Introduction Overcoming Obstacles to Christian Growth

Introduction to Overcoming Obstacles To Christian Growth

Introduction To Book Six – Growth

By

Ron Christian

"Christ receiveth sinful men, even me with all my sins" – great words from a great song that describe God's great grace! But while it is true that Christ can and does transform sinners in a moment of time (when a sinner truly repents and turns in humble faith to the Savior), it is also unfortunately true that 'saved' persons often carry 'sinful attitudes' with them long after their initial spiritual conversion. This 'sinful spiritual baggage' can weigh down a Christian, causing great spiritual damage and even eventual spiritual destruction. 'Sinful spiritual baggage' like prejudice, judgmentalism, resentments, alienation in human relationships, unforgiveness, repressed anger and bitterness (which can cause 'depression'), unresolved grief. In this book (i.e. Book Six of the 13 Booklet Series on 'Growing A Godly Life') we will look at each of these above-mentioned serious problems which debilitate and threaten to destroy the life of a Christian. All of these constitute 'sinful spiritual baggage' which must be gotten rid of if one is to experience spiritual and mental and emotional health and well-being. Left to fester and to poison the life of a believer, eventually these sinful attitudes will snuff out all spiritual life!

Much could be said about each of the above-mentioned sins (which too often are left undealt with in the life of a believer) but let us in this Introduction seriously 'focus' on one of the many obstacles which threatens to undo many Christians – the problem of Prejudice. Thomas Duckworth, whose excellent article on Prejudice (the first devotional in this booklet) describes prejudice as judging a person by his appearance and concluding that you do not want to have anything to do with him. It is turning away from a person before you know anything about him. Prejudice is an ugly sin, too often tolerated in the life of a "professing Christian".

I have sadly discovered it in my own life, and perhaps you too have uncovered this ugly sin in your life. Christians need to rid themselves, not only of prejudice, but of all other 'sinful baggage' which is the cause of spiritual defeat. James wrote the following words to Christians: "Get rid of all that is wrong in your life, both inside and outside, and humbly be glad for the wonderful message we have received, for it is able to save our souls as it takes hold of our hearts." (James 1:21, Living Bible)

Prejudice – that widespread sin among 'professing Christians' – comes in many different 'forms'. There is racial prejudice, economic prejudice, educational prejudice, class prejudice, ethnic prejudice, gender prejudice, religious prejudice, and a variety of other prejudices. James exposed the ugliness of this sin, and he called upon Christians everywhere to cleanse themselves from this destructive problem. "Dear brothers, how can you claim that you belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, if you show favoritism to rich people and look down on poor people? If a man comes into your church

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dressed in expensive clothes and with valuable gold rings on his fingers, and at that same moment another man comes in who is poor and dressed in threadbare clothes, and you make a lot of fuss over the rich man and give him the best seat in the house and say to the poor man, 'You can stand over there if you like, or else sit on the floor' – well judging a man by his wealth shows that you are guided by wrong motives. Listen to me, dear brothers: God has chosen poor people to be rich in faith, and the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs, for that is the gift God promised to all those who love him. And yet, of the two strangers, you have despised the poor man. Don't you realize that it is usually the rich men who pick on you and drag you into court? And all too often they are the ones who laugh at Jesus Christ whose noble name you bear." (James 2:1-7, Living Bible)

There is not only prejudice against the "poor" (or, strangely, sometimes against the "rich", which is "inverted snobbery"), but there is also widespread racial prejudice – even among so-called 'Christians'. It has only been in recent years (since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.) that some all-white "fundamentalist churches" (in the 'Bible Belt' of American South) have 'allowed' the presence of 'Blacks' (African-Americans) into their sanctuaries. The prejudice of the 'Whites' (including 'Christians') against the 'Blacks' (including 'Christians') in the American South (and in some other places) has long been 'deep' and 'bitter'! Needless to say, such 'racial prejudice' is completely contrary to the 'spirit of Christ' (which is the spirit of acceptance and love). It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who had 'a dream' that the day would finally come in America when Black and White children would freely play together with no consciousness ("sensitivity') to the 'color' of their skin, that persons would not be judged (evaluated) by the 'color' of their skin but by the 'character' of their person! No 'professing Christian' has any 'business' ('right') to discrimination against any person for arbitrary reasons, like race, culture, economic status, education, religion. One form of racial prejudice is expressed by 'professing Christians' who are strongly opposed to interracial marriages. There is no solid Biblical or theological rationale for such opposition (did not Moses the Jew marry a 'black' Ethiopian?), but, nevertheless, there are many 'white, conservative, evangelicals' who continue to oppose "a black man marrying a white woman". One of the most pathetic (inexcusable) forms of racial prejudice is expressed by some religious folks who claim that, because Ham (the son of Noah) was 'cursed' (Genesis 9:18-25), all 'Black People are cursed' (to be subservient and inferior)! There could not be any worse form of Biblical misinterpretation and racial prejudice (performed in the 'name of religion')!

