Month: June 2023

How to Become a Disciple

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Have you ever admired someone and thought someday you would be like them? Maybe it was a sports figure or a celebrity.  I’ve had a few people I looked up to over the years. These were people I considered great Christians who seemed to walk closely with the Lord.

When I was about 18, I started Bible college in Sacramento. I didn’t know how I was going to pay for anything, I didn’t know how I was going to eat or take care of myself. I just knew God was calling me to do something in ministry so I stepped out on faith that he would meet my needs.

I needed a stack of books for my classes, but I had no money and no job. I got a bill for the books and didn’t know how I was going to pay for them. The next morning, I walk into my room, and someone had left a whole stack of books, the very ones I needed, on my bed. There was a note saying God had taken care of my book bill. Someone had paid for my books and wanted to bless me.

Years later, I found out that an older student named Don La Barbara had purchased them for me.  I had really liked Don and looked up to him as a godly man. He’s a man who knows how to pray and hear from the Lord. I ended up dropping out of Bible college, that’s another story for another time, but I lost touch with Don. We reconnected 20 or so years later. He was on my board of directors for Gold Country Chaplaincy. He recently turned 86. He is a great man of God, and I still look up to him.

There are some people who pray, and God just seems to react to their prayers. It seems they have a special relationship with the Lord. I thought when I was a young Christian that someday when I became more mature and older that sin would not be such an issue for me. I would be closer to the Lord, and it would be easy to live for Christ. These things would not affect me the way they did. As a young man, I thought if I prayed more: if I memorized scripture: if I resisted sin more, then I would draw closer to God, and I would be able to just kind of coast along for the rest of my life. I thought prayer would become as natural as breathing, and the devil would realize I’m going all the way with Jesus and leave me alone.

Unfortunately, our spiritual life doesn’t work that way. My dreams of spirituality coming naturally crashed on the rocks.

What I discovered is spiritual warfare is real. Our spiritual formation is something that takes a lifetime. There are no shortcuts. It’s never easy. Those who seem “super spiritual” have gone through deep tragedy, heartache, and severe trials to get to where they are. They have gone through the fire. When we don’t use our physical muscles, they atrophy. We become weaker. I used to do a lot of weightlifting when I was young. I was very strong, and could easily lift my own weight and more. But staying strong like that required that I keep lifting weights.

The same is true spiritually. If you want to be strong, your spiritual faith muscles must be exercised.

One real problem in the church today, is we are taught we can become a Christian without ever becoming a disciple of Jesus. So many today are told to say that they believe in Christ, but you don’t have to live as if you believe. I like to call that getting your fire insurance paid up. There used to be a common bumper sticker that said, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” There is some truth to that. The problem is we have been taught to simply use that as an excuse instead of trying to do better.

Jesus never told his disciples to make converts. The fact is Jesus often talked about the difficulties of following him. From a marketing strategy, he was the opposite of a high-pressure salesperson. Here is what Jesus had to say about following him found in Luke 14:25-33, “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”

Salvation is the first step. Unfortunately, the church started preaching an easy salvation and has ignored discipleship. In other words, we would teach the ABCs of salvation. Accept Jesus Christ as your savior. Believe he died and was resurrected on the third day. Commit your life to Jesus Christ. And that’s it. When you die, you get to go to Heaven. But really, that’s just the beginning. That’s not the end of things. I can remember the church teaching me to just get someone saved – to say a sinner’s prayer, then no matter what else happens the rest of their life they are going to go to Heaven when they die. They told me there was no need to see any fruit of being a Christian in their lives, as long as they said the words.

There is a big difference between a conversion-centered Gospel and a disciple-centered Gospel. Jesus preached a disciple-centered Gospel, and that is what we preach here at New Hope.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is one of the Kingdom of God. Jesus preached that we can have a present relationship with him. When the church started preaching just conversion, their only goal was to prevent people from going to Hell or missing the rapture. The problem is, people get the attitude that they are going to Heaven, so they don’t need to do anything else. Discipleship is like a second level to them. It’s not something necessary and is reserved for super Christians and pastors. But the reality is, Jesus wants us all to be disciples, not just converts. The Bible says that the entry-level of being a Christian is being a disciple. It’s interesting to note that the title Christian is only used 4 times in the New Testament, whereas the title disciple is used at least 265 times.

