Spiritual Formation

Why Should I Trust God?

This week we started a new series, Why? The Answers to the Questions We All Have, at SCG! In the series, we’re asking the question, “Why?” out loud, as together we look for the answers to the questions we all ask. Questions like, “Why should I trust God?”; “Why can’t I do this on my own?”; “Why am I never satisfied?” and more!

At the heart of all the questions we have about God, is the question, “Can I really trust Him?” We wonder if God really loves us. We wonder if we’re really good enough for God to love us. No matter how you might answer that question, the reality is, there is a God who not only loves you, but made a way for you to know and experience life in Him. By an act of God’s grace or unmerited favor, God did for mankind, what we could not do for ourselves. At the cross, God satisfied the sin debt and adopted all who would believe in Him. God’s grace not only secures our salvation, but also sanctifies us (or grows us) to maturity.

In Mark 5:24-34, there’s a story of a woman who trusted in Jesus when others had failed her. Just being a woman in that ancient culture meant that she was not well-respected and she was most likely shunned by her community because of the nature of her lengthy sickness. But she was determined to push through the barriers and connect with the God who she believed could heal her. When Jesus healed her, He also commanded her to reveal herself. And Jesus made it clear that she was healed because of her faith…not her status, abilities or virtue! Our God wants us to come to Him as we are, unashamed and totally vulnerable, as we place our faith in Him.

Do you believe that God loves you? He proved it to you at the cross! Because of His sacrificial love, you can trust Him! To elaborate on this point, have a listen to our Senior Pastor’s message this weekend…

God Uses Imperfect People

Think God can’t or won’t use you? Well, you’re in good company! If you think about it, there are many reasons why God shouldn’t have called you, or me, or anyone else for that matter. But God doesn’t wait until we’re perfect to use us! In fact, the Scriptures are full of the stories of men and women, who in spite of their greed, lust, impulsiveness and imperfections, where used greatly by God to fulfill His purposes. Here’s a few examples, from the Bible’s who’s who:

Abraham lied
Sarah laughed at God’s promises
Moses stuttered
David’s armor didn’t fit
John Mark was rejected by Paul
Timothy had ulcers
Hosea’s wife was a prostitute
Amos’ only training was in the school of fig-tree pruning
Jacob was a liar
David had an affair
Solomon was too rich
Jesus was too poor
Abraham was too old
David was too young
Peter was afraid of death
Lazarus was dead
John was self-righteous
Naomi was a widow
Paul was a murderer, so was Moses
Jonah ran from God
Miriam was a gossip
Gideon and Thomas both doubted
Jeremiah was depressed and suicidal
Elijah was burned out
John the Baptist was a loudmouth
Martha was a worry-wort
Noah got drunk
Did I mention Moses had a short fuse? So did Peter, Paul and lots of folks!

Satan will tell you, “You’re not worthy!” But Jesus says, “So what? I AM.” Satan will tempt us to look back and sees our mistakes. But God looks back and sees the Cross. God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called. So say “yes” to God and watch him do something amazing in you and through you today!

Christian Athleticism & The Olympics

If you are like most American’s right now, you’re probably a little sleep deprived from watching the Olympic coverage! With so many televised options, you can literally watch Olympic coverage 24-hours a day! It’s amazing to see these athletes, some of whom are just teenagers, perform at the highest level of competition! When I was 17, I sure wasn’t preparing to fly to London! I was just hoping that I didn’t wreck my 1967 Volkswagen Bug!

What I’m struck by is the sheer amount of perseverance and dedication these Olympic athletes possess. Countless hours of practice, a myriad of sacrifices and an incredible amount of strength & grit got them to the London games. While they make it look easy, they put in years of hard work, for a single event that will, at best, last for only a few minutes!

The games teach us the value of self-control, discipline, training and adherence to principle. And these athletes make us shake our heads in disbelief at the strength, skill and determination of which human beings are capable.

In 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul writes, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified” (NLT). In considering this verse, I believe that the Apostle Paul knew and understood something that many of us contemporary Christians miss: Success in the Christian life requires training, conditioning and focused effort. There is a spiritual athleticism required. Learning to trust God and live the Christian life requires training, just like gymnastics and swimming.

Watching the Olympics has once again inspired me to give my all for Jesus! After all, lazy Christians, like lazy athletes, don’t win. What’s more, they don’t even have much fun!

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!

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