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Inward life Discipleship Grow Spiritually

Personal Reflection: Romans 12:1-8

Read Romans 12:1-8. Work through the questions at your own pace, don’t feel like you have to answer all of them!

For you personally, how has God shown you mercy? How have you experienced his love?

What are a few ways that you can keep his mercy “in view,” that is, remember it?

In your opinion, why does Paul say “living sacrifice?’ Why doesn’t he just say “sacrifice?”

The first 2 verses talks about bodies and minds, which equates to loving God internally (thoughts, attitudes) and externally (actions). What happens when both aren’t engaged? What does it look like to only worship God with your thoughts but not your actions? What does it look like when it’s just your actions and not your thoughts?

Paul talks about conforming to the world vs. being transformed. On a scale of 1-10, how much do you feel you are conforming to the world? Why did you give yourself this number? Do the same with being transformed.

How does a person renew their mind?

Paul tells us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. How does pride hurt a person? Where does pride show up in your life?

why does Paul use the body as an analogy? What is his point of that word picture? How does that point apply to your life?

Why does God give us gifts?

What is  something you love about yourself? In your opinion, how do you think God has gifted you?

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Inward life Worship Discipleship

How to have peace in a world with trouble.

Scripture

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

Consideration

How can we have peace?

  • Through listening to the words of Jesus.

Why is peace so important?

  • Because this world is filled with trouble.

How do we know that we can trust Jesus?

  • He has overcome the world.

Reflection

  • Where do I put my peace? Is it internal (e.g. my ability), external (e.g. praise from others), or is it eternal (Christ alone)?
  • How easily is my peace stolen? When is my peace most threatened?
  • Who, in my world, is facing trouble from the world and needs support?
  • How can I listen more to the words of Jesus?
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Inward life Discipleship

A deeper method for personal evaluation

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? ” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Growing spiritually isn’t automatic. Left to our natural inclinations, we’ll move away from God, not towards him.

Personal examination doesn’t need to be complex to be powerful.

Great spiritual progress can be made by simply asking, “God, did I do what God wanted me to do today?” Listen to God, and allow your convictions to come into focus through prayer and reflection.

There are times when a deeper examination is necessary for growth and breakthrough. Before we get started, a few assumptions to get on the same page:

  • I’m defining an action as anything that impacts the world around us. It may be a word, a look, a touch, etc. Illustration1.
  • Every action leads to multiple consequences–some of which we observe and some we don’t. Illustration2.
  • With these assumptions in place, shouting alone in the woods with no one to hear you is not an “action” because there are no consequences.

When I want to examine one of my past actions, the following five questions frame my rear view mirror:

KNOWLEDGE: What unchanging principles impacted my action? How did my understanding of good/evil, right/wrong, wise/foolish, true/false guide my decision?

      Illustration3

WISDOM: How well did I apply the unchanging principle(s) to the specific situation to consider the consequences? Was I able to accurately predict all observable consequences? Did I miss something I should have caught?

Illustration4

DESIRE: What was I my goal, what did I want to accomplish? In a sea of consequences, which few were I looking to achieve?

Illustration5

MOTIVATION: Why did I want what I wanted? It’s possible to want the right things, but for the wrong reasons. This question is subtle, but it’s too important to skip. Two thousand years ago, Jesus criticised the Pharisees for being whitewashed tombs6. The warning is still relevant today: looking good without being good is a real temptation for believers. The motivations of the heart are muddy waters! They are difficult to discern because we often have several reasons, they change constantly and they are often in conflict with one another.

Illustration7

ATTITUDE: What was I feeling before I acted? Emotions are often an invisible game changer when they influence our actions. Feeling joy, peace, confidence leads to the best actions. Shame, sadness, anger rarely lead to good actions.

Illustration8

What’s ideal?

You can’t grade a test without knowing the answers. You can’t judge without a standard. As it relates to our KNOWLEDGE, our perception of truth ought to line up with what God says is true. It’s human nature to think we are right most (or all) of the time. One way we grow spiritually is to give up what we think is true and accept what God says is true.

We want our WISDOM to be accurate. That we take the principles we believe in (which are hopefully God’s principles) and correctly apply them to the current situation. We gain wisdom through prayer, observation, and reflection.

DESIRES are typically very specific because they are tied to the moment of our action. However, following the example of Jesus, we are ought to be serving others. If our act was selfish, we missed the mark. As we look to our MOTIVE, we were either humble or we were not.

Finally, our ATTITUDE ought to be joy, a feeling deeper than happiness because it’s not based on our situations. Joy comes from remembering everything God has done for us and the promise of our eternal future in his presence. This world’s greatest setbacks can’t hold a candle to the indescribable light of living in God’s presence.

What’s next?