The word for disciple is mathetes (Math-ay-tes) in Greek. This means student, apprentice, or learner. This was normally associated with someone who faithfully followed a teacher or a leader.

Dallas Willard once said, “The New Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples, and for disciples of Jesus Christ.

       Willard goes on to say, “The disciple of Jesus is not the deluxe or heavy-duty model of the Christian – especially padded, textured, streamlined and empowered for the fast lane on the straight and narrow way. He stands on the pages of the New Testament as the first level of basic transportation in the Kingdom of God.”

To grow in Christ, and be a disciple of Jesus, and not just a convert, we do have to put in some effort. Salvation is a free gift from God. We can’t earn it, we don’t deserve it, it is a gift of Grace from God. We owed a debt we could never repay, and Jesus paid the debt that he didn’t owe by dying on the cross for us. So salvation is not something we can earn. But our spiritual formation is something that we team up with the Holy Spirit to accomplish. Spiritual transformation is how we over time are transformed to be more and more like Jesus.

The work of transformation is God’s work, but we are not to be passive in that. Philippians 2:12-13 says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Salvation is a work of Jesus Christ. He completely accomplished this on the cross. Being a disciple is about us and God working together.

Titus 2:11-14 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

The same Grace that saves us becomes the grace that teaches us. It’s a lifelong process. It’s not just that we are forgiven, so someday we will get to go to Heaven and avoid Hell.

In the time of Christ, when a person wanted to learn a trade, they would become like a servant of the person who had the trade they wanted to learn. So for example, if a person wanted to be a rabbi, they would move in with the rabbi. They would do anything the rabbi needed to be done. This might be cleaning, cooking, and washing the rabbi’s feet. The servant or disciple of the rabbi would be constantly around the rabbi as they went about their work. They would observe what the rabbi did, and be taught by the rabbi. They would spend time with the rabbi, day in and day out until the disciple learned everything about the rabbi, and after several years, they would become much like the rabbi. They will have learned enough to call themselves a rabbi and be able to take a position as a rabbi with disciples of their own.

The same would be true of other trades. If you wanted to be a carpenter, or a tentmaker like Paul. You would apprentice yourself and learn to be like your teacher.

Many years later during the time of kings and knights, a person wanting to become a knight would find a knight looking for a squire. A squire would become the armor bearer for the knight. They would live with the knight and serve him. They would be responsible for caring for the armor, cleaning it, polishing it, and keeping it up. They would serve the knight and all of his wishes. Over time learning to joust, to fight, and how to be honorable. If they learned all their lessons well, and they served the knight faithfully eventually they too could become a knight.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we serve the Lord and try to do whatever he asks us to do. But we also have lessons to be learned. There are spiritual disciplines for us to practice that draw us closer to Him. There are several spiritual disciplines. Some examples would be studying the Bible, praying, attending church, and doing good works. Over a lifetime, we can become more and more like Christ.

So a disciple could be broken down in its simplest form to one who is a faithful student and a servant. We are formed through the spiritual formation to be like our teacher, Jesus. We serve him and spend time with him, and learn the lessons he wants us to learn.

Some people think the way to become more like Christ is to grit your teeth, get determined, and resist sin with all the willpower you can muster. Have you ever thought that way? If you only try hard enough you will be able to lose weight; if you only try hard enough, you will be able to get in shape; if you only try hard enough, you will be able to overcome sin and live more like Christ. With enough willpower and hard work, you can do anything you need to do.

Willpower is important. Sometimes you can accomplish a lot by just trying hard and having willpower. But we cannot become more like Jesus by just using willpower alone. If we only depend on our own strength, eventually we are going to fail. We all sin. I sin every day, not because I want to but because I have a sinful nature.

Thinking that we can do it in our own strength is a way that leads to failure, guilt, and feelings of discouragement.

