Spiritual Formation

Creating Margin

In reading the recent headlines, I believe that our society is suffering from a societal epidemic: overload! We’re exhausted and hurting, struggling to keep up with life. We feel distressed, but we’re not clear why. We’re besieged by anxiety and fatigue; and our relationships and bodies are suffering because of it. The flood of daily events seems beyond our control. The bottom line is that we are overloaded, and we’re living on the edge.

Today our stress levels are unprecedented and studies have reported that 80% of Americans need to reduce stress in their lives. Change, debt, hurry, noise and complexity all contribute. Because of a rapidly changing job market, we’re more insecure. Because of the breakdown of the family, we’re more alone.

This past month at SeaCoast Grace Church we talked about the need to create margin in our lives by honoring the Sabbath, creating moments of sanctuary with God, and subtracting the things that keep us distracted in our pursuit of him. Margin is the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits. Without margin, especially in the key areas of emotional energy, physical energy, time, and finances, any sense of well-being is unlikely.

In the past, margin was a normal part of people’s lives. They lived on farms. They had time to help a neighbor and attend social events. And they didn’t have all the shiny things that distract us from resting. Unfortunately, what was designed to make our lives simpler has only made it more complex. We’re dialed in 24/7 and have so much information at our fingertips. But, are we really better off?

So if you find that your emotional energy is gone, how do you get it back? Here are six things to consider:

  1. Cultivate social support systems –  Some people fill us, others drain us. We need to intentionally develop relationships that nurture us, with people who understand us and care about us.
  2. Get a pet – Pets are loyal and often affectionate—just the kind of things that increase our emotional reserves.
  3. Reconcile relationships – Broken relationships are huge emotional drains. Forgive and let go!
  4. Rest – Try to set aside time regularly to just “be still” and let God be God!
  5. Laugh – Nothings recharges my battery like a good laugh. Spend time with friends or doing things that make you laugh. Nothing like a good I Love Lucy episode for me!
  6. Create appropriate boundaries –  We need to be able to say “no” at times, so we can say “yes” to God’s best!

Waiting on God

Thoughts about waiting from Henry Blackaby…

Sometimes as you begin making adjustments, God will require that you wait on Him. This is not because God cannot keep up with you or that He does not know what to do next. God is interested in a love relationship with you. Your waiting on Him develops your absolute dependence on Him. Your waiting on Him assures that you will act on His timing and not your own.

While you wait, continue doing the last thing God told you to do. In waiting you are shifting the responsibility of the outcome to God – where it belongs. Then when God gives you specific guidance, He will do through you more in days and weeks than you could ever accomplish in years of labor. Waiting on Him is always worth the wait. His timing and His ways are always right. You must depend on Him to guide you in His way and in His timing to accomplish His purpose.

Here’s a great video from John Waller on the power of doing the right thing while you wait…

The Life You’ve Always Wanted

John Ortberg’s book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, is not just another book on spiritual disciplines. Choosing to focus more on the goal of internal transformation than the externals of the spiritual disciplines in the Christian life, Ortberg challenges the status quo on the subject, by discussing what this spiritual transformation looks like, and how we can obtain it through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I appreciate Ortberg’s perspective on training vs. trying, in which he states, “spiritual transformation is not a matter of trying harder, but training wisely” (p.47). If we have it as our goal to become more like Christ, and grow in our ability to love God and love His people, than we should choose wisely which activities or disciplines we need in our lives in order to fully demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. As Ortberg states, the disciplines are not a way to earn favor with God, but are simply a “means of appropriating or growing toward the life that God graciously offers” (p.51). This is a helpful paradigm, because it starts with our motivation, and removes the sense of legalism that is so often associated with the disciplines.

Unfortunately for many, we tend to compartmentalize not only our lives, but the disciplines as well. Forgetting that Christ wants all of who we are. This is why I also appreciated Ortberg’s thoughts on the well-ordered heart, because it takes the emphasis off the externals of our faith and puts the focus on becoming more like Christ.  In placing our focus on the goal of transformation, we begin to think like the apostle Paul who did all things for the glory of the God (1 Cor. 10:31). And in turn we allow God to impact every aspect of our lives.

Ortberg’s book challenges us to shift our paradigm as it relates to the spiritual disciplines, reminding us to place the emphasis on transformation instead of on obedience to Christ and God’s Word. While certain disciplines are commanded of us, they are not there to get us extra credit, or for us to demonstrate how much we love God, but they are simply there to help me live a more fruitful life for Christ. By removing the law, we experience freedom, which as Ortberg states “is the life we you’ve always wanted” (p.153).

Lessons from Peter

A successful entrepreneur with a thriving fishing business, Peter was a natural leader who was willing to take risks. He was bold, impulsive and often stuck out his neck in pursuit of being with Jesus. This zealous side of Peter served him well, but it also got him into trouble. Throughout the Scriptures, we see Peter struggling to let go of his agenda and accept God’s agenda, and in doing so, he sets himself up for failure time and time again.

While Peter didn’t lack for motivation, he did refuse to deal with many of the “know” and “below” barriers that prevented him from being the man God intended. Aware of Peter’s tendencies, Jesus allowed Peter to put himself in positions to fail, because in doing so, Jesus knew that Peter would also put himself in positions to grow. Every time Peter failed, he learned something about life and every time he learned something, he grew. And in learning from his mistakes, Peter became a different man.

