Resources to Help You Grow as a Christian

Here’s the truth: If you’re depending on your pastor (or any other leader for that matter) to meet all of your spiritual needs, you’re going to be disappointed… and odds are, you’ll leave them drained.

We’re not gurus. We’re not experts. We don’t have a corner on the market.

And you can’t thrive as a follower of Jesus if you only engage with God one day a week… through someone else.

Back in the 1500s, a guy named Martin Luther started a reformation helping people understand they could have direct access to God. He was right – YOU have direct access to God. You can pray on your own, worship on your own, and serve on your own.

The church is and should be a vital part of your faith. Plants don’t typically survive unless they are rooted in good soil. But there are things you can do to grow your faith all week long, not just on Sunday.

So, here’s a list of some of my favorite resources and links to help.

  • THE BIBLE
    • This one is easy. Hands down, YouVersion is just about the best platform for reading the Bible digitally. The website is great, but the app is where the magic happens. You can choose a reading plan, share notes and questions with others, and keep track of your progress. Also, every Sunday at Vertical Church, we have an event on YouVersion where you can take sermon notes.
  • BOOKS – Here are just three books I’ve read that have helped me grow in my faith (other than the Bible, of course… see above!)
    • Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis. This is a classic from one of the most important authors of the 20th century. Great read for both beginners and veterans.
    • Home Run – Kevin Myers. Fairly new edition to my list, the value of this book is in the analogy Pastor Kevin uses to describe how a Christian grows. Plus, we’re doing a series from this in the spring!
    • Simply Christian – N.T. Wright. A bit thicker on the content, I would recommend this one to a person who’s already familiar with Christianity but is looking for some fresh perspective.
  • PODCASTS – I listen to a lot of sermons and preachers. Here are three of my favorites.
    • Andy Stanley – Senior Pastor of North Point Community Church (and a bunch of others) in Georgia. Pastor Andy’s sermons are always incredibly practical and easy to understand.
    • Judah Smith – Pastor of The City Church in Seattle, WA. Pastor Judah is a great communicator, and his stories are hilarious. But don’t be fooled, he’ll smack you in the face with the truth while making you enjoy it!
    • John Gray – Associate Pastor at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. He’s a recent addition to my list, and you’ll have to just search him out because he doesn’t have his own podcast. But it’s definitely worth it!
  • WORSHIP MUSIC – I love music. I love Jesus. I love music about Jesus… good music about Jesus 😂! The links here are to their websites. You can also search for them on Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube, or wherever else you like.
    • Bethel Music – The worship songs that come out of this place are just insane! A majority of the songs we play on Sundays at Vertical Church come from either Bethel Church or Jesus Culture, who used to be at Bethel before launching a church in Sacramento, CA.
    • Hillsong – Just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Includes Hillsong Music, Hillsong United, Hillsong Young and Free… and whatever else they put out!
    • Ramp Church – This is another place where we find songs for Sunday. It also doesn’t hurt that Hope’s sister and her husband sing and play there!

I hope this list helps you grow in your faith. Pick one or two of these and try them for a week or two. And be sure to let me know in the comments below what you find helpful or what you’d add to the list. I can already thing of a few things I missed!

Advertisements

Why I Choose to Trust People

Being a cynic is for the weak. It takes strength and courage to live at the intersection of hope and trust.

As a pastor, I have been privy to all sorts of conversations.  And as often is the case, we end up talking about people.  Not in the gossipy, “bible study prayer request for a friend in need” sense, where we divulge all of the rumors and insider knowledge that we have acquired about a person – who may really be in need, but probably doesn’t want all of their dirty laundry aired.  I’m sure you know what I mean there.  We end up talking about how people hurt others… betray, lie, insult.  More often than not, the pain experienced is both legitimate and completely understandable.  I’ve seen terrible wounds inflicted upon the hearts and souls of men and women – some times physical, other times emotional, always painful.

It’s easy to experience the damage that we can inflict upon each other and become cynical… believing that everyone is just motivated by their own self-interests, leaving us full of distrust of human sincerity or integrity.  It makes perfect sense.  How do you protect yourself from future hurt at the hands of those you trust?  Simply stop trusting people.  If you don’t place your trust in people, then those people can never betray that trust and bring you harm.  This attitude is so prevalent in church circles that we’ve even given it a spiritual twist, a “Christianese” way of saying it all.  We’ll talk about how you can’t place your trust in people, only God.  That if you place your trust in people, they will let you down because they are immoral, ignorant, insecure, immature, etc.  We’ll quote scripture to support our growing cynicism:

“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.” – Psalm 146.3.

“This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD.” – Jeremiah 17:5.

