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Monthly Archives: October 2009

Metrics for Spiritual Growth

How do you measure spiritual growth as a follower of Jesus?

This is not as easy as it sounds.

How do you know if someone is becoming more like Jesus?

Traditionally, churches have looked at participation and behavior as metrics.  Participation measures things like Sunday attendance, small groups, volunteering, etc.  Behavior covers things like generosity, sharing one’s faith, serving the poor, etc.

I just had a fascinating conversation with a close friend and pastor about these issues.  He proposed an interesting idea… a single question that really gets to the heart of issue.

One of the things you need to figure out is WHAT IS UNIQUE TO A FOLLOWER OF JESUS? Then measure that.

Giving? Serving the poor?  Prayer?  Reading the Bible? 

These are all good things (and I would argue even essential to spiritual growth) but are not in-and-of-themselves signs of Christian character and growth.

Non-Christians give all the time, often serve the poor more than Christians, have prayer lives (even if unclear who they are praying to) and even read the bible.  No one doubts that the Pharisees prayed a lot and new the scriptures well — not only knew them, but followed the commands well.  But this did not lead to Christ-likeness.

Maybe the answer (or question) is found in Jesus’ own teaching.  This pastor and friend suggested that perhaps the one question we need to ask to measure someone’s spiritual maturity and growth is this: HOW WELL DO YOU LOVE YOUR ENEMIES?

Jesus commands it.  Jesus models it.  Jesus expects it.

It is something that as far as I can tell is uniquely a Christian value.  It is also something that is impossible to do unless you are madly in love with Jesus and living in grace.

This friend and pastor reminded me: your love for Jesus is only as strong as your love for the hardest person in your life to love.

Wow!

Think about that for a moment.

Seriously… think about it.

I think this pastor is on to something… 

If you want to know if you are growing… if you want to know if you are maturing as a follower of Jesus… ask yourself: HOW AM I DOING LOVING MY ENEMIES?  HOW AM I DOING LOVING THE HARDEST PERSON IN MY LIFE?

And if you need a quick tutorial on the Biblical definition of love, check this out.

So how are doing on this one?  What do you think of it as a metric?  Thoughts?

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Posted by on October 30, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Ethics & Salvation

Most discussions about Biblical issues in Christian circles fall into one of three categories: (1) soteriology — that is the discussion of salvation; (2) ethics — that is, how then shall we live in light of salvation; and (3) irrelevant and silly — that is most of what Christians fight about.

Obviously this is a bit of an over-simplification.  Other important issues are things like hermeneutics, ecclesiology and missiology.  But the truth is that all of those are subsumed in discussions of salavtion and ethics.  Hermeneutics (how we interpret scripture) is foundational to both.  Ecclessiology (theology of church) gets lived out in an understanding of what the saved community IS (salvation) and what this community is supposed to DO (ethics). Missiology (theology of evangelism and missions) is also foundationally about salvation and ethics. 

So these are key issues…

But they are separate issues…

And it is important to remember which we are talking about when…

My hypothesis is that if we had a better understanding of which we were talking about when, we would fight a lot less and have a lot more productive discussions.

For Christians, salvation issues are a big deal.  Heaven and hell hang in the balance.  Getting these issues correct is a pretty big deal.  The nature of salvation includes some pretty big theological issues (such as the nature and work of Christ, the reality and consequence of sin, the character of the Father, the work of the Holy Spirit, free will, election, grace, justification, sanctification, glorification, etc).  Volumes have been written on these issues.  Which is good, because they are important.

Then there are ethical questions and issues.  The essence of Christian ethics is this: once saved, how should I live.

As followers of Jesus, this is where we live (or should live).

Ethics is also something that sometimes is quite clear, but often is quite complex.  Sometimes scripture speaks directly to an issue, sometimes we must infer based on Biblical principles.  Within the realm of Christian ethics, there can be (and often are) multiple faithful answers.  But not always.

What does “multiple faithful answers” mean?  It means that equally faithful and committed Christians can come to different ethical conclusions about an issue, without one being “more Christian”, “more faithful” or even “more right” than the other person.  Most ethical questions fall into this category, but not all.  The Bible is full of some clear back-and-white ethical commands.  But the truth is that the vast majority of ethical issues we face in our day have not been spoken to directly in the scriptures.  Or f they have, it is with more “gray” and nuance than many of us are comfortable with.

