The Struggle for Endurance

James 1

2Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. 3For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything. (James 1:2-4, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Last year around this time, I decided I wanted to shed about 10 pounds by the time I hit my birthday about 3 months later. I developed a plan that involved counting my calories through an app called LoseIt and increasing my fitness level through running.

I should say that I really don’t like running. Actually, that’s too generous. “Hate” would be a more appropriate word to describe the feelings I had for running.

My twins are runners so I’ve been exposed to the running culture for a number of years and I’ve made many attempts to get myself out there. But honestly, it was always just so dreadful. I couldn’t go very far before I was completely gasping for air and I almost always developed some kind of knee/leg/calf/shin/ankle/foot injury within a couple of weeks, which always required time for healing which in turn meant a complete restart a few weeks later.

I was in the habit of driving over to the high school and doing laps around the track because it was flat. I thought that anything I could do to make running easier would be better. I was wrong.

It turns out that when Covid hit, the school closed the track to the public. Those of us in the know knew how to get onto the track even when the gates were locked but then the school hired security guards to kick out anyone who might try to circumvent the rules.

At that point, I had no choice. If I was going to try to burn off excess calories via running, I was going to have to do it in my own neighborhood, which meant running up and down hills.

It turns out that running only on flat surfaces was not exactly helpful for my progress. It also turns out that running up hills is helpful. The struggle of going up a hill actually builds endurance.

After a few weeks of running, I was able to slowly extend my distance. Three miles had been about my max but I was now able to do three miles more regularly.

One day, I decided to do a long run of 6 miles. The plan was to run out of my neighborhood and over to the man-made Lake Mission Viejo. There’s a walking loop around the lake that’s about 3.1 miles. Running that loop and then running back would be about 6 miles total. The problem was that there are a number of long hill inclines around that lake and I found that I couldn’t run that whole loop without having to make several stops to get my heart rate down and control my breathing.

But one day, I was able to push myself and make it all the way around that lake loop without stopping. It was a big achievement. I decided that I would make another attempt in a few days, which I did. Running around that lake became easier and more routine, precisely because I had to struggle to do it in the first place. It was the struggle that increased my endurance and helped me build my stamina, a feat that had always seemed to elude me.

Now, a year later, my typical daily run is 6 miles, including the lake loop. About once a week, I’ll run a longer run of 10-13 miles. My times have gotten better and I find that I actually enjoy running more than I ever thought I would.

When James talks about struggles in this first chapter of his letter, I think about running. Just as the struggle of running up hills helped increase my endurance, so the struggles of life increase our faith and ability to trust God.

The struggles of life actually help your endurance grow. Of course nobody likes struggles but they are an inevitable part of life. So James’ advice is to embrace the struggles of life and look at them as an opportunity to develop endurance, which in turn will mold you into a person who is “strong in character and ready for anything.”

Reflection

What examples do you have from your own life that demonstrate how struggle actually promotes growth?

What are some current struggles you’re currently experiencing? In what ways could these struggles be used as an opportunity for growth?

Many missionaries who have served overseas among more underprivileged communities and cultures have remarked how deep and strong the faith is of believers who have relatively little compared to American Christians, whose faith, by comparison, has often been observed to be shallow and lacking in depth. What do you think might be some reasons why American believers, despite our vast biblical and financial resources, often are seen as having a shallow faith, while believers in third world countries are often described as having deep and enduring faith?

What are some steps you can personally take to develop your faith and build endurance?

 

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

Are you a Christian Who Needs Milk or Meat?

Hebrews 5

11There is so much more we would like to say about this. But you don’t seem to listen, so it’s hard to make you understand. 12You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things a beginner must learn about the Scriptures. You are like babies who drink only milk and cannot eat solid food. 13And a person who is living on milk isn’t very far along in the Christian life and doesn’t know much about doing what is right. 14Solid food is for those who are mature, who have trained themselves to recognize the difference between right and wrong and then do what is right. (Hebrews 5:11-14, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In this section, the author of Hebrews rebukes his audience for their immaturity.

Truthfully, these words could easily be directed towards the mainstream of today’s evangelical church, as data suggests that a majority of those who call themselves Christians today are either uninvolved or only marginally involved in the activities of their local congregation.

