How Do You Measure Spiritual Growth?

-Measuring Physical Growth Is Easy!

Measuring “physical” growth is relatively easy, isn’t it? And, we begin measuring physical growth from birth, don’t’ we? How long is the baby, in terms of inches; and, how much does baby weigh? Right? That’s always one of the first questions asked! And, the measuring continues as baby grows into a toddler; and, then elementary age. Many homes have a measuring wall; or, a doorway, with all kinds of little pencil marks & words alongside it with a child’s name & age representing how tall they were at that specific age. Do you have such a place? Measuring physical growth is also a pretty exact science too, isn’t it? This is your “HEIGHT”; this, is your “WEIGHT”! This is your “inseam”, your “waist”; and, your “neck size.”

-Measuring Spiritual Growth!

But, measuring “SPIRITUAL” growth isn’t as easy, is it? It’s our tendency to measure others “SPIRITUALLY”  by how much they know about the Bible, doctrine, and, theology. So, if someone’s level of Bible knowledge is how we judge their level of spirituality, than it follows that we think of “SPIRITUAL GROWTH” as adding more “KNOWLEDGE”—more Bible reading; more Bible studies; and, more Church activities! And, yet, it’s curious that the Apostle Paul taught the Church of Corinth that, “…knowledge puffs up…” (1 Cor. 8:1); or, it INFLATES us with PRIDE! Who hasn’t met the arrogant “know-it-all” that keeps reminding you how much they know about the Bible? They beam proudly when others brag about their Bible knowledge. Paul is saying that—in their case—knowledge isn’t a measure of how spiritual they are; but, how CARNAL & FLESHLY they are! Knowledge is their IDOL!

-Bible Knowledge & Spirituality!

Now, please understand that I’m not ragging on anyone who has a growing knowledge of God’s Word! On the contrary, Scripture demands that we read it; memorize it; and, meditate on it! In fact, it’s impossible to grow spiritually apart from a steady diet of God’s Word. I’m simply saying that Bible knowledge is NOT an accurate measuring tool for spirituality! So, if it’s not more Bible knowledge; than, what is it that grows us spiritually? I like to say that spiritual growth happens as you become more like Jesus; & less like you! How does that happen?

-It’s Not By Osmosis!

How do we become more like Jesus? Well, it doesn’t happen by some process of osmosis! Rather, it happens by our “SANCTIFICATION” Scripture says! At the moment of our salvation—when we exercise faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross—God “JUSTIFIES” us! That means He pardons us from sin’s penalty—death! And, from that point forward, we are destined for “GLORIFICATION”—that day when we’ll finally be set free from the very presence of sin; and, we’ll be “like Jesus.” And, “SANCTIFICATION” is everything that God is doing in your life, in that time in between, our SANCTIFICATION & our GLORIFICATION! If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ve been set FREE from the “power” of sin! Your spirit long’s to be rid of sin; while, your broken, totally depraved flesh continues to lust after it! It’s in that tension where God works in us!

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More Like Jesus & Less Like You!

-So, How Are You Doing Spiritually?

At a recent Small Group meeting I asked this series of questions: “How are you doing Spiritually? And, on what criteria do you base your answer? How are you measuring your walk with Christ?” I’ve found when I just ask the 1st question—“How are you doing spiritually?”—that everyone says, “Good! Good!” Have you noticed that? I mean, that’s MY typical response to that question! It’s a question that needs qualifying! It needs those follow-up questions. On what basis can I say, “Good! Good!” when someone asks me how I’m doing spiritually?

-Is It About What We Do?

Do we measure our spiritual progress by the things we DO? Be careful! Don’t quickly dismiss the things we DO & say that, “…it’s only what’s in the HEART that matters.” If our HEART is right with God it WILL impact the things we DO, right? Jesus said: “If you love Me, you WILL KEEP my commandments.” At the same time, we can DO all the RIGHT things for the WRONG reasons, can’t we? We can do things to be SEEN of men; and, Jesus called that hypocrisy!

-Practicing The Spiritual Disciplines

Several months back I received a call from a young man who got saved in my youth group, in Colorado, several years ago. He asked if he could interview me for a seminary class he was taking. The interview included a line of questions based on how I lived my life according to the so-called “Spiritual Disciplines”—or, practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth. They’re habits of devotion—like prayer, fasting, public & private worship, meditation, making disciples—and, they’re all activities that Jesus’ followers are commanded to do! In fact, Jesus practiced most of them Himself! In answering the question, for the interview, I prefaced my answer with this caution—we are NOT godly just because we practice certain spiritual disciplines!

