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Principles of Spiritual Growth

Greetings All,

Today's selection comes from a book given to me by a fellow missionary friend in Honduras many years ago.  We were walking along the shoreline of a coastal island discussing the struggles of ministry, the knowledge of our own sinfulness, and thus our mutual sense of feeling unworthy for the task, when suddenly he voiced the phrase I myself have used so often: "Hey, I have a short little book you should read...."   Not much later it was in my hands, and like many other books I've read, I found it very helpful.
So these many years later I will share with you some of the parts I found helpful and highlighted about 20+ years ago.  (Yes, to the horror of many fellow book lovers, I do mark up all my books, and love picking up used ones where others have done the same!)  The book is called "Principles of Spiritual Growth," and was written by Miles J. Stanford.  Each builds upon the others.  Enjoy.

     "Many Christians mourn over their weakness, thinking that if only they were stronger all would be well. The idea that our failure to lead a holy life is due to our impotence, leads naturally to a false conception of the way of deliverance. If we are preoccupied with the power of sin, and with our inability to overcome it, then we naturally conclude that to gain victory over sin we must have more power. 'If only I was stronger,' we say, 'I could overcome my violent outbursts of temper." And so we plead with the Lord to strengthen us that we may exercise self-control. But this is altogether wrong. This is not Christianity. God's means of delivering us from sin is not by making us stronger and stronger, but by making us weaker and weaker. 'This is surely a peculiar way of victory,' you say, but it is the divine way. God sets us free from the dominion of sin, not by strengthening our old man, but by crucifying him. Not by helping him to do anything, but by removing him from the scene..."
     "Immaturity considers the Lord Jesus to be a Helper. Maturity knows Him to be Life itself.  Dr. J. E. Conant wrote, "Christian living is not our living with Christ's help, it is Christ living His life in us.  Therefore, that portion of our lives that is not His living is not Christian living; and that portion of our service that is not His doing is not Christian service; for all such life and service have but a human and natural source, and Christian life and service have a supernatural and spiritual source." Paul insisted, "I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Gal. 2:20)." 
     "In preparation, there is a tearing down before there can be a building up. "Come, let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, and He will heal us, He has smitten and He will bind us up" (Hosea 6:1).  This applies to both growth and service.  J. C. Metcalfe writes: "It is more than comforting to realize that it is those who have plumbed the depths of failure to whom God invariably gives the call to shepherd others. This is not a call given to the gifted and highly trained, or the polished as such. Without a bitter experience of their own inadequacy and poverty they are quite unfitted to bear the burden of spiritual ministry. It takes a man who has discovered something of the measures of his own weakness to be patient with the failings of others. Such a man also has first-hand knowledge of the loving care of the Chief Shepherd, and His ability to heal one who has come humbly to trust in Him and Him alone. Therefore he does not easily despair of others, but looks beyond sinfulness, willfulness, and stupidity, to the might of unchanging love. The Lord Jesus does not give Peter the charge "Shepherd my lambs" on hearing Peter's self-confident affirmation of undying loyalty (Matthew 26:33). He gives it after Peter has utterly failed to keep his vows and has wept bitterly in the streets of Jerusalem."
