Around this time last year we shared with the congregation the twelve characteristics/habits of disciples. We recognize that there could be more added, and that there is overlap, however these were the twelve that the elders came up with that we believe are “non-negotiable.” That is, healthy disciples are marked by these characteristics. These characteristics are going to become the focus point of our blog articles.
This week I want to take a few moments and explore the reality that Disciples Pursue. The question then becomes, pursue what?
We believe that Scripture makes it clear that those who follow Christ (Disciples) are called to pursue holiness. It was the call for the Israelites in the Old Testament. The pursuit of holiness is what undergirds all that is written in Leviticus, you can see the call specifically in Leviticus 11:44-45. It has been said that Exodus is about getting the Israelites out of Egypt and Leviticus is about getting Egypt out of the Israelites.
Much like the Israelites struggled to leave Egypt in their past, we find ourselves struggling to leave our spiritual darkness in our past. At least I know I do. The Apostle Paul relates to this as well, writing, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19, ESV).
I don’t know about you but I am both frustrated and encouraged by these words of Paul. Frustrated, because it acknowledges the reality that this is a struggle that will not be over this side of eternity. Encouraged, because I know that I am not alone in this struggle, and even the author of a large majority of the New Testament fought the same thing.
In his work The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges writes, “In all of our thoughts, all of our actions, in every part of our character, the ruling principle that motivates and guides us should be the desire to follow Christ in doing the will of the Father. This is the high road we must follow in the pursuit of holiness.” (pg 47).
This is my prayer for us, that we would follow Christ in doing the will of the Father in every arena of our lives.
The past couple weeks we have discussed reaching out to people in our lives who don’t know Christ. Really what we are discussing is a matter of discipleship. It is part of your discipleship as you are faithful to God’s call to make disciples. Furthermore, as you enter into conversations with people about things of faith, you are really taking them into the first steps of discipleship for themselves.
It is important that we keep in mind that sharing our faith, whatever the means, is only the beginning of discipleship. We have to remember that the Great Commission is not a call to make converts or church attenders, rather it is a call to make disciples and teach them to obey everything that Christ has commanded.
I want for a moment though to offer a word of encouragement in the midst of this emphasis of evangelism. As we enter into conversations with people we can easily become discouraged, people can be unreceptive at best and downright mean at worst. At times the fear of this receptivity can be so paralyzing that we never begin the conversation in the first place.
Furthermore, when we do have success in the conversation, and our loved ones are receptive, discouragement can still be lurking around the corner. It is a difficult thing to pour time, energy, and love into people as you disciple them, only to watch them walk away knowing the truth. This too can become paralyzing.
As you begin these conversations, remember that you are being conformed into the Image of Christ. These failures are not unknown to Him and His ministry. Countless people heard His message only to walk away because it was too difficult, others actively plotted to murder Him. Then within the twelve themselves, men who walked away from everything to follow Him, there was even failure. Peter. Judas. The ten who were nowhere to be found during His trials.
We must realize, that if the perfect Creator—Savior God in the Flesh didn’t have a 100% success rate chances are we won’t either. Take heart, you are in good company. Be encouraged, sometimes, like Peter, the prodigals return. Be comforted, you can only control yourself, you are only accountable for your actions and words, while you can encourage and try to guide you cannot make the choice for others.
The question left, will you be obedient to the call to go and make disciples or will you be disobedient and choose not to, leaving it for others?
Sunday in his sermon on prayer Gary shared the acronym A.C.T.S., which stands for “Adoration-Confession-Thanksgiving-Supplication.” While discussing the confession portion of the message Gary addressed the very real issue of our being overly vague in our confession. Often we don’t find freedom through confession because we use some general confession along the lines of “Forgive me of all my many sins.” but we never really name what those sins are.
As Gary shared this I wanted to cheer; I also immediately connected the thought to thanksgiving and joy. I suspect that a large reason that we often fail to live the joyful lives we are called to live is because we fail to be specific in our prayers of thanksgiving. Much like confession, when praying prayers of thanksgiving we can have a tendency to pray things like “Thank You God for all Your many blessings.”