The next time you make a mistake, or are surprised by your actions, work through these five questions. It will be slow and feel unnatural. That’s ok. Maybe my questions aren’t a great fit and you need to figure out your own. That’s great, go for it! The goal is to draw closer to God!

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Inward life

God says not everyone’s invited. (Isaiah 55:1)

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1)

In this scripture, we can see at least three things:

  1. An invitation
  2. It is addressed SPECIFICALLY to those in need
  3. A promise for that need to be met and fulfilled

This means that:

  1. Invitations call for a response
  2. Needs call for recognition
  3. Promises call for trust

Therefore we ought to:

  1. Respond to God’s invitation. Invitations aren’t meant ignored or just opened—they are offered so that they will be accepted. God is calling us to move forward, come closer to him, the well is open and we must go to it.
  2. Recognize our need. Drinking water is so much easier when we feel the thirst! Unfortunately, the soul’s thirst is much easier to ignore than our stomach’s thirst. When we know that our soul needs more, we are quick to respond to God’s invitation.
  3. Trust God’s promise of fulfillment. Trust and hope move us forward. We cannot grow closer to God if we don’t trust his promises. And this trust is ongoing, just like it is in our human relationships. It would be so great if we only needed to trust God once and never doubt again!

These three things—responding, recognizing, trusting—are connected, they aren’t really separate actions. Each one works to strengthen the others.

These few words tell us a lot about God. The invitation is evidence of God’s love—no one is forcing him to draw us closer to his sustaining presence. God knows we are broken, that we are thirsty, and he still loves us. God is trustworthy, the Creator who sustains the universe will also give us the waters we need.

Check out the rest of Isaiah 55 to find out how much his waters will costs us.

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Inward life

When God Abandons You

“For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back.” (Isaiah 54:7)

God is everywhere, but he is in some places more than most. This doesn’t really make much sense and that’s because our finite minds cannot fully understand or explain the Infinite God. Somehow, “more” of God’s presence was in the tabernacle and this scripture speaks to “less” of God’s presence.

So while God is everywhere–there are no gaps in his understanding or attention or power–God does “pull back” and abandon people.

We don’t know how this works, but we do know why God abandons people (in this case, Israel). It’s actually quite simple and unsurprising: God abandons people who are disobedient, those who reject him and his ways.

Another question pops up: How much rejecting does a person need to do before he experiences abandonment from God? I think this is a bad question…or at least the wrong question. This is like asking, “How far can I flirt before I’ve cheated on my spouse?” Scripture doesn’t give us a solid line that fits every person and every situation.

Instead, let us then concern ourselves with absolute obedience and devotion. This will drive us closer to God which is better than wondering how far we can wander from him.

When we fall short, failing enough to be abandoned by God, there is hope. We can trust that we have been abandoned by a God who has deep compassion. He will bring us back. Israel returned home from captivity. Nineveh’s repentance averted destruction. Peter was reinstated. Paul was confronted and called to apostleship.

Let us take hope when we are abandoned by the God of deep compassion, for he will bring us back after a brief moment.

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Inward life Discipleship

Are You Spiritually Healthy?

What does it mean to be spiritually healthy? Let’s get a little more specific: Were you spiritually healthy yesterday?

Answering this question is easy. Sure, it’s a little personal, but coming up with an honest answer is something most of us could do without much effort.

The next question goes a little deeper:  Why did you give that answer? How do you gage your spiritual health?

Answering this question is tough. You could skip it by thinking, “My spiritual health is based on how I feel.” It takes courage and hard work to come up with a wise answer that’s based on scripture.

The first 10 verses of John 15 uses the word “REMAIN” 11 times–that’s a lot! And it’s not like John lost his Jerusalem Thesaurus, he was intentional with his language. It’s clear that remaining in Jesus is important. But what does it actually mean to remain in him? According to Jesus, there are clear evidences of maintaining a healthy connection with him. We can move beyond guessing about our spiritual health, we can know with confidence. In this passage, we find at least four evidences:

Bearing Fruit — “Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (v. 4).
A healthy vine bears fruit, that is it’s purpose. In this passage, Jesus doesn’t specifically describe what fruit looks like. The Bible has a lot to say about bearing fruit, Galatians 5:22-23 is a popular passage. Sticking with this text, we can know we are remaining in Jesus when we do what he created us to do.

Jesus’ Words In Us — “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you” (v.7).
We are spiritually healthy when God’s Word is on our minds. This could be reading (or listening to) the Bible, memorizing a scripture, or meditating on a verse. If we go a whole day or a week without thinking about Jesus’ words, we are missing the mark.

Answered Prayers — “Ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (v.7).
Remember, context is always important when understanding scripture. This promise assumes that we are remaining in Jesus, bearing fruit and keeping Jesus’ words in us. Answered prayer is also evidence of remaining in Jesus. When was the last time you asked for something from God and received it? This is one way you can know you are remaining in him.

