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Spiritual Growth: What is it? How does it happen? And why bother?

After our wonderful traditional New Year's Brunch last week, this week we were back in our regular service, and Pastor Ed Allen began a new series on Spiritual Growth - from the book of Philippians.  Today he set up the series by looking at the story of the time Paul (the writer of Philippians) visited the city of Philippi, from the account in Acts 16:6-40.

He made five observations about Paul in this chapter.

1)  Paul's life is directed by God alone.

He wasn't directed by profit, ease, custom, or habit.  He spent his time praying, wondering, thinking about what God would want.  In this passage he even followed a dream.  It seemed clear that God wanted them in Philippi - where they faced hardship. 

2)  Paul was undeterred by difficult circumstances.

This is one of the goals of spiritual growth!  Prison ends up enhancing his ministry.

Studies have shown that one of the best predictors of success is Grit.  Paul showed spiritual grit.

Grit is a passion for long-term goals.  It's living life like a marathon, not a sprint.

Paul's grit grew out of his singular focus.  Every circumstance in his life is bent in the direction of declaring God's story.  He's not looking to circumstances for his contentment.

Spiritual focus may be the key to Grit.

3)  His message speaks of a personal connection to God and it requires of his hearers that they make a personal decision about that connection.

This is always the starting point for spiritual growth.

Our spiritual growth begins by looking outside ourselves to God.  It's critical to look inside ourselves, but the most important step is to look outward.

If you want to remodel your house, the real work doesn't begin until you go to Home Depot and get some resources to work with.

Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?

Connection is the first step in spiritual growth - and it's the way to continue taking steps.

4)  He sees fantastic supernatural things happen around his message, but these are not the point.  The message is always the point.

Paul saw crazy things and he expects that you and I will, too.

An earthquake happened so the doors flew open and their chains fell off!  But Paul only used it as an opportunity to tell the jailer about Jesus.

5)  Paul does not exert/demand his own rights except in the service of the gospel.

Demandingness isn't part of Paul's character, but it's very much a part of our culture.

Our challenge:  Think about Spiritual Growth this year!

Paul gives us a challenge based in personal testimony.  In Philippians, he asks us to follow his example.

As we think about spiritual growth:

-- Commit ourselves to deciding.

-- Commit to learning how to be directed by God alone.

-- Recognize the ways in which demandingness inhibits spiritual growth.

-- Open ourselves to the profound possibilities of the supernatural.

EXPECT to see God work!


Christmas Eve

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Celebrating our first Christmas in our new building, we had three Christmas Eve services yesterday!

The morning service, at our usual 10:00 time, was especially for kids,  Instead of candles, we placed out glowsticks and bells.  There was the traditional Moravian love feast of cocoa and sweet rolls - and this time we served it in the cafe area afterward.  The place was packed, and we had a joyous time.

At 5:00 was our traditional candlelight service, spreading candlelight while singing "Shine, Jesus, Shine."  This service also ended with cocoa and sweet rolls.

This year we added an 11:00 pm service and ushered in Christmas Day with Communion together.

The music in the 5:00 and 11:00 services was completely different.  Beautiful flute playing was added to the instruments at the late service.

But the Scripture reading and message in the final two services was the same.  I didn't take notes, so it was good I heard it twice - I'd forgotten after hearing it the first time!

The Scripture reading was in Matthew 2 about the wise men.  Pastor Ed gave us four lessons we can learn from the wise men:

1.  God's gift is for all people.

The Magi were foreigners, probably from Persia.

2.  We know about God because He has revealed Himself to us.

Whatever the star was, it came from God.  We don't know about God because we're so clever.  God inserted Himself into the human story by becoming a one of us, beginning as a helpless baby.

3.  This world is a messy place.

This world is the sort of place where babies are slaughtered.

4.  God didn't clean up all the world's mess with the coming of Jesus.

This is something Christians have to explain.  Why aren't all things better now, if God reached out to the world?

Jesus taught more about "the kingdom of God" than any other topic.  But he said that his kingdom was "not of this world" - not of this age.  The world is going to change in "the age to come," and Jesus will restore all things "at the end of the ages."

However, Jesus also said that "the kingdom of God is within you."  So we have seeds of that future kingdom of God in our hearts, because Jesus came and gave us His Holy Spirit.

And that is a reason for Joy and Hope at Christmastime!

Posted by Sondy Eklund with

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