Sunday, March 9, 2008

Christian Growth

When God called me to be a Christian, I become a Christian by grace, as a free gift. Christian development begins once I accepted the gift of salvation and the new relationship that Christ offers. Maybe you were a Christian as a child, but drifted away and now you’re back to take another look as an adult and recommit yourself to Christ and the Christian way. So, now you embark on the Christian path.

Is the Christian life hard? No, it’s not hard - it’s impossible! Most of what you’re asked to do isn’t natural - not to human beings as we are now. But you’re not alone in this. Jesus puts His Spirit within you and makes it possible for you to live His kind of life.

You can’t do it all immediately, but you will learn. Be mindful of the fact that salvation happens in an instant, the transformation can take a lifetime. Begin where you are. Make honest attempts day by day, living out the meaning of your baptism. And as you make healing, Godward choices, you will be transformed.

I like the old prayer used in the musical Godspell:

Day by day,

O dear Lord,

Three things I pray:

To see things more clearly;

To love Thee more dearly;

To follow Thee more nearly,

Day by day.

To energize this day-by-day transformation in you, God gives gifts.

The Gift of the Word

When the book-of-the-month club asked its members recently (and in times past) to name the book that most influenced their lives, the Bible was the book that topped the list. For Christians, the Bible is more than a good book; it is the Word of God. Through hearing it, studying it, learning it by heart, and meditating on it, we grow as Christians. The Bible is not just for our information, but our formation.

1. Choose your Bible.

The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek. It has been translated into English many times, so there are many translations of Bible to choose from. Talk to your pastor or local Christian bookstore owner for advice on choosing the Bible for your needs. As far as literal translation goes, I have developed a scale that may help you choose on the basis of the closest translation aside from learning Greek or Hebrew.

Word For Word - precise word order sentence structure

New American Standard Bible

King James Version

New King James Version

New Revised Standard - (Mid scale translation: Word For Word and Thought For Thought)

New Living Translation

Contemporary English Version

The Living Bible

Thought For Thought - closest equivalent in meaning and style

2. Read the Bible.

Reading the Bible feeds our souls and shapes our thoughts and actions. Daily reading produces tremendous results.

3. Study the Bible.

While you can gain much from simply reading the Bible, you will find more treasure if you study it: you can do this alone using study guides and reference tools, but you may find even more value in studying with a group.

Some people also find that memorizing key passages of the Bible helps them make these words their own. Mark the passages that especially speak to you or a situation, and commit them to memory. Then they are available to you to meditate on and to working in your heart. This practice has been done with the Scriptures for well over 2,000 years.

4. Apply the Bible.

Bible study or reading the Bible is not just and intellectual exercise to fill our heads with more knowledge. Its deepest value is a part of an ongoing, active relationship with God through His Word.

The Gift of Prayer

Prayer is an expression of faith. People pray while sitting, kneeling, standing, walking, driving or working. Nearly 50% of the world’s population prays daily. Prayer puts us in touch and keeps us in touch with God. Prayer is God’s way of communicating with us about what He is eager, ready and willing to do for us in our lives and what we can do to serve Him. God does answer every prayer: sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes no, and sometimes wait. Remember that prayer is primarily a way we develop a relation with God and Jesus Christ.

The Gift of Faith Sharing

Receive the gift of faith and keep on growing in faith by finding and being with people who have it. We grow as Christians by being with other Christians. And that means being a part of a church. Whether you’re in a church or not, being with people of faith is the important thing.

The Gift of Witnessing

We grow as we pray together, worship together, share the Lord’s Supper, even walk in the Spirit together. A lot happens when we share our faith stories - when I tell you my experience with God and you tell me yours, I can learn from your victories and your failures and you from mine. This is usually meant by the practice of (and the term) witnessing. You witness what you experience.

The Witnessing Top Ten

1. Be Transparent.

Transparency gives credibility to Christianity. Let others see your hurts, fears, questions, doubts, as well as your happiness, delights and dreams. Anything that seems like confusing, insincere hype is quickly rejected. Claiming to be perfect, super-spiritual, or being better than others diminishes the message as well as the messenger. Heart stuff is good stuff. Let others see you as you really are - warts and all.

2. Be Honest.

It is important to be honest about your challenges, disappointments, and struggles as a Christian - just as it is essential to be honest about supernatural experiences, victories and amazing discoveries.

3. Be Brief.

You might be tempted to share everything you know with people. It is better to be brief. And remember that actions, though brief, can be better than words. Words can often be confusing, but actions are always clear.

4. Be Sensitive.

Being sensitive is sensible. Many people are afraid of Christians and churches. They may have had a bad experience in the past and need tender compassion more than religious talk. Others may need food, clothes, medicine or housing before they are ready to listen or talk. A balance between sensitive observation and sensitive talking is the key.

5. Be a Good Listener.

It is in understanding that we can be understood. To understand, it is essential to listen more than we talk. We need to listen with our hearts as well as our ears. The right to be heard is won by being a good listener.

6. Be gracious.

Grace - unqualified acceptance - is more powerful than criticism or judgement because this is what God showed us and what we to show one another. My mother and grandmother taught me that flies are caught with honey rather than vinegar. Being gracious is the most appropriate expression of God’s accepting, healing and transforming power.

7. Be Kind.

Harshness is offensive. Acts of kindness and gentleness make Christianity more irresistible. Christian bullies build barriers, not bridges, to faith. When you are kind, you let people know they are respected and valued. Our words and deeds can either heal or pierce the human heart. The greatest witness is a kind witness.

8. Be Informed.

This means leaning more about the Christian faith through group study, worship and reading. Also getting to know Christ personally and intimately through prayer is essential to effective witnessing. Talking about a stranger is very different from talking about a friend. It is more convincing to share from personal experience than from second-hand information.

9. Be Creative.

The creative witness is a motivating witness. Old religious clichés and tired metaphors are more easily dismissed than new and fresh ways of speaking. Tailoring our witness experience to the uniqueness of each individual produces tremendous results. Courageous creative conversation makes Christianity seem more inviting and exciting - and it is!

10. Be Positive.

Christianity is about ‘Good News” - the meaning of the Gospel or “Good Spell.” It is news of hope, peace and joy - and the love of God that never ends.

Guided by these 10 principals you can share your faith confidently with fellow seekers - inside or outside of the church. Then leave the results up to God. You are not responsible for your friend’s reaction or response. You are not even responsible for your own growth. God will provide the growth - both to you and your neighbor.


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