So what’s the issue?

According to the author, these believers were experiencing a spiritual dietary problem. They were drinking milk when they should be eating steak!

The author states that these believers had been Christians for a long time. If you’ve been a believer for a while, there is an expectation concerning your growth and maturity level. Yet these recipients had not attained an expected level of maturity.

The author compares them to babies. Babies drink milk because their bodies cannot handle solid food. So essentially, they need pre-digested food.

The food the author is talking about is related to an ability to understand right and wrong and to do the right thing. These believers were not new followers of Christ, but because they had not grown much spiritually, their lives looked like the lives of someone who had only recently been exposed to the Christian faith.

The author states that as long-time believers, they should be at the point where they are able to teach others.

What should they be teaching?

The author states that they should be able to teach others concerning what is right and what is wrong. But they weren’t able to do that. Instead, they still needed others to step in and lead them and teach them “again the basic things a beginner must learn about the Scriptures.”

The growth process isn’t automatic. In order to experience growth in the Christian life, there’s a process that we undergo where we begin to learn what is right and what is wrong. We learn this by understanding the Scriptures.

Those who are growing and becoming mature are learning what the Scriptures say about what is right and they are DOING what the Scriptures say we must do if we want to do what is right.

This process, over time, causes us to become mature and it results in our ability to teach others what the Scriptures say.

So the question is, are you a Christian who needs milk or meat?

Milky Christians are characterized by the following:

    • lack of knowledge of what the Scriptures teach
    • need for others to explain basic truths about Christianity
    • Incomplete or limited understanding of right and wrong
    • Consistently unable to make right choices in actions
    • Unable to teach others these truths (primarily because of a lack of personal understanding)

Meaty Christians may be characterized by the following:

    • Ability to recognize between right and wrong
    • Consistent application of God’s truth in their lives
    • Not overly dependent on others for understanding
    • Able to teach others Scriptural truths

Reflection

Which of the two conditions best reflects where you’re at? Are you a Milky Christian or a Meaty Christian?

What has been your experience in teaching the Scriptures to others?

What do you think is the biggest barrier to you growing in maturity and becoming someone who is able to teach other?

What steps can you take to become a person who is mature, knowing right from wrong, and able to teach others?

 

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Why Some Christians Never Grow

2 Peter 1

3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;  7and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.  8For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  9But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. (2 Peter 1:3-9, NIV)


The Daily DAVEotional

Have you ever wondered why some people who have been Christians for a long time never seem to get past the initial stages of Christian development?  Perhaps you count yourself in this group. Maybe you’ve been a consistent church-goer for years and even attended the occasional small group, but you’ve never felt like you were really progressing as a Christian.

I think a lot of people get to this point and begin to wonder if there isn’t something more to the Christian life. Some who are discontented may half-heartedly trudge along in their Christian experience, while others choose to walk away, assuming that their spiritual “experiment” was just a phase.

In this passage of 2 Peter, the author (Peter) gives the reason why people are not growing and developing in their spiritual lives.

But first notice that in verses 3-4, Peter tells his audience that God has already given them everything they need to live the Christian life and experience godliness. There’s no special enlightenment or advanced teaching a person needs in order to experience the Christian life as it was meant. This means that no matter where you are at, whether you are brand new in the faith or if you’ve been a believer for many years, you already possess everything you need to experience all Christ wants for you.

What is it that Christ wants for you?

Starting in verse 5, Peter reels off a list of virtues that we’re to add to our character. It’s easy to look at this list and get overwhelmed, thinking there is a lot of pressure to manufacture these qualities in our lives. But don’t get overwhelmed. In fact, I want you to take a deep breath as we look at this list a bit differently than maybe you’ve looked at it before.

What is the starting point of the list?

Faith.

If you’re a Christian, you already have faith, so you’re good. All believers start with a basic faith in God and Jesus.

What is the ending point of the list?

Love.

The goal of all Christian growth is to learn to love God and others more deeply and effectively. Everything in between Faith and Love in this list is simply a process of growing character qualities that helps us to become more loving people.

In verse 8, Peter says that if you possess these qualities and they are increasing (i.e. you’re growing in them or developing them in your life), you’ll be productive and effective in your knowledge of the Lord.

