Vital Signs: 5 Ways To Assess Your Spiritual Health (Part 5)

wowHere in Philadelphia, even in mid-March, everything is as dead as the Phillies’ chances at a postseason run.  The good news is that you – at least spiritually – don’t have to be.  (That was a joke; work with me, OK?).  It’s in that spirit that we offer this last post on ways to assess (and hopefully improve) your spiritual health from the Book of Malachi.

To recap our series so far, we talked about 4 other signs that you may be in a slump.  You may be struggling spiritually if you:

  • get defensive and find yourself arguing with what God says (Malachi 1:2-3)
  • want to do Christianity your way, making compromises and taking ‘the easy way out’ (1:6-12, 14-15)
  • find God’s way burdensome and boring (1:13),
  • miss the clear signs of God’s love in your life (1:2-5)

As we conclude the series, we add one final symptom of spiritual lethargy:

5. You don’t see God as great or awesome.

I get this from Malachi 1:8-9 – 8 When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.

You can look here for more of the background, but in a nutshell Israel was offering God inferior sacrifices.  They were giving him the animals defective animals they couldn’t sell on the open market at full price.

But it’s not really about the animals; that’s just the surface issue.  The Lord puts his finger on one of the underlying problems by asking a pointed question: ‘Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor?’  The answer to this rhetorical question is, of course, ‘no!’  Offering a defective animal (or, to modernize it, any kind of flawed gift) to a political figure would never be tolerated, so why offer that to Someone much greater (God)?

Let’s make a quick application.  If we’re honest, we give God second-best (or worse) because we don’t really think he’s worthy of more.  And like Israel, it’s usually because we want to save the best for ourselves.  We would never say this, but in essence, we’ve made ourselves great.

I can remember a time when I used to hate giving money to the church.  I felt like we were poor (we weren’t) and all I could seem to see were all the things we couldn’t have, partly because of the money we were giving away.  God was so patient, but I needed to see that a great and awesome God kindly permitted me to keep almost all of what I earn.  He’s worth it.

How are you doing with this ‘vital sign’?  Where do you specifically struggle to see that God is great and awesome?  One starting point may be to identify those areas where you feel selfish or resentful and work from there.  Common examples could include demanding ‘me time’, your attitude toward serving others or money, or, your willingness to connect deeply to others.  This is where God wants to work in your (and my) life.

In any event, I hope this series has, in some small way, been useful to you in honest self-assessment.  We all have a long ways to go, but God’s grace is more than a match for us on the journey.

Vital Signs: 5 Ways To Assess Your Spiritual Health (Part 3)

lazy-kangarooWell, it’s been awhile since my last post on this topic, but the beginning of the semester happened.  I want to finish what I’ve started, though, so here’s Part 3 of my ‘Vital Signs’ series where we’re taking a look at 5 ways to see whether you’re spiritually healthy from Malachi chapter 1.  (Here are the links for Part 1 and Part 2).

3. You find doing things God’s way burdensome or boring.

As a quick re-orientation, in Malachi’s time Israel was not doing well. Geographically, they were a fraction of their former size.  Politically, they were ruled by the Persians.  Spiritually, they were even worse – not seeing God’s promises fulfilled in the way they were anticipating, they had grown discouraged and cynical. Although they (mainly) weren’t committing the big, obvious sins, they were just going through the motions, the prime example being bringing God leftover, do-it-yourself sacrifices that didn’t follow the guidelines he established (see especially verses 7-8, 13).

When God calls them out, though, they respond by saying, ‘It’s too hard to serve the Lord’ (13).  Which brings us to the point of this particular post: one sign of spiritual dysfunction is half-hearted obedience where we sort of do what God wants, but don’t want to put much effort into it.

It’s not too hard to think of examples from our (and my) own lives.  Since the passage starts in the context of worship, let’s start there.  Going to church, but not paying attention as we sing or listen to the sermon.  Or wishing we could be at home.  Or, on a private level, doing the minimum with bible reading or prayer.  We check the boxes we’re supposed to, but not much more.

