Tag Archives: spiritual growth

6 Spiritual Lessons I Learned from a 21 Day Nutrition Challenge

Last spring I blogged about the spiritual lessons I learned during my first three months at Nelson’s VO2 Performance Training gym. Recently our trainer invited us to complete a 21 day nutrition challenge.  I completed the challenge a few weeks ago.  Here’s what I learned.

1. In order to grow I need a plan.

I learned very quickly that a major reason the 21 day nutrition plan worked was simply because it was a plan.  It was a strategy for eating.  For years I’ve had the intention to eat healthier, but intentions without a plan are about as helpful as a car without an engine.  It’s been said that “a failure to plan is a plan to fail,” and that truism came into greater clarity for me through this challenge.

Spiritually speaking, we may have lofty and noble intentions to “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), but if we don’t create some kind of growth plan, we shouldn’t expect to see much progress.  It’s tempting to “wing it” when it comes to spiritual growth, but without a plan we all drift towards reflexive living (which reinforces the status quo).  Our moment-by-moment moods and cravings set the agenda instead of a pre-determined strategy that has been decided upon in advance.

Intentions are very important, but without a plan even the most basic disciplines like Bible reading, prayer, and serving others will be driven by our moods rather than our will.  As Christians, however, we are not called to glorify and honour God when we feel like it or when the mood strikes us.  Discipleship to Jesus requires a strategy and disciplined course of action.

What would such a course of action look like?  I create a plan each month that is based on Jesus’ command to love God heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving your neighbour as yourself.  You can read about it here.  Try it or adopt another plan, but don’t think that a casual approach to spiritual growth will get you very far.

2. Structure seems limiting (at first).

Initially, the nutrition challenge and the structure it imposed on my eating felt very restrictive.  This was due to the fact that I had become accustomed to a “go with the flow” approach to eating.  I valued the freedom that came from basing what I would eat on what I was craving at any given moment.  This freedom, of course, had led me down a deeply unhealthy path.  The new eating plan brought that negative momentum to a screeching halt.

The plan we were given was precise and strict.  It outlined what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat.  While there were some options regarding food choices, most of the decision points around food were removed.  A new liturgy of consumption was introduced.  Every week Heather and I bought exactly what we needed, spent a few hours Sunday prepping our meals for the week, and then organized them in the fridge.  This meant that every day we simply had to eat according to what had been prepared.

Within a few days the structure that initially felt so constraining became liberating.  Without having to troubleshoot what I would eat for lunch or a snack, I could simply grab my prepared meals from the fridge and get on with my day.  I spent $0 on lunches out and $0 on impulse snack purchases.  As a result I ate cleaner then I had during any other three-week period of my life.

At first glance, the prohibitions within the Bible (i.e. “thou shalt not’s”) seem restrictive.  Because our culture tends to define freedom as the absence of restrictions, we can miss that fact that a total lack of restrictions doesn’t result in freedom, but chaos.  Basketball is enjoyable to play and watch, because of the rules (i.e. restrictions).  A gourmet recipe can only be enjoyed if the chef has adhered to specific restrictions during its preparation.  Likewise, God’s commands and instructions are the very things that—rather than restricting us from the life that is truly life—open that life up to us.

Timothy Keller has it right: “True freedom lies not in absence of restrictions, but the presence of the right restrictions.”

3. Gluttony slows and weakens.

Another insight the nutrition challenge gave me was just how gluttonous I was.  There was a huge gap between my perceived caloric needs and my actual needs.  On paper, the amount of food the plan indicated I was supposed to eat (while working out at VO2!) seemed ludicrously small.  There was no way this was enough food for me to sustain basic energy for my day!

But even by the end of day one, it was clear that I would be ok.  The plan provided more than enough food.  I felt fine—better than fine.  I felt energized and experience increased mental alertness.  This caused me to cringe at how gluttonous my food intake must have become over the years, that I was finding this kind of physical vitality and mental acuity to be a novel thing.

Gluttony is condemned throughout the Bible, both because a. it is an abuse of the body, and b. it is an unjust pattern of consumption (I am consuming more than I need at the expense of another who doesn’t have enough food).  I guess I’d always recognized that this was an area of struggle for me, but I hadn’t really seen it as that much of a problem until my nutritional intake was realigned to what my body actually needed.  Once that realignment took place I was surprised and shocked by my previous levels of over-consumption.

