Posts tagged Spiritual growth
Check Out My New Bible Class Series!
Pastor Marcos Torres at Livingston Church
This past year I had the privilege of teaching a series of Bible classes at the Livingston SDA church where I worked as an associate pastor. Now that the year has ended, the entire series of classes is available online for all to enjoy! 

To give the classes a listen go to www.livingstonsda.church/bible-classes

You can also find them on iTunes here or Soundcloud here.

Blessings!
How to Grow in Your Faith

Do you want to grow in your spiritual life but don't know how? Check out this spiritual growth paradigm from Peter the apostle himself. You can read it in its original form at 2 Peter 1:1-11.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.


Peter begins by pointing out that God has given us all we need to live a life in harmony with himself. Nothing is missing. God has called us but he also equips us for the call. This is important because sometimes we feel as though something is missing in our walk with God. But whatever is missing, its not from his end. Its from ours. According to Peter, God has given us everything we need to grow in our faith. Not only that, but God is the one who called us to himself. Even though we don't seek God, God seeks us. He calls us. He reveals himself to us. And when we come to know him, he gives us everything we need to live in harmony with him. But what exactly is it that he gives us that's supposed to help us grow? 


And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

The promises of God are the first practical thing Peter mentions in his letter. These promises are recorded all over scripture and it is these promises that enable us to overcome - or transcend - the corruption in this world. This corruption is caused by human desires which means the corruption is caused by us. This is not a matter of "them and us" its a matter of us. All of us have selfish human desires that breed pain and suffering, and as a result all of us are responsible for the corruption in this world. But the promises of God, says Peter, enable us to "share his divine nature". This means that through them we no longer are left to our nature alone. Instead, we are connected to God in such a way that we are enabled to escape the controlling power of our own corrupt nature. This doesn't mean that we never sin again or that we are perfect, but what it demonstrates is that true authentic faith-living happens when we are connected to God. His love-nature flows through us and buries our selfish nature thus enabling us to rise above it and live lives of authenticity in a corrupt world.

While the Bible is filled with promises all throughout, there is one major promise that is above them all. This promise is what we know to be the gospel. The promise of the gospel is the ultimate promise in all of scripture and is the starting point from which all the other promises hinge. Without a proper understanding of this promise nothing in the spiritual life will ever truly click. This promise is the one that declares that God sent his son to redeem us from our sin despite our sin and that by faith in him we can be forgiven and set free apart from any works of our own. To learn more about the gospel, click here.


In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises.

Part of how we receive Gods promises is by reading them and applying them to our lives. When we read the Bible daily, we are brought into knowledge of Gods promises. Many even commit these promises to memory in order to carry them in their hearts throughout the day. However, Peter goes a step further. He calls us to do more than read and memorize. He calls us to respond


Gods promises are not just pretty sayings that we can put on a picture frame and hang on the wall. They are not just wise sayings to help us feel better. They are powerful life-altering words. But we can only experience their power when we respond to them in practical ways. 

For example, Isaiah writes "You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you" (Isaiah 26:3). Sounds pretty doesn't it? But you wont actually experience that peace unless you respond to the promise by becoming one whose thoughts are fixed on God. But how do you do that? It will not come easily. Becoming one whose thoughts are fixed on God instead of self, or money, or lust (what our thoughts are often fixed on) will require new thinking patterns and this doesn't simply happen. We need to commit to making changes and training our thoughts to be fixed on God. As we do this we will come to trust in God. It is through this trust and God-connection that we will experience "perfect peace". Thus, Peter calls us to "make every effort" no matter how hard, or how challenging, or how long. "Make every effort to respond to God’s promises."

Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence.