Part of the idea here includes boredom, too.  The Message’s version of verse 13 says, ‘I’m bored – this doesn’t do anything for me.’  Ouch.  How many times have we gone to church, served others, or, just done life in general – with a ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude?  When we find God boring, we’re vulnerable to seeking what only he can provide elsewhere, in things that are easier and seem more exciting, like TV, the internet, and even the people around us.  Over time, we’re less and less able to put any real effort into our relationship with God, especially when it’s costly.

And so, now is as good a time as any to do a little self-diagnosis here.  Are there areas in your life where you’ve given God half-hearted obedience?  Areas where you’re saying (in word or deed) that loving God is just too hard or boring?  Places or people you’re turning to as stand-ins for God?

The good news is that God only shows us things to help us.  The way forward always starts with one small step.  Admitting we’ve been selfish or lazy.  Asking for forgiveness.  Taking a tiny step of effort we haven’t in a while.  Asking a friend to check in with us, come alongside you.  In fact, I’ve been realizing I need to put more effort into prayer and that I’ve let that slip more than I should have.

But most of all, we need to see again that God loves us and will never give up on us.  After all, that’s where he starts in Malachi 1, before he even brings up their issues.  ‘I have always loved you’ (2).  His heart for us that never ends gives us the courage to face ourselves honestly and do the hard work of change.  And, over time, his love brings us to the place where, more and more, we ‘keep his commandments’ and find that they are ‘not burdensome’.  (1 John 5:3)

Summer Roundup

Summer Ministry

Since many of our students are unavailable during June and July, these are good months for getting to areas we ordinarily don’t have much time for, such as support-raising and ‘big picture’ thinking.  We’ve found this is critical to having a successful year of student ministry.

At the same time, God is still giving us many wonderful, personal interactions.  To take one example, we have continued summer bible study dinners in our home, with one more to go.  The Book of Malachi has been challenging us deeply on what it means not only to believe the ‘right’ things, but also to live them out.

God has also continued to bless our community development efforts near Temple.  This past semester, with some assistance from other community leaders and I, students from our Christian fellowship at Temple taught 12 science lessons for two seventh-grade classes at a local public school.  Recent budgetary cuts have left the school without any certified science teachers, so their efforts were especially welcome.  In addition to blessing the children, we are praying that some graduate with a vision for serving Christ in underserved, urban environments and believe this is already happening.  This is just a small part of what’s happening in this arena, so stay tuned!

Loose Ends

If you’re one of our donors, now you can access your giving history, print donation receipts and even update your profile history (such as current address).  Here’s how.  (Note: our Donor Tools website is cmdaphiladelphia.donortools.com).

Some of you have requested not to receive general mailings from CMDA, our parent ministry. You may contact Maggie Combs (maggie dot combs at cmda dot org) and simply ask to opt out.

We’ve also recently created a Facebook page and website for our CMDA Philadelphia ministry. Check them out and let us know what you think!

As August draws near, we’re looking forward to meeting new students and connecting with those who return.  Thank you for your prayers and gifts that make it all possible!

Bryan & Sharon

Please join us in lifting up the following prayers and praises:

  • Praise God for a solid end to our fiscal year and for donors who support us well.
  • Praise God for excellent summer bible studies in the Book of Malachi, and, pray for specific, lasting fruit in student’s lives.  One participant shared, for example, that God has been showing him how serious his sin is and how deeply he is in need of everyday rescue.
  • Pray for our student leaders to stay closely connected to Christ over the summer, and, to continue planning and praying for the fall.
  • Pray for God to be working in the lives of incoming first-year students so that they are receptive to our ministry.
  • Pray for wisdom as various leaders, students and I try to discern next steps in reaching out to the community near Temple.  There are many moving pieces and it’s clear this mission cannot be accomplished in our own strength.