This has given me pause to consider how gluttonous patterns have infiltrated other dimensions of my life. I believe following Jesus means a commitment to a life of simplicity, because such a life intentionally fights against the impulses of greed and gluttony.  Over-consumption slows and weakens, not just in my ability to be physically healthy, but spiritual healthy as well.  What other patterns of over-consumption need reform in my life?

4. The body resists change.

Adopting the tenants of the nutrition challenge was straightforward enough, behaviourally speaking.  Do X and Y.  Repeat.  However, physiologically, my body put up a fight.  Day five was rough.  Four straight days of eating clean while avoiding my regularly scheduled high carbohydrate intake led to the low-carb flu.  Like a two-year old that wasn’t getting what it wanted, my body was throwing a tantrum.

As we seek to follow Jesus faithfully, our “flesh” (the word the Bible uses to refer to our innate sinful impulses and desires) resists transformation.  We may put together the perfect plan, even one that is tremendously spiritually healthy, but we will likely find our flesh in revolt.  It prefers the status quo, so when we seek to effect change in our lives, we will encounter resistance.

To grow as a disciple of Jesus is to invite change and profound growth, and my nutrition challenge helped me to understand that all change is a war against the status quo.  It also helped me to anticipate that the first enemy I should expect to face in that war is myself, or rather, forces within my own flesh that will revolt once it becomes clear I’m heading down a new and healthier path.

5. Garbage in, garbage out.

I’ve read many studies and heard lots of anecdotal evidence underscoring the effect of the food we consume on our moods and physical vibrancy.  This challenged showed me just how dramatically my food intake shapes my emotional and psychological outlook throughout each day.  With each successive day of clean eating, I had more sustained physical and mental energy.  I had greater self-control, and I experienced greater optimism and better moods overall.  This was such a radically divergent experience from my previous modus operandi, where I slammed back lots of crappy food, reaping inconsistent energy, poor mental focus, weakened self-control, and increased pessimism as a result.

The 21 day challenge helped me to see again the importance of what I choose to put into my body.  Over the course of the challenge Philippians 4:8 came to mind often.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Physically, we cannot ingest crappy food and expect to reap vibrancy and health.  Spiritually, we cannot ingest crappy food (that which is false, ignoble, wrong, impure, ugly, shameful, degrading, etc.) and expect to reap spiritual vibrancy and health.  Garbage in, garbage out as they say.

6. Just because a craving exists doesn’t mean you should satisfy it.

Cravings are inevitable.  Sometimes they are good.  The can be the body’s way of indicating the deficiency of a key nutrient.  Often, however, cravings do not lead us into greater health.

It would have been disastrous if I had sought to satisfy the many cravings my body presented to me during the 21 day challenge.  Eating clean and eating often went a long way to ensuring I felt satiated most of the day, but cravings still came unbidden and unwanted.  When they did, I had to actively resist them in order to usher in greater health and strength.  I could not have grown healthier while simultaneously satisfying my cravings for sugary treats.

We live in a culture that encourages us to pursue the satiation of our desires at every turn.  Whether the desire is rooted in food, sex, or another arena, the desires at work within our hearts are seen as natural, good, and to be embraced.  But like our physical health, our spiritual health cannot be strengthened while we seek to respond to many of the cravings that exist within us.  In order to gain spiritual health and strength we must actively resist many of the cravings that we face.

In Galatians 5 Paul writes:

“live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” (Galatians 5:16-17)

Just because a craving exists doesn’t mean you should satisfy it.

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Fit for the Kingdom: Reflections on Spiritual Training

I glance at the clock.  I have 28 seconds remaining.   Those 28 seconds will feel like five minutes before they’re over.  I’m not sure which is louder: the beats blaring through the sound system or those pounding from my chest.  My eyes sting from sweat that has poured unabated into my eyes for several minutes now. My legs are on fire, caught in a relentless loop of squatting as I drive a 20 lb. ball against the wall four feet above me, looking towards the heavens for relief.  I hear the grunts of those beside me.  We’re almost there.  Just a few more seconds…

And the timer beeps, signalling the end.  We’re done, and not a moment too soon.   I try to take a moment and compose myself, but it isn’t easy.  My muscles are desperate to feed on oxygen and no matter how deep my breath reaches I can’t seem to satisfy their hunger.  There’s a pool of sweat underneath me and I think I might be seeing stars. And it feels fantastic.

