Sunday, January 26, 2020

How Do We Measure Spiritual Growth?

We live in a world governed by metrics: we measure our kids as they grow; we measure how well we’re progressing towards our goals; we measure our bank accounts as they grow and shrink, hoping they grow. So when we set spiritual goals, how do we measure our progress?

Churches will often count the people who attend, the number of people serving, or those who make a commitment to Christ. I’m not sure what I think about that. On one hand, it feels good to be part of something that is reaching out to the lost, and knowing the numbers makes it easy to tithe and invite other unbelievers in the hope that they will meet Jesus and come to know Him as Lord and Savior. On the other hand, I’m reminded of when King David took a census (2 Samuel 24).

When David took a census of Judah and Israel, he wanted to assess the nation’s strength. Perhaps he was assessing his power out of pride. Or maybe he was fearful and comparing his strength against the surrounding countries. Or then again, he may have reached a point where he was assessing the nation’s ability to be self-sufficient. In any case, it’s clear that he was not thinking about relying upon God. He was not considering that God whittled Gideon’s army down from over 32,000 to just 300 so it would be clear that God brought the victory (Judges 7). David was not considering how God used him to bring down a giant (1 Samuel 17) or how his friend Jonathan and one other defeated 20 soldiers and created such fear that that the entire enemy army was routed (1 Samuel 14). I’m convinced that part of the early bond between David and Jonathan was their trust in God that was demonstrated in bold action.

But experience and knowledge can create a fear in us, and when we focus on the obstacles instead of the One Who calls each of us into action, it becomes difficult to walk in faith. We ask if God will continue to be there for us (yes, He will!), and we wonder if we can take that step we think He is calling us to do. We may look to our bank account to see if it’s large enough for a day of trouble... or then again God could be telling you to save money just as He used Joseph to store up the abundance before the seven years of famine. It’s not WHAT we measure that matters, it is WHY. Do we trust God will be there for us or do we need to create a Plan B.

Well, we never need a Plan B with God, and He encourages us to take risks while exercising wisdom. I look at the physical warfare in Israel’s history and believe it is analogous to the spiritual warfare in our lives. I believe that Israel’s territory that was never fully conquered is like the spiritual ground that we don’t fight hard enough to claim, and we only capture a portion of the entire land promised to us.

I once asked a pastor about a conference he had attended. He was conflicted with what he experienced and wasn’t sure what he thought about it, so I asked him about the fruit from the conference. He immediately answered as someone used to measuring things in terms of baptisms and public commitments to Christ, citing this as the good fruit of the conference. However, the fruit I was asking about is difficult to measure and is usually only seen over a period of time: the Fruit of the Spirit.

But the spiritual nature produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There are no laws against things like that. ~ Galatians 5:22-23

If you want to measure spiritual growth in yourself, your family or your community, take a look at the Fruit of the Spirit. Looking at yourself first ask yourself:
  1. How frequently do I demonstrate love for others?
  2. Am I joyful?
  3. Is my inner-life filled with peace?
  4. Do I have the patience to work through a situation; do I have patience for others?
  5. Am I kind in my interactions with others?
  6. Can God’s goodness be seen in how I live my life?
  7. Is my faithfulness to God’s ways consistent?
  8. Do I treat others gently?
  9. Do I exercise self-control in private as well as in public?
Likewise, we can assess our community by asking if the culture reflects the Fruit of the Spirit:
Do we demonstrate love for each other?
  1. Are we joyful?
  2. Are our interactions peaceful or combative?
  3. Do we patiently work through issues together?
  4. Are we kind toward others?
  5. Is God’s goodness seen in our lives?
  6. Are we consistently faithful both toward each other and in pursuit of what is right?
  7. Do we demonstrate a gentle approach toward others, including when we disagree?
  8. Are we collectively able to control ourselves in ways that reflect the power of God working through us?
We may live in a time and place where the answers to the above questions are depressing and uniformly resound with: “no”. However, it starts with each of us individually deciding that we want to grow spiritually, acknowledging that we are incapable of changing ourselves, and tenaciously choosing to join God in the work He wants to do in each of us, laying claim to the inner land He has promised for those follow Him and trust in Him.

Remember: we are changed in His presence to be more like Him. How do we measure real spiritual growth? It is demonstrated by the Fruit in our lives. Be the change you want to see.

copyright ©2020 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Doctor’s Orders

Everyone wants to be healthy, but not everyone is willing to take the necessary steps. A doctor can prescribe the medicine, but it’s up to the patient to take it. Thinking further about the Health Wheel this week (see https://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2020/01/2020-vision.html), I’m considering the importance of physical health and how it plays a critical role in our entire outlook.

