Meanderings of a Minister

Diagnosing Your Spiritual Health

Don Whitney, in his book Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, gives the following ten questions as a means of determining if you are growing in your faith, treading water, or actually backsliding:

  1. Do you thirst for God?
  2. Are you governed increasingly by God’s Word?
  3. Are you more loving?
  4. Are you more sensitive to God’s presence?
  5. Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others?
  6. Do you delight in the bride of Christ?
  7. Are the spiritual disciplines increasingly important to you?
  8. Do you still grieve over sin?
  9. Are you a quicker forgiver?
  10. Do you yearn for Heaven and to be with Jesus?[1]

Chances are very good, if you are like most Christians, you have not really spent much time thinking about these things lately.  Whitney suggests that these questions provide a sort of spiritual pulse in the life of a growing believer.  If you answered know to most or all of these questions, you are probably spiritually backslidden, or perhaps not yet a believer.  If you answered no to some of the questions, but not most, you may be seeing the beginning of a spiritual growth problem.  If you answered yes to all of the questions, honestly, then you are growing and are probably relatively healthy.  If you are offended to be asked, you probably have some other issues.

“So what do I do if I am not doing so well in growing spiritually?”  I am glad you asked!  Jesus addressed this in his letter to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:5 “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent.”[2]  The best place for you get help in these and other matters is your local church.  I am not saying you must go to my church in order to grow.  That would be prideful and ridiculous!  But you must attend a Bible-believing church that preaches and teaches and disciples people in the Word of God.  With the holidays on us shortly, what a great time to plug in to a local church and get started making some good habits that could just make this your best year yet!

[1] Donald S. Whitney, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, Navpress, Colorado Springs, CO, 2001.

[2] New American Standard Bible, The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA, 1995.


Where Do God’s Blessings Come From?


Chances are good that, if you turn on the television and tune into a religious channel, you will hear a lot about God’s blessings.  You will hear that God wants to bless you beyond your wildest imagination.  You will hear that God’s main concern is that you be happy, fulfilled, wealthy and blessed.  Actually, they are right!  But, many times, they are just as wrong.  Allow me to explain.

First, we need to understand what blessing means from God’s perspective.  The word for blessing in the Old Testament actually comes from a root word that means to prepare.  It is a word that, properly translated, means much more than just stuff.  So many times we think blessing means that we get a new car, new home, lots of money, etc.  Sometimes this is the case because God gives us those things in preparation for what He wants us to do and do with them.  This is not always the case.  God equally blesses the person that has nothing as He works in his or her life to prepare them for the ministry He has ahead of them.  Sometimes God even uses difficulty to prepare us to be useful for His Kingdom!

Consider the story of the widow in 2 Kings 4:1-7.  Her husband has died, the food is gone, and the creditors are going to take her two sons away as payment for her husband’s debts.  She is at the absolute end of her rope.  She has nowhere to turn; however, she does have one last desperate choice.  She goes to Elisha, the prophet, and asks for his help.  With the desperation that we can only see in a mother that trying to keep her family together and her home intact, she cries out to God through His prophet.  Much to her chagrin, the prophet asks what she wants him to do?  She has no answer.  He asks what she has left in her house.  She replies that she only has a little bit of oil and that is it.

This is the chance where she has a choice to make.  She has presented her request to God and He has responded by asking her to give up the little she has.  That would probably not make for a successful television ministry, but it was what God wanted.  Faced with this call to action, the widow had a chance to obey or not obey.  By not obeying, she could protect the little she had and continue to find a way out that was more appealing or popular.  If she obeyed, she would have to trust that God knew what He was doing and would take care of her.  She chose to obey even though it made no sense from a human standpoint.  What did she receive?  God’s blessing.  In this case it was stuff, but it was not the stuff that mattered.  It was her obedience that taught her to trust God and provided her example for us that mattered and still does.  Her difficult circumstance was the blessing!

