Showing posts with label Spiritual Formation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spiritual Formation. Show all posts

Monday, May 11, 2020

Face Reality

I am an introvert. That is one of the reasons why I spend so much time pondering.  

All my pondering often leads to introspection. I am constantly evaluating my life.

One of my goals is to live as consistently as possible. I am always examining my thoughts and my actions to see if they line up with what I claim to believe. 

This is both good and bad. 

On the one hand, it helps me to live with integrity, which is a key part of following Jesus. 

On the other hand, it puts a lot of pressure on me, because I can see all the areas where I fall short of my ideals.

When it comes to following Jesus it is good to spend time evaluating the condition of our hearts and the way we live. 

The apostle Paul wrote:
Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. (Romans 12:3; NLT)
Paul taught that we need to have the proper understanding of who we are. 

This requires that we take time to honestly evaluate ourselves. The warning Paul gave is that we don't think of ourselves better than we are. We shouldn't put a positive spin on things, rather we accept our strengths and victories as we admit to our weakness and failures. 

For a healthy life we need to do both. We need value the positive things and confess the negative things.

Too often people fail to examine their lives and ask the tough questions. They try to keep the status quo and not rock the boat, and the result is that they remain stunted in their maturity. Some of our most profound times of growth occur when we take stock of our lives and begin the hard work of making the appropriate changes.

What is true on a personal level is also true on a group level. 

Churches stagnate and die because the members don't want to take time and to face reality. The crisis the Church in the United States is facing right now is, in part, due to the reality that we have wanted to keep the status quo rather than seeking ways to connect with people living in a post-Christian internet age.

This failure to honestly examine things is also true in the nation as a whole. We can talk about a health care crisis or a financial crisis, but we never ask the tough questions that need to be asked that help us understand the root of these crises. We don't want to know what truly caused the problem, we just want the government to make it go away.

My point in all of this is to remind us that as long as we are dealing with superficial issues we will continue to miss the core problem. Whether it is in our personal lives, in our churches, or in our nation, we need to look beyond the superficial and examine what really matters. 

While this is harder to do in the short term it will pay huge benefits in the long run. Effective solutions are those that actually deal with root problem.  By not addressing the real issue, we are just wasting time doing things that ultimately will not matter. 

We need to face reality if we hope to become the people, the church, or the country God created us to be.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Discipleship Happens in Community


Change is hard.

We grow comfortable with the way things are, so when our circumstances or our environment changes it can be hard to accept.

Change is also hard when we want to make changes.

We convince ourselves that we are in control, but when we seek to make a change in our lives, we discover that we have engrained habits that are hard to break.

This raises two important questions:

What is the process of change?
How can I become the person I desire to be?

I have tried to change but it seems I have made little progress. It seems that the same sins and struggles that plagued my life five years ago still haunt me today. I have tried writing out a plan, enlisting the help of others, and just gritting my teeth as I try to "white knuckle" it through. 

Nothing seems to work.

When we feel like we are making little progress presents a huge problem for the Christians. 

Why is it a problem for a Christian? 

It is a problem because a lack of progress leads to discouragement, and discouragement leads to people giving up.

One of the keys to change is to know all our effort is making a difference. When we are able to see progress we begin to feel like there is hope for transformation after all.

Hope is crucial for the success of change.

There is nothing more discouraging in our journey of faith than feeling like we faking the whole thing. 

We compare our lives to the Christians we know and it seems like they have thing together, and so we come to believe that we are doing something wrong. While these people are the real deal, we are just imperfect copies.

How do we help people to change?

I believe part of the solution, especially when it comes to spiritual formation, is discipleship. 

Discipleship is not about adding another class or series of classes that explain church doctrine or what is expected from church membership. It is also not about handing people a list of "spiritual" disciplines that they need to add to their lives (though disciplines do play part in discipleship).

Discipleship requires community. We need to have a group of people who model Jesus’ love for one another, encourage each other, and help one another. While change is ultimately is a personal decision, it has a better chance of success when other people are involved.

One of the failings of the Western church has been a lack of discipleship. 

There are many reasons for this, but at the top of the list focus on the Sunday worship event. A lot of time and money are put into producing a large event that hopefully draws a crowd, but there is little intentionality that is put on making disciples. The one answer churches continue to come back to is that discipleship happens in small groups.