A while back I was challenged by something I read in Hidden in Christ, by James Bryan Smith. He discussed being at a speaking engagement and ending up in a small group with a woman who described having a “Gratitude Journal.” Smith explains that a few weeks later he decided to begin this spiritual practice as well. At the end of the chapter Smith issues this challenge:
“Today, or this week, begin keeping a gratitude journal. Try to write down five things that happened to you each day that were a blessing to you. Do not feel a need to make everything ‘spiritual’; if you enjoyed a delicious slice of pizza or a funny movie, simply write it down. The cumulative effect of these small moments of pleasure will, over time, amount to a large amount of gratitude and thanksgiving.” (Page 165)
I can tell you from my experience this has been helpful, though I have struggled to be consistent in practicing it. You see, I too fall into the habit of thanking God for “His many blessings” even thanking Him for “His grace and love.” While both statements are true they don’t really cultivate an attitude of thankfulness and joy. In my gratitude journal I will write things like, “Thanks for kids who show the love and grace of God in their willingness to forgive me for being short with them.” Or even God’s grace for that specific sin. The specificity does something in the heart and mind to intensify the joy and thankfulness.
As I flip back through my gratitude journal I am reminded that this journal fueled my intercessory prayer, as I thanked God for those answered prayers, it would fuel more prayer.
Here is my encouragement/challenge: begin your own gratitude journal. Strive everyday to think of five things for which you are thankful, whether big and “spiritual” or as “worldly” as a nice cup of coffee. Try this for a month and see if it hasn’t increased your joy.
May we be ever faithful to the command to, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” —Colossians 3:15-17
Recently I have been reading Who Moved My Pulpit, by Thom Rainer. I have been chewing on the following excerpt for a while now.
It's a true story. A first-time guest came to the church at the request of the pastor. She was to observe carefully, then write a brief report.
Wow! "I would not come back." I can't help but wonder how many people have visited Sterling, a place that reminds us to Love People, and walked away feeling out of place and alone.
How many visitors did you greet Sunday?
May we go out of our way to make people know that we love them before they walk back out our doors. May we be a place that is welcoming.
There is a phrase in the Old Testament that sets a negative tone for what is to follow. 2 Samuel 11 begins, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle…David remained at Jerusalem.” There is something about this statement that tells us all is not well.
Every time I read this I am reminded of the first day of football practice every year in high school. The athletic handbook, we were told, could be summarized “Be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there.”
The reality is David wasn't where he was supposed to be when he was supposed be there, and we know that great sin and heartache were the result.
This is easy to see with David and his big public sin, but it can be harder to see in ourselves and the not so public disobediences? Where do you see the fallout of not being where you were supposed to be when you were supposed to be there? It is very possible that you haven’t missed a formal appointment to be somewhere, but you have had an inner prompting (Holy Spirit) and haven’t followed that prompting.
I have been chewing on this verse about David and these words from high school because of conviction I have felt lately. Like many (as Gary mentioned in his sermon Sunday), I have spent a large amount of time watching T.V. and browsing Facebook. However, I have been convicted for a while that this time needs to be spent in a more productive manner.
I haven’t been where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there, because I haven’t been completely faithful to follow the conviction of the Holy Spirit in me. The less than public nature of these convictions and the consequences of ignoring them make them easier to ignore than David’s. But if I am honest the consequences are very real; a weakened relationship with God from wasting time that could have been spent communing with Him and from resisting the work of His Spirit within me. The consequences are also physical as time that could have and should have been spent sleeping is spent consuming mindless nonsense. Like David, these consequences also affect our relationships with others. We like to segment and isolate the various areas of our lives, but the reality is that we are wholistic. This wholistic nature means that when our spiritual relationship suffers it spills over and our interpersonal relationships suffer.
Much like David our lack of obedience has consequences far greater than we could ever imagine. Because of his sin David’s spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational life suffered.
Where has God been calling you?
Is there something in your life God is calling you away from temporarily? Permanently?
Personally, these thoughts over the past couple weeks have prompted me to step away from T.V. And social media for a period of time. I have sensed God calling me to deeper communion with Him, this cannot be done if I am not where I’m supposed to be, when I’m suppose to be there.
Do you see where your spiritual health might be suffering from not being where you’re supposed to be?
What about your physical life? How has this affected your relationship?
Do you care enough to change?
Are you willing to make the changes necessary to be where God is calling you to be, when He is calling you to be there?
We often hear people say there is no wrong way to pray. But, what if there was a wrong way to pray? What if our prayers go unanswered because of something we have control over?