What are you facing right now that is tempting you to question the goodness of God?  What are you going through right now that is not what you wish it would be?  What difficulty is threatening to crush you?  Perhaps, just perhaps, this might be God blessing you, not with stuff, but with the opportunity to obey and learn about Him, grow closer to Him and be used more by and for Him.  Maybe instead of searching the television channels for a person to make you feel guilty and inferior because of what you are going through, you should spend that time talking to the One in charge of your circumstances and ask for Him to guide you through it.

Looking Back to Look Forward (Psalm 103)
January 6, 2013, 5:46 pm
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Bless the Lord (Psalm 103)In this message, we are encouraged to think about all God has done for us in the past as a means of looking forward to what He is going to do with us, for us, and even in spite of us in the coming year.

Click on the image above to be linked to the audio for this week’s message.

Ten Ways to Kill Sin, Part II
March 3, 2012, 1:55 pm
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Last week, I began an article based upon on article I had read in Revive! Magazine.  In the article, author and evangelist, Brian G. Hedges, gave ten ways to kill sin.  During the Lenten season, and with Easter looming closer and closer, many of us may have gotten weary in the resistance to whatever it is that we have set ourselves aside from to focus on our relationship with Christ.  Hedges takes the battle one step further by addressing Colossians 3:5, which says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:  sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  This article continues that article from last week.

To review, Hedges told us the first five ways to kill sin are as follows:

  1. Yield yourself to God.
  2. Accept the battle.
  3. Take God’s side.
  4. Make no provision for sin.
  5. Use your sword (the Word of God).
  6. Aim at the heart.  So often we attack the outer manifestations of sin in our lives with no regard for where those sins come from.  Jesus said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”  (Luke 6:45)  In order to truly deal with the issues of sin with which we struggle the most, we must first consider where the sin comes from.  Do you struggle with overeating?  Maybe it is because you are trying to deal with some pain involved with not forgiving.  Do you struggle with lying?  Perhaps it is because you do not really trust God.  Maybe you keep getting involved with affairs because deep in your heart, you believe yourself to not be worth anything more than being someone’s play toy.  Deal with the heart and the behavior will follow.
  7. Replace sin with grace.  So often, the church does a great job of telling people what not to do, but we don’t tell them what to replace it with.  We major on what we are against, but we don’t speak much about what we are for.  True repentance means turning away from sin, but it also means turning to Christ to embrace His grace and forgiveness.  Related to the previous point, this means that we have to find out the virtue that is being violated by our sin and work to cultivate that virtue, with God’s help.
  8. Stay in community.  There is a reason that 1 Corinthians 12 says we have been given gifts for the common good, that Hebrews 10 tells us not to neglect the gathering of the believers, and that most of the instructions about love involves loving one another.  God knows we cannot survive in isolation.  Hebrews 3 tells us to exhort one another daily so that we won’t lose heart in the fight.  Stay connected.
  9. Look to the cross.  Many times, we get tired of the struggle and want to sit back and take it easy and take a break.  We think we have fought long enough and hard enough and little break wouldn’t hurt.  When we are tempted to begin thinking this way, we simply need to think about the cross and realize Jesus did all that was needed for us to be forgiven, without a break.  In addition, the cross reminds us that the battle has been won because, “It is finished.”
  10. Depend on the Holy Spirit.  Paul said, “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”  (Romans 8:13)  We cannot defeat sin in our own power, but only by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We must stay connected to, rely upon and listen to the Holy Spirit as He keeps us from sin, shows us the way out of sin and reminds us we are forgiven of sin.

This Lenten season, stay the course.  Fight the good fight.  Lean on God and others.  Let’s see what God can do with a Christian community of completely dedicated men, women and children that have been through the battle and won the war!

