Breastfed Christians

Breastfed

SPIRITUAL MILK

Both the Apostles Paul and Peter mention consuming what they refer to as spiritual milk. In 1 Peter 2:2 we are told, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” In 1 Corinthians 3:2 Paul remarks, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it, and even now you are not yet ready.” It is easy to dismiss this, or become lost on what this means. However, we must understand it if we are to obey Jesus’ command to “make disciples.”

My wife likens the idea of new Christians consuming spiritual milk to nursing a baby. A newborn needs the nutrition that a mother’s body is created to produce. But, as a baby grows, the nutritional value of the mother’s breast milk diminishes. The child needs to graduate to consuming solid food. If a child doesn’t graduate to solid foods, then they become malnourished and will not grow.

SPIRITUAL MEAT

In the same way, when someone first becomes a Christian they need “pure spiritual milk, that by it [they] may grow up into salvation.” This pure spiritual milk makes up the principles of the truth of God, and is essential for you to grow into salvation. It’s the beginning of the process to put off the old and put on the new. Eventually you need more than milk. Ultimately you need the deeper truths of God, spiritual meat, which enables you to grow into the fullness of Christ and become a disciple-maker. You need to become someone who is capable of feeding others. My wife would say it like this: Just as a woman matures and becomes equipped to nurse a baby into maturity; you mature as a follower of Christ and become equipped to nurse new Christians into maturity.

Unfortunately, what I see happening in numerous churches, is that pastors are content to preach to the “lowest common denominator.” They decide to preach a sermon so someone who has never heard the Gospel will understand. While I commend their desire for others to hear the Gospel; and on the surface there is nothing wrong with this method; sadly, there are some larger issues with this approach.

A MALNOURISHED CHURCH

First, it disregards the majority of the congregation that has already heard the Gospel and accepted Jesus as Savior. This style of preaching fails to feed the portion of the congregation who need to be consuming the deeper truths of God. As a result, we continue to feed milk to Christians who should have graduated to spiritual meat. While it is important to be routinely reminded of the fundamental truths of the Gospel, a steady diet of just milk is how we have 30-year Christians who never grow past the fundamental elements of being a follower of Jesus. It is also how congregations sit in their church seats, malnourished yet content, with only showing up on Sunday mornings. They never or rarely engage their faith outside the church.

Secondly, it dismisses the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches us “when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…” (John 16:13) It also says, of the Holy Spirit, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…” (John 16:8) In telling us this, Jesus is saying that we can trust that the Holy Spirit is right and good to reveal the truth of the Gospel message. The Gospel message is already quite simple, in and of itself. When we attempt to preach the Gospel “down” we depend on ourselves, rather than trusting the Holy Spirit, to bring people to Christ.

GOD’S GIFT TO THE CHURCH

So what do we do about this? The Bible tells us that one of the reasons that God, “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds (pastors) and teachers” was “to equip the saints for the work of ministry…” (Eph 4:11-12) And what is this work of ministry? According to Paul in 2 Cor 5:18 God “gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” He “entrust[ed] to us the message of reconciliation” and made us “ambassadors for Christ.” He did this so that we could fulfill the commission that Jesus gave us to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Again, I’m not saying that pastors are not focused on this or not intentioned on leading their congregation down this path. However, the vast numbers of Christians who feel ill prepared and unsure about how to share the Gospel, is an indication that they are not being equipped to do the work of the ministry of reconciliation.

TEACHING OR TAUGHT

What would happen if our church leaders focused on maturing and graduating the “already Christians” to consuming spiritual meat? What would church look like, if rather than using Sunday as a platform for evangelism, we saw a shift toward preaching and teaching people that already know Christ? How would our communities change if pastors trusted the Holy Spirit to lead believers in the pews into all truth, and trusted their congregants to bring the message of reconciliation to a lost world? It is exciting and life-giving to find a church where leaders feed the saints spiritual meat, to mature them and equip them to make disciples that they can nurse, with spiritual milk, into maturity. I am concerned this is more the exception than the rule.

LEARNING TO EAT

Sadly I think the admonishment in Hebrews 5:12-14 still applies today:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Perhaps those of us who are consuming spiritual meat, will consider encouraging our teaching elders in moving past the spiritual milk. Begin first by praying for the leaders in your church, to be led by the Holy Spirit in this concern, and then reach out to encourage and discuss as the Spirit prepares the right time.

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photo credit: kidsinministry.org

Fin (v): The Whole Man’s End

fin

All good things must come to fin… or the end.


Bruce: This is the end… my friend. But even more so, a very exciting beginning!