I get the main idea, and I agree that people are often untrustworthy, full of insecurity and immorality.  But I don’t think that means we don’t trust them.  I don’t think it gives credence to being a cynic.

Simply put – we trust people because Jesus trusted people.  Jesus surrounded himself with people, friends that He lived life with.  It wasn’t by accident.  Nothing Jesus did was by accident.  He trusted people, and people crucified him.  When He rose from the grave, fresh off of the betrayal, He still trusted people.  Jesus refused to give up on the trustworthiness of humanity.  Jesus invited us (people) into His Father’s mission (see Matthew 28:18-20) knowing all too well what lies in the human heart.  Even today, He’s still trusting people.  He’s still entrusting us with His message, with His Spirit.

Being a cynic is for the weak.  It doesn’t take large doses of creativity and insight to discover the evil that lurks within.  It’s not particularly courageous to live your life separated from friends because you fear they may turn on you.  It doesn’t take strength to live in that kind of fear.

It does, however, take strength and courage to live at the intersection of hope and trust.  To live, as Christ lived, with the reality that the same people you are trusting today may, in fact, be the mob that cries out for your crucifixion tomorrow.  It takes audacity to stare fear in the face, and choose to trust anyway.  It isn’t ignorant or naive to choose trust.  It may be one of the most daring choices we can ever make.

Day #6 – Everyone is a missionary.

Day 6!  It’s been great going through these values like this.  Here’s the last one…

Read the passage we looked at on Sunday – John 1:40-46 – and consider the following:

  • How did Andrew first meet Jesus? (You’ll have to jump back to v. 35.)
  • What does John say the first thing Andrew did after meeting Jesus?
  • Who found Philip? (v. 43)
  • What did Philip do after Jesus found him?
  • Did Nathanael immediately believe or was he unsure?
  • Did Philip try to change Nathanael?  Or did he simply invite him to come to a place, introduce him to Jesus, and let Jesus take care of the rest?

Take some time today to ask God to reveal to you the people who are in your life that need Jesus.  Plan to be patient with them, investing in their lives relationally, and inviting them to a place where they can meet Jesus.  Remember, we are God’s plan for growing His church.

We’ve made it through all six of our core values at Vertical Church!  I’m excited about what God is doing in our community.  I can’t wait to kickoff our new series tomorrow morning, Little Stories with BIG IDEAS.  There’s plenty of time left to invite someone to join you tomorrow!

Day #5 – God gave first.

Honoring God with our finances is one of the most misunderstood and mis-preached subjects that I’ve seen in church life.  It seems to me, just in my own experience, that pastors either avoid the subject altogether or teach it in a way that dishonors God by using the tools of guilt, condemnation, and even manipulation.  But we can not build God’s church using the devil’s tools.  Never.

With that in mind, let’s begin our devotional around this important value…

Read 2 Corinthians 8:9… Paul shows us the proper beginning point for any discussion of generosity.  Where does he say we begin?  (Hint: If you need help, take a look at John 3:16.  Is God a taker or a giver?)

Read 2 Corinthians 8:12-14… What does Paul say is the standard we are to use in measuring our giving?

Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 and work through the following questions:

  • What kind of giver does Paul say God loves?  And what role should guilt, condemnation, and/or manipulation play in encouraging people to give?
  • Does God promise to take care of those who are generous?
  • What is the ultimate result of our generosity? Who gets the glory and thanksgiving?
  • Is it possible to give more to God than He has already given to us?

We have worded this value with great care and caution.  We wanted it to encapsulate 2 very important reminders:

  1. God is always the initiator of giving.  Anything we give is a response to His gift.  Giving is not primarily about us, but about God.
  2. God, in his character and person, is generous.  Generosity isn’t just what God does, it is who He is.

Don’t forget that we have one more value to share tomorrow!

Day #4 – God is writing a story.

“‘Child,’ said the Voice, ‘I am telling you your own story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.'”

I absolutely love this quote from Aslan, speaking in the C. S. Lewis Narnia chronicle, The Horse and His Boy.  He is speaking to a boy named Shasta, who has faced adventure and hardship on his journey toward freedom.  It reminds me that God is a master storyteller… that through a magnificent multitude of smaller stories, all entangled and meshed together, He is telling His own story in a mysterious and beautiful way.

It’s day 4!  Which means we’re halfway through our devotional series.  Grab your bible or phone (YouVersion App) and let’s dig into this value…

GOD IS WRITING A STORY.

As followers of Jesus, we know that we were not the first to arrive here.  Rather, we understand that we stand in a long line of generations who have taken part in the endless conversation between God and humanity.  We see the Bible to be the key part of this conversation – penned by writers inspired by God to pass along their poems, stories, accounts, letters, and relationships with each other and with God.