     "The first step in getting out of the struggle of the seventh chapter of Romans, and into the victory of the eighth chapter, is to pass through the struggle spoken of in the seventh. Of all the needy classes of people, the neediest of this earth are not those who are having a heartbreaking, agonizing struggle for victory, but those who are having no struggle at all, and thus no victory, yet do not know it. Those who are satisfied and jogging along in a pitiable absence of almost all the possessions that belong to them in Christ.  J. C. Metcalfe gives this same fact an added witness: "Many a young Christian, who has not been warned of this necessary voyage of discovery upon which the Holy Spirit will certainly embark him (Rom. 7), has been plunged into almost incurable despair at the sight of the sinfulness which is his by nature.
     He has in the first place rejoiced greatly in the forgiveness of his sins, and his acceptance by God; but sooner or later he begins to realize that not all is well, and he has failed and fallen from the high standard he set for himself to reach in the first flush of conversion. He begins to know something of the experience Paul so graphically describes: "The good I want to do, that I do not do, but what I hate, that I do" (Rom. 7:15). And, in consequence, he feels that the bottom has fallen out of his Christian life. Then, perhaps, the Devil whispers to him that it is just no good in going on, because he will never be able to make the grade. Little does he know how healthy his condition is, and that this shattering discovery is but the prelude to a magnificent series of further discoveries of things which God has expressly designed for his eternal enrichment.
     All through life God has to show us our own utter sinfulness and need, before He is able to lead us on into the realms of grace, in which we shall glimpse His glory. Self-revelation (regarding our sin) precedes divine revelation -- that is a principle for spiritual birth and spiritual growth. The believer who is going through struggle and failure is the Christian who is being carefully and lovingly handled by his Lord in a very personal way. He is being taken through the experience (years in length) of self-revelation, and into death -- the only basis upon which to "know Him" and the power of His resurrection... (Phil 3:10).
     God works by paradox. Success comes via failure; life springs out of death, etc. The only element in the believers life that crumbles is that which has to go anyway. New life can never be harmed or affected. This disintegration is something the believer cannot enter into or engineer on his own.  Self can never cast out self.  He has to be led into it by the mercy of the Holy Spirit -- into failure; abject and total...
     So often the means utilized by the Spirit is an unsaved mate, or even a saved one!  Or poor health, yes, and good health too!  A thousand and one things are used by Him -- in fact, everything (Rom. 8:28-29), to bring out the worst in us, ultimately enabling us to see that the Christian life has to be, "not I, but Christ."  People, circumstances, etc., are never the cause of failure. Self's reaction to them is the cause, and the one problem to be dealt with. "It's me, it's me, O Lord."

