Questions about Spiritual Growth

We love our community group that meets in our home (or someone’s home) each week. We had a great discussion recently in one of our meetings.

These are the questions our small group considered. We had a great time talking about them…a few tears were shed…we had some great laughs…and I think we thought through our relationship with God a little more. Perhaps the questions will make you think.

1. What person has most encouraged you in your spiritual growth?
2. What event/activity/season of life caused your spiritual life to grow the most?
3. At what period of your life would you describe as the time when you were closest to God?
4. What changes would you have to make in your life now in order to grow more spiritually?

How would you answer these questions?

Our discussion centered with the fact that we need to see our closeness to God as more of a relationship than a religion. In religion, we have a list to check and complete, but in a relationship, we wrestle through the highs and lows of various degrees of intimacy. When we treat the relationship as something of value, we are more likely to intentionally work to protect and develop the relationship.

Are you more likely to see your closeness with God in terms of a religion or a relationship?

Jeremiah 18, Part 9

Then the LORD said, “Has anyone ever heard of such a thing, even among the pagan nations? My virgin Israel has done something too terrible to understand! Does the snow ever melt high up in the mountains of Lebanon? Do the cold, flowing streams from the crags of Mount Hermon ever run dry? Jeremiah 18:13-14 NLT

When my son was little he loved to pretend. One of his favorite characters was Superman. He had a red cape, red boots, and a Superman t-shirt. He could run around the house, jump off the coffee table, and even hold his eye a certain way and pretend to have x-ray vision. As hard as he tried, however, he was never Superman. He couldn’t fly. He didn’t have strength of steel and he didn’t really have x-ray vision. I tried to encourage him, but the whole time He was just Nathaniel pretending to be something he wasn’t. He was playing.

You and I were created by God to obey God. We were created to bring God glory. That’s who a believer is really designed to be. We weren’t created to run away from God’s plan in disobedience. We are given freedom, and we often use that freedom wrongly, but that isn’t God’s plan for His children. When we sin, we are walking away from God’s ultimate design for the life of a child of God.

If you are a Christian who is walking contrary to God’s plan for your life, you are only imitating a person who does not know Christ, but that is not the real you. Simply put, you are pretending to be someone you are not. You have been set free from the power of sin in your life and no longer have to be held captive by your past, but you are living contrary to who you were designed to be.

If you are a Christian, why not quit the pretense, drop the costumes, and get in on the life that God intended for you? Start acting like whom you really are; a child of God, bought with a price, born again for a purpose of glorifying God. Start being like Jesus!

When you sin, isn’t there a part of you that realizes it’s no longer who you really are supposed to be?

Jeremiah 18, Part 7

“Therefore, Jeremiah, go and warn all Judah and Jerusalem. Say to them, ‘This is what the LORD says: I am planning disaster against you instead of good. So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.” Jeremiah 18:11 NLT

As a follow up to yesterday’s devotional, sometimes God allows plans to change during the course of our life, but His end goal for our life will be accomplished. Throughout the course of our life, regardless of what happens to us, God is in ultimate control. When God told the Israelites that He was planning disaster against them, that wasn’t His ultimate end plan for His people, but rather something God was allowing so that He could work in the life of His people towards His end goal.

If you are in a difficult situation right now, God has allowed it. I wish I could sugarcoat that fact, but I cannot. God is in control. Sin in your life may have welcomed God’s discipline, trying to get you back on the right course for your life. . You may have done nothing wrong and your situation may simply be the result of living in a fallen world. God may be strengthening your faith through the trial and you’ll later understand His reasoning, but whatever the reason you are suffering, God allowed it. God’s sovereignty is going to work everything for good in your life through the trial. Additionally, even though you may not currently understand how He could, God is going to use this time for His glory and to accomplish His end goal for your life.

The best you and I can do when going through difficult times is to cling closer and stronger to God during the hard times. Trusting Him through the hardest times of life is called faith. Without faith, it’s impossible to please God. When faith is displayed…God must surely smile!

Have you noticed your faith growing more during the hard times than the good times of life?

Jeremiah 18, Part 6

If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will build up and plant a certain nation or kingdom, making it strong and great, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless that nation as I had said I would. Jeremiah 18:7-10 NLT

Is this the same God talking that also said, “I the Lord do not change!”? Does God really change His mind? And, if God’s Word says that He has plans to bless and prosper me, will He change His mind on that as well? Can I really depend on a God who would change His mind?

To understand this passage, you must put it into context with the entirety of Scripture. Scripture should always interpret Scripture. First, God is Sovereign. Scripture is clear that God is overall in control. In the end, God wins every time. It is also important to understand that God has an ultimate plan and He is working all things towards that plan. What happens in between now and the completion of that plan is where God is sometimes “flexible”, for lack of a better term. God’s overall plan will not have changed in the end, but He may allow some altering of the path towards reaching the completion of His end plan.