Why is this important?

Because when dealing with ethical issues, we need to both take scripture seriously while also being careful to not make black-and-white what scripture leaves gray (or is silent on).  We must follow our convictions, but also respect others.  We can disagree without resorting to name-calling or questioning people’s salvation or faithfulness.

Anyway, I think it is worth knowing (and noting) which issue(s) we are dealing with when…

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

What Matters Most

Derek WebbI have been a big Derek Webb fan for a numbers of years now.  My friend Ethan Pierse turned me on to him a long time ago.  I loved him when he played at UCONN a few years ago, sponsored by RUF.  One of the things I appreciate about him is that he is a serious artist and a serious Christian.  His new album, like a lot of his earlier work, is considered pretty controversial in some Christian circles.  

One of the songs that is getting the most scrutiny is “What Matters Most”.  The opening stanza is:

You say you always treat people like you like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality
You love when people put words in your mouth
‘Bout what you believe, make you sound like a freak

You  can read what some other bloggers are saying over here at Zoecarnate.com.  Hope you enjoy the song video below… and thanks GodsCoward for the video… hadn’t seen it before.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

5 Vows for Spiritual Strength

A few weeks ago I had a chance to connect again with the former governor of Connecticut, John G. Rowland.  I first met Gov. Rowland over a year ago at a conference we were both attending at Saddleback Church in Orange County, CA.  

Rowland was the speaker at the monthly meeting of The Hartford Society and I had a brief chance to catch up with him afterwards.  His talk was quite powerful and really spoke to me.  His experience of public scandal and fall is powerful — especially heard as part of his own testimony and story of new hope and redemption.  (I will post more reflections on his talk later).

One of the things he shared were 5 VOWS FOR SPIRITUAL STRENGTH.  These actually come from A.W. Tozer (you can read them here).  Rowland shared that he had these five written in the front of his bible.  I think I am going to do the same.

5 VOWS FOR SPIRITUAL STRENGTH:

(1) DEAL THOROUGHLY WITH SIN. CONFESS DAILY.

Tozer: This is not to preach sinless perfection. This is to say that every known sin is to be named, identified and repudiated, and that we must trust God for deliverance from it, so that there is no more sin anywhere in our lives. It is absolutely necessary that we deal thus, because God is a holy God and sin is on the throne of the world.

(2) NEVER OWN ANYTHING.

Tozer: I do not mean by this that you cannot have things. I mean that you ought to get delivered from this sense of possessing them. This sense of possessing is what hinders us. All babies are born with their fists clenched, and it seems to me it means: “This is mine!” One of the first things is “mine” in an angry voice. That sense of “This is mine” is a very injurious thing to the spirit. If you can get rid of it so that you have no feeling of possessing anything, there will come a great sense of freedom and liberty into your life.

(3) NEVER DEFEND YOURSELF.

Tozer: We’re all born with a desire to defend ourselves. And if you insist upon defending yourself, God will let you do it. But if you turn the defense of yourself over to God He will defend you.

(4) NEVER SPEAK BADLY OF OTHERS.

Tozer: Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). The talebearer has no place in God’s favor. If you know something that would hinder or hurt the reputation of one of God’s children, bury it forever. Find a little garden out back–a little spot somewhere–and when somebody comes around with an evil story, take it out and bury it, and say, “Here lies in peace the story about my brother.” God will take care of it. “With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged” (Matthew 7:2).

(5) NEVER ACCEPT ANY GLORY.

Tozer: God is jealous of His glory and He will not give His glory to another. He will not even share His glory with another. It is quite natural, I should say, for people to hope that maybe their Christian service will give them a chance to display their talents. True, they want to serve the Lord. But they also want other people to now they are serving the Lord. They want to have a reputation among the saints. That is very dangerous ground–seeking a reputation among the saints. It’s bad enough to seek a reputation in the world, but it’s worse to seek a reputation among the people of God. Our Lord gave up His reputation, and so must we.

This is great wisdom… and worth reading the whole message.

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Jesus, How Do You Feel About Me?