Just some helpful contrary-to-the-ways-of-the-world Gospel truth to chew on and be encouraged by!
With you in the Bonds of this life's struggles, Pastor Jeff


Not a Fan

Greetings All!

     I hope you enjoyed the holidays and got a chance to spend some quality time with family and friends -- and some earnest time in prayer, worship, service, thanks and praise. After all, that is what holy-days are supposed to offer us time to do -- stop, pause, reflect, thank and praise.
My first selection for the new year is taken from Kyle Idleman's book, "Not a Fan."   A fan, of course, is one who stands on the sidelines cheering, but never really gets into the game. They watch others play and cheer or critique their performance, but they do it as an observer and not an active participant. This, as he points out, is the habit of many in the church. Instead of being involved, they stand on the sidelines watching from a distance and critiquing those who are. And and as you might guess, the purpose of his book is to encourage people to stop being fans, get in the game, and start being earnest, involved, and completely committed followers of Jesus.
     The following excerpts are from friends or people in his congregation who were fans, but through some life experiences (often difficult ones), were led to become wholehearted followers of Christ.  I have included just two of their stories. Enjoy.

Not a Fan Story - by Dr. Rich Edwards

     "On February 10, 2006 I was in control of my life. I had a thriving chiropractic practice, two sons, and a devoted wife. On February 11, everything changed. I was heading out to my hunting cabin to hunt wild boar with friends. As I drove along I could see the effects from the severe drought we had been experiencing. Everything seemed to have dried up and died. By the time I reached the road heading to the cabin it was dark. As I turned, I missed the road and ended up in five feet of thick brush.  I tried to free my truck by putting it in forward, and then reverse, repeatedly. The friction from that somehow ignited the brush. Within seconds the truck was a large torch. I reached for the door handle to escape but the electrical system burned out and I was locked inside. Seconds later the windows exploded. 
       I don't know what happened after that, and I have no idea how I got out of the truck. The next thing I remember is walking down the road to the cabin telling myself over and over, "Don't stop. Keep going." When I reached the cabin my friends thought I was wearing some kind of three-dimensional leafy hunting outfit, but it wasn't camouflage. It was shredded, charred skin. A medical helicopter took me to a burn unit where I was told I wouldn't have much of a face left, and I would probably lose my sight as well as the use of my hands.  God put an absolute halt on my life. I was so busy being so successful; I was on such a fast track, that God was a part of my life, but he was not the most important part. He was not on the throne of my heart or at the center of my universe. I was at the center.
     I don't believe God caused the fire, but I do believe God allowed it because he wanted to get my attention. Like a parent who tries to get through to a child, God grabbed me by the shoulders, sat me down, and said, "I want you to listen to me." That was the beginning of a spiritual awakening in my life. Over the next four years doctors amputated seven fingers. I couldn't use what was left of my hands for even the simplest of tasks. But the doctors said there was nothing more they could do. That's when my wife, Cindy, asked about the possibility of a hand transplant. That began a time of waiting, testing, and prayer.  We spent countless hours reading the Bible and praying together. Finally the day for my double hand transplant arrived. Twenty surgeons and three anesthesiologists took 17 and 1/2 hours to attach my new hands.

     Many people have pointed out that it was a miracle that I didn't die in the fire that day. That's true, but in a very real way I did die in that fire. That man I was died that day and God gave me a new life where I'm not in control but have turned the controls over to him. I'm not in charge of my life anymore, I have submitted everything to Jesus. These days my wife and I constantly pray to be used by God in any way he wants to bring him glory. It may sound crazy, but I would rather have gone through all the pain and suffering and all of these challenges and have the relationship with Jesus I now have, than continued down the path I was on before the accident without that relationship. My name is Rich Edwards, and I am not a fan."

Not a Fan Story - by Carolyn Day

     "I grew up in North Carolina, and though I believed in God, I didn't really have any kind of relationship with Jesus. As a student, I quickly became interested in the medical field and started working toward the goal of becoming a medical doctor. In the year 2000, I was studying to become a surgeon when things in my world began to fall apart. My husband at the time asked for a divorce, and two days later my mother committed suicide. The next year I led a double life. I was a surgical resident at work, but the rest of the time I was drinking heavily and contemplating my own suicide. I had no idea what to do or who to turn to. What soon became clear was that I couldn't bear these burdens alone.  I had only visited church occasionally when I was growing up, but I found myself praying.  I said, "God, if you're there, please take some of this off of me." I felt like I had lost everything. God was all that was left, but I wasn't sure that was enough.
     After finishing my residency and getting married, my husband and I moved to the Louisville area to begin my career as a surgeon. Some friends invited us to come to church, and we accepted. Through coming to church every weekend, I found myself praying more and more. I started praying about whether or not I would give my all to God. Five days after I started praying, Kyle invited anyone who was ready to surrender everything to Jesus and follow him.
     The next week I was baptized. It was uncomfortable, but it was a clear sign of the obedience God was calling me to.  To be honest, I didn't expect to feel as different as I do. I never understood it when people would say they were born again or saved. I guess it's not something you can really understand until you've experienced it yourself. The healing I've felt since giving my life to Christ is incredible. I think that's because only the Great Physician could heal the wounds of this surgeon. And he has. My name is Carolyn Day and I am not a fan." 

     Maybe today you can ask yourself: Are you a fan looking on at the players and cheering or critiquing those involved in serving Jesus from the stands, or are you and active, committed, participating follower of Jesus? 
     To tweak the words of James just a little: Are you a doer of the Word, or just an onlooker?  Are you still standing on the fringes looking in from the outside, or are you all in?  Do you still run your life, or does Jesus?
Living in the Grace of Jesus, Pastor Jeff


Treasury of Inspiration

Greetings All!