In other words, if you’re growing in these character qualities, you’ll become a more loving person towards God and others and you’ll therefore have the kind of influence and impact God desires for you. You won’t be stagnant or ineffective and you won’t be wondering, as so many immature Christians do, why the Christian life is not as exciting and adventurous as you thought it would be when you first came to Christ.

So why is it that some people never grow?

Peter addresses this in verse 9. He says that the person who is lacking these qualities, the person who is not growing in these character qualities and not becoming a more loving person, is near-sighted and blind. Peter then explains that what makes them near-sighted and blind is that they have forgotten that they’ve been cleansed from their past sins.

The reason so many Christians aren’t experiencing growth is sin!

I’m sorry to disappoint you if you were hoping for or expecting something more profound. But it really is that simple.

Look, we all sin, even the most mature believers. Sin is simply a thought, a word or action that is in rebellion toward God and His values. When we sin, we are choosing to go our own way, and as a result, we are disconnecting ourselves from God, who is the source of spiritual life. The moment any living thing becomes disconnected from its life source, it begins to experience decay.

The person who is growing is the person who, when they do sin, always remembers that Jesus has died for that sin and has paid for that sin. The person who is consistently growing remembers what Jesus has done for them and whenever they sin, they take that sin to the cross, claiming the forgiveness that Jesus has already provided and repenting in their heart for their thoughts, words or actions.

The biblical term for this process is confession. By actively confessing sin whenever you are aware of it, you’re admitting that you need to experience Jesus’ forgiveness every day, not just the one time you decided to become His follower. The net result is that you stay connected to Jesus, the source of spiritual life.

By engaging with Jesus every day, you’ll become more aware of the areas of your life that don’t reflect Him so well and you’ll invite Him to change you in those areas. Before you know it, you’ll be developing those character qualities that Peter lists in verses 5-7 and the end result is you’ll be a more loving person who is thriving spiritually and experiencing genuine transformation.

Reflection

What has been your understanding and view of what it means to grow as a Christian? How have you generally viewed the goal of Christian growth? In other words, what has been your past standard for measuring and evaluating growth as a Christian?

What has been your experience as a Christian with growth? If you were talking to someone who asked you to chronicle your life as a Christian, highlighting the growth and development you’ve experienced since you became a Christian, what would you say? 

When you look at the list of qualities Peter mentions, what is your response or reaction? Does the list create excitement or anxiety? Explain.

What are practical steps you can take to become a more loving person? Who do you know who can be a resource or mentor as you seek to grow as a Christian?

 

Photo by Silvestri Matteo on Unsplash

 

A Tree With No Fruit!

Luke 13

6Then Jesus used this illustration: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. 7Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s taking up space we can use for something else.’

8“The gardener answered, ‘Give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. 9If we get figs next year, fine. If not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In the first house we owned we had a tangerine tree. It was awesome. There’s nothing like fresh squeezed tangerine juice.

When we moved to our current location, I dreamed of having a tangerine tree so we could have fresh squeezed juice just about whenever we wanted.

It took a couple of years to clear some of the bushes and get the back yard exactly the way we wanted but we finally bought a dwarf tangerine tree and planted it in the corner.

The first year there was no fruit, but I figured, it was still growing. The next year, it looked like it was ready to start producing as I could see a couple of tiny tangerines beginning to grow.

And then we got a puppy.

If you know anything about puppies, they like to chew things and one of the things our dog chewed on was that tangerine tree. I put some mesh wiring around the base of the tree to keep the dog from destroying the tree but I wasn’t sure if it was too little too late.

Lo and behold, the tree was saved and it began to grow back (see photo on top left). But it’s been almost five years since then and we still haven’t seen one piece of fruit.

This passage from Luke reminds me of my tangerine tree. I’m about ready to toss it out and get another tree, perhaps one that is more fully developed – one that I know will yield me the fruit that I’m so often craving.

Henry Cloud appeals to this passage to illustrate what he refers to as “The Growth Model.”

When you’re thinking about growth and development, Dr. Cloud says there are three ingredients that are necessary: grace, truth and time.

In this example, the tree is not producing fruit. That is the reality. The owner wants to chop it down and put something else in its place, something that will produce fruit.

