Inputs and Outputs for Growth and Maturity

A few weeks ago I got a copy of Daniel Im’s new book No Silver Bullets in the mail to read and review.

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I got to know Daniel Im by listening to the New Churches podcast that he was part of along with missiologist Ed Stetzer, and was glad to receive this copy of his book, which I have enjoyed reading. What stands out to me about the book is the focus on not looking for a “fixes” or “gimmicks,” but rather simple strategies for how to better pastor and shepherd people towards Christ.

In one section of the book, he references a research study done by Lifeway Research called the Transformational Discipleship Assessment, which took place between 2007-2011 and studied 2500 Protestants in order to determine which “inputs” tended to lead to the greatest amount of spiritual maturity, progress and growth over time.

“Inputs,” according to this study, were spiritual disciplines that a person can do. The “outputs” were indicators of Christian maturity, namely: Bible engagement, obeying God, denying self, serving God and others, sharing Christ, exercising faith, seeking God, building relationships and transparency.

Here are the most interesting finds of the survey:

  1. The most important “input” (spiritual discipline) a person can do to have the greatest impact on their life, is reading the Bible.
    This may sound obvious, but you might be surprised to discover how much this is neglected even in many Christian circles. If you want to grow, and if you want to help other people grow, there is no substitute for the Word of God; reading it, studying it, and teaching it.
  2. One input which most powerfully affected people in spiritual growth was confessing sins.
    The Bible encourages us to confess our sins, both to God and to one another.

    If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
    Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16)
    Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)

    In fact, what was most interesting, was that confessing one’s sins was found to positively influence an individual’s proclivity to share Christ with others.

  3. The three most impactful inputs that the study showed helped people to grow in their faith and as disciples were: reading the Bible, regular church attendance and participation in small groups or classes.

Are those things a part of your life?

“I don’t want any presents, I just want my daddy”

A few weeks ago I was preparing to go out of town for 10 days.

For the past several years I have taken trips like this one to visit different ministries and speak at churches and conferences. Last year when I was preparing to leave, my kids were sad that I was leaving, but when I told them that I would bring them Túró Rudi from Hungary, they cheered up and asked me, “When are you leaving?!”

But this year was different. My daughter was very upset that I was leaving, pretty much to the point of being inconsolable. In an attempt to cheer her up I told her that I would bring her back a present from one of the countries I was visiting, and I asked her what she would like.

Her response broke my heart: through her sobs she said, “I don’t want any presents, I just want my daddy.”

In Exodus 33 there is an interesting story. After God had heard the people’s cries and saved them from slavery in Egypt, brought them through the Red Sea and provided for them in the wilderness and entered into a covenant with them, the people had turned their backs on God and created a golden calf to worship instead. God chose to forgive them for this, but in Exodus 33 he told them: Even though you haven’t kept up your end of our deal, I’m still going to give you the Promised Land. I will send an angel before you, who will protect you and who will give you victory in all the battles you face. BUT… I will not go with you.

Think about what God was saying… He was testing them: Did they only want Him for the things He could give them, or did they actually want Him?

Essentially, God was offering them success, security and prosperity – without Him. He wouldn’t be there to tell them what to do. They could live their lives however they wanted, and they could have everything they wanted.

Sounds like a pretty good deal, right?

But rather than being excited by this offer, we read that the people mourned when they heard this “disasterous word.”

I wonder how many of us would consider this a “disastrous word” and bad news, that we could have everything we want — without God. I’m sure there would be many people who would be quite fine with that offer: if they could have success, security and prosperity and no God around telling them what to do and what not to do.

And yet these people were willing to give up all of those things, in order that they might have a relationship with God! It’s the same sentiment that was expressed by my daughter on the eve of my trip: “I don’t want any presents, I just want my daddy.”

The claim that many detractors and critics of Christianity make, that one of the only reasons people are religious is because they view God as a “cosmic fairy” or a genie in a bottle, whom they can invoke to give them what they want. But this flies in the face of that!

Let me ask you: What if you could have everything that you’ve always dreamed of having: money, success, the dream house, the trophy spouse, fame and recognition, and/or whatever it is that you dream of having — but without God. Would you be excited by that prospect, or would you consider it “disasterous”?

What we see later on in Exodus 33 is that Moses, having come to know some of who God is, makes a bold request: he asks to see God’s glory. Because here’s the thing: one of the defining characteristics of a person who has truly come to know God is that they want more of Him.

May we be those who come to know God in such a way that we want more of Him, and desire to know Him more than we want the “presents” that He can give us.

