Five Totally Fixable Reasons Christians Don’t Grow Spiritually-

We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming~ Ephesians 4:14 NIV

 Life is full of peculiar little conundrums, mysteries, enigmas and paradoxes.

It is possible to be overwhelmed with busyness and not accomplish anything of any significance.  We can listen intently and not hear a word the other person is saying. It is even possible to live life without experiencing the joy and fullness of being truly alive (John 5:39-40).

 We can also grow older without actually growing-up. It is not at all uncommon to see children well into their elementary years still throwing temper tantrums like toddlers. Teenagers with the mindset of elementary-age children and young adults, who have never held a paying job.  Immaturity and childishness is not limited to the young. Our society is filled with grown men and women who bully, blame others and lack the ability to manage their most basic impulses.

 A form of immaturity in a class all its own is spiritual immaturity. Spiritually immature people are characterized by a lack of love and concern for others (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Hebrews 10:24). They are also unable distinguish right from wrong (Malachi 3:18, Philippians 1:9-11) and have a tendency to rely on feelings rather than biblical truth for direction (John 8:32). Some indicators a person is spiritual immature are broken relationships, pride, anger, excessive complaining without any desire to problem solve and a tendency to church hop.

 A lack of spiritual maturity will cause a Christian to become morally stunted, selfish and worldly. Ultimately, immaturity is the root cause of “irreconcilable differences” in Christian marriages and spiritual immaturity is what causes Christian friendships to falter and churches to be ineffective.  Christians are responsible for their own growth (Galatians 6:4-5, 1st Peter 2:2, Hebrews 5:11-13). We will never grow spiritually unless we commit to doing the following five things:

  Forgive others-   

 Forgiving others is a prerequisite for receiving forgiveness from (Matthew 6:15). It is also the only way to keep the sin of bitterness from taking root in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15). Bitterness stunts our growth by keeping us so focused on the flaws and shortcomings of others that we just don’t see our own areas of weakness and sin. Allowing bitterness to take root in our lives will steal the mental and spiritual energy we need work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:4)

Become a learner-

 It is God’s will for every Christian to be firmly rooted in the truths of the Bible (Ephesians 5:17, Colossians 2:6-7). Christians only become rooted through a commitment to the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer and regular church attendance. There is simply no reasonable excuse for Christians not reading the Bible, praying and becoming a contributing member of a Bible believing church.

 Repent–  

 At the root of most spiritual immaturity is a sinful behavior or attitude that we love too much to let go of. Sins like gossip, lust, bitterness, addiction to drugs or alcohol, anger and backbiting are a few of the attitudes and behaviors that will keep us from growing-up spiritually. Growth comes naturally when we make a regular practice of self-examination and repentance (1st Corinthians 11:28, 2nd Corinthians 13:5, Matthew 3:8, Luke 13:3, Acts 3:19).

 Serve-

 When Christians serve in their churches and communities a couple of critical objectives get met. Stuff that needs to get done gets done, human needs are met and Jesus looks good as a result. Serving is critically important because it broadens our concern for others and causes us to take our eyes off ourselves. In the process, we begin to see the needs of others more clearly and our desire to be a blessing grows.  When this happens, God is glorified and we grow up.

 Own your junk-

 Because no human being is an island we are all effected to one degree or another by the actions of others. The insensitive, sinful and selfish actions of our parents, friends, total strangers or a spouse can cause emotional and spiritual damage that makes reaching our full potential in life much more challenging. Nonetheless, every individual person is ultimately responsible before God for their own choices (Ezekiel 18:20-25). Blaming a bad childhood, marriage, dating experience, etc. for the choices we make and the sins we commit stunts our spiritual, emotional and intellectual growth. This makes it impossible for God to use us to our full potential. We become spiritually free and mature when we get real with God (and ourselves) about what we’ve done and why we did it.

 Men and women who do the work they need to do become fully mature in Christ have all the power they need to reach their full potential in Christ and change their corner of the world. 

 

 

Surviving Unwelcome Change-

 

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there~ Genesis 39:1 NIV

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when I believed with all my heart I was one of those unicorn-like individuals who actually liked and even thrived on change.

 I now know I was an idiot who probably aggravated the decency out of anyone unfortunate enough to have a conversation with me about the subject. I am sure there were those who quietly contemplated homicide, as I waxed eloquent on my love for change and ability to adapt to whatever came my way.

 Then about five years ago I had an unpleasant reality check in the form of at least a dozen different changes I did not like, want or understand.

 Sigh.

 The good news is that I got to be a lot less annoying really quickly as I figured out that I, like all normal people really only like change I have some control over. Change is wonderful in the abstract or when you’re contemplating something fun, like a move to a new city or a job promotion.

Change is just not nearly as thrilling when it is thrust upon you like ugly and unwelcome blind date. Or when change shows up on your doorstep in the shape of something awful and unwanted like a job loss, a car accident, a death in the family, a grim diagnosis or a divorce you didn’t ask for.

 However.

