Romans 5.3

Spiritual Growth – Part 2

Part 1 of this series on Spiritual Growth focused on investing time with God, specifically through engaging with Scripture.  This blog post examines a way that God shapes our character that, if we had a choice, we would probably tend to avoid.

What is your initial reaction when you face adversity?  My initial thought is often “Why me?”  We don’t like adversity, we often seek to avoid it – the Bible however, gives us a different perspective.  The Apostle Paul had a unique perspective when he encountered adversity,

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations,   (Romans 5:3a)

The word for exult conveys the idea to  “to glory or boast”.  How could he respond like that?  He was able to discern God’s greater purpose beyond adversity,

knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.   (Romans 5:3b-5)

When we view adversity from God’s perspective we see that He allows difficulties into our lives to develop our perseverance, build our character, and give us hope.  Paul Powell wisely observed, “God is more concerned about our character than our comfort. His goal is not to pamper us physically, but to perfect us spiritually.”

You must realize God’s perspective in the midst of adversity and fight against the feelings of self-pity.  “No sin is worse than self-pity, because it obliterates God and puts self-interest upon the throne.”  (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, 16 May)

Hannah Whitall Smith, who was no stranger to adversity, gives encouraging advice when facing adversity in The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life,

This is the prayer we need to pray for ourselves and for one another, “Lord, open our eyes that we may see.” For the world all around us is full of God’s horses and chariots, waiting to carry us to places of glorious victory. But they do not look like chariots. They look instead like enemies, sufferings, trials, defeats, misunderstandings, disappointments, unkindnesses. They look like Juggernaut cars of misery and wretchedness, that are only waiting to roll over us and crush us into the earth; but they really are chariots of triumph in which we may ride to those very heights of victory for which our souls have been longing and praying.  (p. 113)

The Apostle James likewise reveals the benefit of trials that come into your life,

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  (James 1:2-4)

Are you facing adversity?  May the words of the Apostle Peter give you a fresh perspective that God is in control and He knows what He is doing,

Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.  (1 Peter 4:19)

Be encouraged by the prayer of Phillips Brooks,

O, do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks!  Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle. But you shall be a miracle.

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

Spiritual Growth – Part 1

Romans 12.2A heartfelt cry among sincere Christians is, “How can I grow spiritually?”  It seems axiomatic that communing with God in prayer, walking by the Holy Spirit, and investing time in the Bible will help one grow spiritually.  But are there other ways that God develops a person spiritually?  This post is part one of a four part series in ways that people grow spiritually.   This post will focus on investing time with God and the subsequent posts will examine other ways that God grows a person spiritually.

The Willow Creek Association Reveal study examined the spiritual formation practices of over 1,000 churches with a focus on best-practices.  They discovered that the  primary catalytic event for moving people forward in their journey of faith is biblical engagement.  This implies not simply getting people into the Bible when they’re in church, but helping them engage the Bible on their own outside of church.

Does your life reflect a God-consciousness?  As you face decisions in life do you bring them to God in prayer?  How would you characterize your daily walk – are you walking by the flesh or by the Spirit?  How is your time in God’s word?  In my post entitled How to hear from God – Part 1, I discuss the strategic use of the Navigator’s “Hand” illustration:

Hand illustration

The Apostle Paul gives us helpful advice in his epistle to the Romans,

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.  (Romans 12:2)

We see two present tense imperatives in this verse.  The first is a command to stop allowing the world the squeeze you into its mold.  Then positively, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.  The word transformed literally means to “to change into another form” (meta, implying change, and morphe, form).  The word μεταμορφόω (metamorphoō) only occurs four times in the Greek New Testament.  It conveys the idea of being transformed or transfigured.  This is the word that describes Jesus as he was transfigured before His disciples.

In what ways are you engaging with God’s word on a regular basis?  Be encouraged that God’s word can change you from the inside out.  Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesians reveals the benefits of God’s word,

And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.  (Acts 20:32)

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

Wake Up and Live!

wake-up-and-liveSeveral years ago George Barna wrote, The Frog In The Kettle.  He explains that the way to boil a frog is not to put him in a pot of boiling water because he’ll jump out.  The key is to put him in tepid water so he’s comfortable, then slowly turn up the temperature on the stove so he has a nice little frog jacuzzi.   He becomes acclimated to the water until his strength has been gradually sapped, leaving him powerless to hop out.

