastic and the end result is noticeable, powerful, and profound.

Your commitment to Christ means your commitment to a radical change in your life. The old self is slowly being put to death and the new self is being grown, fed, and watered through Christ’s work in you and your training in spiritual growth and maturity.

This is no mere add on to your life. No “nice thing” to do. This is your life now if you have Christ.

What are you doing with your new life?

4 Reasons Why You Need To Grow Up:Reason #2 You Have A Job To Do

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I don’t know what your job is but I know that beyond your occupation, you have a God appointed task to do.

Maybe God has asked you to reach out to someone in friendship, or to pursue a particular goal, or to start a new project that will benefit others, or maybe you are just called to be the best parent you can be, or to honor your employer with hard work, or to be a better listener.

As a Christian, there are countless opportunities for obedience and intention. Some of these are elaborate and unique to only us and some are simply fulfilling our duty as a follower of Christ. No matter the complexity or the specifics, in order for us to take advantage of these opportunities, we have to have the skills, the make up, and the maturity to do our job.

Through scripture God has asked us to love, to be obedient, to pray, to share the Gospel, to have faith. Then, he has asked us individually to carry out some responsibility. But if we are too judgmental or angry how are we going to love? If we never pursue more silence in our lives, how effective will our prayer life be? And if God has asked us to serve underprivileged children, but we haven’t considered that our lack of patience might be a problem, how effective will we really be?

God has something for you to do. He will no doubt provide many gifts in your life to allow for success in your calling but are you doing your part to bring your best to God’s assignments? Have you prepared yourself through prayer, confession, listening to God, worship, and study of Scripture?

An effective Christian is a mature Christian.

 

Photo credit: Jorge Royan

Community Injects Spiritual Growth With Life

Yesterday, I met three other guys at a Starbucks to talk about life, God’s word,

Redesigned logo used from 2011-present.

Redesigned logo used from 2011-present. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

and anything else that popped into our heads. Two of us have had seminary training but one has only been a believer for a short time.

Refreshingly, no debates broke out. No one felt like they had cornered the market on a theological idea. We just discussed scripture, dropped some wacky pop culture references, and enjoyed each others company. There was humility and a realization that God is so much bigger than ourselves.

I was encouraged, inspired, and refreshed from the short time we had together. In the quest for doable spiritual growth, we cannot overlook the power of community.

So much of our church language fails us in this regard. Quiet time, personal devotion, daily Christian walk, etc. All of these terms have such an individualistic tone to them. We have convinced ourselves that to grow spiritually requires our own efforts in isolation and nothing else. We fail to recognize the strength of Christian community, especially small groups.

In community I find encouragement, inspiration, conviction, motivation, and correction. Christ himself had a small community of friends who no doubt shaped his ministry and message in maybe more ways than we would expect.

Finding quality Christian community isn’t always easy and you have to work at it but we need it desperately.