As wonderful as Sunday morning worship and a once a week small group are, they are not enough to bring transformation to the lives of people. This is one of those places where the values of the culture are going to go against the values of the Kingdom.

Americans tend to fill every waking moment with activity, but for Christians we need to slow down and work into our lives time to spend with people. 

I know that this is not easy to do. As a pastor I know people need a spiritual community that is integrated into their way of life. This cannot be programmed to fit into their schedules. It needs to be an organic thing that emerges from the desire to be in fellowship with God and people. We are talk about real relationships that encourages faith, that challenges beliefs, and provides opportunities to love others.

The bottomline is that change is next to impossible because we try to go it alone. We need the encouragement that comes from a loving community for transformation to become a reality.

Discipleship is the key to change, and discipleship happens within the context community.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

How to Read the Bible: Character

The Bible is a gift from God to His people. 
 
We know that it is important to read the Bible, but there are many places in the Bible that are hard to understand. There are also parts that seem rather boring and we loose interest.

Since the Bible doesn't always make sense to our modern western ears means that we need to take time to understand it. 

The Bible is a collection of books written in different literary styles. In fact, many books contain more than one type of literary style within it. 

This is important because we don't read poetry the same way as we read narrative. Understanding the literary type helps us understand what God wants us to know.

About a third of the Bible is narrative, which makes it the most common literary style found in Scripture.

In order to understand narrative we need to understand the basic plot. Often when we read the Bible we pluck sections out of their context, looking for some eternal truth that we can apply to our lives, and in the process we miss out on the bigger plot of the story.

Another feature of narratives is character development. Every good story is about people, and their development within the story draws us into the narrative and makes us care about what is going on.

To be honest, it is hard to relate to Biblical characters. Their world is alien to us. We live surrounded by technology, which prevents us from experiencing the natural world around us. The people described in the Bible were outside people. They were herders who cared for animals and lived a nomadic existence. 

This is just one of the issues we face as we come to read and understand the Bible.

How can better understand the characters written about in the Bible?


 

 The characters in the Bible show us what humans are like. They are a commentary on human nature, a reminder that we are a complex mixture of good and bad motives and actions.

While the Biblical authors provide minimal detail when describing these people, especially in terms of modern day novel authors, the details they provide are important and give insight into their character.

Another key feature is the name of the character. We don't always think about the name of a person, but for the authors of the Bible names were very important and shed light into who the person was.

A frustrating feature of Biblical narrative is that the thoughts and motives of people are rarely shared. In the stories we read and watch the authors typically provide us glimpses into the minds of their characters.

Instead, the Biblical authors provide the details of what happened without moral commentary. This forces us to ponder about what was right and wrong in that situation and how we would have responded.

The Bible is not a collection of nice children's fables that provide a moral at the end of the story. We have tried to do that when teaching the Bible to children, and have ended up watering Scripture down.

The Bible is not a children's story. The narratives in the Old and New Testaments are filled with complicated characters, who often make the bad choice. Over all, these are not people we want to imitate.

What we want to do is to pay attention to the failures of these characters and why they made those decisions. This helps us to think about our actions and the reasons behind our failures and our faith.

We also want to pay attention to how they turn to God and experience God's grace and love. These are the moments that allow us to see God's character and the love He has for us.

The more time we spend reading and meditating on Scripture the better it is able to guide our lives.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

How to Read the Bible: Plot

One of the most important tools that God has given us for our spiritual formation is the Bible.

The Bible contains wisdom from God that helps guide our lives.

But the Bible is more than a collection of eternal truths. If it was then all 66 books would read like Proverbs. No,  the Bible is made up of a collection of different literary styles. The most common style is narrative.

As we read the Bible, we notice that there are many stories that tell us about the lives of people and their pursuit to follow God. Some of these stories are strange to our ears and don't make a lot of sense to us. This problem is made worse because we are constantly looking for the lesson from the story so we have something to apply to our lives.

When we do this, we often miss out on the real lesson that these stories teach us.

So how do we read the stories of the Bible?




It is important that we don't look at stories as isolated events that are there to teach us some eternal truth. We are to look at the whole scope of the narrative and discover how God worked in the lives of people. This gives us a better sense of what God wants us to know.

