Category Archives: Devotional
Summer offers a great change of pace. With that comes the opportunity to start or refresh habits that are helpful to spiritual growth. Changing up routines can also breathe new life into our spiritual lives during different seasons. Here are a few ideas that I’ve found helpful in regards to Spiritual Growth during the Summer:
Remember, rest is a spiritual discipline and an act of faith. Busyness often reveals that we trust in ourselves more that we trust in God, who commanded one day in seven to be for rest and worship (Exodus 20:8-11). Summer is often the time we look to unplug and unwind for consecutive days. And this can be a tool for spiritual growth. Unplugging from Social Media, Email, and other forms of technology can be a discipline worth pursuing during the summer as well. Rest helps us reset physically and spiritually. It’s and act of obedience and faith. Rest well and grow.
I like to look for a 8-10 week Bible Study that will challenge me in an area that I need to grow in. It’s possible your church or small group may be doing a study of some kind that you can plug into. Also, if you don’t currently have a habit of regular Bible Reading and devotions, summer can be a good time to kick one off. I like to use Youversion.com or the Bible App for Bible Reading plans. There are many 45 – 90 day plans available that can be a spark plug to your spiritual growth.
I also like to take my devotional life outside during the summer. Mornings are nice in our area during May, June, and July. Morning routines with our kids slow down a bit, so I’m able to be more regular with jogging, walking, and biking before work. Youversion.com or the Bible App allows you to listen to a Bible Reading Plan. Also, I always have a few podcast of sermons or books I’m listening to, that help me grow in my faith. Some other tips on Developing Personal Devotional Habits HERE.
June marks the mid way point for the year. This is a good time to reflect and assess the year so far and make some new commitments or resolutions for the 2nd half. Chuck Lawless has a great list of questions for assessing your spiritual health mid-year HERE. I like to use these five markers for assessing spiritual health as well: Living the Gospel, Devotional Habits, Engaging in Ministry, Building Catalytic Relationships, and Experiencing God’s Providential Care. Assess your spiritual health using these five marks HERE.
4. Reach out
Summer also provides some great opportunities to be On Mission in the neighborhood, community, and around the world. Getting out of our comfort zones helps us grow spiritually as we move beyond our strength to depend upon God’s. Look for opportunities to volunteer with a church, or local ministry, or just get out in the front yard and meet some new neighbors. Here’s a few summer outreach ideas for your family, small group, or church.
5. Remain Faithful
Summer is often a time that it can be easy to drop habits like church attendance and giving. These are not essential for salvation, but they are essential for spiritual health and growth. Schedules may be irregular because of summer travel, family visiting from out of town, etc., but make a commitment that we are going to remain faithful to our church by attending and giving. Most churches today have e-giving options where recurring contributions can be setup ahead of travel. And many churches have online access to their services and sermons so that you can stay connected and not miss out on what God is doing with and saying to your faith family. Faithfulness makes a difference for you, your family, and the others that you are committed in a local body of believers.
If you’re not involved in a church, get connected this summer. There is usually great coffee, great relationships, and events and activities planned with your spiritual growth in mind at churches all over your community.
Rest, Read, Reflect, Reach Out, and Remain Faithful this summer to maximize spiritual growth health.
What helps you grow during the summer months?
The New Testament calls for unity in the church. We are asked to strive for it (Ephesians 4:1-3). We are taught that God grants it (Romans 15:5). We see Jesus prayed for it (John 17:21). Leaders of all stripes see the great necessity for it. My own human nature and our enemy often provides resistance to it. We also know that when unity is strained, on mission believers can disagree and continue the mission in good faith as with Paul and Barnabas (see Acts 15:36-39).
Unity within our current church has been as strong as any church that I have ever been a part of. However as a church planter, I know that at the current point in our history it is common for unity to wain. We’re not the cool, new thing anymore. Relationships get strained with time. It feels a little more like work. Momentum is up and down. So I’m asking, “How do we lead our church to strive for unity?”
When we fight for unity, we serve as an answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21. If he prayed for it, we probably should to. And we must always remember that it is God who grants unity (Romans 15:5). One of the miracles of the New Testament is the unity that was experienced among people who normally despised and hated one another. Their unity was a great testimony of God’s power. Establishing more prayer rhythms for the church is a must to maintain and build unity.
