Planning for Growth

Most of us have good intentions when January 1 rolls around. “It’s time to get in shape!” “It’s time to lose a few pounds!” “It’s time to read more books!” Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions? I asked one person that question recently, and she said, “I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. But I do set goals.” Perhaps she had made a New Year’s Resolution in the past, like many of us have, which lasted until about February. Not that it’s necessarily wrong to make a resolution. Sometimes change is in order. So, we resolve to make things right. To make improvements. This is a good thing! What would happen if we never improved ourselves? If we just stayed the same?
This certainly wasn’t the Apostle Paul’s vision for the Christian life. In his letter to the Philippians he writes, “Therefore, my dear friends . . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13 NIV) So, what is Paul saying in this passage? That we must earn our salvation? Not at all! Just before this he talks about how Jesus became human for us, and died on a cross for the sins of the world. No, we can’t earn our salvation. God provides it for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thanks be to God! But that doesn’t mean we should stay the same. Out of gratitude to God we “work out our salvation,” which means we live it out. We work hard to grow in character. In other words, we plan for spiritual growth.
Try as we might to change through our own efforts, perhaps even through New Year’s Resolutions, we struggle to do it on our own strength. Happily, as Paul says in the above verses, God works in us to do his purposes. So from beginning to end, it is God who does the work of changing us. Does this mean we sit back and do nothing? Not at all! But because of the Gospel (the good news of what God has done for us through Jesus), we gain the will and power to change.
And happily Paul and the other writers of Scripture guide us in our spiritual growth plan. For example, in the passage that follows he says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.” (Philippians 2:14a) The other day I was discussing this passage with some people, and we imagined what it would be like to live a life where we didn’t complain or argue. That would be a wonderful life! As you examine yourself, you may wonder if such a life is possible. According to Paul, it is. He says, when we live thankful and peaceful lives, we’ll shine in the world like stars in the sky. In other words, you’ll stand out for God and make a difference in this world. And who doesn’t want to make a difference in this world?
Earlier I asked you about your New Year’s Resolutions. Now I ask you: What is your spiritual growth plan? I invite you to reflect on that, and let me know what you feel called to do in order to become more like Jesus.

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My Spiritual Growth Plan for 2015

This week I visited my spiritual director.  And since it was our first meeting of the year, he asked me an interesting question: “What is your spiritual growth plan?”  Sometimes in the New Year we make resolutions or set goals.  But I like this question better, as it implies that our purpose as Followers of Christ is to grow spiritually.  Anyway, here’s how I responded to the question.  I said that I felt called to read the Bible through in its entirety, as I wanted to review the Big Story of Redemption.  And after each daily reading, I will usually write our a prayer of response, as I seek to discern how the Lord has spoken to me through his word.  And at some point during that prayer, I will pray for at least one member/family in our congregation, following the church directory.  And then after that prayer of response and intercession, I will read various books for spiritual growth and ministry development.  I mentioned other things too, like practicing weekly Sabbath and retreating annually. But perhaps this is enough. The point my spiritual director was trying to make is: spiritual growth takes intentionality. The Holy Spirit is always working in the lives of Jesus’ students, but part of his work is to get us to work, to practice certain holy habits, by which we are shaped into the image of Christ. So, that begs a question: Do you want to become like Jesus? If you do, when how will you get there? What is your spiritual growth plan? I’d love to hear about that.

“New Year’s Disciplines”

A New Year.  A fresh new start.  A good time to make changes in our lives.  “This year, I want to . . . (finish the sentence).”  I’ve heard that most New Year’s Resolutions aren’t kept for the entire year, and yet many of us still feel called to make them.  This isn’t all bad.  At least it leads to some good reflection.  We examine ourselves.  We discern where change is needed.  And we make a resolution.  But why are they so hard to keep?  Perhaps because we misunderstand the process of change.  A New Year’s Resolution describes a vision for change.  “I want to become more generous.”  “I want to become more patient.”  But how do we get there?  Enter the disciplines.  Spiritual disciplines.  These are the God-given ways to help us do what we can’t do on our own strength.  I heard one pastor explain that change requires vision, intention and means.  The Spiritual disciplines, holy habits like worship, Bible reading and prayer, are the means to reach the vision.  As we practice certain disciplines, with God’s help we gain the power we need to change (to reach the vision).  Of course this especially applies with spiritual  change, but I suppose it could apply to other sorts of changes as well.  So, I prefer to call them “New Year’s Disciplines” over “New Year’s Resolutions.” So, how would you like to grow spiritually this year?  And which discipline(s) will help you get there?  May God help us all to grow in godliness this year—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Epiphany

Today is Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day.  Did you know that?  I didn’t grow up observing Epiphany, but I have done so the last few years, and it has helped me to stay focused on Jesus.  Sometimes we feel a bit tired and perhaps even depressed after the Christmas season.  We just welcomed the Savior into the world with great joy and enthusiasm.  But now what?  Go back to the same old thing?  Getting back to the routine is usually a good thing, right?  But now that Jesus has come into the world, things will never be the same again!  Enter Epiphany–the season of celebrating the revelation of the Savior, the light of the world.  As Philip F. Reinders writes in Seeking God’s Face (Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2010): “Drawn by the light of his star, the Magi came and signaled the universal scope of Christ’s mission, where the nations of the world come to worship the King of kings.  Epiphany calls us to live God’s mission, announcing the good news of Christ’s arrival to every culture and to those who live across the street, bearing the light of Jesus to the nations and to those who share a home with us.” (p. 107)  So, yes, in terms of our schedules, perhaps things do go back to normal.  But with the coming of Jesus into the world, our lives will never be the same again.  Thanks be to God!

My Pastoral Prayer for You this New Year

As we celebrate another New Year, I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to say to you. The more I think about it, the more I want my words to be in the form of a prayer. So, then, what is my prayer for you this New Year? I can think of no better prayer to pray for you than the one the Apostle Paul prays in Philippians 1:3-11. So my prayer for you this New Year is based on Paul’s ancient prayer for the Philippians.
So, my first prayer for you is that you would receive and proclaim the gospel. The good news of salvation through Jesus’s life, death and resurrection is central to devoted Followers of Christ.  It’s a game-changer.  So, I pray you would come to understand the gospel better this year through preaching and teaching, but also through your small group and personal devotions and spiritual reading.
My second prayer is that you would share in God’s grace with me. That we could receive and proclaim the gospel together. Naturally, I don’t know all the details of your life, but I would like to know you better, and I continue to work on that. Pastoral care and spiritual direction are very important to me, as they are to most pastors. I want to help you grow spiritually. To that end, I invite you to join me on this journey of grace. And I want to thank you in advance for receiving God’s Word as intended this year.
And finally, my prayer is that your love would abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. I pray you would grow to love God’s Word more and more. I pray you would grow to love Jesus more and more. And I pray that you would grow to love each other more and more. So that together we can receive Jesus’s love and share it with each other and the world. Moving forward as one Body of Christ.
So, that is my prayer for you in 2015. What is your prayer for your local church? I’d love to hear from you.