-The Error Of The Pharisees

That was the great error of the Pharisees, wasn’t it? They believed that they were godly BECAUSE they practiced certain things!  You cannot separate what you’re doing on the OUTSIDE by who you ARE on the INSIDE. What you DO matters! But, who you ARE matters even more! Here’s what I’m trying to say—Spiritual growth happens, in your life, as you become MORE like Jesus & LESS like you! That’s what’s expected if you’re truly His disciple!

-Where Spiritual Growth Happens

Based on several NT passages, I believe that our spiritual development occurs BEST in the context of a “faith community”; or, a church! Being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something WE do; but, with something that Christ DID! That’s the Gospel! He redeemed our broken relationship with the Father by His substitutionary atonement on the cross! He took away our sin! He paid the penalty we should have paid so that the Father might grant us forgiveness, grace, mercy & love! He adopts us into His “family”; and, it’s His family that makes up the church!  That becomes our new identity! We’re no longer citizens of this world; rather, Scripture says we’re “temporary residents” here! And, it’s within the “family” atmosphere, of the “church”, that God prunes us so that He might accomplish our sanctification!

 

Sustaining Spiritual Momentum Part III

-Why The Church Is Declining!

“The number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that members attend with less frequency than they did just a few years ago”—quote from author & church consultant Thom S. Rainer on his website http://www.thomrainer.com. So, it would seem—if that statement is true—that much of the blame for declining attendance, in 9 out of 10 churches in America, must be laid at the feet of the Church itself! Mr. Rainer explained it like this: “If the frequency of attendance changes, then attendance will respond accordingly. For example, if 200 members attend every week the average attendance is, obviously, 200. But if 1/2 of those members miss only 1 out of 4 weeks, the attendance drops to 175. ..attendance declined over 12% because half the members changed their attendance behavior slightly.”

-Finding Reasons To Miss!

Believers are finding reasons to “miss” the Sunday gatherings! And, unfortunately, this isn’t the first time, in the history of the Church, that this has happened! The last couple posts we’ve looked at Hebrews 10:24-25, which reads: “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our gatherings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Previously, we considered what the author said about “love” and “good works.” And, in context, it seems quite clear that the writer is calling out some “absent” believers; and, challenging them to be concerned about one another by being present whenever the Church gathers!

-Show Concern By Being Present!

That word translated “gatherings” is a specific word—in the original language—that’s used only here & 2 Thessalonians 2:1 which refers to “…the GATHERING together of the elect to Christ at His coming…” Nothing too subtle about that! The writer likens our “gatherings” as a local Church body with the “gathering” of ALL the saints in Christ! None of us want to miss that! So, the message seems quite clear—“don’t just ‘blow off’ your regular Church meetings either.” Let me also suggest that the text doesn’t limit the meaning to Sunday services! A specific day of the week is not even mentioned! Rather, it carries the idea that “whenever” your church gathers, be there!

-The Early Church Met Daily!

In the context of the early Church in Acts, they met DAILY! The writer says that some were staying away from the gatherings; and, he REBUKES them for it! That rebuke falls on the Church today; and, confession & repentance must follow if we hope to sustain any kind of spiritual momentum! How will new believers learn to obey God’s Word, about “gatherings”, if the believers discipling them are disobedient? The writer says to do this all the more, “…as you see THE DAY approaching.” “THE DAY” is a Biblical term that refers to Jesus’ 2nd Coming & the Judgment Seat of Christ.  He’s saying that he wants us all to stand approved before Jesus! This is REAL! He wants his readers to hear Jesus say: “WELL done, GOOD & FAITHFUL servant.” So, Church—let us “make disciples” who “make disciples” who come to the “gatherings”!

 

 

Sustaining Spiritual Momentum Part II

-It’s Not By Human Effort!

Let’s say you’re part of a church that’s bucking that trend we’re seeing, in America, where 9 out of 10 churches are experiencing decline! God has blessed you with a core of leaders who are faithful disciple makers! How do you sustain that spiritual momentum? This post is “Part II” in my attempt to answer that question! And, let me be clear that it’s NOT something that can be sustained by human effort! The salvation of souls is a work that is exclusively God’s work—“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” Jesus said. I concede that regeneration is a supernatural act of God on a human life!

-We’re God’s Ambassadors!