Jesus tied unity to the mission of the world knowing the Gospel in John 17:21. As Christians, we are most unified when the mission of Jesus is our focus. Agreeing on the mission and purpose of Jesus for our church and aligning all our ministries under that purpose will help us stay unified. Our church’s stated purpose is to “Connect People to Christ and His Mission.” It’s a purpose that’s rooted in the Great Commission. It’s a purpose that is bigger than ourselves. It’s a purpose that is of eternal value. Believers must find a church unto which they can devote their lives, resources, and gifts to fulfilling its established purpose. Pursuing and believing in an eternal purpose makes the temporal challenges to unity stay small and seem beneath our commitment. That leads us to the third necessity for unity.
Unity is a commitment and a promise that believers make to each other within a church. Churches should lead people to commit / make a promise of their lives to prayer and the purpose God has given to the church. What does it look like? Compassion, kindness, humility, patience, forgiveness, and love (Colossians 3:12-14). Unity is always at risk in human relationships because we bring different backgrounds, emotions, ideas, and experiences to whatever table we’re around. I’ve learned that change in circumstances or venues usually doesn’t make a huge difference. Relationships and unity eventually experience challenges wherever you are. Best course of action: find a church with a purpose you can devote your all to; commit to be a faithful friend who demonstrates humble patience and forgiveness in relationships; and pray for God to grant the miracle of unity for the sake of the mission of Jesus. We learn and grow in unity and faithfulness through the challenges to strive for it. A beautiful thing emerges when prayer + purpose + a promise is given time to do the work of unifying the body. It’s the thing Jesus prayed and longs for. It’s what the world is looking for. It’s worth our every effort!
Discipline: The Bible’s answer to Three Questions every parent asks in one way or another.
This weekend, our church took on the topic of Discipline, looking at the passive, compromising, no discipline approach of the Old Testament Priest Eli (1 Samuel 2:12-36). The result of Eli’s parenting was the tragic loss of his sons lives and his family’s ministry as Priests of Israel. The Bible is full of promises for the parent who lives godly and does the hard thing to discipline their children. Three questions every parent asked that are answered by discipline:
1. How do I show my love to my children?
- Proverbs 3:12 – for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
- Proverbs 13:24 – Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.
2. How do I assure the success of my children?
- Proverbs 19:18 – Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.
- Proverbs 22:15 – Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.
3. How do I assure a peaceful relationship with my children?
- Proverbs 29:17 – Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.
Discipline is a parent’s duty. A duty that is best administered by a parent, because no one loves and graces a child like a parent can (when they are healthy). Parents must give up the desire to be liked and overlook behavior in a child for the sake of peace. Behavior comes from the heart. If unaddressed, the behavior could bring about future harm for the one you love. Parenting means committing to do the hard thing: Discipline our children because we love them, because we want them to be successful, because we want them to know peace and bring us delight. It’s not easy, but it does produce what we desire for our kids.
- Hebrews 12:11 – No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
We hear a lot about Helicopter Parenting and Free-Range Parenting. How about a new one? REFUGE PARENTING. It means, by the kind of life the parent lives in godliness, devotion to God, intentionality about faith; their children and future generations are promised a refuge, protection, and blessing.
In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence and his children have a refuge.
the offspring of the righteous will escape.
A righteous person acts with integrity; his children who come after him will be happy.
Integrity, godliness, intentionality about faith comes with a promise for our future generations. Live it!
In 2003, a devastating earthquake struck Iran that killed over 26,000 people and injured 30,000 others. But in the midst of despair, one story gave people hope. Cradled in her dead mother’s arms, surrounded by the crumbled remnant of a collapsed building, a baby girl was found alive. The mother shielded six-month-old Nassim from the falling debris and saved her life. Rescuers found the girl 37 hours after the earthquake. A Red Crescent worker in Tehran reported it like this: “She is alive because of her mother’s embrace.”
What a beautiful picture of Christ substitution. Christ was “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). Those who take refuge in Jesus’ embrace are shielded from sin’s devastating impact and saved through His sacrifice.
Beyond this, Christ chose the punishment. It wasn’t a natural disaster like an earthquake that killed Jesus. When I deserved the crushing blows of judgment and condemnation, Jesus took my punishment and died in my place. He substituted Himself for me.