Peter continues by calling us to supplement our faith. As James put it, "Faith without works is dead." Those who claim to have faith but whose faith does not translate into practical every-day choices have a dead faith which is equivalent to no faith at all. So Peter calls us, in our journey of spiritual growth, to supplement our faith with moral excellence. In other words, we are to choose, through the power of God, to live morally just lives in harmony with his law of love. He then goes on by saying:

  1. and moral excellence with knowledge, 
  2. and knowledge with self-control, 
  3. and self-control with patient endurance, 
  4. and patient endurance with godliness, 
  5. and godliness with brotherly affection, 
  6. and brotherly affection with love for everyone.
Notice the progression here. Peter is mapping out a practical road for spiritual growth. True spirituality and faith is not about hiding in some monastery and transcending yourself. True faith-growth is about embracing and responding to Gods promises so that we can, in the midst of a corrupt culture, live lives of moral excellence. As we do this, we are called to grow in our knowledge of God and as we grow in knowledge of him we further develop the ability to control our impulses, desires, and natures (we are connected to the divine nature). 

However, this process is not about reaching some sort of finish line. It will last as long as life lasts. We will never reach a point in which we have arrived in this world. As a result, this journey challenges us to develop patience and endurance so that we continue to press on despite our shortcomings and failures. But this patient endurance is not used as an excuse for sin in our lives. Instead, it pours us deeper into godliness. But what is godliness? John says that "God is love" and the life of Jesus, the godliest man who ever lived, is characterized by love not religious discipline and ethical strictness. While Jesus was sinless, his sinlessness is not remembered by what he didn't do but by what he did do: love. Thus, true godliness is growing in love. Therefore, as we grow in godliness we grow in our affection toward those around us and our love for everyone. 

Peter then goes on to say:

The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 


And truly, being a Jesus-follower is not simply about having knowledge and a religious culture to identify with. This knowledge of Jesus leads us to be more productive and useful in this corrupt world. By living like Jesus in our homes, work environments, cities, and places of influence we impact the world around us in eternally significant ways. And that's the real goal of spiritual growth - to get to the place where our faith-journey becomes about others not just ourselves.

But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins. So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

So there you have it. How to grow in your faith from the pen of Peter the apostle himself - a swearing fisherman who was rude, self-centered, and violent and who, for the sake of self-preservation ended up denying Jesus in his hour of greatest need. It is this same Peter who discovered a new way through the promises of God and calls each of us to join him on the journey of spiritual growth. But before you embark on this exciting journey, do not forget that the finish line is not in this world but in the world to come. So long as we live in this world we will have set backs and battles to fight. 


Some people erroneously view the process of spiritual growth as the picture below. A smooth uphill ride from a baby in Christ to a mature believer. Those who view spiritual growth this way are prone to focusing more on their behavior than God's promises. In addition, they are set up for spiritual burnout by thinking that the spiritual journey is about their performance or how good they can do in the process. But reality is a lot more like the picture underneath this one.



In the picture beneath we have a more accurate depiction of spiritual growth. There is a finish point (second coming of Jesus, heaven) but the journey there is anything but smooth. There are battles and setbacks all along. This is why we need patient endurance. This is not a journey of perfection. This is not about how good we perform. Its about God giving us grace and forgiveness and picking us up as we fall. And just in case we are prone to excuse our failures and treat them lightly Peter calls us to balance our patient endurance with a thirst for godliness.

In the end, its really simple: Know God. Enjoy the journey. Don't beat yourself up. Remember its not about being perfect. Jesus is perfect and he covers you with himself. And with that promise in mind thirst after more and more godliness - a life characterized by selfless, other-centered love. That's spiritual growth.




What I Hate About Memorizing Scripture



Every Jesus-follower knows that memorizing scripture is super important to spiritual growth. Paul the apostle said "the word of God is alive and active" (Hebrews 4:12). As such, when we memorize the words of this book we are memorizing living words. These living words have many benefits such as power over temptation (Psalm 119:9, 11), prosperity and success (Joshua 1:8), spiritual growth (2 Timothy 3:16), spiritual life (Matthew 4:4), inner peace (Psalms 119:165), wisdom and the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:1-5), spiritual light in the midst of darkness (2 Peter 1:19), and the list goes on. Even Jesus memorized scripture and used it in his fight against Satan (Matthew 4:1-11). Clearly, memorizing scripture is essential to the spiritual journey of the Christian.

As true as all this is, lets be real. Half of us don't memorize scripture. Many have not even memorized a new verse in the last year. How come? Why is it that something as important to our spiritual development is left undone? A million answers can be given to this such as wrong priorities, spiritual indifference or "coldness", daily distractions, business, etc. And while all of these are true I would like to propose the reason why I have always hated memorizing scripture: The reference.