But, I also understand that God enables us to be His ambassadors in reconciling unconverted individuals to Himself! So, what’s our part in sustaining spiritual momentum? In my last post, we opened up our Bibles to Hebrews 10:24,25—“And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” The 1st thing that stands out, to me, is the writers admonition, as inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, to “…be CONCERNED about ONE ANOTHER…” This is one of the most attractive; but, often overlooked behaviors of a sanctified local church community of faith! Do not underestimate how enticing that kind of behavior appears when set side by side with the rest of our narcissistic, self-absorbed world. Any group or community that shows genuine concern, for others, will stand out!

-Focus On Others!

So, if we are to sustain the spiritual momentum necessary to make disciples who make disciples we have to continue to focus on others more than ourselves. God calls us to look after one another; to, think about one another; to, be occupied with one another! But, notice that the writer says to “…be concerned about one another in order to promote love…” The command here is NOT to love one another—although there are plenty of Scriptures that tell us to love one another—but, to PROMOTE love! Some translations say, “…to stimulate one another to love…”; or, to “…stir up one another to love…” In other words, we’re accountable—NOT just to love each other—but, to promote love within the body!

-That’s Not Natural!

That implies that THAT kind of love doesn’t come natural to us! We have to work at it with the Spirit’s help. Notice, also, that the writer is concerned that the church promote “…good works…” Just like his command to promote love, the writer is not telling the church to DO good works—though Scripture commands us many times to do good works—but, to PROMOTE good works! To stimulate each other; and, to stir up one another to good works! Again, it’s about keeping each other accountable; to, look for every opportunity to do good works wherever you find yourself! For others! For relationships! Get the focus off of ourselves! That’s, in part, how we sustain the spiritual momentum to make disciples who make disciples! (NEXT Week… Part III)

 

Sustaining Spiritual Momentum Part I

-The Old Way Isn’t Working!

There’s a saying; and, I’m sure most of you have heard it—that, “Insanity Is Doing The Same Thing Over & Over And Expecting Different Results.” In other words, if you’re looking for different results, you’ve got to change the way you’re doing things! The American church is desperately in need of a “paradigm shift” in the way we do things! The old way isn’t working! It’s broken! You’ve heard the statistics—9 out of 10 churches, in America, are in decline! And, of that 1 in 10 experiencing growth (many are “Mega Churches”), 9 out of 10 have grown—NOT by adding new converts—but, by TRANSFER growth; or, people leaving the 9 out of 10 churches in decline!

-No More Sorry Excuses!

As for me, I’m unwilling to accept some sorry excuse that people just aren’t seeking God these days! The same God, who worked the sweeping revivals in the book of Acts, is alive and well today! The Bible offers us hope! And, there is a grass roots movement that is effecting change in the Church across our land. God is raising up modern day “prophets” who refuse to preach the pragmatic “self-help gospel” with it’s self-absorbed, man-centered appeal to consumerism—that false gospel will not endure the coming persecution! It’s a movement that’s slowly building, gaining momentum, and, returning to “ground zero”—to where Jesus said, “I will build My church.”

-Empowered By His Spirit!

He would build His Church—NOT by appealing to the fleshly lusts of the world & the unregenerate heart; but—on the WEAKNESS of man & the POWER of God! “Not by man’s might or power; but, by MY Spirit, says the Lord” (Zech. 4:6).  Jesus built that early church, in the book of Acts, out of broken men who were empowered by HIS Holy Spirit to simply obey His “commission” to make disciples! This post is about sustaining the spiritual momentum necessary to continue making new disciples.  In Hebrews 10:24-25, the writer is addressing a falling away of some of the believers. Somehow, the momentum of the early church, in Acts, had stalled! Earlier, in the letter, the writer had warned them that they needed to learn, all over again, some of the elementary truths of faith—so, this is basic stuff! If it was a class it would be “Basic Discipleship 101.”

-Don’t Do Life Without It!

The text says, “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our gatherings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  If you had only 2 words to summarize those verses, they would be “relationships” & “gatherings”; and, that’s Church!  The writer is saying, “Church: Don’t try to do the Christian life without it!” And, his 1st point is to “be concerned about one another.” If the Church is to sustain the momentum necessary to make disciples who make disciples we have to quit making Church about ourselves! God calls us to look after one another! That Church is attractive to unbelievers! Can you  point me to one like that?

 

Handling Conflict In The Church!

-Tolerance Advocates Not Very Tolerant!

It amazes me how quickly the advocates of “tolerance” sound off & run off everyone who disagrees with them. Not very tolerant, are they? The Apostle Paul tells the Church of Rome to knock off that kind of behavior. He says that God intends to grow you spiritually as you learn to willingly put up with one another—“Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Rom. 15:2). We don’t join a faith community to please ourselves! The purpose, for becoming a church member, is to please our neighbor “…for his good, to build him up.” Or, to “edify” if you prefer to use the theological term!

