Growth


How do you eat?

Do you savor every bite? Do you take in the whole experience of food: the location, the company, the music/ambiance, the smells? Do you race through eating? Is eating something you do because you need to, but not really something you put a lot of focus on? Do you eat for comfort or escape?

How do you eat spiritually?

Recently, I have been reflecting on how we are fed spiritually even more than how I eat, although they go hand in hand together. There are several different ways that we are fed: finding food on our own, being spoon fed, being led to the food, being taught how to eat, being taught how to look for and hunt spiritual food, and a combination of the above.

I have been in several churches, study groups, etc. where I have been spoon fed. This means, being presented with what to believe and how to view scripture. The more I am exposed to it, the less I like it. It gives me spiritual content, and makes certain things clear, but I am not having to work for it at all. I am not examining the scriptures and making my own choices, but instead am taking the beliefs of others and swallowing it without really knowing what it contains. I think that is very dangerous, and it creates very immature and unexperienced Christians.

I believe the best way to be fed is through a combination of styles and methods. There are times where I need to be spoon fed. It may be a difficult concept, or I may not be doing well and need to depend on the direction and counsel of others. Ultimately I want to move from being spoon fed (which is where most believers start), to being shown where the food is, learning how to eat it well, and then to learn how to hunt for more food on my own. That is a path of growth and maturity.

When we are hurt and traumatized in our spirit and soul it is hard to look to that spiritual food. However, if we do not eat of spiritual food we become malnourished and the situation gets even worse. We desperately need to eat because our bodies, minds, spirits, and souls are in need of the spiritual nutrition to heal and be restored. We may need to be spoon fed at times, and most if not all of us will need some help in being led to the healthiest food. On our own we can often find unhealthy food, but the healthy food is harder to get to and we need direction and sometimes assistance to reach it.

How are you being spiritually fed? Do your leaders tell you what to believe? Do they present material to you without much or any opportunity to respond or ask questions? Do they apply it to your life, or just present it before you, expecting you to know how to apply it and have it change and fill you?

Take a few minutes to think about your spiritual life, and how you can take a step toward maturity and growth? How can you show a desire or ask to be led to food, taught how to eat, and shown how to hunt for spiritual food on your own? It is likely that your church services will not change, but consider if there a study group you can join, a study group leader you can talk to regarding adjusting their style, a friend you can start meeting with for discipleship, or a training class you can attend.

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There is an old hymn where the chorus says, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”

The hymn comes from Psalm 84:11-12. Verse 12 reads, “O LORD Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.”

Are you trusting and obeying? Or are you obeying and then trusting?

There is a difference!

Placing obedience before trust means we are living to try to please God through our actions, we are trying to “earn” our salvation and our identity in Christ. That just isn’t possible. It was already given to us as a gift and it is ours. We can’t earn it when we already own it. We just need to learn to walk in it.

If we do not start with trusting God, especially with trusting what he says about who we are and where our identity comes from we end up trusting in our own abilities, resources, skills, mindset, etc.

Trusting the Lord isn’t about earning our place. It isn’t about offering a sacrifice. It isn’t about performing and doing all the right things.

Trusting is about accepting, receiving, embracing, and believing.

Most of us are living this out backwards. We are living out the obedience before the trust. How would it affect your life if you switched and started living out of trust, a trust that then leads you to obedience?

I had a good discussion with someone this week about responsibility. An insurance company has a commercial out talking about responsibility. I like the commercial, but sometimes as I watch it I am left feeling that it is easy to do the right thing. Sometimes it is easy, but sometimes it isn’t, and when it involves other people it can be very messy.

If I make a decision to share information with someone I have made a choice. I am responsible for the choice I made to share. The other person would not have known the information if I had not shared. They are responsible for their choices regarding what they do with the information, but I am still responsible for the information I shared in the first place. That is exactly the situation from my last church. I made a choice to share information with T. She was a leader of a home group, the second eldest woman in the church, and by all I could see of her life she is a believer who is seeking to live a Godly life. I shared my story and my struggles with her and asked her for help. My intentions were good and were not to hurt anyone but were to work through all issues and resolve any conflicts that existed.

I made a choice.

I choose to share my story with T.

My choice cost me.

I believe T was well-intentioned, but I have learned that she does not have the best judgment about what and how to share with others. What T did and said are between her and God. I can only be responsible for my decisions and actions.