What Running Has Done for Me

Two years ago I went in for my yearly check-up and was told that I am pre-diabetic. The doctor also told me I had high blood-pressure and high cholesterol, neither of these were news to me; I had been told this since I was in high school.

I decided to take up running, if for no better reason than that I felt that it gave me the best workout in the least amount of time – despite the fact that for years I had said that I would never run, unless someone was chasing me or I needed to catch a bus.

Over the past 2 years I have slowly but surely built up my running distance and times. I don’t know at what point you get to call yourself a “runner”; whenever I start to feel that I’m making progress, I meet people who are light years ahead of me. However, I recently bought a pair of actual running shorts… so there’s that.

Currently I run about 15-20 miles per week. This month will be my first month running over 70 miles in a month. My 10k time is now down to 52:40 and my goal is to run a half-marathon next year.

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I just got a new pair of running shoes this week. While I was shopping for them, the workers in the shop were talking about a 50k race they ran on Saturday, and then a friend of mine told me that he is running a 100k race next year…
I’m probably never going to make it to that level (nor do I desire to), but here are some things that running has done for me:

  1. Increased my endurance in other areas of life

    One of the hardest parts about running is that I get bored. It’s monotonous. I’ve had a few running partners, but one moved away and the other got injured and quit running. Thanks to a great pair of wireless headphones my wife got me for my birthday, I am able to listen to podcasts and audiobooks while I run.
    I have noticed though, that since I started running more, I have been able to more easily focus on tasks for a longer period of time, such as reading books, or sitting in one place to write. In the past I always felt that I had a hard time sitting still and focusing on one task for long periods of time. I know that getting lots of cardio exercise increases blood-flow to the brain, so maybe that’s the cause of the difference I feel – or maybe it is that endurance exercise has increased my endurance in other areas as well.

  2. Improved my health

    I’ve been back to the doctor, and although I’m still in the pre-diabetic range, my blood pressure and cholesterol levels are at the best levels they’ve ever been in my life. My weight is at the lowest it’s been since before I got married 12 years ago. My resting heart rate has gone from an average of 60-65 bpm to now being 38-43 bpm! I also sleep better at night.

  3. Reduced my stress level

    Along with my lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels and resting heart rate, I’ve noticed a significant decrease in my stress level. It’s not that I’m doing less, it’s that I’m not as stressed out by things in the same way I was before.

Jonathan Edwards and others have pointed out the correlation between physical health and spiritual and mental health. The advice Jonathan Edwards gave to those struggling with “melancholy” (what we might call depression) was that they begin with making sure they are eating a healthy diet, getting sufficient rest and physical exercise along with spiritual disciplines such as prayer, reading of Scripture and participation in a local church.

Running has been good to me. I recommend it.

 

Thoughts on Vision and Planning

I overheard this conversation between two cashiers at a store the other day:

“…then he asked me what my 5-year plan was, and I’m like: ‘I don’t know! I don’t even think like that!'”  “I know, right?!”

I remember when I used to think like that myself. When I first planted the church in Eger, people often asked me what my “vision” was, or what my 5-year plan was. I told them, “I don’t know. I just want to lead people to Jesus, plant a church, and raise up Christian leaders.”
Little did I understand, that what I was expressing was a very clear vision and plan!

I have come much more to embrace the mentality of having a plan or a vision.

Dave Ramsey says, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time”.

I have been in circles before where it was seen as unspiritual to plan or strategize. The thing these people don’t often realize is that they have unspoken plans and strategies, even though they don’t articulate them. It can be a strategy, for example, to not plan, and leave yourself open to whatever the day brings you. That’s a strategy – it’s a plan, and one which, like all strategies and plans, has advantages and disadvantages.

The New Year is a time of year I have come to love and appreciate, because a year is a measurable period of time, which gives us a scale to measure by, a scale to reflect upon, and a scale to plan by.

In reflecting on this past year, I realized that God did so many great things in the life of our family and our church. We finished the legal process of our son’s adoption and immigration, our church had several successful outreaches and did more for mission work, my wife and I celebrated 10 years of marriage… I could go on and on.

When it comes to strategizing and planning, I believe the best way to do it is in accordance with your long-term goals of what you want your life, or your organization, to be about.

I have a lot of ideas about things I would like to do in this New Year, and I pray by God’s grace that I would be cognizant of these things, and be able to bring them through to fruition. After all, it’s easy to start things, and a lot of people start things – but few people finish things, and even fewer finish them well.