John 8:31-32, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

I was recently ministering to an 86-year-old woman. She had some questions about what it means to be a Christian. One of her concerns was a difficult passage in the Bible where Jesus said in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” She said she had never been able to forgive her mother and father for how they had treated her and her brothers and sisters growing up. Her father was a womanizer, a thief, very abusive, and a pedophile, and her mother was aware of it, and seemingly supported what he was doing. They practiced seances in their home, and welcomed evil spirits in. She told me about a lot of the horrible things her parents did to her and her siblings.

I explained to her that forgiveness is a choice, not necessarily a feeling. And forgiving does not excuse what they did. Romans 12:18-19 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” I explained how when someone does something to us like what happened to her, we may have to keep forgiving and ask God to help us forgive.

Remember the man who brought his son to Jesus for healing. He asked Jesus if he could heal his son. Jesus said all things are possible to him that believes. He told Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.” Jesus healed the boy. In the same way, we may have to ask the Lord to help us forgive. We choose to forgive or to hold a grudge, but forgiveness may not be a one-time thing. We may have to forgive every day and ask God to help us forgive every day.  This woman prayed to become a Christian and asked God to help her forgive. She then asked to be baptized, so I explained baptism to her and baptized her. This question was something she had struggled with for years. At 86 years old, we have a new sister in the Lord.

It’s not all about willpower. We need the Lord’s help to overcome sin. See there are three sources of temptation that come against us. 1. Comes from our own fleshly desires. We have a sinful nature that wants to continue in sin. Our flesh is extremely selfish and wants to do what makes it feel good, no matter whom it hurts. Paul described it as a dead man attached to us. He said, “Oh, wretched man that I am, who will set me free from this body of death.” 2. Secondly, we live in a fallen world. Since the sin of Adam and Eve, the world is corrupt and seeks to have everyone act out in pride, arrogance, and have our own way as opposed to following God. Bad things happen to us not because God wants them to happen, but because we live in a fallen world. 3. Finally, the devil and his demons will try to tempt us and lead us away from the Lord. The only way we can overcome these three is with the help of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t mean that we are passive and don’t do anything, but we partner with the Holy Spirit working together to overcome sin and temptation.

This is the final point I want us to look at today.

When we look at how Jesus called the disciples, we never see him making a sales pitch. He never says, “Follow me and life will be grand.” Or “Come to me, and your life will be so much easier.”

When Jesus called Andrew and Peter he said, “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”  That sounds like Jesus is saying, “follow me and I will put you to work.”

Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a song a few years ago called “For the Sake of the Call.” I think he put the call of Jesus so eloquently. The first few stanzas go like this:

We will abandon it all for the sake of the call

No other reason at all but the sake of the call

Wholly devoted to live and to die for the sake of the call

Nobody stood and applauded them

So they knew from the start

This road would not lead to fame

All they really knew for sure

Was Jesus had called to them

He said “come follow Me” and they came

With reckless abandon, they came

Empty nets lying there at the water’s edge

Told a story that few could believe

And none could explain

How some crazy fishermen agreed to go where Jesus lead

With no thought to what they would gain

For Jesus had called them by name

And they answered…

We will abandon it all for the sake of the call

No other reason at all but the sake of the call

Wholly devoted to live and to die for the sake of the call

If you have never given your life and heart to Christ, if you have never made that decision to become a Christian, you can do that today. Jesus told us to count the cost. The 86-year-old woman I talked about looked at forgiving her father and mother. This was the biggest cost to her. She weighed it and decided it was worth the cost.

Coming to Christ is not just about avoiding Hell and going to Heaven when we die. That is very important. But this is about living your life for Christ. It’s about having a relationship with God starting right now.

Statistics show that young people come to Christ a lot easier than older people. I think that is because when they count the cost, there is a lot less to consider. But just like that 86-year-old woman last week, or the 101-year-old woman I had the privilege of seeing come to Christ a few months ago, we have to decide, is it worth it?

Jesus is calling your name today. Will you answer that call?