This may happen to us if we’re not aware of our deleterious surroundings.  Like the frog, we may gradually move into places that are dangerous. We usually don’t dive in – we start at the shallow end of the pool and slowly wade out into the deep end.  It occurs so slowly that we don’t realize it.  Finally, we’re in over our heads and it’s too late.  This is a reason why the Apostle Paul warned the Ephesians,

For this reason it says,
“Awake, sleeper,
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you.”  (Ephesians 5:14)

Paul is most likely recalling to mind Isaiah 60:1, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”  The word Paul uses for “awake” is a present tense imperative, and it conveys the idea of continuous action.  You are to remain vigilant and stay alert.  

You are not only to awake from your sleep but you are to stand up as one from the dead.  As you live your life as a follower of Christ, then He will shine on you.   You must realize that we do not drift into holiness.  There is a downward pull from the world, our flesh, and the devil.  Too many people are settling for a shadow of God rather than the reality of God.

Plato’s cave illustrates this meta narrative.   Imagine prisoners who have been chained deep inside a cave. Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a walkway among which objects move.  The figures cast shadows on the wall, and the prisoners watch these shadows.  The prisoners believe that these shadows they are watching pass by on the cave wall are reality.  This is the only reality that they know although they are only seeing shadows.  Suppose a prisoner’s chains break, and he is able to get up and walk about.  He starts exploring and walks out of the cave and he is momentarily blinded by the sun.  In time, he learns to see the real objects rather than shadows.

Once enlightened, the freed prisoner desires to return to the cave to free his fellow prisoners.  His fellow prisoners are reluctant to change.  They do not trust the freed prisoner.  His eyes would now have difficulty identifying shapes on the wall.  He might stumble and the prisoners would conclude that his experience had ruined him.  (The Republic Book VII, 516b-c).

As you evaluate your life, are you focusing on the shadows or the reality?   Thoreau observed, “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.”  Let us follow the Apostle Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians,

Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  (1 Corinthians 16:13)

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

Experiencing peace with God

Romans 5.1A heartfelt desire among Christians is to have peace with God.  If you’re like me, there is a gap between what you know and your actual behavior.  This may cause you to wonder, “Does God accept me when my behavior falls short of His standard?”

There are two extremes that people tend to follow to ameliorate this situation.  One response is to try harder to overcome our sin – we believe that we need to get our act together and if we can’t at least we need to act like we’ve got it together.  We conclude that if it’s meant to be then it’s up to me.

The other extreme is to let go and let God.  After all, God loves everyone and He knows our weaknesses so it doesn’t really matter how we live.  I can still recall the words of one of my mentors, Robertson McQuilkin, as he would say, “It is easier to go to a consistent extreme than to stay in the center of biblical tension.”

The Apostle Paul reveals in his letter to the Romans how all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.  He also explains that you can have peace with God despite the fact that you sin and fall short of God’s glory.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Romans 5:1)

The word “therefore” pertains to the preceding context as Paul reveals that Abraham was considered righteous because of his faith,


The word “justified” conveys the idea that we are declared righteous, but notice that we are justified through our faith, not self-effort.  We must realize that this is not advocating a let go and let God mentality.  The Apostle James writes,

Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.  (James 2:17)

My behavior (my works) are not the cause of my salvation but the result of my salvation.

You can have peace with God not by trying harder but by trusting in what God has already done.  The center of biblical tension is realizing these two truths:

God’s Provision + My Responsibility

God’s provision is that Christ paid the penalty of my sins and now gives me the power to overcome sin in my life.  My responsibility is to follow Him in obedience.

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage

9-thoughts-book-cover19 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage by Sheila Wray Gregoire presents nine biblical truths that can give you a fresh perspective on your marriage.  Although written from a woman’s perspective, this book can be helpful to anyone who desires to improve his or her marriage.