What is Lenten?
February 17, 2012, 8:25 pm
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Before I even begin this article, allow me to say that I am addressing this topic from the perspective from an outsider.  No, I am not an outsider to Christ.  He lives in my heart and is my Lord and Savior.  I mean that I am not from a church that normally practices Lent.  With that being said, what is Lent supposed to be from an outside perspective?  Good question.

First, the Lenten season officially begins with Ash Wednesday in most traditions.  In the Anglican Church, Shrove Tuesday is part of the observance.  Shrove Tuesday is supposed to be a day when people are called to repentance and a refocusing on their relationship with Christ and to spend a time considering the benefits their souls derive from this relationship.  Ash Wednesday is supposed to be a time of the outward show of the inward attitude of being broken over the sins that have crept into our lives lately.  When practiced from the sincere heart of a dedicated believer seeking to grow closer to God in preparation for the remembrance of Christ’s payment for our sins and victory over death, hell, sin and the grave, this can be a powerful experience.  In the Old Testament, the most common expression of sorrow was to tear one’s clothes, mess up one’s hair and to put ashes or dirt on your head to show people an outer picture of the inner turmoil of the soul.  Ash Wednesday attempts to capture this practice and picture.

After the brokenness and repentance that is supposed to accompany the observance of Ash Wednesday comes the observance of a period of self-denial and of continuing to draw close to God.  Ideally, a person would identify a particular activity or interest that is either drawing that person aside from focusing on God or that has mastery over them.  Once identified, that person would commit to set aside that activity or interest and use the time and focus normally invested in that activity or interest to focus on Christ and their relationship with Him.  For instance, let’s say that I have noticed that food has taken an inordinate amount of my time and focus.  Perhaps I know this because I have gained weight or I just feel that I am eating too much (gluttony) or I am spending too much on food (poor stewardship) and this has caused me to spend less time with Christ either because I am tired from carrying around the weight or I don’t have time to spend with God because I am always cooking, shopping or planning my next meal.  Once I have identified food as a problem, I might decide to forego a meal each day to spend that hour or thirty minutes reading Scripture or praying.  Maybe it is television that I need to adjust or eliminate.  Maybe it is internet, social networking, magazines, hobbies, friendships, etc.   I would decide to set myself aside from whatever it is for the purpose of spending time drawing near to God.

Once I have identified the divider and committed to set myself aside from that thing, I then begin to draw near to Christ.  I can do this a number of ways.  I can spend that time praying, reading Scripture, serving a ministry of my church, witnessing to friends, inviting people to church, or any other activity that helps me to focus more clearly on Christ.  The goal to this observance, from an outside perspective, is that by the time Good Friday is here, I have drawn so close to Christ that I can better understand the payment He made for my sins and I can continue to draw near to Him for the rest of my life.  Easter then becomes an awesome celebration instead of a somber reminder because I have already been reminded.

With all of that being said, I must also say that there is nothing described above that should not mark my life daily as a follower of Christ.  Perhaps Lent just provides me an external reminder of what should already be happening in the quietness of my heart.  If this is the case, then it can be an awesome time.  If not, I am just giving up something I didn’t need to do stuff that will not last.  Which one would you prefer?

Time for a Faith Check
February 10, 2012, 8:20 pm
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We are just over a month into the new year.  How are you doing on your resolutions?  Chance are very good that many of those heartfelt goals and dreams have long been dashed upon the rocks of reality.  The thing about resolutions is that they are usually set so absolutely that, once broken, they are abandoned because they become untenable.  For instance, I resolve to read my Bible every day.  The first day I miss reading my Bible, I can never fulfill the resolution because I was supposed to be resolved to read every day.  This can lead to checking out completely.

If one of your resolutions was to grow in your relationship to Christ, I would like to help by giving you a way to check on this progress in a way that does not leave you checked in or checked out, but gives you a scale to see where you are and if you are making progress.  These questions are taken from messages I have been preaching lately and I find them helpful for taking our spiritual temperature.