We often dismiss “unanswered” prayer. But I think that many times the prayer is unanswered because of us.
Take a moment and read James 4:2-3
Did you see what James says, you don’t have because you don’t ask. “But I do ask!” you say. James goes on to explain that that prayer is unanswered because it is a prayer of selfishness. Think of the unanswered prayers you can remember, how many of them were selfishly prayed for you to indulge your passions? We must remember that God will not go against His character or law.
Now read Ephesians 5:25 & 1 Peter 3:7.
Did you catch that husband? Love your wife how? The way Christ loved the Church. Often when we think about how Christ loved the Church we think about how He was willing to sacrificially lay down His life for her. While this thought is accurate, there is more. Christ didn’t just love the Church so much that He died for her, He lived for her, every choice He made was for the good of the Church. Yes, He lived in obedience to glorify God the Father, who is most glorified through the fulfilling of His purposes for the Church. Think about it, for Jesus to die for us, He had to live a perfect life. Had He given into temptation He couldn’t have fulfilled His mission. When He resists temptation it is both to glorify God and for us.
Husband this is the way you are called to love your wife. This is relevant to pray because of what Peter writes. Read 1 Peter 3:7.
Do you realize that maybe your prayers are ineffective because you are not treating your wife as you should?
Finally, read James 5:13-16.
I have long been confronted by this passage. Aside from its very helpful teaching on prayer, and the following verses reminding us of the power of our prayer, the last statement of verse 16 convicts me. James says, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” This leads me to ask if the opposite is also true. Could it accurately be stated that “The prayer of an unrighteous person is powerless and ineffective.”?
All of these are passages that have challenged me through the years, and continue to challenge me still. I’ll leave you with this charge from Donald Whitney, "But we must learn to examine our prayers. Are we asking for things that are outside the will of God or would not glorify him? Are we praying with selfish motives? Are we failing to deal with the kind of blatant sin that causes God to put all of our prayers on hold?”1
1 Whitney, Donald. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. pg 79
When Uriah started talking about wanting to get baptized Lindsay and I decided to get him a gift to commemorate the occasion. It didn’t take long for me to decide that we would get him a pocket knife. I also wanted to get it engraved with a passage that could be especially significant given the decision he was going to make. To our excitement he made this decision sooner than we expected and told us on December 22, that he was ready and wanted to get baptized and make a commitment to be a disciple of Jesus. I had the amazing privilege of baptizing him on Christmas Eve.
When his knife came in the next week, Uriah and I went for a drive. I explained to him that we wanted to get him something special for his decision and decided to get him a knife. I told him that there were people who probably wouldn’t approve of this gift. He knew why, because it can be dangerous. However, he also knew that there were benefits to having a knife, one can protect themselves, get food, and help people to name a few that he mentioned.
Affirming that he was correct, knives are great tools that have unending uses, they also carry a level of danger which requires responsibility. It didn’t take long for him to explain to me numerous ways that people could get hurt by his knife if he was careless with it. Because of these dangers I explained that he had to be responsible to make sure that he wasn’t careless with his knife, whether it be leaving it lay where his sisters could get it or using it in a way that was potentially harmful. I went on to explain that it was his knife, therefore he is the one responsible for what happens with it at all times.
You may be wondering why I am recounting this conversation with you, this is why—our spiritual life is like this knife. We have been given an incredible gift (far better than any knife). This gift gives us not only the ability but the obligation to help people (Matthew 28:18-20). How much more can we protect somebody than with the gift of grace from God and eternity with the Father, Son, & Spirit?
However, like the knife people are often hurt by Christians who are careless with their lives. Maybe you leave your “spiritual life” laying at the church building when you leave. Brennan Manning comments, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyles, that is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” The biggest reason people reject Christ is Christians who leave their “spiritual life” at the church building. The apostle Paul addresses this in Romans 1:18-2:24. Other Christians cause damage when they are careless with how they use their faith, think Westboro Baptist and people like them.
As a result of the way a knife illustrates the Christian life. And since the decision to accept Jesus, get baptized, and commit to a life of discipleship is the beginning of becoming a man (in the spiritual sense), we had the knife engraved with “1 Kings 2:1-4.”