I know that is confusing, so let me illustrate it like this. If you were to leave my house in Tennessee and head to my mother’s family in Kansas, there are several routes you could take to get there. Ultimately one route is probably best, but you could get there from several directions. In accomplishing God’s end goal for our life, God sometimes allows different courses of reaching that end goal.  God will even allow us to take turns that are not really His best plan for us. In that way, God has allowed His plan to be altered, but the overall end plan remains the same.

You and I may never fully understand how God has a sovereign plan and yet He allows us to make individual decisions for our life, but both are true in Scripture.  In the end, when this life is over, God’s plan for our life will succeed. Our best course of action today is to seek and get in on that plan!

For more thoughts on this concept, read THIS POST.

Jeremiah 18, Part 5

Then the LORD gave me this message: “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. Jeremiah 18:5-6 NLT

I’m not going to ask today if you agree with what God is allowing or doing in your life right now, but I do want to ask this question, will you give Him permission to do it? A better question might be, does He have the right to do it?

My son made a sand castle once at the beach. I thought he did a super job with it. People would pass it by as they walked the beach and comment how good it was. He wasn’t happy with it, so he smashed it and started over. I didn’t stop him. It was his sand castle.

God made you. He shaped your life. He’s been in control of every moment of your life. He hasn’t caused all the bad things that have happened to you.  Many of those happened simply because we live in a messed up world, but He certainly had to allow them and will choose to use them for an ultimate good if you allow Him to do so.  He has a plan for your life. He knows what He wants you to look like in the end. The question of this post is: Doesn’t He have a right to do with His creation as He chooses?

If you aren’t happy with your life right now, I want to encourage you to talk with your Creator. Tell Him your concerns.  Ask Him for changes that line up with His desires for your life. He may allow them but, always keep in mind, if God says “No”, the ultimate role of a follower of Christ is to accept His will for your life. He made you and has a right to shape what He made.

If you could ask God to change one are of your life, what would it be?
(I will conclude this series next Monday through Friday.)

Jeremiah 18, Part 3

So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. Jeremiah 18:3 NLT

This verse reminds me of countless others in the Bible where men obeyed the command of God, simply because He is God. “Noah did just as the Lord commanded” (Genesis 6:22) for example. We can read similar verses about Moses, Abraham, Joseph and Mary, the disciples, Paul and others. God is still looking for people like Jeremiah who will obey God and do what He commands. I have always suspected that God knew the hearts of the people He spoke to enough to know what their response to His command would be prior to asking them to obey.

If you want to hear from God, you will have to do what God commands. You’ll have to let God’s path be your path. You’ll have to quit resisting His prompting and surrender to the will of God. God works through people who will give up their selfish motives and humble themselves to God. I believe even today He is looking for that kind of heart in people.

If you are trying to hear from God on an issue, examine your life to see if you are walking in obedience to God’s commands, as best as you know how today. Then examine your heart to see if you will continue to be obedient, regardless of what He asks you to do. If you aren’t sure, consider these questions. If God told you to do something that would cause you to have to give up your plans, would you still obey? If God called you to let go of something of great importance to you, even though you may not want to do so, would you still obey?

God speaks and works through people with this kind of heart.

What is something God has asked or encouraged you to do that was difficult at first to do? (Sharing your story will encourage others.)

Jeremiah 18, Part 2

“Go down to the shop where clay pots and jars are made. I will speak to you while you are there.” Jeremiah 18:2 NLT

In order to hear a word from God we have to meet God on His terms. God will go to extreme measures to reach one of His children, but to hear from God requires us to be in a listening position with God. In the life of a believer, for example, sin can hinder our relationship with God, as other relationships are hindered by infractions in the relationship, and that broken fellowship can keep us from hearing God when He speaks. Our own busyness and the normal distractions of life can also keep us from hearing God.

God wanted to speak to Jeremiah and He was going to use pottery as a part of His discussion. Sometimes God will use situations in our life to gain our attention and illustrate for us His agenda. You and I, if we want to hear from God, must continually rid our lives of distractions, strive to walk in obedience with Him daily, free our life of unneeded clutter, slow down long enough to listen for the voice of God, and watch and listen for God’s voice in the midst of the normal routine and places of life.

God is not trying to hide His voice from you or me. In fact, if we aren’t hearing when God speaks, it’s most likely because we aren’t listening. Let’s do whatever it takes to hear the voice of God. He has great things for us to know. He sees the path before us and He wants to lead us down it within His will. Let’s listen!

What’s the biggest distraction in your life from spending time alone with God?

Dealing with the Uncertainty of Life

Today at Grace Community Church we delayed our series to address the issue on everyone’s mind. The flood of 2010 shook many people in our community and in the Middle Tennessee area. Fear and anxiety has been on the increase. People are seeking answers and looking for hope. That’s perfectly understandable during days such as these.

In this message, looking at a story from Acts Chapter 27, I attempt to encourage a renewed faith during uncertain times.