I’ve just completed my third month at a performance training gym that integrates philosophies from CrossFit, power-lifting, and circuit training.  While I strain to catch my breath I am flooded with an enormous sense of accomplishment.  For at least three times a week I’ve participated in classes that have forced me to carry, lift, throw, run, jump, pull and push in ways that have challenged me in both mind and body.

I was introduced to V02 Performance Training through my wife, who had been attending for six months prior to my first day.  She had consistently encouraged me to take the time to prioritize training of this nature, believing it would make a significant positive impact in my life.  But I had every excuse at the ready.  Money and time found their way to the top of my excuse hierarchy.

However, in February of this year I found myself planning an Easter series on the resurrection, and as my preparation unfolded I became uncomfortably aware of how my theology of the body had grown to be robust in theory while remaining shallow in practice.  Over the previous five years I had developed a behavioral pattern prone to sloth and gluttony.  The result: I was overweight and, to borrow a Trumpism, “low energy.”  I struggled to make it through most weeks without consistent naps and copious amounts of coffee.

Even more humbling was the realization that while I was only a few weeks away from proclaiming the significance of Jesus’ resurrection, I was neglecting a profound truth the resurrection speaks to: the importance of our bodies.  In the resurrection God reveals his redemptive intentions for all aspects of creation, including our bodies and the material universe.  Our bodies are good gifts from God, marred by sin, but ripe for redemption in Christ.  And while redemption of the body takes many forms, I found myself challenged by the Scripture’s charge to “offer yourselves to God as people who have been brought from death to life and the parts of your body as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:13).

In March I decided to bite the bullet and signed up for my first month.  The first week was a shock to my system.  Three training sessions in and I had to confront the fact that I had grossly overestimated my current level of fitness.  My body communicated in all manner of ways that it was not happy.  Discomfort was constant.  My body was being forced to learn a new language, and very little about the new vocabulary was familiar.  I had entered into “strict training” (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:25).

After each successive workout I found myself reflecting more and more on the implications of Paul’s charge to his young protégé Timothy: “Train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7).  I’ve taught on that verse many times in different contexts, but until I began training at V02 many implications of this command were lost on me.  Dallas Willard’s distinction between training and trying took on new meaning as my experiences at V02 caused me to begin rethinking my discipleship practices.  After a few months I was becoming aware of the disparity between how I train physically vs. spiritually. As each month unfolded the performance training taught me just as much about my spiritual deficiencies as my physical ones.  I was not bringing the same intensity and focus to my spiritual growth in Christ as I was to my training sessions.  I decided to close that gap.

I began by taking an inventory of the lessons I was learning at V02 and then applying them to my discipleship to Jesus.  What follows are the principles I’ve learned through VO2, and how each one has a direct application to spiritual growth as well.

1. In the beginning all training feels unnatural. For the first two months almost every exercise routine felt awkward and contrary to my preferred mode of engagement.  I was clumsy, lacked proper posture, and continually battled to get my body to do what seemed so straightforward in my mind.  For several weeks my body did little more than protest again and again.  I was asking it to do things it had never done before, at an intensity it was not accustomed to, and it wasn’t quiet in letting me know how it felt.

When, for example, the Scripture calls us “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12), we must understand that integrating these elements of Christ-like character will prove difficult at first. When we introduce a new spiritual disciple into our lives, or attempt to deepen an existing one, the new practice often feels muddled and awkward in the early going.  But this is natural when learning any new habit.  The development of strong spiritual practices does not happen effortlessly and without uncooperative beginnings.  The good news is that what feels unnatural at first will become second nature if we persevere through the early, clumsy stages.

2. We train harder on the context of community. On any given week there are two training sessions I would likely quit on were I undertaking them in isolation.  However, VO2 structures their training in the context of a class, and the presence of others working out with me to push myself beyond my preferred comfort level.  Psychologists call this phenomenon social facilitation, and it accounts for why we do tasks better and faster in the presence of other people.

I’ve always tended to view Christian growth as primarily an individual endeavour, but VO2 has really challenged this presumption.  My training has shown me how much easier and effective it is to train in the context of community.  As a result I’m learning to involve more people in my spiritual growth plan and have become interested in exploring how discipleship within the context of community helps us “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).

3. Routine can be the enemy of growth. We all love routine, but in V02 the only routine is strategic confusion.  Week over week, strength emerges by shocking the body through muscle confusion.  The training is scheduled so as to continually confound your body’s ability to adapt to a pattern of conditioning.  Said another way, Vo2 has a liturgy: planned disruption.  No two workouts are alike and several factors are adjusted continually to ensure my body is kept guessing.  This never allows my body to adapt to a routine, which would mean a less intense, easier workout (which I want but don’t need).