This book is written in a practical and engaging style as the author writes about her struggles and how she overcame them in her marriage.  Her emphasis throughout the book is on changing your thinking, “What if peace and joy are not dependent on someone else changing, but they instead flow from God giving us the ability to choose how to think, how to feel, and how to respond?”  (p. 4).  She eschews “pat answers” and gives the reader biblical and practical helps to strengthen one’s marriage.  Ultimately, you must take responsibility for the health of your marriage, “God made us responsible for our own actions, our own thoughts, and our own feelings.  No one else can do that work for us” (p. 6).  Here are the nine thoughts:

1) My husband is my neighbor.

Sheila asks the question, “Would your perspective about your husband change if you realized not just that God was your Father, but that God was also your Father-in-law?”  (p. 14).  I impress upon men that they are responsible for the health of their marriage; however, Sheila also reveals the vital role that women have in their marriage, “It is relatively easy for a woman to make a man feel appreciated, because he can experience just one thing at a time.  It is relatively hard, though, for a man to make a woman feel loved and appreciated, because she tends to have so much on her mind all once.  That’s why so much of the power for the dynamic of the relationship rests in our hands”  (p. 22).

2) My husband can’t make me mad.

This chapter is filled with principles for restructuring one’s cognitive framework.  When I take responsibility for my emotional well being then I am not dependent on others for my emotional well-being.  “‘Believing the best’ was one of the best predictors of a happy marriage,” (p. 49).

3) My husband was not put on this earth to make me happy.

She does an excellent job differentiating between happiness, contentment, and joy.  “If your husband suddenly did the thing you wished for, you’d simply wish for something else in its place.  That’s the nature of the quest for happiness.  It’s rooted in circumstances, and it makes you a passive recipient  of what happens to you.  that’s why aiming for happiness will tend to backfire, especially in marriage” (p. 56).

4) I can’t mold my husband into my image.

It’s normal for us to have expectations of others, but we must have realistic expectations.  “My responsibility is not to change him but to accept him.”  (p. 77).  Accepting him means to accept him as your husband and as a child of God.  “You accept that he is his own person who can make his own choices, and you honor his right to make choices – even if you don’t agree with them.  You aren’t trying to control him.”  (p. 77).  Ouch – see, I told you this book was practical.

5) I’m not in competition with my husband.

This chapter presents a well-reasoned discussion on the topic of submission.  “That humility is the key to submission.  Humility says, I won’t pursue only my own needs; I want to look to yours as well.”  (p. 110).

6) I’m called to be a peacemaker, not a peacekeeper.

Sheila does a good job differentiating between conflict and fighting.  “Few of us grew up witnessing healthy conflict resolution, so it’s no wonder many of us associated conflict with yelling and fighting and threatening the relationship.  But conflict simply means two people coming together with opposing views.”  (p. 123)

7) Being one is more important than being right.

This chapter points out the importance of oneness in a relationship and moving from a win/lose to a win/win paradigm.  “I forgot that marriage was not about me winning; marriage was about oneness – and that meant we needed to find a way for both of us to win.”  (p. 142).

8) Having sex is not the same as making love.

There seems to be a view in our culture that men need sex and it’s the woman’s job to take care of her man.  Sheila points out, “God designed sex to be a mutually satisfying experience.  Both of us are supposed to enjoy it.  It’s supposed to make both of us feel more intimate.  Both of us need it.”  (p. 171).

This is a complex topic and can be a source of frustration for couples.  “Great sex, especially for women, requires communication . . . That’s why great sex also takes vulnerability.  We have to let our guard down so that we can figure out what we actually want.  And then we need to trust him in order to tell him.”  (p. 169).  In general, women need to feel loved to make love, but men are different.   Here’s the secret to a man’s heart, “Understand that it works the other way for him:  men need to make love to feel loved.”  (p. 183).

9) If I’m not careful, we’ll drift apart.