I am responsible for my decisions and actions.

When we do or say something we are responsible for it. Our feelings might change from when we first said something, but we are still responsible for what we said. Our heart might have been in the right place but our words may not have adequately reflected our heart…we are still responsible for our words.

In this case the things I shared with T made it back to the pastor and he interpreted it as me speaking against him. That was never my heart and I do not believe my words said anything like this, however I did share that there was relational and communication struggle between us. Due to this I was charged with disunity. I didn’t stand in front of the church body or even a group of people and say anything that blatantly opposed the pastor. I told a woman my story in confidence. I had prayerfully considered speaking with her. I went with a heart that wanted to work through things and not hurt anyone. However, I still made the choice to share.

I have to accept the fact that I did speak in a manner that caused disunity.

I have to accept that I stood against my pastor because I told someone that conflict existed.

It wasn’t my heart to hurt anyone, but in reality I did.

It wasn’t my heart to cause disunity, but in reality I did.

I did seek to share my story with others, but in reality it was shared.

I turned to a friend to seek counsel and guidance, but the friend I turned to was a bad choice.

I came seeking assistance to resolve things, but because I choose the wrong person the conflict grew.

I wanted to find resolve, but instead I took comfort in the fact that T shared some concerns and frustrations she had regarding the direction of the church. That was gossip and it was wrong.

I wanted to walk through the struggle with others, to be in community, to share life with others, but I did not do that in a healthy manner.

I am learning that taking responsibility and admitting our faults and shortcomings is hard, because our mistakes are not always made with an intentional heart.

I take responsibility for my words, my actions, and my choices. I was hurtful and sinful in the choices I made and I have to walk through the repercussions of those decisions. I repent of those choices and would not make them again.

In my case that means I can’t have relationship with people I love. I am not able to share life and faith with people I consider family. I am not granted forgiveness by leaders and others that I consider friends. The price I have to pay is high for the choices I made, but that happens at times. Many people have had to pay prices for being on a road when a car accident took place, being in a town when a natural disaster took place, or being at a wrong place at the wrong time.

Responsibility is hard, very hard, but I am learning that it is important to take responsibility. It is what a person of integrity, character, and truth should do. It is what I as a Christian believe Christ asks me to do.

I have posted several times about the condition of our heart and how it connects to our decisions, actions, thoughts, etc. Our actions, including our words will reflect our heart and what is inside. It is not a completely accurate gauge as there can be things that impact how others perceive us or things that can hinder our communication from accurately reflecting our heart, but it is a tool we can use to evaluate both our own heart and that of others. (Be careful about judging others by this tool alone though!)

Yesterday I read something about the verse “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

The verse makes it clear that there is a connection between our hearts and what we treasure, but it leaves a question that we should ponder.

Does your heart lead you to what you treasure, or does what you treasure affect your heart?

“Where your treasure is” is commonly interpreted as referring to the things we value. That means the verse could be read as “Those things we value and focus on affect our heart.” I think that is true, but if we consider the heart first it could be said that “The condition of our heart affects what we value and focus on.”

Scripture is pretty clear that our heart is key to our walk with God and our beliefs.

Do you think our heart leads our focus, or our focus leads our heart? Do we need to have a clear answer, or is it okay to just accept that both the heart and our focus are important?

At the beginning of the year many people make resolutions to do something differently in the coming year. Often these are made with good intentions but are not followed through upon. Another thing that often accompanies the change over of the year is looking at what has occurred during the past year and the marking of milestones.

Identifying and marking milestones is something that can be very important in the recovery process. It helps you to identify that you have made steps forward toward healing and away from unhealthy actions or thoughts. It does not matter if they are big milestones or small, but identifying them can help find a sense of accomplishment, success, and hope.

How you mark milestones is up to you. You may want to keep a list of them, celebrate them, record them in a journal, share them with close friends, reinforce them through some reward, or something even more creative. The important thing is to notice them! On my journey it has not always been a milestone of doing something, often it has been marking a milestone of the absence of something such as no more nightmares, no more fear of being in a church, and making it 4 hours/24 hours/2 weeks without crying. Sometimes when the negative aspects of our grief, sorrow, and journey go away, when the temptations to drink, sleep, or cry disappear, or when our anger, bitterness, hurt, and broken-heart begin to heal we feel better and do not even realize it. Take the time and make the effort to recognize those milestones. They truly are important so that you can see how far you have come, and you can stop looking at how far you still have to go.