It has been one year since I launched The Whole Man blog. During this past year, I have learned a lot. My writing and focus have improved dramatically, mostly thanks to my copy editor and coach, Isabelle. Isabelle, you are phenomenal, and I have grown so much as a writer under your tutelage. Just a quick note on Isabelle’s commitment over the last year. She was one of the first people to read and comment on my first post.

After I had posted it, she messaged me and said that she loved it. She found a couple of grammatical issues, but overall it was a great piece. I told her that I would love any feedback she was willing to provide and she, I think reluctantly at the time, reciprocated. To make a long story short, after a couple of emails back and forth, we knew we were supposed to work together. She has become so much more than an editor and a coach; she has become a dear friend. I’m thankful that she lets me be a part of her life. Thanks, Isabelle.

Editor, coach, mentor… friend

Isabelle: Bruce, when I read your first post, I was taken with your sincerity! Your love for Jesus, and desire to encourage others with His love, was so evident that I could not turn away. I never expected a note of encouragement to build a new friendship, but thank you! I am grateful to have shared this past year with you. You never waver in your transparency, your confession, and your desire to redeem any part of your history, regardless of the topic’s sensitivity or potential discomfort.

You honor your Savior, your lovely wife Sarah, and your children, in all that you do. Thanks for your patience when I can’t find a document in our Dropbox LOL, and for never allowing me to rest in my discovery of the depth and mystery of our Savior. I look forward to the next year as we both grow in our service and relationship to Jesus. My commitment to you is to do whatever I can to encourage others to hang out with you more – as you share how the Love and Person of Jesus are as relevant and true today as ever before.

Hopes and Dreams

Bruce: My hope when I started The Whole Man blog was that it would be a place where men could collaborate, through a community discussion, focused on helping other men find healing and wholeness in Jesus. During the last year, I have had the opportunity to talk with some guys that have been impacted by my writing. It never ceases to amaze me that I get to be a part of what God is doing in others’ lives. Over the last year, there were a couple of times when the possibility arose to collaborate with another guy, who had a ministry or a platform directed at caring for men, but ultimately it was never the right timing. At the same time, I began noticing that while I was intentionally directing my writing toward guys, per my demographics, about 65% of my readers were women.

Back When it was New

Before launching The Whole Man blog, my writing was directed at the Christian community “at large.” I often wrote to The Church with the hope of encouraging it towards love; as in loving God, others, and each other. My blogs were written with the intention of supporting, commending and guiding the fellowship of believers. Occasionally I wrote to those that were not Christians, with the desire to witness to Who Jesus is and His love for them.

Over this past year, I realized that my writing for The Whole Man blog is just one vein of what I desire to write about. My audience has remained consistently 65% women and 35% men. It has become apparent to me, that in at least this season of life, I am supposed to be writing to our church as an all-inclusive community of believers. I look forward to writing directly as the Spirit leads me, speaking on the many topics that impact all of us; regardless of where we are in our journey, who we are, or how we serve.

Starting… again.

fresh startWith that said, I’ll begin making our transition toward blogging at BrucePagano.com. By mid-September, 2016, TWM link will effortlessly redirect you to BP.com. After the transition, I also have some book manuscripts I am working on, and will have chapter previews up soon. Later, I intend to develop the TWM website into a blog-sharing site directed toward guys. However, that is a bit of a ways off. In the meantime, please join me at BrucePagano.com and the podcast, I co-host, The (G)odd Show.

Thanks for all the support at The Whole Man, and I look forward to seeing you at BrucePagano.com!

Isabelle: We have lots of plans for BrucePagano.com and look forward to having you join him. Please feel free to email Bruce with any topics that you would like for him to consider writing about in the future.

photo credit for “fin”: peteevanschefcaricature.ghost.io 
photo credit for “fresh start”: mymentalgamecoach.com

The Heart-wrenching Process of Forgiving

Forgiving

The topic of forgiveness is common within the church. We discuss giving it, desiring it, accepting it, rejoicing in it, and enjoying the ultimate – forgiveness in Christ. However, we are less likely to talk about the process of forgiveness. Extending forgiveness will require prayer and can cost significant time. And for some, a substantial amount of time. There’s a huge difference between forgiving someone who spoke badly about you, and forgiving someone who has deeply hurt you – emotionally, physically or both.

This discussion is not intended to hurry you to the point of forgiveness, but rather my desire is to lend some clarity to what you might expect as God moves you closer to what may seem impossible. Even more so, I would like to share what I believe to be a more complete view of forgiveness – one that is more for the forgiven. It is also important for me to say that if there has been any history of violence, fear of it occurring, danger for the victim or those involved – a discussion with a pastor or a qualified therapist is mandatory before any contact should even be considered. As a victim of violence by a complete stranger myself, I would not pursue that relationship.