Yep. That's it. The reference. For some reason I cant seem to remember that stuff. And when I finally manage to get it in my head a few weeks later its gone again. Growing up my friends always struggled with this. I struggled with it. We all struggled with it. But we kept being told that the reference was important because without it you would not know where the text was found. True as this may be it led me (and I'm sure many others) to an unfortunate conclusion: Memorizing scripture is worthless if you don't memorize the reference and since I can't memorize the reference I won't bother memorizing scripture anymore.

I lived with this unfortunate conclusion until one day the Bible slapped me (remember, this books alive) with something I had never noticed before. Jesus and the New Testament writers quoted the Bible all the time without any referencing. Now of course, chapter and verse divisions didn't exist back then. However, don't you think God would have inspired them from the beginning if they were so important? He didn't because they aren't. Allow me to give some examples:

When Jesus was tempted by Satan (Matthew 4) he used the scriptures as a defense. Three times he quoted the Bible by saying "It is written". Not once did he say where. While there were no chapter and verse divisions back then he could have at least mentioned what book the texts came from. He didn't.

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5) are loaded with Old Testament allusions (not a word for word quote but very similar). For example, in verse 5 Jesus says "Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth." This is an allusion to Davids Psalm where he says "But the meek will inherit the earth; and will delight themselves in the abundance of peace" (Psalm 37:11). Jesus doesn't reference David. In fact, he hardly ever references the scriptures he quotes.[1] 

Jesus is not the only one. The strongest example of this is Paul himself. Paul, a former Pharisee, would have known the Old Testament more than the average Joe. And yet notice how he quotes the Old Testament from time to time:


But there is a place where someone has testified: "What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him? (Hebrews 2:6) 
For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: "On the seventh day God rested from all his works" (Hebrews 4:4).

Couldn't Paul have said "David wrote in the Psalms 'What is mankind...?'" or, "In Genesis Moses wrote 'On the seventh day...'"? Instead Paul says, "Somewhere he has testified" and "From somewhere he has spoken". Like Jesus, Paul does not even make an attempt to reference where these texts come from. All he says is that they are "somewhere" in the OT. In the same vein, the NT quotes the OT tons of times and it hardly ever references what its quoting.[2]

So what am I saying? This, I'm sure, is a question most of you are asking. Am I suggesting that we throw away references and just memorize Bible verses without them? Yes and no. I'll deal with the no first and then the yes.

No.

In case you haven't noticed, this blog post is loaded with Bible verse references. It would be ridiculous for me to use them in a blog about not using them wouldn't it? But that's not what this blog is about. The chapter and verse divisions, while not inspired, where nevertheless permitted by God and they make finding relevant texts much easier. In a day and age where the Bible gets misused and misquoted people appreciate being able to see the text for themselves. Knowing the reference makes it easier for us to do so. However, I quote the Bible to non-Christian friends all the time without using the references and I have never been asked "Where is that?" So ultimately, I see the references as helpful but not always necessary. 

Yes.

As mentioned above, references are helpful, but here is my point: they are not necessary for spiritual growth. When it comes to memorizing scripture for spiritual growth you don't have to know where the text is found. I know many verses that I meditate on or quote when in need and I have no idea where they are found, and yet, they are just as effective. The power of living words do not rest on where they are found in a book but on where they are found in your heart. So if you shy away from memorizing scripture because of those pesky references that you just can't seem to grasp, then forget the references and memorize scripture anyhow. The power is in what God said, not the chapter and verse number that we added decades later.

So in conclusion, Bible references are a commodity not a necessity. If they bog you down, then don't get discouraged. Forget the references and start memorizing scripture anyhow. Perhaps, as you mature, the references will become easier to memorize (or maybe not). But the point is hide Gods word in your heart anyhow.


"I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." - David

___________

[1] This is not to say he never does. For example in Matthew 24:15 Jesus says "When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet..." This is a clear reference to the OT book of Daniel. The point is not that Jesus never referenced the texts but that he hardly ever does.