  1. Are you preparing to receive God’s blessing?  (Are you doing those things that need to be done to be used for His glory?  Are you reading your Bible for application, praying for relationship, serving using the gifts He has given you and sharing the gospel and what you have with those that are in need?)(2 Kings 3)
  2. Are you crying out to God for His help to grow?(2 Kings 4:1-7)
  3. Are you obeying what God has told you in the past?  (2 Kings 4:1-7)
  4. Are you believing that God wants to bless you and use you to bring Him glory?  (2 Kings 4:8-17)
  5. Do you believe God CAN bless you and use you to bring Him glory?  (2 Kings 4:8-17)
  6. Are you desperate for God’s help to the point you won’t let go until you see Him working?  (2 Kings 4:18-37)
  7. Are you thanking God for the work He has already done in saving you and growing you thus far through your journey of walking with Him?  (2 Kings 4:18-37)

This is a good start to begin to look at your spiritual growth this year.  Next week, we will add to this list from more of the book of 2 Kings.  When considering the above questions, don’t answer yes or no, but ask how you are doing in growing.  Are you dead and not growing (1) or are you humming along and growing greatly (10)?

Based upon your assessment, what need to change?  Why not pray right now and ask God to help you move more towards growing greatly (10) no matter where you find yourself?

A Strange Reading for Christmas
December 20, 2011, 7:29 pm
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At a time when much of our nation is singing, “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night”, I found myself reading the book of James.  I have been reading the Bible through once again and I happen to come across the book of James again.  At first, I thought, “What a strange reading for Christmas time!”  The more I think about it, this is the perfect reading for Christmas.  Let me explain.

First, James was the brother of Jesus, but did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah until after Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.  It took something more than just faith in Jesus’ words to convince James to follow his half-brother as Lord.  For many people, Christmas is a time of empty words.  They are words about being thankful for Jesus’ birth, but no belief in Who Jesus is.  He is Lord.  He is Sovereign.  He is Savior.  He is God the Son.  He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father, but through Him.  He is not one of many ways, but THE WAY!

Next, the focus of the book of James is holding on to Jesus, in persecution and tribulation, while He is holding on to you.  For many, Christmas is a time that reminds them of the pain of life.  They remember lost loved ones, broken families, isolation and even bad financial choices that have led them to be unable to celebrate as they would desire.  James challenges us to hold on to Jesus and to cry out to Him when we don’t understand the difficulty we are going through.  This is called faith.  Many people get mad at God when facing difficulty.  James says, if you are a believer, this is the time of forging the strength of life and faith.  Hold on!

Lastly, and this might just be the most important lesson of James, he says that faith without works to show others (and ourselves) that our faith is real, is just fooling ourselves.  Now, that is not to say that works can save us.  No matter how much offering we give, how many church services we attend, how many “Hail, Mary”’s we say, pilgrimages to Mecca, years spent riding a bicycle as a missionary, or magazines we hand out can save us.  Salvation has always been, and always will be, be grace, through faith and not of works.  James is not telling us to do enough to save ourselves.

So, what IS James telling us?  That it is not enough to pay lip service to God.  He is not mocked.  He knows the difference between a professor and a possessor.  He knows the difference between someone that sings “Joy to the World” and someone that has embraced the Joy of knowing the One Who made the world.  If we truly believe in God, then that belief, that faith, should produce works that indicate that belief and faith.  James goes on to say that religion that is pure and undefiled is that which cares for widows and orphans and remains unstained by the world.  At Christmas time, this is extremely important and difficult.  What does this mean?  How about giving gifts, but not expecting to receive any?  How about giving to those that cannot benefit you in any way?  How about giving to God by giving to others?  But it is more than that.

During this Christmas season, consider how we might give ourselves more fully to God.  Would you join me in praying to God this prayer?

“God, I want to know You so intimately and deeply that all doubt is driven away, both in my own heart and soul and in the minds of those that observe my life.  I don’t want this so that I can have people praise me, but so that they will praise You.”