As we approach the holidays, time -- which always "moves" at the same pace -- seems to kick into a higher gear and go faster!  My perception, I know, and not reality!  Yet, since you may be feeling the same as well, I will simply offer you some quick thoughts to ponder. Read a couple (as you have time), or read them all. They are taken from Herbert V. Prochnow's book, "Treasury of Inspiration." Enjoy!

"A man may go to heaven without health, without riches, without honors, without learning, and without friends, but he can never go there without Christ." 
John Dyer

"The biggest mistake we make is to do nothing out of a fear that we will make one."
Herbert Prochnow

"Only a comparative few recognize opportunity, because it is disguised as hard work."
Herbert Prochnow
"Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded empires. But upon what do these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love; and to this very day millions would die for him."

"In a village cemetery in England there is a monument with these simple words: "To Thomas Cobb, who mended shoes in this village for 40 years to the glory of God."  What a tribute. We know little else about Thomas Cobb, but this simple epitaph speaks volumes. His cobbler's bench was the altar before which he served his God... It is one's high duty to make his occupation his vocation where he can serve to God's glory."
Paul Sturges
"We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.  Many men owe the greatness of their lives to their tremendous difficulties. Remember that what you possess in the world will be found at the day of your death to belong to another, but what you are will be yours forever." 
Henry Van Dyke

"I have now disposed of all my property to my family. There is one more thing I wish I could give them, and that is my Christian religion. If they had that, and I had not given them one shilling, they would have been rich, and if they had not that, and I had given them all the world, they would be poor." 
Patrick Henry 

"No man ever got lost on a straight road." 
Abraham Lincoln
"Humanity is never so beautiful as when praying for forgiveness, or else forgiving another."

"There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness." 
H. W. Shaw

"I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it NOW. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."

"Do thy duty, that is best; Leave unto the Lord the rest."
James Russell Lowell

"Only those are crowned and sainted;
Who with grief have been acquainted." 
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Rom. 8:17)

"I thank God for my handicaps, for, through them, I have found myself, my work, and my God."
Helen Keller

"A sermon has two purposes. First, it should comfort the afflicted, and second, it should afflict the comfortable. Sometimes it will do the one, and sometimes the other." 
John Homer Miller
"More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of. 
Whereof, let thy voice rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats,
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer,
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?"
Alfred Tennyson

May you have a Christ-focused Christmas, Pastor Jeff


Living a Life that Makes Sense

Greetings All!

This week's "thought" comes to you from Francis Chan, and is taken from the book, "Passion(a collection of different articles focusing on living the Christian life in earnest).  This excerpt comes from the chapter by Chan entitled, "Living a Life that Makes Sense."  It speaks of how Chan, a well-known pastor here in the U.S., learned to be bold in speaking the truth, and consistent in living out his faith, from members of poor and persecuted churches in India, China and Thailand.  His words are very challenging yet inspiring. Enjoy.