Maintaining our physical health is a matter of good stewardship. There are things that we can control and things that we can’t. My dad had Multiple Sclerosis, and there were times when he lost the ability to control his limbs. In my personal battle with chronic Lyme disease, I’ve also experienced times when I was literally crippled and unable to walk. However, even in the midst of that helpless situation, I was able to make healthy decisions: how I ate, choosing to exercise in whatever capacity was possible, getting my sleep and taking the medication that was prescribed.  

It’s easy to see the effects of healthy decisions on our physical bodies when we diet and exercise or when we take the prescribed medicine: our health improves, our fat melts away, our muscles grow, our endurance increases, etc. However, as Dr. Daniel Amen points out in the Brain Health 101 podcast, the health of the brain is much less obvious. There’s so much that we are still learning about this critical organ. Being able to think clearly is something that we often take for granted, but as Dr. Amen points out, there are things we can do today to have better brain health in the future. 

Likewise, the health of our soul is not clearly visible, and similar to our brain there are things we can do to nurture our souls (see What a is Soul?). How we choose to build our soul or tear it down is a series of actions and decisions. Ultimately, it is a simple matter of surrendering our will and embracing God’s, fighting against the inertia of our natural resistance until our continued obedience shifts inertia toward our benefit. 

Do you want good health? Then at a minimum you should eat well, get your sleep and exercise. Do you want to represent God well? Then surrender your will to His will: trust and obey. This mental discipline is the food for your soul that nourishes God’s people. Listen to God through prayer and scripture, trust that He is faithful, and obey. 
The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.. ~ Proverbs 27:12
Is God calling you to something? Are you listening? Are you willing to surrender your will to His? The Great Physician prescribes the medicine, but it is up to you to take it and experience the results. 

copyright ©2020 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Godly Man No More

Thinking about a 2020 Vision for myself, I started first with the hub of the wheel, because everything else is meaningless without Spiritual Health. My immediate thought was: “I want to be godly man.” Admittedly this is a pretty broad and lofty goal, and I thought: “Wouldn’t everyone want to be godly?” This idea was quickly followed by: “No, but then not everyone stops to think about their Spiritual Health.” 

But as I contemplated about it further, I realized my desire to be a godly man reflected a lifetime of wrong thinking. It revealed vanity, a focus on self and self-righteousness. Now, I can look at another person and say: “He/She is a godly person!” and there is no vanity or wrongful in the statement, but how can I look at myself for godliness? The very act is both vain and self-righteous, an indication of spiritual pride. No, seeking to be a godly person is the wrong goal and is not a vision for Spiritual Health.

My 2020 Vision for Spiritual Health needed to change. Instead of focusing on self, I decided to focus on service. Rather than be a ‘godly man’, I choose to be God’s man, ready to be used by Him. To be God’s man is a humbling and a scary goal. It acknowledges my dependency upon Him and surrenders any and all goals to be redirected as He chooses, to do as He leads, seeking to trust and obey Him without hesitation. If He is God and we’re not, then this is really the calling of every true believer. 

The problem with service is that it can be exploited by others, so it’s important to know who you serve and that the person is trustworthy. I recall my anxiety decades ago over a decision to follow Christ, asking Him to be Lord of my life. To be completely honest, the daily decision to hand my life to Him is still done with some unreasonable trepidation. Can God be trusted? (Of course, He can!) Will He have me do something that takes me in a different direction? (Probably, but I will be all the better for it!) Can I really trust God? (Again and again, the answer is yes!)

In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, the character Jean Valjean contemplates his own self-direction in conflict with his submission to the will of God. He has risen high above his humble beginnings. He is well-known as a godly man who has brought prosperity to the town which he now governs as mayor, but he hides the secret of his previous life as a convict. In an unexpected turn of events, a look-a-like is caught in a minor crime. Believed to be a repeat offender who is on the run, his doppelganger will receive a life sentence that will certainly kill the man. Sure, the man is guilty of a crime, but he will be suffering the fate that rightly belongs to Jean Valjean. The reluctant mayor thinks of all the good he can continue to do by remaining silent and staying in his current position. His reputation for benevolence and wealth is renowned. So much that even when Jean Valjean arrives at the man’s trial to confess that he, monsieur le mayor, is the renegade ex-con, no one believes him including his former cell mate! With great persistence, Jean Valjean convinces them, and his time as mayor comes to an end. However, his life is made all the richer as he follows God’s leading, and ultimately he is fully redeemed in the life of the girl he raises as a daughter. 