Jesus said in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

You may say you have not been so bad. Or maybe you think you are not a sinner at all. But have you ever told a lie? The Bible says if you have ever told a lie, you are a liar. Have you ever stolen anything? The Bible says that makes you a thief. The Bible says that every liar and every thief will have their part in the Lake of Fire along with murderers, pedophiles, prostitutes, and drunkards.  Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

There are only two kinds of people who get to avoid Hell and go to Heaven. The first is all the perfect people, who never break any of the ten commandments. The problem is, there has only ever been one person who was perfect, and that was Jesus Christ. That means he is the only one qualified to get to Heaven that way. The other people that get to go the Heaven are those who let someone else pay the cost.

Jesus was willing to go to the cross, to shed his blood for our sins, and to die in our place, without any guarantee that anyone would accept his free gift of salvation. He wants us to count the cost and determine if we will follow him, just like those crazy fishermen. Will you answer that call today?

Book Review of The Kingdom Life: A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation, Edited by Alan Andrews. NavPress 2010.

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This is a wonderful, life changing book. This is not said lightly. I do a lot of reading in spiritual formation, and much of what I read is mediocre. This book is excellent, well thought out, and well edited. Each chapter comes from a leader in spiritual formation as they explore the basic elements of spiritual formation as well as the theology of spiritual formation. It starts out with a chapter by Dallas Willard, and has other authors such as Keith Meyer; Peggy Reynoso; Paula Fuller; Bruce Demarest; Richard E. Averbeck and several others.

Bill Hull talks about how, for many Christians, we have been given a false notion about our spiritual walk. He says on page 106, “A young person who also is an new Christian often has a vision of his or her religious future. But often that vision is inaccurate.” He goes on to explain how Christians often think that as they get older they will naturally draw closer to Jesus, and temptation to sin will simply go away. He later writes on the same page, “The inexperienced follower of Jesus knows that his or her spiritual formation is a lifelong experience. Life continues to surprise those who live it.”

This book gives a great breakdown of the theology behind spiritual formation. It doesn’t just make you “feel good” about spiritual formation, but demonstrates from scripture the practical aspects. It acts as a guide through the scriptures looking at various aspects of spiritual formation and the spiritual disciplines.

My recommendation is you pick up a copy of this book if you are serious about understanding spiritual formation and getting a solid foundation for why you believe what you believe about being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

What is the Secret to Real Joy?

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My heart felt like it would explode with joy this past weekend. First, I got to hold my new granddaughter born just a week ago. Second I graduated with my Doctor of Ministry in spiritual formation and leadership from Epic Bible College and Graduate School. This was the fulfillment of a dream I have had most of my life. The third was a real surprise. This is me and my friend David at my graduation. We have not seen each other in about 42 years. It was 45 years ago that David led me to Jesus Christ, and I became a Christian. This completely changed my life. I would not be the person I am today if not for that moment 45 years ago.

My family growing up was not Christian. I was rough and tumble and loved to fight. I drank a lot of alcohol as a teenager and was headed down a very dark path. My family moved from Oregon to California when I was a young teen, and because of my size and height, I quickly became a bully. I was rebelling hard. We lived a couple of miles from my school, and I had to walk to school every day. A new family moved into my neighborhood, and that is when I met David. Being a bully, I can remember punching him in the gut when he annoyed me. But over time, we started walking to school together and became friends.

David began inviting me to church and his youth group. The last thing I wanted to do was to go to church, and I did my best to corrupt David. Every time he would invite me to church, I would make up an excuse why I couldn’t go, and then start cursing and talking about how immorality was such fun. A turning point came one day when I got into a fight and blacked out. I was so furious; I didn’t know what I was doing. A school bell rang snapping me out of my blind rage, and I found myself on top of my rival with intentions to do him bodily harm. This really scared me. I had never lost control in a fight like that before. My Dad had talked about having rage moments, where he would be so angry he would black out with rage, but this was the first time I had ever experienced it.

Shortly after I lost control in a schoolyard brawl, I started thinking about telling David yes the next time he asked me to go to church. I had run out of excuses for not going to church with him. Sometime later he asked me to go again, and I found myself visiting his church. It was OK. There were some other teens from my school, which surprised me. And the youth group was kind of fun. Something began to stir down in my heart and spirit.