Discipleship to Jesus demands a liturgy of planned disruption as well.  If you read the gospels carefully, you’ll notice Jesus doing this all the time with his disciples.  No two days of ministry are alike.  The result?  The disciples were continually forced to stretch themselves and adapt.  Spiritual growth was the result.  Similarly, in order to ensure I’m not spiritually coasting I need to employ a variety of practices from the deep tradition of Christian spiritual formation that challenge me to adapt and grow into a disciple that is able to love God heart, soul, mind, and strength.

4. A commitment to strict training means a commitment to living in a state of chronic physical discomfort. When I began V02 my wife warned me, “You will love it, but you will have to get used to living in chronic pain.”  That may have been an exaggeration, but not a large one.  On any given day there are muscles protesting the previous day’s session.  Since beginning my training I’m not sure how many days I’ve moved through comfortably, but I could certainly count them on one hand.

Discipleship to Jesus will mean living in a state of chronic spiritual discomfort as well.  As we adopt and strengthen habits of loving God heart, soul, mind, and strength, we discover the Holy Spirit moving us into areas that disrupt our preferred life of ease.  Jesus’ call to forgive those who have harmed us, bless our enemies, practice gospel-sized generosity can leave us tired, sore, and definitely uncomfortable.  But that’s evidence that our spiritual muscles are being worked.

5. Rest is imperative. My rest days are precious.  Without them I couldn’t sustain the mental and physical intensity of VO2’s workouts.  They are Sabbaths that allow me to replenish in both body and mind.  I’ve never slept better since starting this training regime.

Training in godliness demands a reclamation of the practice of Sabbath.  After attempting to live too long without a day to pray and play, I’ve learned that I just can’t sustain intentional, intense discipleship.  My discipleship efforts do not flow out of my attempt to secure acceptance in Christ, but flow out of my acceptance in him.  Therefore, if I’m not taking time to rest in God’s grace, love, and goodness, spiritual injury (i.e. burnout) is inevitable.  The practice of Sabbath grounds me in the gospel and renews me for Jesus’ mission.

6. I need to eat intentionally and healthy. If I fail to intake the proper food before or after my workouts, I pay the price.  Exercising at this intensity has caused me to focus more on what I’m putting into my body, because more than ever it has a direct and almost immediate effect on my ability to perform when the clock is ticking.  I’ve become more conscious of what I eat and why.

A casual approach to discipleship will lead to a casual approach to spiritual intake.  When I committed to strict training, my diet necessarily followed suit.  I’ve become more conscious of my need to consume, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (Philippians 4:8), beginning with feeding steadily on Scripture and quality books and resources.

7. Coaching matters. Our head trainer Megan understands that each of us comes with a set of pre-conceived self-limitations.  Because she’s a skilled coach, she understands where I’m strong and weak, and is able to identify opportunities to push me beyond my comfort zone.

In order to grow beyond my present capacities I need to enlist wiser, more mature Christians who can help me become aware of areas where I’m plateauing or coasting.  I need spiritual mentors who can help push me into new patterns that I wouldn’t think to try without their input.

What Am I Training For?

V02 is a performance training gym.  Which begs the question: training for what end? 

Everyone’s answer is different of course, but here’s mine.  As a disciple of Jesus my central calling is to love God and love others (Mark 12:28-31).  Discipleship is the process by which I cultivate spiritual strength and vibrancy so that I can fulfill this calling and be a blessing to others.  The last three months at V02 have challenged me to move into that calling with a greater focus and a renewed perspective.  Echoing Paul, my aim is simple: I do not want to run like someone running aimlessly.  I do not want to fight like a boxer who can’t land blows.  Instead, I train my body, making it my slave, for the world’s good and God’s glory.

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Sermon Notes: The Spiritual Journey of the 30’s

Matt Pamplin has kindly allowed me to post his sermon notes from his recent message, “The Spiritual Journey of the 30’s.”

Snapshot of life in the 30’s:

  • Paula Darcy said the 30’s are about saving coupons.
  • Life can feel so busy and you are just looking for space in your schedule.
  • A decade of establishing (proving) yourself – trying to make something of yourself – Career / family. (30’s and 40’s)
  • Life is happening to me – It can feel like time is going by fast, you don’t have much time for rest or reflection.
  • Starting to realize  things may not turn out as I dreamed/planned.
  • Perpetual tiredness – one person said “as a parent – you never get tired, you just are tired”
  • Excitement has given way to “normality”  – Mundaneness –it can feel like every day is the same – a bit like ground hog day.