When my grandchildren were very young (verily able to talk), I taught them the following 'little verse':

"Jesus loves the little children, 
All the children of the world, 
Red and yellow, black and white, 
They are precious in His sight, 
Jesus loves the little children of the world."

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And Jesus loves the 'Brown' (Hispanic) children too – a rather large 'portion' of the American population! Jesus has 'no favorites', and there is 'no superior race'. All are created with 'equal significance' to the Lord God, and all are 'equally loved' by, the Heavenly Father! There is 'no room' for racial prejudice among sincere Christians!

Another 'form' of prejudice which Christians must avoid at all costs is 'educational prejudice'. This kind of prejudice can express itself in two different directions. There are some Christians who are strongly prejudiced against highly educated persons (including highly educated pastors and seminary professors). Some Christians appear to believe that 'ignorance is bliss' (a 'virtue'), and that if a minister has a PhD behind his name, he must be 'less spiritual'. I have heard several 'well-meaning' older believers belittle ('make fun of') ministers who had a "seminary education". One older minster whom I recently met (with whom I greatly enjoyed visiting and who 'appeared' to me to be 'a saint') talked jokingly (but nevertheless 'seriously') about 'seminary' really being a 'cemetery' (which 'ruined' most young men who were training for the ministry). It can't be denied that 'seminary training' has tragically been instrumental in the 'ruination' or many young men who were training for the pastoral ministry (because of the 'skeptical' and 'liberal' and 'anti-Biblical' attitudes of far too many seminary professors). But, to categorically 'condemn' (or 'belittle') all seminaries (and call them 'cemeteries') is foolish and naive and judgmental (a form of 'intellectual prejudice').

On the other hand, there are some 'elitist-type' Christians, whose intellectual conceit and contempt for the less educated Christians (including ministers who don't have seminary training), makes them equally unattractive and insensitive and unapproachable. These highly educated Christians find it difficult to accept the fact that God has often chosen persons with an average (or 'below average') 'formal education' to do some of His greatest work in His Kingdom! Those with a strong 'bias' against the uneducated ought to take another look at Jesus' Twelve Disciples, none of whom went to any college (and certainly not to any theological seminary). The Christian Movement, from the beginning, was a 'lay movement'! God is glad to use brilliant minds and highly educated persons, but God is able also to use an Amos ("an herdsman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit" – Amos 7:14) or any other commonly-educated persons. As far as I know, my own grandmother (a very 'saintly' and intelligent lady) 'graduated' only from 8th grade, and yet she was a 'student of the Word', and one who regularly read many 'Christian books', and one who taught adult Sunday School classes for several decades! A 'deep and seasoned' Christian, a wise and discerning counselor, a mighty prayer warrior, a fruitful and loving soul-winner! Weather highly educated (like the Apostle Paul) or uneducated (like Jesus' disciples Peter and John), persons can only be effective in their life if they spend much time in communion with Jesus Christ. "When the Council (Jewish Sanhedrin) saw the boldness of Peter and John, and could see that they were obviously uneducated non-professionals, they were amazed and realized what being with Jesus had done for them!" (Acts 4:13, Living Bible)

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No amount of formal theological education can take the place of a deep heart commitment to Jesus! Tragically, there have been far too many seminary-educated ministers who depended too much on their formal education and too little on the daily 'anointing' of the Holy Spirit! When the 'going got rough' in the pastorate, many of these 'beady seminarians' (who were 'proud' of their theological expertise) decided to 'throw in the towel' and 'call it quits' (as far as the pastoral ministry was concerned)! Even John Wesley, whose theological brilliance was unmatched and whose 'taste' for proper ecclesiastical form was intense, had a difficult time accepting the fact that God could 'call' and 'use' unordained and commonly-educated laymen to preach and to evangelize. It was only after Suzanna Wesley (John's mother) 'confronted' him about this issue (of lay persons preaching) did John Wesley see the wisdom of allowing laymen to preach. It was then that John Wesley laid aside his 'prejudice', and championed the cause of lay persons preaching the Gospel. God raised up hundreds of 'lay ministers' (unordained and ill-educated) to spread the Good News of Christ throughout England and other Lands!