When we went to church, we sat in the back pew. They sang old hymns and then the pastor got up to speak. The pastor actually held my attention at least partially. Towards the end, he began talking about what it means to be a Christian. He told us we were all sinners and deserved to go to Hell. He didn’t have to tell me I was a sinner. I was rotten to the core, and I knew it. He then started talking about the love of God, and how Jesus Christ loved me so much he was willing to go to the cross to die in my place. This struck me hard. He recited John 3:16 which says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish but have everlasting life.” I don’t know if I had ever heard that before, but hearing it this time moved me. I knew I wanted the forgiveness of God. I knew I wanted a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The next thing that happened was the pastor asked anyone who wanted to become a Christian to get out of their pew and make their way down to the front. There was absolutely no way I was going to do that. I was “white knuckling” the pew I was sitting in. But the next thing I knew, I was standing up and walking up to meet the pastor. The Holy Spirit was moving so strongly on me, I knew it was time to stop fighting and come to Christ.

The pastor asked me to go to a back room with the youth pastor Jess, and he explained in more detail about what it meant to become a Christian and start a relationship with Jesus Christ. I knew I wanted this, and he had me say a prayer, confessing my sin, acknowledging the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and asking him to save me.  I knew something happened. An immediate change began in me. Not everything went at once, but over time a lot of stuff started falling off. I got rid of my pornography collection and stopped drinking alcohol. My choice of language started changing, and I began to give up the filthy jokes I used to tell. It took time, but God began changing my heart. 

Spiritual transformation began all those years ago with a decision to accept the offer of Christ of salvation and a relationship. That decision has influenced every decision I have made since then. (My newest grandbaby is one result) God began to change me. Romans 12:1-2 (MSG) tells us, “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

The spiritual formation of the heart begins to take place as we make being a disciple of Jesus Christ a priority. God used my friend David to introduce me to Jesus Christ, but I had to decide whether I would serve God or serve myself. God’s grace, his unearned, and unmerited favor saved me. He immediately began a work in me. C.S. Lewis talked about how Christians like to play it safe with God. He challenges us to take the risk and serve the Lord unconditionally and give Him our all. He said, in The Weight of Glory:

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 about 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 challenge you to take a risk with God. Give yourself fully to him. Don’t hold anything back. Commit to serving him with all of your heart, learn more about spiritual formation, and see how God changes you and gives you joy like you have never experienced before.

The Journey of Spiritual Formation: Seeking the Kingdom of God

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We all yearn for a sense of purpose and belonging as Christians. This innate desire has led many on a journey. This journey has been described as spiritual formation, seeking a deeper connection and relationship with Jesus, and the Kingdom of God.

Spiritual formation is a process of intentionally growing in relationship with God through various spiritual practices such as prayer, silence, meditation, Bible study, worship, and service. It is a transformational journey that draws us closer to God and helps us understand our identity and purpose in Christ.

God invites us to participate in His divine plan of bringing wholeness and healing to the world. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, to seek peace and pursue justice, and to be agents of hope and reconciliation.

This journey is not always easy. We may face moments of doubt, fear, or uncertainty. Sometimes we will have setbacks. But we can take comfort in knowing that God is with us every step of the way, guiding us through the ups and downs of life.

I want to invite you to embark on this journey of spiritual formation with humility, grace, and a hunger for more of God. May we be transformed into the likeness of Christ and become agents of change in the world.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Matthew 6:33

Paul talked about not laying again the foundations of repentance and faith in Hebrews 6. Salvation is the foundation. But what comes next? How does spiritual formation fit into the Kingdom of God? Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God and invited us to become part of it. Mark 1:14-15 (ESV) says, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The Kingdom of God could be defined as the realm of God’s activity, the reality of the resurrection of Christ, and God’s mission for the world. We are invited to become disciples, and followers of Jesus, and to live continuously, right now, in the Kingdom of God. As we follow Jesus, and conform our lives to his, we are spiritually formed into his image. We become more and more like Jesus.