I decided decades ago that my self-direction had limitations and that I made a pretty poor god. My successes led to misery and my failures were anchors. Deciding to follow God’s direction changed everything. He transformed my failures into learning opportunities and successes into unexpected gifts on life’s journey. The idea of being a godly man reeks of self-righteousness, it creates a secret life where the image of godliness displaces our continued and humble need for a Savior. Our Savior, our God, daily redirects our activities to develop us into the kind of people that are useful for His purposes. His purposes are higher than any of our personal or professional goals and more grand than any New Year’s Resolution. I will be all the better if I can just be God’s man, ready to be used by Him.

A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps. ~ Proverbs 16:9

copyright ©2020 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Why Believe the Bible?

Why should any rational person believe the Bible? A common portrayal of a Bible-believer is someone who chooses faith over reason. Sometimes this person is depicted as irrational, blind to all the obvious facts, yet other times the person is super-spiritual, someone who calmly believes in a truth that others are incapable of seeing. While one of these caricatures is more offensive than the other, both illustrations are damaging.

It’s easy to see where the blindly irrational depiction maligns the character of believers, but the super-spiritual portrayal is just as destructive. It promotes spiritual pride in the believer and creates an obstacle for others, implying they just don’t have enough faith. Now it’s true that man is saved by faith, a gift from God, and faith is a confidence in something we don’t yet see. And while we are warned not to lean on our own understanding, I would still insist that faith is neither irrational nor limited to a select few. In fact, the Bible is a big reason why we can have confidence in our belief. Imagine the following scenario:

If I occasionally received a copy of tomorrow’s newspaper, telling me what was going to happen today, and the events in that newspaper happened just as they were described, I’d be a fool to not pay attention, right? I might wonder how tomorrow’s news could be delivered to me a day early, and I certainly couldn’t understand how it came my way or why I should be the one receiving that paper. Regardless, having regularly received tomorrow’s news and seen the results unfold as described, I would act upon the information. I might look through the stocks and invest in sure thing. I could choose to use it for my personal benefit, daily entertainment or to perhaps to help someone in need. For example, if I received the paper for September 12th, 2001 on the morning of September 11th, would it be irrational to try and save the victims of that fateful day? Of course not! People might question where I received my information, but it would immoral to not risk everything to help those who don’t have a copy of tomorrow’s news. 

The Bible is a lot like tomorrow’s newspaper. There are some smart, detail-oriented people who can give all sorts of reasons for why we should believe in the Bible, but I only need this one simple explanation: it describes the end of things from the very beginning. I’m not referring to all the unfulfilled prophecies of scripture and an irrational faith in future events that can’t be proven. Rather, I would direct your attention to what the Bible predicted: 
  • the rise and fall of Alexander the Great (Daniel 8)
  • calling out Cyrus by name as the one who would return the Jewish people to their homeland over 100 years in advance, before their exile (Isaiah 45)
  • Moses predicting how Israel would be made desolate and the people scattered among the nations for their unfaithfulness (Leviticus 26) yet promising that He would never destroy Israel completely (Deuteronomy 4), promising to restore Israel to the land God gave to them (Isaiah 14)

Yet there are still so many other realized promises, not least of which is the gift of a Savior, fulfilled in Jesus. A hundred years ago, who could have imagined that Israel would be restored as a nation? What people is dispersed from their land and 2000 years later returns to it, just as foretold? What other nations have been destroyed for countless generations and then restored? 

So let me ask: Would someone who regularly receives tomorrow’s newspaper have greater faith than someone who never received it? Only if they read the paper and see how accurate it is! It’s easy to think how we’d make use of tomorrow’s newspaper, right? And while our actions would be based on faith that the newspaper was foretelling today’s events, we’d be irrational to disregard the headlines. 

The pulpit has done a disservice to its congregants when not teaching about Bible prophecy. Sure, there have been some who overstepped the realm of teaching and crossed over to speculation, but rather than timidly avoiding the fullness of Scriptural instruction, leadership should have established guidelines for how to teach Bible prophecy as it continues to unfold. We have a copy of our future newspaper, but the date has been removed because no man knows the day nor the hour. We simply know it will happen, just as all the other promises were fulfilled. Pick up your copy today.

copyright ©2020 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2020 Vision

As I wrote on Christmas, we need 3 things to be effective:
  1. a vision for what “it” looks like (i.e. - vision for what we want to accomplish)
  2. awareness of both our inner and outer realities 
  3. walls / guardrails to protect us from distractions. 
I believe this is true regardless of what “it” is. With that in mind, what do you want to be effective in accomplishing in 2020? Make a list and prioritize it, putting the most important thing first. Take a few moments and before reading further.

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