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Spiritual Growth: Excellence

This morning, Pastor Ed Allen continued his series on Spiritual Growth: What is it? How does it happen? And why bother? Today we started looking at the book of Philippians, looking at Philippians 1:1-11.

The focus of today's sermon was Excellence.  Part of what happens in us when we are growing spiritually is that our capacity to choose and do what is absolutely best is enhanced.  It's a super power!  Knowing-and-doing-what-is-best.

Looking at Philippians 1, Paul uses a standard form for opening a letter in Greek at that time.  Only his thanks is offered to God, not to gods.  And the prayer he offers for his hearers in verses 9 to 11 is epic.

Paul lays out a critically important spiritual principle.  The key is: How can I become the kind of person who can consistently approve what is best?

There are Three Challenges to our ability to choose what is best.

1)  We really believe the key to better decisions is more information.

Choices actually get harder when they're very nearly equal.  We get paralyzed because we think the difficulty is because we don't have enough information.  We wish for a Netflix channel that would show us how our future would work out if we went down either path.  But if that existed - it would paralyze us.

More information is not the key to good decision-making.  The key is our love abonding more and more.

2)  We believe our decision-making is improved with more options; the more the better.

Studies have also shown that this isn't true.  Dr. Barry Schwartz, who wrote The Paradox of Choice, says that this idea is flat-out crazy.  We think we'll be happier the more choices we have, but too many options paralyze people.  More choice also produces less satisfaction, because it escalates expectations.

Greater choice leads to paralysis and dissatisfaction.  What we need is love that abounds more and more into knowledge and depth of insight.

3)  We are not good at knowing what makes us happy.

Studies have shown that 5 years after the event, those who have become paralyzed in an accident and those who have won the lottery are equally happy.  We place far too much value on certain events to affect our happiness.  And we are far too easily influenced by extraneous and unimportant factors.

We aren't good at knowing what will make us happy.  We need our love to abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that we may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.

Back at the beginning of Philippians 1, Paul feels joy because of the Philippians' partnership in the gospel - their fellowship and community.

Our community, too, is partnership in God's story.

These Philippians said Yes, and we do, too.

Paul also felt confident in the Philippians - because God was working in them.

Without me, God won't; without God, I can't.

Let's resolve to do our part this year.  God will work!

What God wants for me is for me to be the kind of person who can discern what is best.

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!