How’s Your Spiritual Life Going?

In his book, The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg made a great observation:

“How is your spiritual life going?”

I used to answer this question by looking at the state of my devotional activities: Did I pray and read the Bible enough today? The problem is that by this measure the Pharisees always win. People can be very disciplined, but remain proud and spiteful. How do we measure spiritual growth so that the Pharisees don’t win?

I asked a wise man, “How do you assess the well-being of your soul?”

He immediately said, “I ask myself two questions”:

  • Am I growing more easily discouraged these days?
  • Am I growing more easily irritated these days?

At the core of a flourishing soul are the love of God and the peace of God. If peace is growing in me, I am less easily discouraged. If love is growing in me, I am less easily irritated.  

I would add a couple more thoughts to Ortberg’s ideas:

  • Am I becoming less generous?

How willing we are to share our possessions, time, finances, etc. says a lot about how closely we’re walking with the Lord and how much we trust Him and His provision. If I’m being stingy — regardless of my current financial status, am I really trusting God?

  • Am I becoming less caring toward others — especially brothers and sisters in Christ?

Years ago, my pastor told me that our horizontal relationships in the Church are a barometer of our relationship with God. If I am reticent to be caring toward other people, it’s a good indicator that something may be amiss in my walk with the Lord.

Please keep in mind that these are not hard and fast rules, but more of a diagnostic tool. Used as such, they can be very worthwhile.

So … how’s your spiritual life going?

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Only for the Guilty

Years ago, my pastor made a great statement: “The Gospel has a catch: it’s only for the guilty.” He’s right.

The Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection is only good news if one sees its necessity. If someone thinks, “I’m a good person deserving of God’s blessings,” then the good news – the Gospel – is of no value to that person. He or she does not recognize the need for it.

On the other hand, if someone is convicted of their sin – if they recognize the wrongness of their actions, thoughts or words – then the Gospel is good news indeed, and it will have an effect on that person.

My concern is that many people today think that the Church should only preach grace. They suggest that talking about sin – or referring to people as sinners – will alienate those people from the Kingdom of God. We should only, therefore, share the good news.

Well, that is an interesting theory, but it’s not biblical. Jesus told the adulterous woman to “Go and sin no more.” That was clearly a reference to her adultery being sin. He didn’t just cover it up. In essence, He said, “Stop doing it.”

Stephen – apparently the first Christian martyr – spoke clearly when he called his listeners “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears.” (Acts 7:51) He went on to tell them that they were just like their fathers because “you always resist the Holy Spirit.”

It does the world very little good if they hear the good news of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, but they think they don’t need it.

If we don’t recognize sin as sin – if we don’t repent and turn to God – then we don’t receive the forgiveness and cleansing that are provided, nor do we see the need to.

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Conscience … and a Creator

When I was about three or four years old, I remember visiting a home with my mother. She and her friend were in another room, leaving me alone to play. I found a small plastic toy knight that fascinated me. After much deliberation – and checking to be sure I wasn’t being watched – I pocketed it. I took that “treasure” home with me, being careful to not let my mom see it. Problem was, every time I went to play with it, I felt nauseous. There was a nagging feeling on the inside that didn’t go away. I knew stealing that toy was wrong. Oddly, this is one of the very earliest remembrances I have in my life.

It should be noted here that I didn’t grow up in a religious home. But I learned something from that stolen toy. People don’t need to be taught right from wrong. There is an innate sense within us – at least in general terms – of what is right and what is wrong.* This is not a cultural idea. Every culture, no matter how “primitive” or “advanced,” recognizes certain things as right and wrong.

The theory of evolution – the idea that random particles came from nowhere, merged together and now we have life – cannot explain conscience, the sense of right and wrong. But the idea that a Creator made us and implanted an innate sense of right and wrong certainly does.

From my perspective, it takes far more “faith” to believe in evolution than it does to believe in a Creator.