Dallas Willard wrote about the Kingdom of God in his book called, “The Spirit of the Disciplines.” Great book by the way. Anyway, He wrote, “There is a deep longing among Christians and non-Christians alike for the personal purity and power to live as our hearts tell us we should. What we need is a deeper insight into our practical relationship with God in redemption. We need an understanding that can guide us into constant interaction with the Kingdom of God as a real part of our daily lives.”

When we become Christians, we are brought in to the Kingdom of God. Paul describes it in Colossians 1:13 “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”

When we enter the Kingdom of God, we are like babes in Christ and have yet to grow and be spiritually transformed. In John chapter 3, a story is told of a man who came to Jesus at night asking how to be saved. Jesus told the Pharisee Nicodemus he had to be born again. He had to become a brand-new life. This interaction is found in John 3:3-8, “Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born againhe cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

We are born of water at our physical birth. When a pregnant woman’s water breaks, we know that a newborn baby is coming.

Let’s read on. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

So what happens to a newborn baby? My wife and I were recently blessed with a new grandbaby. She is spending a couple of weeks with my daughter and son-in-law as they adjust to having a new baby in the home. Babies must eat, drink, and be taken care of. They begin to grow and learn. They don’t just stay babies. As they grow, they begin to push themselves to crawl, walk, and run. They are active!

We are called to spiritual growth. Growth is healthy. When something stops growing, it begins to die. It’s the same in the Kingdom of God. We should never stop growing in Christ as long as we live. Spiritual formation is not something that happens instantly but rather is something that occurs over the lifetime of the believer.

When we see Jesus in the Gospels, he is taking the Kingdom of God to the regular people. We constantly see him ministering not to the Scribes and Pharisees, not to the religious leaders, but rather to those whom the religious leaders considered unfit for the Kingdom of God. He went especially to those who were thought hopeless. Jesus often ate with publicans and sinners. The doors of the Kingdom of Heaven were swung open wide to them.

Jesus gave a beautiful description of the Kingdom of God in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6, 7.  It is a Gospel presentation combined with the blessings of the Kingdom of God.

Remember, Jesus, is talking to the common people. He was not talking to the religious elite. Matthew 5:3-12 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus wasn’t saying you must become poor to be blessed. He was speaking to those who were already poor. He was telling them, you are blessed!

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Jesus wasn’t saying you have to mourn to be blessed. He was talking to people who were already mourning. He was telling them they were blessed.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Jesus was telling these people, the meek and gentle of the world, you are blessed! You are hearing the Gospel! You are being visited by your Messiah!

 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”Jesus made it clear that we are to seek to serve the Lord. We don’t just get Saved, and then sit back on our hands and do nothing. Again, Matthew 6:33 tells us to Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you. We are to seek and continue seeking the Lord.

 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Jesus talks about how blessed the poor in spirit are, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, and so on. He was not talking to the Pharisees or the religious leaders of his time. His audience was basically rejected by the religious leaders and were not people they would have considered blessed. They were frowned upon. Jesus was telling them they were blessed because he was opening the door of the Kingdom of God to all of them. He was telling them they can be blessed by becoming part of the Kingdom of God. Jesus irritated the religious elite of his time who thought those in this state were under the curse of God.

Jesus gave the good news to the poor in spirit for a change. Rather than telling them they were under God’s curse, Jesus tells them they are blessed. It really hit the Jews hard in their theology. This is not what they thought.

Matthew 11:12 is an interesting passage. It says, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.“ At first glance, some people even today think this means Christians stealing the wealth of non-Christians. There is an old saying, “Name it and claim it in Jesus’ name.” It’s the idea from the Prosperity Gospel that God is going to take away the wealth of non-Christians and give it to Christians who have enough faith. This is not at all what this passage is talking about.

Many years ago I heard the story about a man who went to one of “those” kinds of churches. One day he went to a car lot in Sacramento. The owner of this car lot was a very well-known celebrity in the area at that time. He owned car lots in Sacramento and several nearby cities, and was on television all the time with his commercials. This man walked onto this car lot, walked all around it and when he was asked what he was doing, he said he was claiming the car lot in Jesus name. He said the owner was a sinner, and that God was going to take it away from the owner and give it to him.  This got back to the owner of the car lot. He was disgusted. He talked about this publicly and said he had been considering the claims of Christ, and was near to becoming a Christian prior to this event. He was so disgusted by what this man did, that he said if this is what Christianity is about, he wants nothing to do with it.