Happy New Year!

“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and to earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I suggest that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

I love this quote from CS Lewis’ The Weight of Glory. Unfortunately, usually only the second half of it  is quoted. I think the first part is perhaps even more important than the second, where Lewis states that the assumption that true spirituality consists of depriving oneself or pleasure, or that to seek pleasure is unspiritual, is not a Christian teaching, but comes from Kant and the Stoics.

I would add to Lewis’ comment that this is also rooted in Plato-an thinking, which holds the physical to be inherently bad and the ethereal to be good. Plato-an philosophy was also at the root of one of the first great heresies in the church – Gnosticism, and the lingering effects of this are still present in much thinking amongst Christians as to what makes one truly spiritual.

True spirituality is not found in depriving oneself of pleasure, but in walking in step with the Spirit of God to the point where your pleasures are re-aligned – properly aligned with the heart of God.

Ga BleshU

Do you remember that Seinfeld episode where they talked about why we say “God bless you” when someone sneezes? One of them – I can't remember if it was Elain or Jerry – suggested was that instead we should say, “You're so good looking!”, because that would really make people feel better.

I saw this display at Sprouts in Longmont today:

Ga Ble Shu: You know, for when you're not really into God, but you feel like you should say something when people sneeze.

What do you think? Harmless advertising gimmick or a sign of the spiritual climate?

 

Busyness: The Enemy of the Soul

“How have you been?” “Busy!”
“Haven’t seen you much lately. What have you been up to?” “Oh, I’ve just been really busy.”
“We should really get together sometime.” “Yeah, I’d love to. Things are just really busy right now.”

We live in a culture that is chronically busy. Many of us, myself included, are busy doing a lot of really great things – but if we don’t watch out, our busyness with all these great things can destroy us.

What legacy will you have to show for all your running around?

Recently I’ve been listening to some audiobooks given to me by a friend. One of them is about how to get out of debt – a topic I’m very interested in. And what I see is that there is a parallel between how our culture handles money and time.

You see – because of technological developments of everything from cars to the internet, we now have more time on our hands, which frees us up to many more possibilities! We can go more places and do more things and connect with more people than ever before. In the same way – money and products are also readily available, perhaps like no other time before. Even if you have no money, there are a myriad of ways to finance purchases, which you can leverage to buy GOOD things, like houses and cars, you couldn’t have before. But, if you are always spending your money on every good thing that comes your way – after a while, you end up with very little to show for your years of hard work. The statistics on how much money passes through the average middle-class home in America are astounding.

Similarly, with busyness – if we stay busy doing a lot of really good things, we can easily find ourselves BUSY, but then looking back we have very little to show for it. Sure we might accomplish a few things along the way and spend time with some people – but what legacy will we have to show for all of our running around?

On a website I recently read about how the difference between chronically broke people and those who have financial security is found not in income, but in habits. One defining factor is that a much higher percentage of those who attain financial security set out concrete goals for themselves to work towards, whereas many chronically broke people never set out goals to work towards; they go through life living day to day.

The same principle can and should be applied to time-management. What are the goals that you would like to attain with your time? Who is the person you would like to be? What is the big-picture thing you hope to accomplish? What has God called you to do? If you are a spouse or a parent, that is a calling. If you are a Christian, by definition, you have a calling on your life – because to be a Christian is to be one who has been commissioned by Jesus Christ to join Him in His mission.

What do you want your legacy to be?  Do you want to raise a Christian family?  Do you want to have a closer walk with the Lord?  Do you want to be used by God for His purposes in the world? 

Once you have identified what you want to attain, what you are shooting for – then THAT will dictate how you spend your time, it will prioritize your options. Otherwise, you will be just like everyone else: running around like crazy, but with very little to show for it. In fact, being super busy with no purpose and direction – well that will quickly kill your creativity, and it will quickly kill relationships – with people and with God.

Guess what the first thing is that many God-fearing people cut out when they are feeling too busy:  Church. Time with spouse and kids. Bible study. Devotions.  “Oh, I’ll do those things when I am not so busy.”  But if you let your calling in life and the end goals that you hope to attain dictate your priorities, then seeking the Lord and being in fellowship with other believers is always a priority.

Certainly there are many things which might be dialed back in a busy schedule – but figuring out which ones you should dial back is the result of evaluating your goals and focusing yourself on attaining them.

Don’t wind up a victim of your own busyness! Figure out what it is that God has called you to do – and what it is that you hope to attain, and let those things dictate how you spend your time.