And while God may be finished inspiring scripture to be written, we are not convinced that He is in fact finished altogether.  Rather, God is still writing stories of hope, faith, redemption, love, and rebirth in the lives of women and men today.  Because we see our relationship with God as a journey, change is assumed.  And change brought about by the grace of God should be celebrated.  And as we celebrate it, God has a way of writing new stories in the lives of those who hear it.

Read John 4:1-42 and reflect on the following questions:

  • How would you describe the Samaritan woman’s witnessing technique?  What was the content of her message to the people in the city?  (v. 28-30)
  • Initially, why did the people from that city believe in Jesus?  Did they actually, physically meet Jesus before they believed? (v. 39)
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the effectiveness of this woman’s decision to simply tell her story of what happened?  Why do you think it was (was not) effective?

In 1 John 1:3-4, what does John say they are proclaiming?  And how does this “make their joy complete?”  What do you think that means?

Finally, in Revelation 12:10-11, what are the two things they used to overcome the accuser?  With that in mind, do you think there is power in sharing your story with others?

AND… just FYI – we’re starting a new series this weekend at Vertical Church called Little Stories with BIG IDEAS.  It’s all about the parables of Jesus.  You can catch the promo video here.  I’d like to encourage you to share with at least one person this week what God is doing in your life, and then invite them to join you this weekend at VC.  You can share this video with them, or point them to verticalchurch.tv so they can get a feel for our church family.

#3 – Saved people serve people.

It’s day 3 of our core values devotional, but before we dive into it, just wanted to point you to the message these devotional blogs are based upon.

Having shared that, let’s jump in…

One of the big ideas that we’ve shared over the last few months is this idea of “wikichurch.”  If you’re not familiar with what a wikichurch is, or if you just need a refresher on the idea, it comes from Ephesians 4:7-16: Churches that point people to Jesus aren’t built on the gifts and talents of a few, but on the sacrificial service of many.  With that in mind, let’s reflect on a few questions:

1. Is everyone given grace to serve, according to the measure of Christ’s gift? (You can also check out what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12.)

2. What did Paul say was the purpose of leaders in the church?  What is their role?

3. When is the church most effective – when the pastor/leader ministers to the people or when the body ministers to the body?

4. According to v. 13-14, what are the benefits of each person involving themselves in the process of ministry?

Read John 13:1-17: Are we more obsessed with being served and recognized than with emulating the actions of Jesus?  As followers of Jesus, what should be our focus?

Read Matthew 20:26-28: How did Jesus describe being great? If we are following Jesus, and seeking to become more like him on a daily basis, then what should be our default attitude when it comes to serving?

Take a few moments today to ask God in prayer to reveal to you the specific way He has wired you to serve.  Allow the Holy Spirit to search your heart and mind, revealing areas and ideas of serving opportunities you may not have considered.  To help in the process, you may want to ask yourself:

  • What do I do well?
  • What do I enjoy?
  • Where can I get involved right away?

If you’re still wondering how and where you can serve, ask you pastor.  She/he may be able to help point you in the right place.  If you attend Vertical, let us know.  We consider it an honor to help you find your sweet spot in serving, and we’ll work with you to discover it.  We can try a few different options until we find that place where your gifting and talents intersect with God’s call and opportunity.  Remember, the best way to discover your calling is to get involved!

Day #2 – You can’t do life alone.

It’s day 2 in our 6-day devotional through the core values we talked about this past Sunday at Vertical Church.

One of the passages we listed under this value is from Hebrews 10.  Let’s read verses 19-24 together, then think through a few questions:

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

1. How many times does the author of Hebrews (many think Paul wrote it, but we’re not sure) use the words “us” and “we” and “one another” and “together”?  Thinking about that, do you think God ever intended on Christianity being a “Lone Ranger” activity?

2. What do you think it looks like to “not give up meeting together”?  Is he specifically talking about a church worship experience, or is he talking about something even more basic?

3. There may be some who would argue that church community isn’t that big of a deal… or that I love Jesus but not the church.  How do you think the author of Hebrews would respond to that?

4. Hebrews 10:24-25 names at least three benefits of being in community with other believers.  What are those and how important do you think they are in the life of a Christian?

Read Ephesians 3:20-21… what does Jesus think about the potential of the church that He established?

Finally, read Mark 14:32-35… Even though Jesus was the Son of God, fully God and fully human, did He try to do life alone?

This life is going to be filled with high mountains and deep valleys, incredible successes and devastating failures.  In each and every circumstance and situation, life is better in community.  It’s more exciting to celebrate wins when you celebrate them with others, and the losses are more bearable when you share the pain.  So, who are you living life with?  What’s your next step into community?