Obedience — “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love” (v.10)
Obedience is the foundation for remaining in Jesus, everything in the spiritual life begins and ends with obedience. This is not a matter of earning God’s favor, as Jesus say earlier in this passage, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (v. 3).  We can know if we are remaining in Jesus if we do what he tells us to do.

 

Consider your yesterday: Did you bear fruit? Did you keep Jesus’ words close? Were any of your prayers answered? Ultimately, did you obey Jesus?

 

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Inward life Discipleship

Can Anything Good Come From Feeling Hopeless?

The people in the Bible are far from perfect. It’s actually quite refreshing.

Job asks a question and makes a declaration that don’t paint a pretty picture of faithfulness to God. Job was hopeless and it was real, raw, visceral:

“Why then did you bring me out of the womb?
I wish I had died before any eye saw me.” (Job 10:18)

It’s okay to question your very existence with despair. To be human is to hope; and to be human in a broken world means that we will loose hope. We will trust in the wrong things and be disappointed. Situations will spin out of control and we will suffer loss. It’s normal to feel hopeless at times. It’s my opinion that those to never loose hope lead unexamined lives.

Job’s life was terrible. An while our tragedy may never compare to his, personal pain and loss and suffering is real. Comparisons are largely irrelevant.

Although Job’s question seems to be an expression of feeling, there is a rational side to it. Honestly asking his question can lead to greater wisdom. We ought to ask God for his design on our life. The Creator of the heavens and the earth has a plan for everyone.

Hopelessness can be a time to reboot and rediscover what’s really important. Thinking honestly about the trajectory of our lives is a good thing, even if it’s painful.

Job’s declaration is heartbreaking. When we see these kinds of feelings in others, we ought to respond with love and compassion. When we find this kind of hopelessness in our own hearts, we must do our best to seek God’s presence, which is more powerful than rational answers.

Hopelessness can lead to greater humility, which means depending on God because we’re convinced that we can’t live with out him.

If hopelessness leaves to greater surrender, we have found something good, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

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Inward life

Who Will Rescue Us?

“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me… What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:21-24)

In this world, on this side of eternity, life is difficult and draining. Every failure creates conflicting feelings that are hollow and heavy. Daily, we are:

  • shamed by sins
  • ensnared by passions
  • enslaved by fears
  • burdened by cares
  • entangled by vanities
  • surrounded by errors
  • worn out by labors
  • oppressed by temptations
  • weakened by pleasures
  • tortured by want**

In light of all that we are facing, who will rescue us? Where can find deliverance? Where do we look to find the essential help we desperately need?

“Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)

Salvation isn’t a gift that begins the moment we die. That would be gift enough, but there is more. Salvation is also help for the problems we face today. In Jesus we can rely on God’s strength. There are many situations and circumstances beyond our control that threaten to overwhelm us. We are drowning, sinking fast beneath the waters, and we need help.

We cannot WILL IT or WISH IT all away. The strongest among us do not have enough strength. We cannot sustain a lifelong push against  the impurities of the world and in our own hearts.

We can only trust Jesus.

The one who saves us, today and every day into eternity.

 

-MM

**This list is adapted from “The imitation of Christ,” by Tomas A Kempis (chapter 48).

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Inward life

Meet The Controllers

They fear the unknown and hate the unknowable.
They answer questions without questioning answers.

Greet you with a plastic face,
Face their life with an iron fist,
Fractured heart with empty joy.

Predictable is comfortable is predictable.
Cage the dragons, vanish the chaos!
Make life safe like a roller coaster.

Lock it down!
Label it right!
Get it figured out tonight!

The controllers know, but never show:
All their efforts end in pain, and
Misery knows no other company.

Instead of letting go and
In place of looking in,
Indulge they do, in vanity-insanity:

“I can’t control it all, so let’s pretend.”

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Inward life Discipleship Bible Study

No Other Gods

Some thoughts for your personal reflection:

 

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:2-3)

  1. In your own words, write a definition of worship.

  2. Read Exodus 6:6–8.
    What promises did God make to the Israelites? How did God help Israel?

  3. Read Exodus 20:2-3.
    In your opinion, why did God talk about Egypt before giving Israel the 10 commandments?

For you personally, in your own life, how has God worked powerfully for your benefit? How does thinking about God’s faithfulness impact the quality of our worship?

  1. In your opinion, what are some common “gods” that people worship today? Why do you think people choose not to worship God?

  2. For you personally: On whom do you rely? To where does your time, energy, and money go? Who are you trying to impress? Who or what is the center of your life?

  3. Read Psalm 81:1-16. What does this Psalm teach us about how we ought to worship?