This passage is not talking about being an obnoxious or arrogant Christian. It is talking about something that is repeated over and over in the Gospels. It is talking about access to the Kingdom of God for individuals who would not be the first ones chosen in a school yard pick. These are people who the religious leaders of the day would say are disqualified. They don’t do the right things all the time.

This passage is talking about a leper who came to Jesus for healing. Lepers had a horrible disease that would cause rot in their flesh. It was worse than Covid. They were considered very contagious and not supposed to come anywhere near other people. As a matter of fact they were supposed to yell, “Unclean” anytime they saw someone approaching them. This little leper had probably heard Jesus speak, and had at least heard of the miracles that followed him. He got his nerve up and asked Jesus to heal him. He said “Lord if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus said, “I am willing.”  Jesus not only spoke to this man, he reached out and touched him, which was absolutely forbidden by the ruling religious leaders. The Kingdom of God became very real to this man in that moment. The people who witnessed this would have a good idea of what was meant by violence.

This passage means not just standing on the religious norms of who should be in, and who should be out. You don’t have to try to clean yourself up you just come to Jesus. Jesus brings the Kingdom of God to bear on you whether you are an unclean leper, or an unclean Gentile. Whether you are a tax collector, a prostitute, a Roman Centurion, it didn’t matter to Jesus. These are the people of violence described in this passage. They didn’t take the “proper” path to a relationship with God. They were not raised in a religious home, sent to the right schools, and faithful to attend worship every time the doors were opened. They came to Jesus just as they were.  This is how we need to come to Jesus. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 4:20 “The Kingdom of God does not consist in mere words, but in power.” The Jewish leaders of the time of Jesus didn’t see the mission of God, they were only out for themselves. Jesus was trying to reach the entire world with the Gospel, not just those who were already religious.

The Apostle Paul was able to reveal more about the Kingdom of God. He says something interesting In Colossians 1:13-14, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Paul is talking about people being transferred from one kingdom into another. When we become Christians, we are taken from a kingdom of darkness and despair to a kingdom of light, hope, and joy.

There are three basic things you can do that will help you grow. First, get ahold of a Bible and start reading it. This Bible is not just one book, but actually 66 books all in one volume. Start reading the Gospel of John first. The book of John is specifically written to Christians. It will help you understand your role in the Kingdom of God. Second, spend time in prayer. If you have a best friend, you want to talk to them. You want to spend time with them. If you never talk, your friendship will become stale. Make sure you are talking to the Lord. You don’t have to use fancy language to do this. Just talk to Him like you are talking to a best friend. The third thing is to get involved in a good church that teaches the Bible. When you take a hot coal out of a fire and set it by itself, you will notice that coal will go from glowing red, to not glowing at all, and even turning gray. If you put that coal back in the fire it will start glowing again. It’s the same with us. Christians need fellowship with other Christians. Fellowship means having something in common. If you are a Christian, you have Jesus and you have Him in common with other Christians.

So those basic three things will help you grow in the Lord. Let me add one other thing to those three things. Tell others about Jesus and what he has done for you. Jesus was trying to reach the whole world with the Gospel. He wants to use you to help him do that. So there you have the three basic things to grow in Christ + 1.

Salvation from God’s point of view is new life. It’s being born again. We are regenerated. We have a new resurrection life, and God is an active God, and he expects us to be active as well.

1 John 3:2-3, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” This theme of becoming like Christ is what God expects from us. John is saying that in this life we become more and more like Jesus Christ. When we become Christians, God takes us as we are, but he doesn’t leave us there.

Paul taught us not to relay the foundation of salvation. That foundation is vital, but once that foundation is put down, we need to start building. God is an active in his Kingdom, and as members of that Kingdom he expects us to be active in spiritual formation as well.