My prayer is that from reading this you may never look at a knife the same way. I pray that every time you see a knife it would be a reminder to you of the power and responsibility it carries. It is my prayer that this reminder would change the way we live. May we be people who are helpful, life giving, and responsible with our faith. May we live in such a way that people are drawn closer to God, not pushed away from Him.
This is the time of year where people often begin to think about things they want to change in coming years. One change I often hear Christians mention is their desire to read the Bible more. It is a desire that I think is very healthy.
I want to spend a moment to encourage you to think on your Bible reading habits. How often do you read? When was the last time you read through the entire Bible? How much do you remember about your last reading?
I don’t want these questions or thoughts to shame you, but I do want them to challenge you. There are numerous ways in which we can read Scripture, but the tendency we often gravitate to is as little as possible, and frequently passages we are comfortable with reading.
I want to encourage you to be stretched this year. Maybe your current approach is to meditate on one verse a day, which can be fruitful. However, this approach is very limited and can create problems with certain verses. One big issue is that this approach provides no context. Maybe you could start reading a little larger chunk of Scripture, and meditate on that passage the rest of the day.
Maybe you read through the entire Bible cover to cover regularly, but it is disjointed and disconnected for you. I would suggest finding a way to be more intentional about connecting with the Scriptures.
In order to aid in this endeavor we are providing a host of options to choose from as far as Bible reading plans are concerned. From a month in the Gospels to the entire Bible in 90 days, and everything in between.
Before you say that this is too lofty consider a few things. We live in a culture that reads a fair amount. Yet we watch T.V. and play a fair amount of video games, and other activities that are mindless.
However, when there is something we are excited about we read. We devour. We wait in expectation until we can read some more. Here are a few statistics of some popular works.
In the first 4 books of the Harry Potter series there are 1,850 pages.
In the classic The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit the four books accumulate a total 1,516 pages.
Finally, in the recent (past handful of years) the popular Twilight saga amass over 2,500 pages.
These are books people dive into and don’t want to leave. I’ve known people who will binge read and finish one or more of these volumes in a week.
Yet, The Bible, the book we say gives us the guide to living and tells us of the God we serve and claim to love, we have trouble getting into. I just reached up and pulled a copy of the Bible off of my shelf. It is a simple copy, no study notes, not a lot of extras, just the text, some translation footnotes, and short introductions (one paragraph) to each book. This copy of the Bible is merely 895 pages long. You could read this Bible just shy of a full three times to reach the same page count as the Twilight saga.
I don’t want this to be a shame article. I hope this spurs you (as it does me) on to a greater commitment to The Word of God.
Here’s my challenge, find a plan that works for you this year. Maybe it is through the Bible in a year, maybe it is the 90 day plan, whatever it is, find a plan and work it. There will be times that you get behind. Don’t stress about catching up, just keep working your plan. If you have free time and can catch-up that’s great, but working the plan is what makes a difference.
For instance you get ambitious and decide to complete the 90 day plan, and you continue to find yourself behind, and it ends up taking you 180 days to finish…when was the last time you read the whole Bible in 6 months?!
My prayer is that the plans we provide will help you to better love and devour The Word of God. I pray that as you love and devour His Word that He continues to transform you by the renewing of your mind. Conforming you to the image of Christ for the sake of others and the glory of God. Living a life in tune with the Holy Spirit living in you.
It’s no secret that Spiritual Formation is a passion of mine; I desire it for myself, and I desire it for others—for you. As a reminder here is the big all-inclusive Trinitarian definition of Spiritual Formation: “God the Holy Spirit takes the initiative, through various means, in cooperation with our response, changes us to look like God the Son, in order to serve others, to the glory of God the Father.” (J.K. Jones).
What that says is that God the Holy Spirit initiates the process of Spiritual Formation in us. Furthermore, He uses various means (good things, tragedies, life experiences, etc.) to change us to look like Jesus Christ (God the Son), in order to serve others, all to glorify God the Father.
However, there was one piece in my explanation that I left out; “in cooperation with our response.” You see, God the Father wants us to reflect Jesus in our lives, He wants us to be conformed to the image of Christ. If Christ lives in you and your life really is hidden in Christ, then it suffices to say that when people look at you they should see Christ. The problem is that we must cooperate. The Holy Spirit cannot make us look like Jesus if we refuse to cooperate and participate in that formation.
