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Seven Habits for Spiritual Growth

This week we took a step away from our sermons on Paul's letters to the Philippians so that we could hear from our friends at Every Orphan's Hope and so that Pastor Ed could lay out a framework of spiritual habits and practices that, if followed, can prepare us for spiritual growth.
Our service began with a brief report from Every Orphan's Hope, one of our congregation's mission partners working with orphan children and widows in Zambia.  Pastor Alex interviewed Gary Schneider and Martha Cameron on this important mission, which began 15 years ago, at the peak of the AIDS crisis, and provides orphans with support in a traditional home setting -- bringing orphaned boys and girls together into families led by widows (also affected by the AIDS crisis) who agree to serve as parents for the children.
The mission has grown substantially, and now includes Bible camps, and two for-profit companies that now provide job opportunities for the children as they get older. 
In addition to all of this good news, one of the first children brought into the program, Lubasi, graduated from Law school in 2017.  The mission team anticipates that over 55 children will be graduating from the program in the next 5 years -- so the team is looking to expand their efforts to support other children in need.
For those interested in this mission, more information can be obtained at their website
For our sermon this week, Pastor Ed began by telling us that we would be taking a brief detour from our sermon series on spiritual growth in order to examine some of the important habits and practices that make such growth possible.
The overwhelmingly full nature of our busy lives doesn't allow much room for growth -- so if we don't mindfully develop habits and practices that open up space in our lives, we may find the process of spiritual growth to be slow and difficult.
So.. what spiritual habits and practices might be helpful?
Habit 1.  Use your resources with wisdom and purpose.
Although this habit pertains to things far beyond our money and time, it is sufficient for this discussion to develop two practices.
The first important practice is giving -- and by this we mean not only the tithe, but also giving of ourselves beyond the tithe in service to others.
The second important practice is time management.  With today's increasingly hectic schedules, we must be careful to first set time aside for God.  Failing this, it is very likely that our schedule will become our master -- for as Paul says in Ephesians 5: 15-16  “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil."
Habit 2. Practice creative devotion.
This habit includes two well known practices.  The first is reading the Bible and the second is Prayer.   How you do these two practices is largely up to you -- but both of these practices have the potential to create significant dividends in your spiritual life.
Habit 3. Open your life to people in need.
The first important practice associated with this habit is to participate at some level in short term missions.  Serving others is an important facet of our faith -- and supporting those who have been called to the mission field is a meaningful way to open your life to people in need.
A second important practice involves simplifying your life so that you have time and space available for others.  In our overly demanding lives, the process of simplification helps us to recognize what is truly important.
Habit 4. Uplift God's character.
For many of us, this habit may seem obvious.  After all -- isn't this why we come to church?  Interestingly, the practices associated with this habit are more difficult than we might initially think.
The first habit is confession of our sins.  By this we are not talking about the type of confession that you might see in the movies -- but rather, the true confession of our sins to those who love us enough that they will help us and hold us accountable as we seek to Glorify God in the conduct our daily lives.
The second practice associated with this habit is the memorization of scripture.  Given your hectic schedule memorizing scripture might seem difficult -- but doing so gives us something that we can draw upon at any time.  As the Psalmist says in Psalm 119:11 "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you."
Habit 5. Tell others about Jesus.
The two practices associated with this habit are somewhat straightforward.  The first practice is to simply share your own story with others.   How has Jesus affected you?  What does he mean to you?  How has he changed or added to your life?  What does his love mean to you?
The second practice is even easier.  Here we only need to practice kindness when and where it is needed.  In today's mean streets, everyone could benefit from a little kindness -- and it is one of the best ways to share our Savior with those who would otherwise not know him.
Habit 6. Invest in community
When hearing this habit, one might be reminded of the first, but here we are not talking about tithing or setting time aside for God.  Instead, we are talking about the time we invest in each other.   The first practice is to meet with each other regularly.   This practice is important not just because we need it personally, but also because without our presence there is no community.  And without that community we cannot get the encouragement that we so deeply need. (see Hebrews 10:24-25)
The second practice that is important for this habit is service.  No community can survive without the service of its members, and the practice of service by each individual can transform a weak community into a strong one. (see 1 Peter 4:10)
Habit 7. Nourish others out of personal wholeness.
The first practice associated with this habit is counseling.  One might think that this practice and the second practice (mentoring) are activities for the select few, but this analysis would not be entirely accurate.  We are called to help and to support each other -- and this we can do well if we do so in a spirit of humility and with knowledge of our own limitations.  
Ultimately, the strength our Christian community will be built upon the degree to which each of us allow Jesus to work in our individual lives.  These habits and their associated practices can help each of us to build a firm foundation for spiritual growth.

Spiritual Growth: Shining Like Stars

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Today before the sermon began, Nicki got up front and talked with us about a project we're doing for Lent.  We've got a few hundred stones in the lobby by the cafe, and they have words or phrases written on them.

Everyone gets to take a stone.  Put it in your pocket during the week, and use it as a reminder to think about the Lord.

We can exchange stones each Sunday.  Write your name on the stone you're returning, and we can also pray for each other.  We will have a place to write and post your experiences with the stones - our stone stories.

Then Pastor Ed Allen continued his sermon series on Spiritual Growth in the book of Philippians, looking at Philippians 2:12-18 this week.

He focused mainly on the verse, "Do everything without grumbling or arguing."

Paul had something big in mind:  Don't let your petty hurt feelings or small-minded disagreements weaken God's work through you.

We Northern Virginians need this - we have a reputation for being highly demanding.

Our demandingness drives us into unnecessary disagreements that weaken God's work in us.

The context for this principle began at the end of chapter 1:  "Stand firm in one spirit, contending as one person for the faith of the gospel."

And in chapter 2:  "Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."

This passage had a "Therefore:"  "Therefore . . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling."

Does that contradict Paul's teaching that we're justified by faith through God's grace?

No, we're freely justified as a gift of God, not based on good works.  (See Romans 3:23-24; 4:4-5; 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9)

Paul uses "justification" to talk about what God has done for us.  He uses the word "salvation" to talk about our experience with God now.

We can't work at our justification, but we can enrich our experience with God now.  We can deepen our connection with God, once we have it.

This is not casual Christianity!  This series is about spiritual growth, not spiritual idling.

He immediately reminds them even that is from God's work in them (even the desire).

He could have talked about a lot of things - sexual immorality, greed, pride, etc.  Instead he talks about complaining and arguing.

Complaining and arguing put us in a very bad place.  Simmering conflict does tremendous damage.  Conflicts can weaken God's work in us and through us.

Conflict impacts three areas:

1.  It threatens our character.  ("so that you may become blameless and pure")

2.  It threatens our ministry and influence.  ("as you hold out the word of life")

3.  It threatens the ministry of others and God's overall reputation.  ("that I did not run or labor for nothing")

Paul has in mind the grumbling of the Israelites in the wilderness, who were called a "warped and crooked generation."

Don't let God's work be threatened by our petty disagreements!

Our faith doesn't center on the good we do or how much we know -- it's centered on how much we love.

Christianity happens in the context of our relationships.  It's tied in with selfish ambition and vain conceit in the previous section.

Do you realize how many opportunities there are to argue and complain?

People of God, let's not do it!

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