"Intellectual prejudice" expressed in 'either direction' (i.e., taking 'pride' in intellectualism or 'scorning' intellectualism) should have no place in the life of a true Christian. All such prejudice must be expunged from the Christian!

Another form of 'prejudice' among Christians is "religious prejudice". There are too many Christians who believe that they have a special 'edge on God's truth', that they are the most enlightened and spiritually informed, that their church (or denomination) is 'more favored' by God than any other church. Such a 'sectarian' attitude is evidence of spiritual pride – the kind of pride which dishonors an all-loving God and engenders divisions and misunderstandings among Christians. Even though I personally cherish my Anglican Heritage (as a 'fifth generation' Free Methodist), I have always found it hurtful to listen to some of my fellow evangelical (conservative) Protestant ministers speak disrespectfully (and sarcastically) regarding Roman Catholics or Pentecostals or some other 'Branch' of the Christian Church (Body of Christ). Christ alone is 'the Way, the Truth, and the Life', but I believe that there are many 'ways' to God (but only 'through' Christ), and that there are many honorable ways to worship the Living God! Certainly God is too 'big' to be 'boxed' into anyone denomination or church!

Personally, I appreciate the large variety of way! in which my several relatives (and friends) love and adore the Precious Savior. One of my grandmothers was a devout Roman Catholic, and the other grandmother was a devout Free Methodist (as well as my mother and my wife and myself). My two sisters (and some of their family) are Presbyterians. My brother belongs to the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. My oldest daughter and her husband (and their children) experience devout worship in the Eastern Orthodox Church. One of my sons-in-law was raised in the Episcopal Church, and he and his wife (my youngest daughter) have often worshiped in this liturgical church. I have one niece who married a Jewish man who has accepted Jesus as his Messiah. My

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niece and her husband, who joyously worship in a Messianic Jewish synagogue (church) each Saturday, have helped me to appreciate the "Jewish roots" of the Christian Faith. Both my aunt and her daughter (my cousin) were ordained Pentecostal preachers. Several of my friends (including fellow pastors) are Calvinist-oriented Baptists. One of the faithful 'donors' to my interdenominational organization (called "Christian Living Ministries") is a long-time devout Lutheran. For the last several years, my wife and I have attended a large evangelical (protestant) church – the Evangelical Free Church. I have a rather large number of friends who attend the Assemblies of God Church.

A person who follows the loving and accepting and tolerant Christ has no just reason to be intolerant, close-minded, narrow, exclusive, sectarian, bigoted, prejudiced against a fellow Christian who chooses to worship differently and to think differently than he does. Notes William Barclay: "The conviction that our beliefs and our methods alone are correct has been the cause of more tragedy and distress in the Church than almost any other thing. There are many ways to God. God has His own secret stairway into every heart. God fulfills Himself in many ways, and no man and no Church has a monopoly of the truth of God. It (Daily Study Bible; Luke; pg. 131-132)

Barclay notes that of all the greatest religious leaders none was such a pattern of tolerance as John Wesley (1703-1791). Said Wesley, "I have no more right to object to a man for holding a different opinion from mine than I have to differ with a man because he wears a wig and I wear my own hair: but if he takes his wig off and shakes the powder in my face, I shall consider it my duty to get quit of him as soon as possible. The thing which I resolved to use every possible method of preventing was a narrowness of spirit, a party zeal – that miserable bigotry which makes many so unready to believe that there is any work of God but among themselves. 'We think and we let think'. When his nephew, Samuel, the son of his brother Charles, entered the Roman Catholic Church, John Wesley wrote to him, 'Whether in this Church or that I care not. One may be saved in either or damned in either, but I fear you are not born again.'" (pg. 131)

God is much 'bigger' than any system of theology, or anyone 'type' of religious experience, or anyone 'branch' of God's Church (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant), or anyone 'way' of worship. Notes William Barclay, "There is room in the Empire of the Kingdom for a wide variety of beliefs. No man and no church has a monopoly of all truth. To think ourselves right and everyone else wrong can lead to nothing but trouble and bitterness and strife. So long as all these beliefs are stemmed in Christ they are all facets of God's truth. There is room in the Empire of the Kingdom for a wide variety of experiences. We do infinite harm when we try to standardize Christian experience, and when we insist that all men must come to Christ in the same way. One man may have a sudden shattering experience and may be able to point to the day and the hour, and the very minute, when God invaded his life. Another man's heart may open to Christ normally and naturally, and without crisis, as the petal of the lint-bell opens to the sun. Both experiences come from God and both men belong to God. There is room

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in the Empire of the Kingdom for a wide variety of ways of worship. One man finds touch with God in an elaborate ritual and in a splendid liturgy; and another finds God in the bare simplicities. There is no right or wrong here. It is the glory of the church that within its fellowship somewhere a man will find the worship that brings him to God. Let him find it, but let him not think this way the only way and let him not criticize another's way." (Daily Study Bible; William Barclay; Luke; pages 184, 185)

Ridding one's self of all 'religious prejudice' is important, to help assure continuing healthy and dynamic growth in the Christian life.