For the past several years, my prayer life has been primarily conversational.  To some who read this blog, that might sound strange, but it really is like an ongoing 2-way conversation.

For the past 5 months, I have been having weekly counseling sessions (I am a big fan of counseling, btw).  One of the questions my counselor asks me at the beginning of every session is how my emotional life has been.  How have I been feeling about myself? About others? About God? It has been an important focus of counseling for me — getting back in touch with my emotional life.  Hiding in a closet for 17 years is not super-conducive to being emotionally in touch and healthy.

Anyway, a few days back I felt prompted to ask Jesus a simple question: how did He feel about me right now?  What was Jesus’s emotional feelings about me?

As we talked, a lot of words were thrown out on the table: angry… disappointed… ashamed?

No, it wasn’t those words.  But three words did come up and stick with me: sad, concerned, hopeful.

I’ve been thinking about and praying on those words for the last few days, trying to understand them.

SAD… while I don’t think Jesus is surprised by what has happened, I do think he is saddened.  I think he is sad at what has happened, the broken relationships, the damage to the church, the damage to my heart and the hearts of others.  And I think he is sad that one of his children has to go though this and deal with stuff.  I think Jesus has such compassion for us that he is sad when we hurt — even when that hurt is self-inflicted.

CONCERNED… this was a hard one for me to understand, and I wrestled with it.  But I think He is concerned about me.  I am facing lots of life-altering decisions and I think He is concerned that I make the right decisions and make them well.  I also think He is concerned about my heart… that it heals and does not become hardened. I am not 100% sure on this one, but I am still praying on it.

HOPEFUL… He is not done with me or working through me.  He is hopeful for me, and that gives me hope.

I will keep praying about these and keep asking Jesus how He is feeling about me.  It was a really helpful conversation and time in prayer.  I encourage you to give it a try.

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Accountability Questions

Here are the weekly accountability questions we use in our Men’s Accountability & Recovery small group.  Because the questions were generally written for married heterosexual men, I’ve adjusted them for myself and to be a bit more inclusive:

1. Have you acted out in an inappropriate manner sexually since we last spoke?

2. Have you:

– Viewed sexually inappropriate movies/tv/media?

– Visited inappropriate sexual websites on the internet?

– Read any inappropriate/pornographic material?

– Visited an Adult Video/Book Store?

– Participated in Adult Chat Rooms on the internet (or inappropriate texting or instant messaging?)

– Visited a massage parlor, strip bar, gay bar, escort, prostitute?

– Fantasized about sexual situations bringing arousal?

– Flirted with anyone other than your spouse? (or significant other if dating?) 

3. Have you masturbated since we talked last? How long has it been since you did?

4. What are some temptations/battles you have faced?

5. What are some victories you have had since we last talked?

6. Have you been reading GOD’S WORD daily since we last talked? Are you reading any daily devotionals?

7. How’s your eyes been since we last spoke? Are you BOUNCING your eyes? Explain.

8. How’s your mind been since we last spoke? Are you CAPTURING your thoughts? Explain.

9. Have you met with or talked to your accountability partner this week? Have you called any group members in the last week?

10. How’s your daily PRAYER TIME been? Have you prayed for family, friends, and group members?

11. What thoughtful things have you done for your spouse lately? Any marital successes? (If not married, family? friends?  If dating, significant other?)

12. What have you done for rest and relaxation this past week?

13. How can we pray for you?

In addition to these questions, we always clarify that our answers have been truthful and are reminded of two key scripture verses:

“I have made a covenant with my eyes.” (Job 31:1)

“Flee from sexual immorality… You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20)

Each person goes through these each week.  If we miss a week, we cover the time since we were last there.  It is a very helpful process.  These questions work well in a group or just for accountability partners.  Feel free to adapt them for your needs.  I hope they are helpful… 

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

The FASTER Scale

I have been attending a really good men’s accountability and recovery small group for the past 4 months. A few people have been asking me what we do when we get together.  We pray, we share what’s going in our lives, we study scripture.  We also are working through the book Pure Desire by Ted Roberts (as well as the accompanying workbook).  In addition, each week we start by talking about “The FASTER Scale” and we end by all answering a list of accountability questions.