There is a central plot the runs through the story of each person that connects the individual events of there lives. Understanding this plot helps us to learn the lessons we need to be the faithful people God created us to be.

Not only is there a central plot the moves through the story of each person, but there is a central plot that connects the stories throughout the Bible. Finding this plot helps us discover that the main story of the Bible points to Jesus.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Protect Yourself with Disciplines

All of us have those days when we don't feel like doing much of anything.

It could be the result of:

Not having a good night sleep.

Experiencing loneliness.

Feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities.

The presence of trouble in a relationship.

Or, depression settling in.

Whatever the reason maybe, we all have those days when we don't want to face the world.

I think that is one of the danger of being at home during the Covid-19 pandemic. The activities, projects, and relationships that keep us motivated and positive are not available to us. Working at home and Netflix now feel tedious. We have to be on our guard to protect our hearts and minds.

One of the best things we can do for our spiritual and mental health is to establish routines. These routines help us to get moving and thinking in ways that are productive and healthy.

Christians throughout history have found value in spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are practices, found and adapted from Scripture, that help strengthen our relationship with God and mature our faith. 

This same principle can be applied to other areas of our lives. Daily exercise, taking vitamins, following a sleep routine, taking a nap, and journaling are all examples of  disciplines that we can add to our lives that provide a sense of routine and focus to our lives. 

Disciplines, whether they are spiritual or not, help give focus to our days, and provide meaning when the rest of the day seems meaningless.

Since we know we will have days when our self-discipline gives out, it is important for us to have a routine that will get us moving in the right direction. 

For us who follow Jesus we need to set aside time each day to connect with God. We do this by reading and meditating on Scripture, praying, and journaling. By having a daily routine we become intentional about our spiritual formation, we create a time to reorient our focus, and we provide steps to help us keep moving forward in life.

I have come to discover how vital disciplines are in my life. As a guy who likes routine, they give me a path to follow as I go through my day. They also give me any opportunity to connect with God when I would rather spend more time in bed. 

We need disciplines in our lives, not because we want to show people how spiritual we are, but because with out them we will disconnect ourselves from God,  our source of life. 

For the sake of life and to grow in our relationship with God, we need to have spiritual disciplines in our lives. We cannot live a life of faith without them.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

How to Read the Bible: Ancient Jewish Meditation Literature

I want to return to posting BibleProject videos on How to Read the Bible. You can find the previous three here, here, and here.

We understand that there are different types of literature. How we read a news article is different than how we would read a fictional story.

This difference in literary types is expanded as we look are different cultures at different time types. One of the reasons the Bible can be hard for us to understand is because it was written in a different time and place. If we approach the Bible the same way we would our modern day literature we are going to miss much of what the Biblical authors wanted us to understand.



There are two important lessons that we are to remember as we read and study the Bible.

The first lesson is to read the Bible slowly and deliberately, giving ourselves time to think about what was written. We are not meant to understand everything in one reading of Scripture, so we return and reread and meditate on what we have read.

The second lesson is to discuss our readings with a group. The dynamic of a group allows us to hear from perspectives we don't have as we read Scripture. This opens up the possibility for us to see the truth of Scripture in a whole new way.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Set Your Mind

We live in an information age.

The amount of information that is available at our finger tips through the internet is amazing. There is no library in the ancient world that can rival what is available online.

I am sure that our ancestors would be jealous of the tools and the information we have at our disposal. Many of them had access to only a few books, which they read dozens of times.

The problem we have with this constant access to information is that it can give us information overload. Much of the time it is hard to discern what information we should pay attention to and what information we should ignore.

Our constant online connection is like having a buffet available for every meal. Sure there is good stuff there, but it is easy to binge on that junk that seems tasty.

In other words, because of social media and entertainment outlets, our information consumption tends toward the junk food side of the buffet. The consequence is that the information that fuels our thoughts is just empty calories. It brings a little big of enjoyment, but it isn't going to change our lives.

Even though our ancestors had access to far less information, they were able to use what they had to develop a more robust way of thinking. They knew Latin, Greek, and could talk about different philosophers. They developed a philosophy of limited government and individual rights. They knew Scripture and applied its lessons to their lives. What they thought about not only changed their world, but continues to influence us today.