In the Old Testament it was common to bring together a pile of stones to mark a spot of rememberance and to identify the location of something important. It was a symbol of what had occurred. You also might want to create a ritual of something like this. Place a stone in a dish or jar every time you can mark a milestone. You might want to use money instead so you can purchase something or do something to reward yourself. Even keeping a tally on the wall or in a journal can give a physical action to marking the milestone which then gives it more significance and helps lend itself to a feeling of success.

You are on a journey, but there a journey has many things to see, do, visit, accomplish, and note along the way. Don’t pass by all the scenic overlooks and picturesque spots. Take a moment to celebrate you have made it this far and all you have to do it make it to the next milestone before you get to celebrate again!

Growing up my brother had a gorgeous cast metal chess set with the characters in the shape of great Italian sculptures. For example David was the king. I admired it regularly, but I never played it. The family I grew up in was pretty careful about the “chess game” they played. By that I am referring not to the actual game of chess, but to the way we walked relational conflict out.

I have recently been thinking about how relational conflict is like a game of chess. One person makes a move and the other person makes a counter move. The moves they make are directly in opposition to the other person because the goal is to win, to overtake, to take captive. Often when something goes wrong in a relationship we start playing chess. One person does something and the other person reacts instead of acts. They respond to what just happened as they are feeling confronted, defensive, frustrated, etc. What gets lost is where this all started. Somewhere in the past someone choose to pick up that first piece and start the game. Unfortunately it is a game with no winners!

I want to stop playing chess. I want to learn how to not react out of my emotions even when things are tense or difficult. I want to learn to look at the other person with a tender and loving heart and recognize they are a child of God (whether they are a believer or not they were still created by God and he would embrace them if they came to him). I want to learn to put down my weapons, my defenses, my pain…. to be vulnerable and open even if it means I am putting myself at jeopardy of further hurt. Ultimately what I am saying boils down to the condition of our hearts. If my heart is set on playing a game of chess and making counter moves toward my opponent instead of embracing my family in Christ and living in unity then all that will happen is destruction of myself, them, and Christ’s work. Oh how deeply I pray my heart can change.

2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26″In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  (Eph 4:2-3, 17-18, 22-32)

I have been especially stuck in the above passage by verse 29. It says we are not to speak unwholesome talk. How we define that probably comes from our definition of what is unwholesome, but Paul continued on to describe that it includes speaking only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs. In other words, we have to be focused, alert, and aware of what their needs are before we even speak! Wow do I have a lot to learn!

Have any of you learned things that have helped you change your heart and perspectives in this way? It is a paradigm shift but one that is well worth the price!

One of the areas I still struggle with in my recovery and healing is missing those I love so deeply and am no longer allowed to have relationship with. Others have made decisions about my life in a manner that control my ability to have open and free relationships which is hard. I don’t think that is God’s heart at all. He so desires for us to share in rich relationships, forgive and reconcile, and to love others no matter how hard. He never gives up on us and he doesn’t want us to give up on others.

This weekend has been an incredible time of healing and new steps forward for me. I am learning how to let my past die and be buried with Christ, and to open up myself to brand new opportunities. I am taking big steps forward in faith, surrender, and opening myself up to God in ways I have never been willing to before. It is exciting, hopeful, and yet scary also. I miss having people in my life to share times like this with. Some of my new friends would care, but not truly understand. I wish others who have known where I was could see me today. That wish does not come from a heart that wants to show off, put down others, or cause any pain. I just am so excited about the healing and hope God has given to me and I want to proclaim it and share it. I want God to be glorified! I want others to find the healing and hope that I have because after 4-1/2 years walking the hell I lived in spiritual confusion and pain I want to help others out of the confusion and disillusionment.

I was just listening to a version of The Heart of Worship by Matt Redman and there was a part of the song where it said, “You will not share your glory with another.” I guess that is what God is teaching me this morning. This is about him, all about him and about his glory. My recovery and healing is not in any way due to man, and no part of it is due to me! I am healed. I have new life. I am living testimony of a God who loves, saves, heals, gives hope, and restores. No pastor, church, leader, ministry, or person can have that glory. It ALL goes to the Lord Almighty, my Lord, Savior, King, and High Priest. How thankful I am to be able to give him all of that glory

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