 As Christians we have to have the confidence that nothing enters our lives without God’s foreknowledge. And that if we choose to live for God in the midst of circumstances we do not like or understand, good will eventually come out of even the ugliest of situations (Romans 8:28). Because I truly believe those things to be true, I came to terms with the fact that God had a purpose for the changes disturbing my peaceful reality.

 I learned some hard lessons during that period of my life; and not just to shut my pie-hole about circumstances I didn’t fully understand.  I also learned that whether or not we barely survive changes or thrive in the middle of it all depends on whether or not we understand and live-out these four truths…

 Unwelcome change brings losses that should be grieved-

 I am not intimating that the trauma of an unplanned pregnancy is somehow equal to the trauma of the death of loved one. However, both changes involve loss and all losses deserve at least a quick trip through the five stages of grief. Taking the time to feel the feelings that come with loss, rather than pretending those feelings don’t exist, will prevent emotional problems (such as depression) and spiritual problems (such as bitterness) in the future.

 Guard your heart against bitterness and hate-

 The greatest danger in unwelcome change is bitterness. We can easily become embittered towards the people who wronged us, didn’t see our value or who betrayed our trust in some way. We can also become bitter towards God for not working our circumstances out in a different way. Bitterness towards anyone is poison to our souls and must be dealt with decisively by grieving the loss, forgiving the jerks that hurt us and choosing to accept the new normal.

 Embrace the opportunities change brings-

 I hate trite sayings.  However, it really is true that when one door closes another opens. That being said, we can get so caught-up in what we are losing that we don’t see the opportunities that opening up right in front of us. If you find yourself in the center of unwelcome change, ask God to show you the doors He’s opening on your behalf. I guarantee there will be some.

 Unwanted changes are a time for reflection and self-improvement-

 God did not bring unwanted change into my life because I was doing anything wrong or sinful. However, in retrospect I was really bad at being assertive with certain people. As a result I was going in a direction others had chosen for me and I had little inclination to do the things I was actually called to do. That period in my life gave me the downtime I needed to self-analyze and eventually become a lot more assertive when I needed to be. I also got to know God and myself a whole lot better. In the process of all that reflection I figured out who I really was and what I was really good at.

 Joseph (Genesis 37-50) is the poster-child for surviving and prospering in the midst of unwelcome change. He was sold as a slave by his brothers, jailed for a crime he didn’t commit and forgotten by the person who had the power to rescue him. Through all that he never stopped learning, growing and trusting God. As a result of his willingness to embrace the opportunities that came with unwelcome change he literally transformed the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving a Spiritual Dry Season

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord~ Amos 8:11

 Spiritual dry-spells or desert experiences typically begin with a sense that God is far away and our prayers are not being heard (Psalm 63:1). The sense that God is far away leads to the logical (but erroneous) conclusion that He is deliberately ignoring us. This predictably leads to an overwhelming sense of confusion. We feel lost and begin to believe we have been forgotten or abandoned by God. Every obstacle and disappointment feels like a rebuke and becomes a verification of the belief that God has turned His back on us.

 Some Christians react to their angst proactively. They step-up church attendance, pray with greater fervency, and work their spiritual tails off in a valiant effort to make God happy and get Him back on their side. Others become depressed and despondent. Some become irate and bitter, supposing God has turned on them. Spiritual pity parties and noble attempts to placate God are natural responses. However, these responses will not fix anything and may even lead to spiritual regression or rejection of the faith altogether.

 If this describes you, there are a few things you need to understand. First, you are not the first believer to experience a dry season. Some of the best and brightest of God’s people suffered through a dry season at one time or another. Naomi, David, Elijah, Jonah, Jeremiah, Esther and even Jesus (Matthew 27:46) all experienced situations where they felt God was remote and uninterested in their situation.

 No matter how you feel at this moment, you must understand that God has not stopped loving you, nor is He punishing you. His silence is not evidence of desertion. He still cares. He has a plan for you and He has no intention of allowing your pain to go on forever. Hang on to that. Memorize and meditate on Isaiah 42:3:

“A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick, He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.

 A spiritual dry season is not a time for self-pity but it is a good time for some healthy self-examination. God never moves away from us (Deuteronomy 31:6, Psalm 37:28) . He is steady and unchanging. We on the other hand are prone to wander, sometimes without realizing it. I have learned that when God feels far away it’s a good time to ask some hard questions:

 Am I making a daily effort to connect with God through prayer and Bible study?

 Is there some area of my life that has become a foothold for the enemy (Ephesians 4:26-28)?

 Have my personal dreams or desires become demands that I make of God?

 Am I harboring resentment in my heart because God has not answered a prayer to my liking?

  If the honest answer to any of the above questions is “yes” then change direction as rapidly as possible. Make a determined effort to connect with God, repent of wrong attitudes, deal with sin and spend some additional time in prayer realigning your dreams with God’s will. If, on the other hand, none of the above seem to apply to your situation then you should assume that God is taking you through a season of refinement and growth.