Spiritual challenges of 30’s:

Keeping a commitment to Christ central as other commitments come in.

The cares of this world (parable of the sower) – come into play (especially in the midst of busyness) what’s important?

Seeing God in the small things not just the dramatic

Big Picture: (what’s happening)

Owning the decisions you made in your 20’s – realising you have made these choices / commitments.

Learning to be content where you are.

Scripture’s advice to 30’s: (Philippians 4:10-13)

Paul is writing from prison to the church in Philippi.

Firstly Paul says in verse 12 contentment has to be learned and it’s a secret.

Paul says that contentment is something that has to be learned, it takes time. This is not something we fall into or we click our finger and get straight away. It also is a secret which implies that not everyone gets it. Not everyone has learned it. It eludes us, there is something that we are looking for. We want contentment – yet it’s so hard to find. Why because it’s a secret. It’s not found in what we see, its hidden –  it’s ultimately found in Christ but first let’s look at what it isn’t

Contentment ISN’T….

  • Based on circumstances – its not based on what we have or don’t have. Paul says that he is content no matter what his circumstances are. He is saying this because Paul knows we think contentment is found in earthly things. Whether he is doing well materially or not. We live in a culture where it can feel like we need to catch up to others or we look around and want what they have. Yet Paul says wanting more won’t make you content. Culturally we are always striving for more and yet contentment isn’t found in what we have. Just look at most celebreties – they would be the happiest people in the world if it was true.
  • Based on my achievement – Paul doesn’t say his contentment is what he has done. In phil 3 he says if anyone has reason to be confident in the flesh its paul yet that is not what brings him contentment .

As humans we look to compare ourselves to others. We think maybe if I was better or more gifted then I would be content.

Content IS…

  • Being present – Not wishing you were somewhere else or someone else. Coveting is wanting someone else’s life – wanting to be someone else.

We need to learn to be present. To love God in the mundane and normal of life.

  • Being thankful – Contentment comes from being thankful where you are at. We are constantly striving for more but because we aren’t satisfied we aren’t thankful for what we have. There is that joke first world problems but actually its there because we generally are grumpy. I was in a coffee shop the other day and the person ordered a drink. They said it would take 3 minutes to brew another pot. If you don’t have 3 minutes you better loosen up your schedule!

In 2 timothy  3:1-5 paul says there will be terrible times in the last days, one of the major marks is people will  be ungrateful.

One of the common themes of the new testament is thankfulness. Paul says in phil 4 rejoice in the lord always. Hes writing from prison! Thankfulness is the mark of a disciple. We always look to what we don’t have and yet we don’t see what God has given us.  It’s about celebrating the small things.  Can I be thankful wherever I am?

  • Knowing Christ – I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. True contentment can only be found in Christ. He is the source of our life. Paul says it’s only in truly putting our attention and focus on Jesus that we can find contentment. So what has your attention? What has your affection?

Practical advice:

  1. Invest in your relationships – marriage, friends, kids.
  2. Practice being thankful – celebrate the small things.
  3. Spend time with friends who share same values – who push you to know Jesus
  4. Saying no in order to say yes
  5. Don’t beat yourself up, try to enjoy it

 Church support for the 30’s:

  • Mentor / Invite for dinner. Especially those 10 – 15 years older – individuals / couples.

  • Babysit – If you are a teen – early 20. Gareth and Joe – my boys-admire them and spending time with them.

  • Pray for those in their 30’s

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Sermon Notes: The Spiritual Journey of Teens

As part of Grindstone’s “Understanding the Spiritual Journey” series, I’ve decided to post our sermon notes on my blog so that people can review the decades of interest to them.

Here are the notes from yesterday’s message which I co-taught with Derek Hisson.

 

1. A snapshot of life in the teens

A time of ENORMOUS transitions. 

Teens more than just ‘high school’ (jr. high to 3rd year university).