In recent history, the church has fallen short in revealing the depth and greatness of offering forgiveness. For many reasons, we have focused on teaching Christians that the greatest benefit to forgiving is to be enjoyed by the forgiver. Freedom and closure are promised. But as difficult as it may be to accept, this type of forgiveness falls short of what we are offered through Christ. I wrote more on that HERE.

Forgiveness and the results of forgiveness can look quite different. Are both Christians? Is the offender an unbeliever? Are they related? Is the offender a friend, or a stranger? The truth is that regardless of the offense and who is involved, God’s heart and all of scripture indicate forgiveness is always for reconciliation and restoration. In some circumstances, this may mean parties are reconciled. In other circumstances, parties are not reconciled. However, forgiveness should always create a way for the offender to be reconciled to God. This post is intended to walk through part of this process for arriving at forgiveness. In no way is it intended to be an all-inclusive discussion, or meant to be overly simplistic.

THEIR RESPONSE, YOUR RESPONSIBILITY

As it sometimes happens, the offender does not recognize, whether by intention or not, that they even committed an offense. In some cases, they will adamantly reject that they are responsible, or that any offense ever occurred. In those cases, our obedience to God is never contingent on another person’s response. If the Holy Spirit is leading you to extend forgiveness, your response is obedience.

The offender’s failure to recognize the offense, or outright rejection of it, while frustrating and difficult, is of little consequence with regard to your obedience. Once you present forgiveness and the path to reconciliation it is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to draw that person to their own realization. If the person is not a bother or sister in Christ, their response is still not your responsibility. In every case, your obedience should communicate the grace of God, and everything beyond that is dependent on God.

IT BEGINS IN THE MIND

In Romans 12:2 the Apostle Paul instructs us to, “be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” then goes on to talk about what it looks like to be a true follower of Jesus. Paul speaks of love, grace, and dealing with those who persecute you while refraining from revenge (being forgiving.) He is indicating to us that as we spend time in God’s word, the Gospel will renew our minds, and change the way we approach and think about everything – including forgiveness. If this is true, once the Holy Spirit begins to move us toward forgiving, should it not begin as a decision of our mind, rather than our heart? In fact, I would contend that making a cognitive, or logically reasoned, decision to forgive is the easier part of the process. Often times, as the Holy Spirit leads us, we will easily know it is right and just to forgive. However, it is our heart, which is “deceitful above all things” that typically complicates the issue.

THEY MUST KNOW

Once the decision is made to extend forgiveness, it is important that the offender knows forgiveness is available and, when appropriate, reconciliation is the intended outcome. This is not to say that it will be an easy task. However, the offering is necessary for reconciliation to occur. When we look at the forgiveness that God offers to us, the cross of Christ makes its availability known to us, even if we fail to acknowledge our need. Without knowing you are offering forgiveness, the offender’s ability to accept and pursue reconciliation does not exist. Telling the offender is necessary, even if they do not claim responsibility for the offense.

ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDLY

After you tell the offender, your actions have to reflect that you have forgiven them. Christ did not simply tell His followers that they were forgiven; He showed them. Christ on the cross was the evidence of what He said. What we say must be followed up by evidence. For some, this may be time offered to spend with the offender. Whatever it looks like for you, it has to communicate forgiveness to the offender.

BOUNDARIES GUIDE THE PROCESS

Once forgiveness is expressed, and the potential for reconciliation is made known, you are not obligated to a free for all on the part of the offender. Instead, we see Christ offering forgiveness that establishes healthy and safe boundaries, guardrails if you will, that we should operate within. Even after we offer the gift of forgiveness, there are still expectations for how we are to behave with regard to God and the offender. While the learning curve is wide and the process of transformation is long, a lifetime even, the boundaries still exist. What those boundaries look like are up to you, but remember that they cannot be prohibitive to the offender being reconciled, potentially with you, and especially to God.

YOUR HEART WILL FOLLOW

At the end of the above process, you may still feel the hurt and anger in your heart. That should not be a surprise. The intention is that you make forgiveness known and visible. The implication of the renewal of your mind, as Romans 12:2 speaks of, is that you will be transformed. This can take time, can be messy and includes the complication of our deceitful heart. In being transformed, we are able to know the will of God, which we can see from 2 Corinthians 5:18 and 1 Timothy 2:4, is centered on people being reconciled to Him. As our mind is renewed, our heart is transformed and we interact with people in more Christ-like ways.

In the end, the extension of our forgiveness is an act of obedience to God so that we might fulfill our role of ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). May the desire of our heart be that of our Savior’s, to trust in and show the love of the Father.

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photo credit: www.psychologytoday.com
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