The gardener urges the owner to give the tree “one more chance”. The gardener wants to intentionally apply these 3 necessary ingredients for growth to see if the tree will respond and begin to produce fruit.

The time is the extra year. What is the truth in this scenario? The truth is the special attention gardener promises to give the tree.

But what is the grace?

We often think of grace as unmerited favor – the free gift of salvation that is given to us by Jesus through His sacrificial death on the cross.

In this illustration, the grace is the fertilizer. It’s the ingredient the tree cannot provide for itself that comes from an outside source.

Like that tree, we also need grace, truth and time in order to grow and develop. Truth is reality. It’s the realization that we have an issue or problem we need to work through.

Grace is the ingredient that you cannot provide for yourself. It may come in the form of support or motivation or help from someone else.

If we have appropriate levels of grace and truth in our lives applied over time, we can experience grow. We will be like the tangerine tree, producing sweet fruit that is evident and enjoyed by many!

NOTE: For a real life example of how grace and truth helps promote growth and change, read my post from December 15 on “Discipleship and Change Through Coaching.”

Reflection

Which of the three elements do you need in your life to experience growth in an area where you may have struggled to see improvement?

What are some areas of your life where you’ve struggled to experience real change?

How can you apply the principles from this passage to help you see progress?

 

Photos by Dave Lowe

 

 

5 Ingredients Necessary for Growth

When it comes to the spiritual dimension of life, why is it that some people thrive while others dive?

As we meet with Young Professionals, particularly those who identify as followers of Christ, almost without exception we hear them say, “I can’t find community.”

Robert is a Young Professional who, like many recent college grads, was looking for a spiritual community that matched the passion and commitment he experienced while being involved with Cru at Cal Poly, Pomona.

It’s a curious statement to make if you think about it because there are no shortage of good churches and small groups to connect with. How hard can it be to find community?

As we probe further, however, they often explain that they can’t find community like they had when they were involved with Cru in college. Or they can’t find community like they had in high school, or in a particular youth group.

Somehow, the opportunities for connection, growth and development after college aren’t exactly what they expected because they don’t mirror the environment and community that they had previously experienced.

For many Young Professionals, getting connected to a deep and meaningful spiritual community has been a frustrating and disappointing endeavor.

As we’ve thought about this issue of growth and development, we’ve concluded that there are 5 ingredients necessary to a person’s environment that make it substantially more likely they will thrive spiritually and live with purpose and meaning.

These 5 ingredients are:

  • Kingdom Vision – in order for a person to thrive spiritually over the long-term AND make an impact for Christ, they have to have a vision for God’s kingdom and be motivated to be a part of it.
  • Team – Most of us tend to take on the level of commitment and passion that exists in the people around us. So by surrounding ourselves with other like-minded people who really want to make a difference for God, we’re more likely to step up our level of passion and commitment.
  • Plan – if we have no plan for what we’re going to do to serve the Lord and make an impact, then nothing will happen.
  • Coach – numerous studies have shown the value of a coach in helping a person realize a goal or fulfill a vision.
  • Ongoing equipping and Development – people who are growing in character and personal development often have more to give.

For those who’ve been a part of a campus ministry like Cru or InterVarsity, these 5 ingredients were probably embedded within their community without them even being aware of it. The environment was tailor made for spiritual growth and development.

But after college, a community where these ingredients are readily present may be harder to find.

We want to help provide these key ingredients for Young Professionals so that they might get connected to a vibrant community and begin to thrive spiritually and live missionally.

We’ve recently launched something we’re calling Leadership Development Groups. These groups are not a Bible study but more like a professional cohort environment where Young Professionals meet monthly to process key biblical and life concepts together in a small group context.

Currently, Jen and I are each leading a group and we’re in our second month. So far, the response has been extremely positive as most of the Young Professionals we’re connecting with seem to agree that this is addressing a need that they’ve been seeking to meet for some time.

We’re pretty excited about the potential and we’re hoping to get new groups started in the coming months.

Would you pray for us and the current groups we’re leading as well as for the formation of new groups in the months to come?

Also, please pray for us to continue to think creatively about how we can provide these 5 key ingredients for Young Professionals in Orange County so that they might thrive spiritually and live missionally.

We are grateful for your prayers and your partnership with us!