-Be Other’s Focused!

It’s a matter of focus—our interaction, in the body, should be “other’s focused”, not “self-focused.” Like Jesus, we’re here to serve others; not, to be served! Only when we put up with each other; and, bear with the weaknesses of others, will God use us to help construct the spiritual lives of others! It’s having the mindset of a “discipler”—someone who helps others grow as a disciple of Jesus. There’s no better motivator than Jesus Himself. God will give us grace to put up with each other; and, to build up each other, as we look up to Jesus for our motivation!

-Fix Our Eyes On Jesus!

As we fix our eyes on Christ, we remember that He did not come to please Himself; but, He made Himself a servant (See Philippians 2:5-11).  Paul said:  “For even the Messiah did not please Himself. On the contrary, as it is written, The insults of those who insult You have fallen on Me” (Rom. 15:3).  He’s quoting Psalm 69:9 and referring to Jesus. He embraced the insults of mean-spirited, hateful people; and, on the cross He bore the reproach that we should have bore!

-How Jesus Loved!

We love like Jesus loved when we willingly endure each other’s “heat-of-the-moment” hasty words; and, rather than returning evil for evil, we seek to resolve the conflict & make peace! We extend grace! So, look again at the progression of Paul’s words in Romans 15—if we’re going to be strong enough, in our faith, to “put up” with weak or prickly people (v.1); and, “build them up” (v.2) when we’re tempted to smack them, we have to “look up” to Jesus (v.3); and, “grow up” in our faith (v.4).  We won’t get that kind of counsel from the world!

-Understand The Scriptures!

Paul tells the Church of Rome that we can only have that Christ-like mindset as we understand the Scriptures—or, those things which were “written in the past” (v.4). It’s only through the “instruction” and “encouragement” of the Word, he says, that we have any hope of enduring those difficult relationships in life. And, we will never “grow up” in our faith if we run away from every uncomfortable or difficult relationship in our faith community. We need to remain faithful to one another as a testimony to those outside the Church. In a band there are all kinds of different instruments & a variety of musicians playing them. But, bring them all together under the direction of a capable conductor & they can produce beautiful music together. That beautifully illustrates the Church when Jesus is doing the conducting!

 

God Uses Us To Grow Each Other!

-It’s A Spiritual Obligation!

God intends that the church of Christ would do the work of Christ! But, NOT in the strength of our flesh! Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit, to indwell us, when He completed His work on the cross & returned to the Father after His resurrection! He indwells us in order to empower us as God’s ambassadors; so, that He might reconcile the spiritually dead with the Savior; and, to disciple them into the faith! Paul, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, showed the Church of Rome what that looks like:  “We who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even the Messiah did not please Himself. On the contrary, as it is written, The insults of those who insult You have fallen on Me.  For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures. Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement allow you to live in harmony with one another, according to the command of Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a united mind and voice” (Romans 15:1-6).

-Are You Helping Each Other?

I can’t really think of a better summary statement for that Scripture than something like this—never look down on anyone else unless you are reaching down to help them up! Paul’s charge, here, is to humble yourselves & to defer to the needs of others in the body; and, he uses Jesus as THE example! No one has ever humbled Himself more than Jesus! So, here’s the bottom line: God intends to use us—as local church faith communities—to help produce spiritual growth & maturity in the rest of the body! So, when we’re disinterested or disengaged, from one another, we actually become a hindrance to the spiritual work—in others—that Jesus intends to do through us. To begin with, the process is really just as simple as willingly putting up with each other— “…bear with the weaknesses of those without strength…” (v.1) In other words, we’re not just here to please ourselves!

-Be Tolerant Of Each Other!

If we can’t tolerate the different personalities; or, the different stages of spiritual growth that we’re all at; then, we’re not useable for God’s purposes. Paul’s use of the terms “strong” & “weak” is relative—I am “strong” in comparison to my 4 grandchildren; but, I am “weak” in comparison to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, right? So it is spiritually! We can all find someone, in our faith community, who is stronger than we are spiritually; and, someone else who is weaker. Notice, when considering that, that Paul doesn’t command the weak to “SHAPE UP”; but, he does command the strong to “PUT UP.” To “BEAR” with the weaknesses of others means “to endure patiently; to indulge.” We need Holy Spirit help to be longsuffering & patient with each other!  That’s how God intends to grow YOU & those He expects you to tolerate!