-“a living hell”
-Bullying
-Social and academic pressures
-Lack of support systems
-Family dysfunction/breakdown
-Others trying to strike you down so they can rise up
-Time of searching/questioning/rebellion
-Spiritual interest is often high during teen years
-Individuation from family of origin
-“A foot in two worlds” (adult and child)
-Mixed messages: “Don’t do drugs, but try new things”
-Fluctuations (on top of the world vs. bottom of the it)


2. What are the major spiritual challenges?

What is happening? (Big Picture: Identity Formation).  Teens are looking for answers to the major worldview questions:

  • Who am I?
  • Where am I?
  • What’s the problem?
  • What’s the solution?

What is happening? (Ground Level)

  • Grindstone Guys Top 3 issues you deal with Porn, Drugs, Friends
  • Grindstone Girls Top 3 issues you deal with Body Image, Self-esteem/worth, Sexual pressures
  • Teens are challenging their beliefs, trying to figure out what they believe and why, instead of passively accepting what they’ve been taught.  They’re looking for places that allow them to question and offer a patient, safe space to work through their struggles.

3. The Bible and Teens

Scripture addresses the questions teens are asking!

  • Who am I?
  • What really matters in life?
  • How do I get the most out of life?
  • Am I important?
  • Am I loved?
  • Does my life have a larger purpose?

When teens ignore the Scriptures, they’re ignoring the most powerful resource for addressing those questions!  No other resource tackles those questions head-on in such an affirming and powerful way for teenagers.

Jesus’ disciples were teenagers, which is so important to highlight because it shows us that Jesus was very eager to invite and involve teens to front-line kingdom work–then and today!

1 Timothy 4:12 : “12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”  The passage is saying is that as teens it is completely reasonable to want to be an important and active part of the church, so long as you are setting a Godly example in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity.  Teens are being called to act in ways that are Godly, not just to be examples and not let people put them down.

4. Our Advice to Teens: Enter the Jesus Dojo

A dojo is literally “a place where one learns the way,” usually of some kind of martial art. In this case, this dojo teaches the way of Jesus. And, similar to a martial arts dojo, this community teaches not just by lecturing, etc. but by actually practicing together the way of Jesus.

We enter the dojo through new experiences and by moving from ideas to action.

A Dojo is where you train, not simply try.

40 A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. (Luke 6:40)

7 train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8)

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16)

25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Corinthians 9:25)

“Spiritual training” is a core aspect of true discipleship.

NOTE: This is not a matter of being “good enough” or earning favor with God. There is nothing that we can do that will cause God to love us more than He already does. Training is not a matter of earning extra credit with God. It is about discipleship to Jesus and becoming more like Him.  We are not trying to earn God’s salvation or earn God’s love, we’re training because now that we are living for Jesus and his kingdom agenda, we need to reshape our lives accordingly.


How to train: Heart, Soul, Mind, Strength

Every teen in this church should have a weekly HSMS traning plan.  It should address the four dimensions Jesus included as part of the great commandment.

Heart: relationships, compassion, joy, love, forgiveness.  What is one thing I can do this week that will help me grow in this area?

Soul: prayer, self-awareness, spiritual disciplines.  What is one thing I can do this week that will help me grow in this area?

Mind: Biblical knowledge, Christian worldview.  What is one thing I can do this week that will help me grow in this area?

Strength: sacrifice, serving, giving, other-centredness, delayed gratification.  What is one thing I can do this week that will help me grow in this area?

Do you have a HSMS training program?  If not, why not?  Spiritual growth and vibrancy never “just happens” anymore than becoming a fit and competition-ready runner “just happens.”

  • 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)


5. How can our church support teens in their spiritual journey?

Heart:  Encourage teens and take time to listen.

Soul:  Pray for the teens in your life and in our church.

Mind:  help create environments where they can work through their questions and doubts, while being guided deeper into God’s Word.

Strength:  Look for ways to tangibly bless teens you know.

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Fourth Week of Advent: Sunday, December 22nd

Isaiah 11:1–10

11 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—
3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.  

Wherever God’s kingdom breaks forth, it leads to unnatural reconciliation (i.e. “the cow will feed with the bear).  People that “should” be enemies find themselves drawn into fellowship.  People who are justified holding onto bitterness and plotting revenge uncover a willingness (and even a desire) to forgive.

But this amazing and unnatural turn of the heart cannot be manufactured in and of ourselves.  Our hearts are not bent towards justice, mercy, love, and grace.  That’s one of the reasons Jesus came: not just to show us the way to live and but to give us a new heart (i.e. “a new set of desires”) that makes that kind of life possible.

The Christian life cannot be lived simply by “applying ourselves” to try to follow Jesus.  It starts–and is sustained–with us asking God for a new heart.

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