[2] Again, this is not to say it never uses the available references. For example, In Peters sermon recorded in Acts 2 Peter references David (34-35) when he quotes him.

photo credit: couragextoxlive via photopin cc
Crossfit Christianity: What the Worlds Toughest Sport Taught Me About My Faith
photo credit: Runar Eilertsen via photopin cc




















I hate running on the treadmill, so whenever I do I make sure to watch something on my Kindle in order to distract myself from the horrendous boredom of running without moving. And that is exactly what I was doing a few weeks ago when I watched Test of Fitness, a documentary about creating the ultimate test of fitness, the CrossFit Games. While I am not a Crossfit athlete (I prefer Baristi Workout), I do have a ton of respect for the sport and enjoy watching all their youtube videos and competitions. However, I never expected a sport I watch from afar to actually impact my spiritual life, but it did.

In order for me to explain the spiritual impact Crossfit had on me, I first have to explain their philosophy of fitness. In Crossfit, fitness is not measured by how well you perform at a task you trained for but by how well you perform at a task you did not train for. In other words, Crossfit defines fitness, not as what you are capable of when everything is in your favor but as what you are capable when everything is against you. As such, the Crossfit game organizers keep the events that the athletes will compete in a total secret. None of the competitors know what they are going to have to do when they show up to the games. Unlike the Olympics where runners know they will run, how far they will run, and how fast they need to do it in, Crossfit athletes have no idea. While they know they are going to do pullups they have no idea how many will be required of them or what event they will have to compete in immediately after. Thus, in order to prepare for the games Crossfit athletes have to include a ton of variety in their fitness program that builds every aspect of physical strength, agility, endurance, and power as much as possible with the hope that come game day their body will be capable of performing tasks they have never done before.

Sounds crazy, but this is the reason why Crossfit athletes are regarded as the fittest people on earth. Unlike Olympians who train for 1-3 events, Crossfitters train for much, much more and then test their abilities in ways that are often out of their comfort zones. Why do they do this? Again, it all boils down to Crossfit's philosophy of fitness. How well are you capable of performing in events you haven't prepared for? That's the true test of fitness.

And then it hit me. It's so easy to be like Jesus when I have money. The cushion of being financially stable eliminates a ton of stress that magically turns me into a lovely person. Same goes with sleep. Give me 8 hours of sleep and I'll be the best Christian you've ever seen. Food? Health? Friends? A nice house, car, and a job? You give me all that and yes, I will be a phenomenal Christian. But take away my food, my sleep, my comfortable bed and my money, give it a few days for me to really feel the pinch, and wallah - you will have yourself an irritated, unloving, easily angered maniac who questions God and whines more than a violin. But what if true Christianity is more like Crossfit? What if being a Jesus follower is meant to be more like the worlds toughest sport? In other words, what if true Christianity is measured, not by how well you reflect Jesus when everything is in your favor but by how well you reflect him when the whole world seems to be against you. No money. No job. Little sleep. Bad health. Lonely. Still loving. That's the true test of faith. 

Now that is what I want my Christianity to be like. I don't want to be spiritually fit enough to handle the easy stuff. I don't want to be spiritually fit enough to conquer the ant hills. I want a spiritual fitness that works when the tough stuff comes, the kind of stuff there's no Bible verse for. The kind of stuff no one preaches about. The kind of stuff that takes you to your breaking point. I want the spiritual fitness of Jesus who, though hungry, tired, and lonely, overcame the devil in the desert against impossible odds. And the only way to have this spiritual fitness is to daily surrender to Jesus and daily seek a deeper experience with him. It requires intentional seeking, intentional surrender, and intentional faith. As Paul said,
Athletes in training are very strict with themselves, exercising self-control over desires, and for what? For a wreath that soon withers or is crushed or simply forgotten. That is not our race. We run for the crown that we will wear for eternity. So I don’t run aimlessly. I don’t let my eyes drift off the finish line. When I box, I don’t throw punches in the air. I discipline my body and make v it my slave so that after all this, after I have brought the gospel to others, I will still be qualified to win the prize (1 Cor. 9: 25-27).