     "I've heard stories -- you've probably heard them as well -- about Christians overseas. I've heard stories about the underground church in China, for example. Or stories of people in India who give their lives to Jesus and literally sacrifice everything... I've been hearing these stories all my life, and I finally reached a point where I decided that I had to see for myself.  I had to meet some of these Christians around the world. I had to know if they were for real.  So I spent a few months overseas with my family. I didn't do this because I was godly; I did it because I knew I wasn't, but I desperately wanted to be.  I looked at my life and saw that I was lacking boldness. I didn't have the guts to say everything God wanted me to say.  So I wanted to learn from Christians who were bold enough to follow Jesus no matter what it cost. 
     We traveled first to India and I had an opportunity to to speak to a huge group of people there. You have to understand -- these people were the persecuted church. Many had watched family members be beaten to death for their faith. And there I was, standing on stage in front of all these people.  I didn't know what to say to them.  I told them that what I really wanted to do was hear their stories -- and that's what I ended up doing.  I listened to a woman tell me about how she came to know the Lord. As soon as her village learned that she was a Christian, the whole village came to her hut. They brought decapitated lizards and told her that she and her husband needed to drink the blood and convert back to Hinduism. They gave her an ultimatum. She had to deny Jesus.  At this point in the story the woman looked at me and said: "I couldn't do it. I couldn't deny Jesus." So she grabbed her Bible and she and her husband just ran. The whole village had rejected them -- they would be killed -- so they ran into the jungle to hide. She was pregnant with their first child at the time. So as they hid in the jungle, her husband helped her deliver their first child. They were desperate for food for themselves and this newborn baby. But God provided. He got them through it. This woman told me, "We weren't going to deny our Lord. I just held on to my Bible. I would not let any of them take my Bible from me. That was the only thing we grabbed, and we ran."  I talk to a woman like that and I think, 'That's a life that's worthy of the Gospel. She understands that Jesus is all that matters. Her manner of life is worthy.' 
     I talked to another guy who showed me the scars on his head and his back. He told me that within a few months of becoming a believer, a huge group of people surrounded him and started beating him. He was thinking, "Okay God, this is it. This is the way it's going to end. That's ok. I'm not going to deny you."  He told me he was able to crawl away, but looked back and watched the crowd beat his friend to death. He endured all this, and he had only been a follower of Jesus for a few months!   I talked to so many people who went through these kinds of things, that I finally asked one of the leaders, "Don't you have any people in your churches who just call themselves Christians but don't really live it out?" He just looked at me and said, "That wouldn't make sense. [Over here] If you call yourself a Christian, you automatically lose everything. Why would someone volunteer for that if they weren't serious?" He told me his story -- that when he was eleven years old, he gave his life to Jesus.  He told me, "I still remember coming home and telling my dad. It was pouring down rain outside. I told my dad that I was a Christian, and he took everything I had and threw it outside into the mud. Then he looked at me and said, "Don't you ever call me Dad again."
     Think about it. This is an eleven year old kid!  What would you have done? He said, "I went over and picked my Bible out of the mud, along with a few other items, and I just wandered around looking for somewhere to go."  He eventually became a pastor, a husband, and a father. Twenty years later he even reconciled with his dad, who became a believer himself.  That is powerful stuff!  I hear these stories and I can't help but think that his manner of life is worthy of the Gospel...
     Then we went to China. We visited part of the underground church where they train leaders... They asked me why it was so strange to hear their stories. I had to explain that things are different where I come from. I told them that most Americans talk about the church, but they're referring to a building.  I explained we have a ton of these buildings, and you can choose which one you want to attend. Then I told them that people might attend one for a while, but when when they find another with better music, they'll switch. That's when these students started laughing hysterically.  I swear I wasn't trying to be funny. Some times you're saying something serious and everyone thinks you're joking.
     I kept going. I told them that if one church has better child care than another, then a lot of parents are likely to switch. The students started laughing harder.  I explained that sometimes people will switch if the service times are more convenient, or if they like one speaker better than another. The students were dying with laughter.  I felt like I was doing a comedy routine. But all I was trying to do was explain the American church to the underground church in China.  As they were laughing I realized they're right.  It doesn't make a lot of sense.  I look at their lives and everything makes perfect sense. I look at our lives and I wonder...  When we hear stories of Christians overseas, we think they're weird. But we're the strange ones. This is how Christianity works around the world, and we're over here in America getting caught up in our consumer-driven approach to church...  Where is the manner of life that lines up with the Gospel?"
     In my trips to India I have seen the same.  I've spoken with people who have really suffered for Jesus and the Gospel. I prayed with one woman who had all her possessions thrown into the street and trashed, and was then threatened to be burned alive -- along with her children -- if she told another person about Jesus. But she wasn't going to stop.  "It would be an honor to die for Jesus," she told me.  I felt like a midget among giants.  I also saw poor pastors who traveled hours to attend a conference, and others who bore in their bodies the scars they had received for being faithful to Jesus.  It all made sense.  It all made so much sense.

In the Bonds of the Gospel, Pastor Jeff