8 Reminders for Granting True Forgiveness

(This is an expanded version of a previous post on this same issue. Click on the “Related Links” below this post for more on this issue of forgiveness.)

As believers, we are called to offer forgiveness, because we first have been forgiven. Whenever I talk about forgiveness, however, grudges, hurts and past pains seem to surface in people’s lives.  I will get emails, Facebook and Twitter direct messages confessing to scars and wounds being opened.  In fact, the reaction to the topic of forgiveness is so tender for many, that it draws me to address the issue frequently.  When a person refuses to forgive and hangs on to a grudge or injury, it prolongs the recovery process and keeps the injured person from ever experiencing the joy God intends for us.

With that in mind, here are my 8 principles for granting true forgiveness. If you want to truly forgive the one who injured you, here are 8 reminders:

Reflect on your own forgiveness - The fact that God forgives us through His Son Jesus should fuel our willingness to offer forgiveness to others.

Consider the imperfection of others – Don’t hold people to standards they cannot live up to. Often when someone has injured us, we expect them to be near perfect from that point forward.  Depending on the wrong the person did, he or she will need accountability and it will take time to rebuild trust, but he or she will still be an imperfect person.

Resist the opportunity for revenge – There is something about the desire to get even that keeps us from offering true forgiveness.  Realize that forgiveness is not a fair system…it’s a grace system…and drop the revenge efforts.

Look at your own plank - You aren’t perfect either and probably don’t meet all the expectations others have of you.

Build positive learning experiences – When a person needs to offer forgiveness it means he or she has been injured, but valuable life lessons can be learned from negative experiences. Use the injury as a personal growth opportunity.

Release the burden of guilt caused by refusing to forgive – Guilt absorbs a person’s energy, so it stands to reason that releasing guilt provides freedom.  When a believer holds on to a grudge and refuses to forgive, he or she actually injures him or herself more.  Give yourself some energy and forgive!

Don’t avoid future conflict – Sometimes when we are injured we attempt to avoid all future conflict, especially with the person who injured us, but conflict is a part of life among imperfect people and is actually part of building healthy relationships.  Part of making life manageable is learning to deal effectively with conflict.

Set a new path – In freedom and forgiveness, learn from experiences and live a life closer to the model Christ set for us; loving others as we love ourselves; forgiving as we have been forgiven.  Try not to allow this situation to determine your future.

Keep in mind this post only addresses the issue of granting forgiveness.  I realize there are other issues in most situations, such as personal physical protection, accountability for the other person, rebuilding positive emotions, etc.  All of these are part of the process, but they do not remove the responsibility a believer has to grant true forgiveness. To forgive does not mean we give up all control of our life and allow others to injure us more.  It does mean we set our hearts free to forgive.

Whom do you need to forgive? Is it a parent, friend, family member, ex-spouse, co-worker, boss, or maybe even you? Do yourself a favor…with God’s help and grace, extend forgiveness today!

Responding to Natural Disaster as an Organization

Years ago I served on the local city council when a major tornado destroyed our downtown. As an elected official, with the title of mayor pro-tem, I got a first hand look at disaster response. One thing I learned in the process is that disaster may strike quickly, but recovery takes extended time. In addition to physical damage, the town suffered emotional damage that had to heal.

This week our town is again suffering; this time from a major flooding disaster. As a pastor, I now serve in a completely different role. Even with experience with a major disaster, however, it’s been another learning week for us as a church.

The biggest question has been what we are to do while we wait to respond to this tragedy. Grace Community Church is a doing church. We have serving our community in our DNA. Our people have been anxious to do something tangible. In cooperation with local officials, however, we have been encouraged to wait. In the early stages of this disaster, it was determined that mass numbers of people are not the greatest need. With the layout of our community divided by two rivers, transportation has been at a standstill. The safety of people, stabilizing the road system, and assessing needs of the community is where local officials are focusing attention.  We now have teams in motion.  Check back HERE daily to see what’s needed next.

When the time is right, we can easily mobilize people. We’ve proven that previously and we do it weekly during our Sunday services and annually with our Operation Serve community service project. When we ask our people to serve, they show up ready to plug in where needed.

The current answer we have landed on is not to quit everything we do waiting until our community needs us. In the months to come the community will still need a strong church organization, so we must continue to develop and grow as an organization. There are ongoing ministries and practices that we must not quit doing.

At the same time, we must be sensitive to what has happened. We decided to begin collecting names of people who are ready to serve and collect projects that are ready to be completed. (You can join our list HERE.) Some of our people have already offered assistance through agencies like the Red Cross. There will be immediate things we can do and when they are discovered, we are ready. We will be respond as we are called upon, but we don’t want to hinder the work of local officials.

My advice from experience is that when a disaster comes into the life of an organization, don’t stop everything because of it, but it should and will alter some of what you do in the future as you respond to the situation.

Has your church or organization experienced disaster? How did you respond?