Some mistakenly believe that a life which is free of all prejudice is a life that is free of all Intolerance. But such reasoning is erroneous. A Christian should rid himself of all racial and religious prejudice, and a variety of other destructive prejudices, but a Christian, at the same time, should never compromise with sin in the 'name' of 'tolerance'. A Christian, who seeks to be 'free' from the sin of prejudice, must also 'champion' the cause of righteousness, holy living, and moral purity. It is NOT a sign of 'prejudice' to stand against moral evil in society. To rid yourself (as a believer) of hurtful 'prejudice' is NOT to become indifferent to widespread evil in society (such as pornography, adultery, homosexuality, etc.). To speak against the sin of homosexuality does NOT make you a 'prejudiced' person or a 'hater of mankind'. One can be, at one and the same time, a 'lover of mankind' and a 'hater of sinful acts of perversion'. Laura Drewer's article in 'Week 24' entitled "Indifference Puts Blinders On Our Eyes" speaks well to this issue.

It is NOT a sign of 'wrongful intolerance' or of 'evil prejudice' for a Christian to have a high regard for justice, righteousness, and holy living. In our age of 'moral relativism', where moral distinctives are blurred, there is a need for a declaration of 'moral absolutes'. In an age of 'easy toleration', there is a need for strong convictions and a rejection of the 'false'. In our age where so many are doing that which is 'right in their own eyes', there is need for the prophetic voice which declares "Thus saith the Lord!" When men turn all the 'blacks' and 'whites' into 'pale grays', there is need for clear thinking regarding the 'morally good' and 'morally bad' (as taught by the Holy Bible and as generally recognized throughout the history of mankind). The believer must never deny the legitimate existence of some 'moral relatives', personal convictions, individual preferences, and cultural tastes, but neither must the believer deny the fact of 'moral absolutes' and 'universal principles' which apply to all persons, in all societies, in all ages. Adultery and homosexuality and murder are just as wrong today as they were when the Ten Commandments were first given! The fact that one is 'intolerant' towards evil (i.e., the violation of God's Absolute Moral Laws) does not make one a person who is full of 'prejudice' against lawbreakers (sinners). To say that you are 'intolerant' towards the sin of murder, is not to say that you are 'prejudiced' against the murderer. It is a misapplication of the idea of 'prejudice' to say that the 'unprejudiced

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person' is 'tolerant' of all behavior, regardless of how 'evil' or 'perverted' that behavior might be!

However, the Christian who is rightly opposed to 'moral evil' must not be hostile or hateful toward the' man of evil'. When one of my daughters was very young, she learned to make this important distinction. She said, "Daddy, God hates robbery, but He loves the robber!" It is all-important that the, believer has an intense hatred for sin and, at the same time, an intense love for the sinner! Unfortunately, some 'professing Christians', while they are championing the cause of moral righteousness, have turned against the sinners whose sins they so intensely hate. It is 'right' to boldly speak against the horror of abortion, but it is not right to hate the women who choose to abort their babies, and it is never right to plot the murder of abortionist doctors.

It is possible to be morally good and yet to lack loveliness, attractiveness, and graciousness' in the expression of moral righteousness. It is possible to speak out prophetically against adultery and homosexuality and drunkenness, for instance, and yet in the process lack tenderness and love for the 'fallen one'. It is possible to be practically and morally 'good' and yet not to be aesthetically 'good'. To be 'aesthetically good' is to be attractive, winsome, and lovely in one's actions of good. The goodness of justice and righteousness seeks to destroy personal and institutional evil (like homosexuality and adultery). The goodness of kindness and mercy, on the other hand, attracts the sinner (the lesbian or prostitute, etc.) away from her sin and 'perversion' to the beauty and purity of the altogether lovely Christ! The true Christian must never allow the 'warm love' in his heart to be 'chilled' by the rigor and coldness of his moral-codes. He must never be 'tolerant' toward sin, and he, at the same time, must never be 'prejudiced' against the sinner! While (properly) upholding strict moral and biblical principles, the Christian must always remain tender and responsive and loving towards people who are morally broken by sin. To reject sinners in their 'moral predicament' is to be guilty of the greatest 'crime' and 'prejudice' of all! The Christian must always be able to shed a sympathizing tear for sinners (who are in 'slavery' to their sins), without holding any sympathy in his heart for sin! The greater his love for the sinner, the greater his hatred for the sins which are in the process of totally destroying the sinner! 'Intolerant' towards sin, and 'unprejudiced' towards the sinner!