Presented with the same challenges and opportunities, we would likely respond like Peter, who boasted too much, prayed too little, acted too fast and followed too far away. However, the good news is that just like Peter, who learned from his mistakes, there is a gracious Father who wants to do the same wonderful work in our lives as well. But that takes a commitment on our part. First, to be courageous enough to face our own “know”, “go” and “below” barriers to spiritual growth. Second, to trust God’s plan and purpose for our lives.

Becoming the Person God Intended

The most important task of our life is not what we do, but who we become. Since we are God’s people, created for his plan and purposes, he knows what we are intended to be. And being in Christ and growing in him means we are moving towards God’s best version for us.

Peter’s full name at birth was Simon Bar-Jonah (Matthew 16:17), meaning “Simon, son of Jonah” (John 21:15-17). But as one of his disciples, Jesus gives Simon another name, Peter, which means “rock.” However, before God could do the work he desired through Peter, he first had to do a work in him. Over time God would take a fisherman with an ambivalent, vacillating and impulsive personality and shape him into a rock like leader. And in God’s training process, Peter learned that in spite of his weaknesses, the Lord wanted to use him and had great plans for him.

Similarly, as God grows you, he wants to use the situations of life to refine and shape us for the mission he has called us to. God made you to flourish and to produce blessing beyond yourself. Flourishing is God’s plan and gift, and when you flourish, you are in harmony with God, other people, creation and yourself. And it means you are becoming the person God had in mind when he created you. It is moving towards God’s best version of you.

Just like Peter, God has a purpose and plan for you, but he won’t discard the raw material. He just redirects it.

The Kingdom of God

In the Kingdom of God…

…a person is lifted up by humbling himself, not by exalting himself in the eyes of others.

…strength is found through weakness, not by being confident in your own abilities.

…fullness comes by becoming empty, not by running after pleasure.

…life is gained by losing it, not by looking out for “number one.”

…riches come by giving them away, not by storing them up.

…greatness comes by becoming a servant, not by seeking power and celebrity.

by Roy Lessin, DaySpring Cards

Iron Sharpens Iron

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  – Proverbs 27:17, NIV

Last night was a great night! I got to reconnect with my college buddies from UC Santa Barbara. These are friends I’ve known for over 25 years. And as we sat and talked together, I was reminded of God’s goodness and grace in my life. My life has truly been blessed, in that I have been surrounded with so many great people, who reflect Jesus in beautiful ways. People who have helped me grow spiritually and experience a quality of life that is exuberant and life-giving. These people have spurred me on in the Christian race and have inspired me to be my all for God. However, as I sat with my college buddies last night, I recalled how special these friends were in particular.

From my group of friends at UCSB, six of us went on to serve in vocational ministry with Campus Crusade for Christ, and that’s not counting some of our friends from other area schools. I guess you might expect to find that from a Christian university, but this was my experience at university with a “reputation” of being a “party school”! What brought us together, is the same thing that has kept us together, our common faith and commitment to living that out in our world.

As I sat there with my friends, I was thankful, because I realized that God had used my friends to help shape me into the person I am today. It reminded me of the principle, “who we spend our precious time with, will in part affect the direction we go in”. And in this circle of friends, we were all committed to loving Jesus and living according to His plans and purposes for our lives. Therefore our lives took the trajectory of those with whom we had associated with.

If you want to grow into a solid and faithful follower of Jesus, it’s important to spend time with others who are just as committed to spiritual maturity as you are. As the old saying goes, “you are what you eat!”. In other words, you become what you take in and accept into your life. So choose to connect with others who are looking to grow in their spiritual maturity and you will find yourself maturing and becoming the person God wants you to be.

I’m thankful for my friends and for the many others who inspire me to become God’s best version of myself!

Bearing Fruit

This past weekend, I had the privilege of co-teaching with our Senior Pastor Doyle Surratt! In our current series, Grow, we’ve been talking about how to grow spiritually, by unpacking many of the verses that refer specifically to bearing fruit and that barrow illustrations from agriculture. In the video below, I unpack the Parable of the Fig Tree in Luke 13:6-9 and discuss the conditions necessary for greater spiritual fruitfulness in our lives. Have a listen and rejoice in the reality that God is for you!

Things You Can Count On

A grace that’s sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9);
a mercy that endures (Psalm 136:1);
an atoning blood that cleanses (1 John 2:2);
a hope that doesn’t disappoint (Romans 5:5);
a love that never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8);
a purpose that works all things together for good (Romans 8:28);
a peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7);
a joy unspeakable (1 Peter 1:8);
a kingdom that’s unshakable (Hebrews 12:28);
a foundation which is indestructible (2 Timothy 2:19);
a High Priest who prays (John 17);
a Savior who lives (1 Corinthians 15:1-11);
a Spirit who comforts (2 Corinthians 1:4);
a Father who cares (1 Peter 5:7).

– Roy Lessin, DaySpring Cards

God is On Your Side

The Lord will fight for you.”  – Exodus 14:14

I read these words and draw in a deep breath.
I need them right now.
Don’t we all? Oh, we may not go to war.
But we fight…
for relationships
for dreams

We battle…
against illness
against discouragement
I think of you staring at the screen, perhaps feeling your strength is small.
Oh, yes, I know what that’s like.
But victory isn’t up to us.
And those words you sometimes hear? “You’re not worth fighting for.”
They’re a lie. Nothing more.
This is the truth from the heart of One who calls you His own:
You are loved.
You are worth fighting for.
You are even worth dying for.
So go into your day, strong friend, knowing that nothing can defeat you. You’ve already won.

by Holley Gerth, DaySpring Cards

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