*This is not to imply that we always do right, just that we know what it is. And it should also be understood that it is possible to become numb to that sense of right and wrong if we ignore it again and again.

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Resurrection Day

In his great Day-of-Pentecost sermon, Peter said of Jesus: “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:24)

What an amazing statement. It was not possible for Jesus to be held by death.

In the book of Revelation, Jesus declared: “I am the One who lives; I was dead, but look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys to death and to the place of the dead.” (Revelation 1:18-19, NCV)

He was dead, but now He’s alive forever and ever! And the keys of death and hell are in His hands. That should give us hope!

Seven-hundred years before Christ’s visible earthly ministry, Isaiah prophesied, “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…” (Isaiah 25:8)

That’s what He did: swallowed up death forever.

Happy Resurrection Day this Sunday!

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No Voice

William Sangster is regarded by many as one of the greatest preachers who ever lived. In the 1940s, his church in London was filled every Sunday morning and evening with over 3000 people per service. That would be a very large church today. Back then, it was nearly unprecedented.

In 1949, Sangster was elected president of the Methodist Conference of Great Britain. During his tenure there, he had a twofold mission: evangelism and spiritual deepening. Sangster drove those two ideas relentlessly.

Toward the end of his life, he was diagnosed with progressive muscular atrophy, an incurable neurological disease.  His daughter wrote, “Gradually his legs became useless and his voice – that melodious organ that had thrilled thousands – went completely. Speechless and helpless, he could still hold a pen.”

And hold a pen – and use it well – he did. One Easter Sunday, as he sat looking out the window, he suddenly began to write on his ever-present note-pad, “It is terrible to wake up on Easter morning and have no voice with which to shout, ‘He is risen!’ but it would be still more terrible to have a voice and not to want to shout.”

May you and I boldly declare the praises of our risen Savior this Easter season.

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Cut Off!

I am deeply concerned by what I see as a growing trend. The very idea of it is enough to cause me to want to shake the offending party and tell them to wake up. It seems to me that this trend is a lie from the very pit of hell.

The trend is believers who declare that they don’t need the Church. “I don’t need others in order to have a relationship with God,” or “Me and my family are fine on our own” are common statements.

In 1 Corinthians 12:18, the Apostle Paul declares strongly, “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” If He arranges us – it’s His choice – then that doesn’t give the indication that we should simply disconnect ourselves, does it?

So many passages point to the fact that God looks at us collectively, as a single Body. Scripture repeatedly declares that we are interconnected – the Body of Christ. We’re not supposed to be a severed finger, a detached kneecap, or a disconnected ear.

The Bible even says that we are “individually members of one another.” (Romans 12:5) You cannot cut yourself off from something to which you are intrinsically attached without doing damage to both yourself and the whole.

We’re designed and arranged by the Lord Himself to be united.

One pastor said it well in our new video series (for more information go to “There’s no such thing as Christianity without community.” He is exactly right.

God designed us – just like a body – to be united.

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Our, Us, We

Do you remember when Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray? (Luke 11:1) Apparently, John the Baptist had taught his followers, and Jesus’ disciples thought they should have a similar lesson. Perhaps they had experienced Him praying, and they wanted to be sure they were doing it correctly.

And think about this scenario from Jesus’ perspective. Asking Him to teach them to pray would be a big question that Jesus would surely use to impart truth to His followers, right?

So, it seems to me that He reveals His heart in His answer.

Think about it. Jesus didn’t tell them to go off on their own and pray what He would teach them. In fact, the very first word – “Our” – indicates that Jesus intended them to be together with others when they prayed. Words like “give us this day…”, “… forgive us our sins as we forgive…”, “lead us not into temptation” and “…deliver us from evil…” show that His teaching was not to be taken individually. The repeated plural phraseology – our, us, we – doesn’t give the impression of an I-me-mine prayer. Jesus clearly was pushing His followers toward togetherness.

That runs totally counter-cultural to our selfish nature and our individualistic society, doesn’t it? But then, so did most of Jesus’ teaching, right?

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