Intentionality is the key concept in this chapter.  A healthy marriage takes work.  You must realize that, “The natural pull in life is to drift apart.  Currents are carrying us away – currents we often don’t even see.  None of us gets married thinking we’ll end up half a world apart, yet if we aren’t intentional like those sea otters, we very likely will wake up one day, look at our spouse, and think, Who are you?”  (p. 190)

This book is filled with biblical truth and helpful insights to help you become a more Godly person and bring a fresh perspective to your marriage.  God’s plan is for husband and wife to experience oneness in God,

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.  (Genesis 2:24)

(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review).

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

A Promise

PromiseWhat is your response when someone makes you a promise?  All of us have experienced the heartbreak of a broken promise.  I’m reminded of the story of a dying man who gave each of his friends — a lawyer, doctor and clergyman — an envelope containing $25,000 in cash to be placed in his coffin.

A week later the man dies and the friends each place an envelope in the coffin. Several months later, the clergyman confesses that he only put $10,000 in the envelope and sent the rest to a mission in South America.

The doctor confesses that his envelope had only $8,000 because he donated to a medical charity.

The lawyer is outraged, “I am the only one who kept my promise to our dying friend. I want you both to know that the envelope I placed in the coffin contained my own personal check for the entire $25,000.”

Promises may be made with the best of intentions but the exigency of the moment may cause people to reconsider.  It’s probably useless to hold a person to anything he says while he is drunk or running for office.  Promises are like babies, they’re easy to make but  they can be hard to deliver.  Niccolò Machiavelli wrote, “The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.”

You must realize that the validity of the promise is based upon the trustworthiness of the one making the promise.  No one is as trustworthy as God, that’s why we can rely upon His promises.  That was the faith that Abraham demonstrated as God gave him a seemingly impossible promise that he would have many descendants even though he was as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old (Romans 4:19) and his wife Sarah had no children.  Abraham believed the promise of God,

yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.  (Romans 4:20-21)

This is why Abraham was considered a great man of faith – he took God at His word and believed His promises.  It’s been said that no pillow is as soft as God’s promise.  The Bible a book that is filled with promises.  Are you experiencing a valley in your life?  Go to God’s word, His promises are like the stars – the darker the night the brighter they shine.  May you be encouraged by God’s promises to you,

For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.   (2 Corinthians 1:20)

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

Three Dangerous Words

PotentialThree little words have destroyed many a diet, savings plan, and the best of resolutions.  You’ve heard them countless times and have no doubt, said them yourself.  What are those words?  Here’s an example:

I regularly ate lunch with a friend who had a desire to lose weight.  He would go through the salad bar line selecting a healthy array of foods.  He then put on two heaping ladles of salad dressing that effectively negated the healthy benefits of ordering a salad.  Why did he do it – he believed those three dangerous words.

Perhaps you’ve ordered a diet coke and since you made a supposedly healthy choice with your drink, you’re going to reward yourself and get the double bacon cheeseburger.  Why did you do this?  Those three dangerous words – I deserve it.

We have a craving for homeostasis seeking a psychological equilibrium that is consonant with our self-image.  If you do a positive act then you subconsciously believe that you have a right to indulge in a negative behavior.  The very word “diet” presupposes that you will attempt to compensate your eating.  That is why so many diets fail, healthy eating must be a lifestyle, it must reflect who you are.  It’s not about willpower, it’s about identity.

This regression toward the mean validates our self-image.  Psychologists have a label for this corrective behavior – it’s called moral licensing.  It’s a subconscious phenomenon whereby you allow yourself to do something “bad” because you’ve been “good”.

Consider the implications of this fact for your spiritual life.  This is an identity issue – how do you see yourself?  Notice how the Apostles, Paul, James, and Peter, identified themselves,

Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness,  (Titus 1:1)

James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.  (James 1:1)

Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:  (2 Peter 1:1)

The word bond-servant literally means slave.  What does a slave deserve? If you see yourself as a bond-servant of Christ, that greatly minimizes the mindset of “I deserve it.”  The one who expects little is not easily disappointed.

It starts with your identity?  Live in accordance with your identity as God’s child.  He has put His Spirit in you to live His life through you.  You are to work out in your life what God has worked in – establish those keystone habits of a godly person.  You must see yourself as one who normally does good deeds.  Christ in you is the hope of glory.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Act in accordance with your new, true identity!

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5