“In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.”– 2 Corinthians 5:21 (The Message)
The Christian life is meant to be lived out in relationships. Here are five key relationships for every Christ Follower:
Right Church | My On Mission Family that I pool my gifts, energy, and resources with for the expansion of God’s kingdom.
Small Group | My Circle of 8-12 friends that I grow with and care for on a regular basis.
Prayer Partner(s) | My smaller circle of 2-3 close friends that know my struggles and prayer needs
My Mentor / Spiritual Father(s) or Mother(s) | Someone ahead of me in the journey that I can learn from along the path of spiritual fruitfulness.
Mentee / Person(s) I am Discipling | Someone I’m ahead of in the journey that I can help along the path of spiritual fruitfulness
These relationships have been so key for me as a believer. Looking through this list, I see faces that make me smile. So many on mission friends that have shaped me at church, in small groups, close confidential prayer partners, spiritual fathers, and now people I get the privilege of helping to grow. Not sure where I’d be without these relationships.
If you’re missing out on one of these key relationships, ask God to direct you to or send you to the right church, a circle of friends, a prayer partner, a spiritual father, and/or someone to disciple today.
Relationships are the most important part of life. The ability or inability to get along with and influence people will determine our effectiveness at work, our fruitfulness in Christian service, and our legacy in our homes. So much is at stake. And we’re planting seeds through our relationships with the next generation. They are learning from us. God’s word has a great deal to say about relationships. At this point, I’ve found it better than any self-help book on the shelves. Our church is currently studying the book of James and we took some time to dig into what James says about relationships.
Three Roots of Great Relationships
A tree or plant is only as strong as its root system. And some roots are seen, but most are not. Great relationships are born out of something unseen by most. It’s the character traits that are in our hearts toward others. James points to three key roots that we must have to build and maintain great relationships:
1. INITIATIVE TAKING LOVE | “Love your neighbor as yourself” James 2:8; 15
This is a profound line from the Old Testament that Jesus commended, calling it the second greatest commandment. When we have needs, we work to have them met. When I’m hungry, I go find food. When I’m hurting, I go find meds. When I’m cold, I go find warmth. We take initiative to meet our own needs. Jesus taught that we should extend that to others we are in relationship with as well. The word for love is AGAPE, which is that initiative taking, self-sacrificing love that Jesus modeled for us in giving His life. He saw our great need and did what had to be done, to help us overcome our sin and death and separation from God. It’s a reminder that love INITIATES and SACRIFICES and FINDS A WAY to meet the needs of others.
One of the things I seldom hear truly on Mission Christians say is, “I would have helped but no one asked me.” To Be On Mission is to, out of love, be an initiator of ministry and service toward others.
2. COMPASSION AND MERCY | “Mercy triumphs over judgment” James 2:13
Why do we prioritize our own needs, loving ourselves? Because we feel them. They are dynamic and present. Having compassion and mercy means we feel the needs of others along with our own in a dynamic and present way. And Agape love leads us to react and serve and give and encourage.
But there is more to mercy than just a feeling. The definition: compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.
Mercy means even when I know something about them or have something I can use against them or don’t really like them or have a right to hold a grudge against them, I still am willing to love them and show them grace. That’s what God, in Christ did for us, and that’s what he desires for us to extend to others.
3. WISDOM | “the gentleness that comes from wisdom” James 3:13
Wisdom is seeing life from God’s perspective. Relationships can entangle us in worldly, fleshly thinking like nothing else. That’s why anger, abuse, and division are so prevalent. When relationships get tough and dirty, we do too. However, if I could see God’s perspective, I could see the bigger picture, the possible solutions, the deeper reasons for the conflict and adjust my life to avoid the traffic jams and potholes of anger, abusive language, and division. And God’s perspective helps us know our place as well. We should approach all our relationships from a humble vantage point that says, “I’m flawed, you’re flawed. We all need mercy, grace, forgiveness. I might as well try to make life better and easier on people. We’re all in this together.”
Initiative Taking Love, Compassion and Mercy, Wisdom from Above. These three things applied to our relationships will bring about fruitfulness, effectiveness, and leave a legacy of peace.
Hear the audio of this study at Bridge Church HERE.
The book of James gives us some great truths about prayer.