 Because we live in a fallen world, spiritual growth rarely comes easy and is always incremental. Growth comes as we shed old behaviors and change the attitudes and mindsets that allowed wrong behaviors to take root in our lives. Letting go of the old and embracing the new empowers us to reach levels of spiritual understanding and growth. The process can be agonizing because our flesh longs to hang on to the old, comfortable ways of functioning and looking at life. However, this painful process is the only way to transformed into the image of Jesus.

We can choose to fight growth or we can choose to embrace it. We fight growth when we willfully refuse to see the issues in our life that need to be addressed. We embrace growth by asking God with a sincere heart to show what needs to change in us so we can become more like Jesus. It is this place of humility and submission that allows God to do what needs to be done in us to reestablish a sense of connection with God. 

 

 

 

 

What Grace is Not-

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age~ Titus 2:11-12

 I am not, nor have I ever been, much of a rule-maker. My husband and I had very few rules for our children while they were growing up. The rules we did make for our kids all tended to center around safety and relationships. My distaste for excessive rules has made its way into nearly every other area of my life as well. To the chagrin of my rule-following husband one of my favorite personal axioms is:

 “Rules are for people who don’t know how to do things”.

 My aversion to man-made rules is born out of a deeply held conviction that laws are for law-breakers (1st Timothy 1:9-11); and that there would be no need for laws if people would simply use good judgment and obey God (Galatians 5:18). No one who knows me personally has ever charged me with being a legalist.

 All that being said, if one more Christian who is actively skirting the edges of good sense or worse yet, openly sinning proclaims to me one of the following phrases: “I am under grace not law!” “You can’t judge me!,” or “Just because something is wrong for you does not mean it’s wrong for everyone”. I will need to be medicated.

 It is my conviction that these statements are born out of confusion over two concepts: God’s moral law and grace. Too many folks mistakenly suppose that God’s law and grace are things they are not.

 God’s moral law is not…

 Irrelevant- Matthew 5:17, Galatians 5:18-20, Colossians 3

 There are three types of law in the Old Testament, ceremonial, civil and moral. As the ultimate High Priest Jesus satisfied all aspects of the ceremonial law, it is now fulfilled and is therefore irrelevant for Christians. Civil law was intended for the nation of Israel, and is not generally pertinent today. However, that does not mean that Christians are not bound by moral standards found in the law. If a command or instruction from the Old Testament law is repeated in the New Testament, it still applies today.

 A club to beat people with- Ephesians 4:2, Galatians 6:1-3

 One reason there is so much confusion over this issue is because too many people have been far too focused on the actions of others for far too long. It is biblical for one Christian to warn another when their actions are crossing clear lines of right and wrong (1st Corinthians 4:14, James 5:20). However, it’s imperative we judge ourselves at least as harshly as we judge others.  Our responsibility as believers is to lovingly warn others where their behavior will lead. What they choose to do with those warnings is on them (Ezekiel 3:21).

An excuse to make more rules- 1st John 5:3, Matthew 23:1-15

Too often Christians make rules around God-given decrees and then treat the man-made rules as if they were on the same footing as God’s commands. People who make rules are well-intentioned.  They want to help others keep Gods command. Generally speaking, all man-made rules do is confuse the issues and lead to unnecessary legalism.  One pertinent example would be sex. Christians are commanded to abstain from sexual immorality. Period. Rules against dating, hand-holding, wearing make-up, premarital kissing and men and women isolating themselves from each other do help some people to avoid sexual sin but those are personal choices, not God-given commands and should not be treated as such.

Grace is not:

 A justification for intentional sin- Jude 1:4

 Too many Christians have perverted the whole notion of grace and turned it into a free pass for willful sin, unruly living and bad behavior. Grace is not nor was it ever intended to be a free pass for anything. Furthermore, one has to wonder how sorry anyone can be for a sin they committed on purpose.

 An excuse to avoid the hard work of living a holy life- Ephesians 5:3, 1st Peter 1:13-15, Philippians 2:12

 In one sense Christians are made holy at the point of salvation (Hebrews 10:10-14). However, we are also commanded by God to work out the details of our salvation (Philippians 2:12) and to behave in a way that reflects our status as holy people (Colossians 3:1-17). It is impossible do either effectively when we are living a life of sin.

 The benefits of grace are nearly incomprehensible. Grace pardons us from the penalty of sin (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace allows us to do things and endure things the world writes off as impossibilities. (2nd Corinthians 12:9). Grace gives us peace beyond human understanding during difficult times (Philippians 4:7). Grace enables us to understand God on a deeper level (Ephesians 1:7-9). Grace empowers us to see people the way God sees people and, if properly understood, grace compels us to show mercy toward others. Perhaps, the most practical application of grace is that it empowers inherently sinful people to live holy lives (Titus 2:11-12). Because grace is so freely given it can easily devolve into a justification for self-indulgence and pleasure seeking or an excuse to avoid the long, sometimes difficult process of becoming holy. When we allow these things to happen, our version of grace devolves into a perversion of something truly beautiful.