Why have I spent so much time and expended so much effort in writing about the 'sin of prejudice' (in its various forms and manifestations)? Basically for two reasons. First, because it is rather obvious, from my personal experience and from observation of the 'Christian Movement' in general, that "Prejudice" is a widespread 'problem' which is too often unrecognized and unchallenged. Great healing would happen in the lives of countless Christians (and in the "Christian Movement" as a whole) if there was a widespread recognition of this 'great evil', and if there was a deep repentance and an honest expunging of 'prejudice' from the individual and corporate life of Christians.

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The second reason why I have spent so much time and effort writing about 'prejudice' in this Introduction is to illustrate the fact that each of the many 'problems' ('obstacles') which are discussed briefly in Booklet Six, could be dealt with in much greater 'depth' than what was possible in this 'general treatment' regarding Christian Growth in this Daily Devotional Series. Each one of the various 'obstacles to Christian Growth' could have been 'analyzed' with at least as much 'interest' and 'application' as was the subject of 'prejudice' (but 'space' does not permit such analysis).

'Prejudice' is only one of the variety of problems which Christians must face and seek, by God's grace and through diligent human effort, to overcome. Besides the several 'problems' which were named at the beginning of this Introduction there are many others: living by 'feelings' instead of by 'faith'; inadequacy for life's tasks and God's assignments; discontentment with where one finds himself in life and failure to "bloom where you are planted"; loss of confidence in one's self or in one's Lord; discouragement; failure to maintain faith and 'high expectations' in God's miracle power; 'hurtful habits' and failure to exercise discipline to form 'new habits'; worry; negativism; loneliness; failure to forgive one's self for past mistakes and sins; self imposed 'bondage' to daily routine with a failure to take time to relish God's gifts of beauty and pleasure and recreation; a sense of personal insignificance and 'worthlessness' (low self-esteem); failure to guard one's mind from exposure to 'evil thoughts'. These are some of the many 'obstacles' which keep persons from growing dynamically in their Christian lives.

Another 'obstacle' which must be overcome is 'narrowness of outlook' – a failure to see 'reality' from God's broad perspective. Some Christians get too preoccupied with their own 'little world' and with their self-centered concerns, rather than seeing the 'big picture' from God's viewpoint. Christians need to be 'world citizens', not merely 'local citizens' who are preoccupied with their own 'agenda', their own small community, their own local and neighborhood issues. John Wesley, the great 18th century Anglican Preacher, Evangelist, and Moral Crusader, had a 'vision' from God to reach lost people, far and near. He said that 'the world was his parish'!

Another serious 'obstacle' which every sincere Christian must seek to 'overcome' is looking back to the past (with its many regrets) rather than looking ahead to the future (with its possibilities and opportunities). Christians need to follow the example of the Apostle Paul who wrote: "Dear brothers, I am still not all I should be but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing. Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us" (Philippians 3:13-14, Living Bible) Paul, whose past life was deeply marred by his many sins – religious bigotry and cruel persecution of Christ's followers – could have lived in 'constant regret' regarding his 'dark past'. But instead Paul chose to accept God's grace and forgiveness and to live in peace (with God and with himself), and to live with excitement and

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anticipation of heaven's future joys! A Christian is called to be 'forward-moving' and progressive in attitudes, rather than 'backward-looking' and defeatist in mentality! For a Christian, 'the best is yet to be' as he anticipates the 'new horizons' of tomorrow and the ultimate rewards of heaven!

HIGHER GROUND

I'm pressing on the upward way, 
New heights I'm gaining every day; 
Still praying as I onward bound, 
"Lord, plant my feet on higher ground."
My heart has no desire to stay 
Where doubts arise and fears dismay; 
Tho' some may dwell where these abound, 
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.
I want to live above the world, 
Tho' Satan's darts at me are hurled; 
For faith has caught the joyful sound, 
The song of saints on higher ground.
I want to scale the utmost height, 
And catch a gleam of glory bright; 
But still I'll pray till heaven I've found, 
"Lord, lead me on to higher ground."

CHORUS:

Lord, lift me up and let me stand, 
By faith, on heaven's table-land, 
A higher plane than I have found; 
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

Johnson Oatman, Jr. (1856-1926)

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