The FASTER Scale is adapted from Genesis Process (you can read about it here) and is a tool to talk about where you are the scale from RESTORATION to RELAPSE. It is a recognition that the trip (or fall) from restoration to relapse is rarely a 1-step journey.  Rather, it almost always includes steps along the way.  If we can learn to identify some warning flags along the path, we can hopefully avoid relapse.

So every week we start our meeting by each person talking about where they are on the FASTER SCALE.  If you are interested, here is the scale… I think it can be helpful to a lot of people and in a lot of situations.

THE FASTER SCALE:

RESTORATION:

Accepting life on God’s terms, with trust, grace, mercy, vulnerability and gratitude. 

No current secrets; working to resolving problems, identifying fears and feelings; keeping commitments to meetings, prayer, family, church, people, goals, and self; being open and honest, making eye contact; increasing in relationships with God and others; true accountability.

Restoration is the goal.  Each of the steps below (FASTER), left unchecked, can lead us to relapse:

FORGETTING PRIORITIES: 

Start believing the present circumstances and moving away from trusting God. Denial, flight, A change in what’s important, How you spend your time, energy, and thoughts.

Secrets; less time/energy for God, meetings, church; avoiding support and accountability people; superficial conversations; sarcasm; isolating; changes in goals; obsessed with relationships; breaking promises & commitments; neglecting family; preoccupation with material things, T.V., computers, entertainment; procrastination; lying; over-confidence; bored; hiding money.

(Forgetting priorities will lead to:)

ANXIETY:

A growing background noise of undefined fear; getting energy from emotions.

Worry, using profanity, being fearful; being resentful; replaying old, negative thoughts; perfectionism; judging other’s motives; making goals and lists that you can’t complete; mind reading; fantasy, co-dependent rescuing; sleep problems, trouble concentrating, seeking/creating drama; gossip; using over the counter medication for pain, sleep or weight control; flirting.

(Anxiety then leads to:)

SPEEDING UP:

Trying to outrun the anxiety which is usually the first sign of depression.

 Super busy and always in a hurry (finding good reason to justify the work), workaholic, can’t relax; avoiding slowing down; feeling driven; can’t turn off thoughts; skipping meals; binge eating (usually at night); overspending; can’t identify own feelings/needs; repetitive negative thoughts; irritable; dramatic mood swings; too much caffeine; over exercising; nervousness; difficulty being alone and/or with people; difficulty listening to others; making excuses for having to “do it all”.

(Speeding Up then leads to:)

TICKED OFF:

Getting adrenaline high on anger and aggression.

 Procrastination causing crisis in money, work, and relationships; increased sarcasm; black and white (all or nothing) thinking; feeling alone; nobody understands; overreacting, road rage; constant resentments; pushing others away; increasing isolation; blaming; arguing; irrational thinking; can’t take criticism; defensive; people avoiding you; needing to be right; digestive problems; headaches; obsessive (stuck) thoughts; can’t forgive; feeling superior; using intimidation.

(Exhausted then leads to:)

EXHAUSTED:

Loss of physical and emotional energy; coming off the adrenaline high and the onset of depression.

Depressed; panicked; confused; hopelessness; sleeping too much or too little; can’t cope; overwhelmed; crying for “no reason”; can’t think; forgetful; pessimistic; helpless; tired; numb; wanting to run; constant cravings for old coping behaviors, thinking of using sex, drugs, or alcohol; seeking old unhealthy people & places; really isolating; people angry with you; self abuse; suicidal thoughts; spontaneous crying; no goals; survival mode; not returning phone calls; missing work, irritability; no appetite.

(Exhausted then leads to:)

RELAPSE/MORAL FAILURE

Returning to the place you swore you would never go again. Coping with life on your terms. You sitting in the driver’s seat instead of God.

Giving up and giving in; out of control; lost in your addiction; lying to yourself and others; feeling you just can’t manage without your coping behaviors, at least for now. The result is the reinforcement of shame, guilt and condemnation, and feelings of abandonment and being alone.

So that is the FASTER Scale… maybe it will be useful to you as well.  I know it has been helpful to me.  Tomorrow, I will post our Weekly Accountability Questions if you are interested.

 

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2009 in Uncategorized

 
 
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