Think of it this way for a moment. Imagine there is a skill that you want your child to become great at (football, band, baking, NASCAR, etc.); in your desire for them to be the best you are willing to do whatever it takes to help them be the best. You hire the most skilled people in that field to train your child. You buy them books. You take them to seminars. You dedicate your life to helping your child become the best. But…you see that your child ignores everything the professionals say, they refuse to read the books, they play on their phones in the seminars, they have caused you to spend your life in vain. If your child is to be the best, they must cooperate and participate in the opportunities provided to become the best.
It is the same with being conformed to the image of Christ. We are filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), we have the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17), we participate with the Body of Christ (Hebrew 10:23-25). Yet, if we ignore the Spirit’s work and prompting in us, if we neglect the Scriptures, and are half-hearted in our commitment to The Church, we are not going to progress in our conformity to the image of Christ.
If I can be honest for a moment, I must admit that what I said to start is a bit misleading. I said that I desire Spiritual Formation for myself, which isn’t completely true. On my good days I want to be conformed to the image of Christ, but then there are other days, the not so good days, the days in which I am pretty apathetic, the days when I am content to conform to the image of me.
These apathetic days are what I want to address. Even on these days there is hope. I want to share something I read recently on a solo retreat. The author was discussing Romans 8:34 and that Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for you and me. Additionally, Paul also explains that the Holy Spirit also intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:26).
This is what James Bryan Smith encourages us with, “[Jesus] is praying that you and I would be completely new people…He will not stop until he has made us all new people.” (Hidden in Christ, 33-34).
I find this encouraging, because it means that even on my apathetic days Jesus doesn’t give up. On the days where I couldn’t care less both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are interceding on my behalf to the Father for me.
May you and I find hope in the fact that God doesn’t give up on us. May we find encouragement knowing that when we are apathetic, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are praying for us. May we cooperate with God in conforming to the image of Christ.
In my last blog post I discussed that when we sin it is a choice, and that one of the tools to help us choose not to sin is Scripture memory. I want to take this a step further and discuss another tool.
However, I feel that I must acknowledge that I understand for many this will be a difficult discussion. Many will read this and say something like, “That’s a little too catholic for me.” All I ask is that you hear me out.
In addition to Scripture memory, another discipline that can help us choose righteousness over sin is the discipline of confession. When I say confession, I am talking the discipline of sitting down with another Christian(s) you trust (of the same gender) and confessing your sins to them. I know, you are ready to walk away right now, we aren’t catholic, you don’t need a priest, you don’t need to confess your sins to anyone but God. Please hear me out.
You are correct, Scripture does promise that if we confess our sins “…He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins…” (1 John 1:9 ESV). It is assumed that John is referring to confessing our sins to God. But this isn’t the only place that Scripture discusses confession of sins.
Take a minute, grab your Bible, and read James 5:13-20 (James is toward the back of your Bible between Hebrews and 1 Peter). Go a head, read it, I’ll still be here when your done.
Did you notice verse 16. Go read it again.
To whom does James say to confess our sins?
Why does he say to do confess them to this person?
You see, there is a Biblical precedence for confessing our sins to each other.
I think confession is incredibly powerful for overcoming the tendency to give into temptations to sin. John Ortberg discusses part of why confession is helpful; in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted, Ortberg writes:
“To confess means to own up to the fact that our behavior wasn’t just the result of bad parenting, poor genes, jealous siblings, or a chemical imbalance from too many Twinkies. Any or all of those factors may be involved. Human behavior is a complex thing. But confession means saying that somewhere in the mix was a choice, and the choice was made by us, and it does not need to be excused, explained, or even understood. The choice needs to be forgiven. The slate has to be wiped clean.”
We’ve been praying for revival. Our nation desperately needs revival. The Church desperately needs revival. I think its safe to say, our congregation longs for revival. We must recognize that a revival won’t begin outside, revival begins when we begin to live with an awareness of God’s presence in our lives. Revival begins when we start choosing righteousness over sin.
Will you commit with me to find someone to whom you can confess your sins? To whom you can acknowledge your choice to sin? From whom you can here the grace of God spoken as your are reminded that God is faithful, even when we are unfaithful?
Let’s decide together to do whatever it takes to become slaves to righteousness, instead of living as slaves to sin
Blog posts from the Sterling staff, and maybe even the occasional guest blogger.