- PRAYER WORKS! James 1:5
- Prayer works WHEN IT’S TRIED. James 4:2
- Prayer works when it’s tried WITH RIGHT MOTIVES. James 4:3
- Prayer works when done IN COMMUNITY. James 5:13-16
James also tells us about the power of prayer:
1. We can BE STRONG and ACCOMPLISH MORE through prayer. This is how the words “powerful in its effect” in James 5:16 can also be translated. Strength and accomplishment.
2. James puts one condition on prayers power: “The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.” James 5:16. To gain full advantage in prayer, one must be RIGHT with God. This points to the need of a RELATIONSHIP with God through Christ. This is how we gain RIGHTEOUSNESS (see 2 Corinthians 5:21 and 1 Peter 3:18). Goodness is the best we can do, but RIGHTEOUSNESS is needed to get to heaven and to know all the blessings of life IN CHRIST, including a powerful, strong prayer life.
3. Prayer Requires Intentionality, Commitment, and Faith. James gives an example of the power of prayer from the life of Elijah. Elijah’s prayer actually changed weather patterns (James 5:17-18)! It’s a lesson in the endless possibilities of dependence upon God. As Jesus said it, “with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
James says that Elijah prayed fervently or earnestly. This word proseuche is rich with meaning. Here are some ways that its definition and usage can be applied:
- pros means near of toward – prayer brings nearness to God
- seuche means vow or commitment – prayer is bringing our hearts near or toward God. Prayer should bring with it a heart of surrender and sacrifice and a commitment that says we are serious about our relationship, dependence, and usefulness to God.
- proseuche also denoted a real place. The word was used by Jews who lived in a city without a synagogue to mark a place for prayer gatherings. It also was used to describe an altar where people brought gifts prior to prayer and worship. Of course Jesus, encouraged or commanded the use of a prayer closet (Matthew 6:6).
Is your heart RIGHT with God? Do you have a PLACE for prayer? Do you believe in prayers power? Are you ready to give your heart to God? Then get after it, and expect to experience the powerful effects of prayer!
Beyond black eyed peas and cabbage, what can you do this year to guarantee…
- An endless source of strength
- Productive, fruitful work and life
- Resilience when pressure builds
- Success and prosperity
These things are promised to the person who delights in God’s word (Psalm 1:2).
1 How happy is the one who does not
walk in the advice of the wicked
or stand in the pathway with sinners
or sit in the company of mockers!
2 Instead, HIS DELIGHT IS IN THE LORD’S INSTRUCTION,
and he meditates on it day and night.
3 He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams (ENDLESS SOURCE OF STRENGTH)
that bears its fruit in its season (PRODUCTIVE, FRUITFUL WORK AND LIFE)
and whose leaf does not wither. (RESILIENCE WHEN PRESSURE BUILDS)
Whatever he does prospers. (SUCCESS AND PROSPERITY).
Psalm 1:1-3 CSB
Delight means to see it as pleasurable or have a desire for it. Spending time in God’s Word can make an impact in your life. Make a plan and experience the strength, fruitfulness, resilience, and success that only God’s wisdom can bring.
Wrapping up the 3rd Quarter of the Year this weekend. 92 more days of 2017! Good time to assess ourselves spiritually. A good 4th quarter will probably make those January resolutions a little easier. Ha!
Our church strategizes around Five Catalyst for Spiritual Growth. They are also good tools for assessing our spiritual lives. These came out of a personal investigation of things I’ve heard Spiritual Giants Say. Pray or journal through these questions.
2. Personal Devotional Habits – Am I spending time being fed and filled by Jesus through His Word and prayer? Take an on ramp to this catalyst HERE.
3. Engaging in Ministry – Am I using my gifts with radical generosity or holding on to / burying what God has given me? Christianity and Church only make sense through the lens of service.
4. Building Catalytic Relationships – Am I involved in any relationships that encourage, challenge, and hold me accountable? Why Bother with Relationships?
5. Experiencing God’s Providential Care – Am I depending on God and graciously receiving help from others as I experience trials? Are my eyes open to how I can be the body of Christ to others experiencing hardships?
God desires for you to grow. Spiritual growth is not automatic. These catalysts reflect the tools we have for spiritual growth. Praying that this fall you will “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).