Always remember: Out thoughts determine the direction of our lives.

It is no wonder that the Bible has so much to say about our thoughts. For instance:
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2; NLT) 
We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5; NLT) 
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8; NLT)

To follow Jesus requires that we change our old ways of thinking. Transformation begins with changing the way we think.

Changing the way we think takes work. Our entire lives, you and I, have developed ways of thinking that have shaped the way we see the world. This means our thought patterns are second nature to us, we don't give them a second thought, but they are responsible for our moods and our outlook on the world around us.

We need to change the way we think! How do we do that?

Colossians 3:1-4 gives us a couple of insights into what we must do.
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.  Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.  And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. (NLT)

In this passage there are two steps we must take in order to change the way we think.

First, Paul told us to "set our sights", or to focus on, what is real. The reality that Paul wanted us to focus on is that we have new life with Jesus. Through our faith, repentance, and baptism we have been raised to a brand new life with Jesus. He is our life, the way we are to live. He is our life, our hope of what is promised to us. Our focus is to be on him. To change our thinking requires us to shut out what is happening around us and focus on Jesus. This is why worship, prayer, and Bible reading are crucial to Christian spiritual formation. These disciplines help us to focus on Jesus.

Second, Paul told us to "think about the things of heaven." The "things of heaven" are not gold streets and eternal life. The "things of heaven" are the values, the rules, the standards, and the morality of heaven. In short, they are the qualities that make up God's character. We think about these things and how they apply to our lives. Instead of basing our standard of truth off what the world says is right, we hold fast to what God has revealed to us. We think about His promises, His word, and His truth and let these thing form our world view.

Taking responsibility for our thoughts allows us to develop new and healthy ways of thinking. It gives us a chance to create a world view that is more in line with God's truth, and it allows us to live with hope and faith.

Failing to take responsibility for our thoughts means we will continue to respond to the world through the old thought patterns we have adopted. These thought patterns often lead us to wrong conclusions and cause us to spend our lives in ways that are not beneficial.

We can change the way we think, but it takes the effort to set our minds on God, His purposes, and His ways. This is the starting point of our spiritual formation.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Glory be to God Forever!

There seems to be more bad news in the world than good news.

Bad things happen to us or to people we care about, and we wonder where God is in all of it. Tragedy hits our nation and we wonder why God didn’t protect us.

To be honest, the evil in this world can overwhelm our thoughts and emotions. It is hard to remain positive when everything around us seems to be falling apart.

Though we wouldn't admit it out loud, we know that there are times in our lives when it is difficult for us to worship God.

I have experienced those moments of wanting to stay away from God.

For me, these are times when life did not turn out the way I had hoped that it would, and I decided God was the right person to blame for my disappointment. This attitude killed any desire I had to worship Him.

Have you been to a similar place?

It is okay to admit. You are not some horrible person for feeling like God has abandoned you. There are plenty of people in Scripture who felt that same feeling.

The book of Psalms contains over 60 psalms that fall into the category of lament. These psalms are raw and reveal the questions and disappointment people have with God.

Through the ups and downs of life it is normal to experience periods of time when worship is not something we want to do.

How do we overcome these feelings?

The best way that I know is to commit to worship.

To commit to worship requires that we schedule regular times of worship in our lives and we honor those times as scared. During these times we go through the motions of worship, because we know that worship is essential to life. In this way we declare that our feeling are not the final judge of our actions, rather it is our faith that determines what we do.

If we are going to worship God, we need to know why it is important to worship.

This is what the apostle Paul wrote:
May God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.  Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live.  All glory to God forever and ever! Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5; NLT)

Paul said that God deserves all our honor and praise forever.  Why does God deserve our praise?

God deserves our worship because He sent Jesus to rescue us from Satan, sin, and death.

This was God’s plan from the very beginning. Even before He created us, even before the first sin, God knew what it would cost Him to love us. God planned, from the beginning, to show us His love to us through the sacrifice of Jesus.

How much does God value you?

He values you enough to send Jesus to rescue you from death. He did this even though it cost him his life.

That is not the only reason.

Because of Jesus, not only can we be confident in God's love for us, but we can also experience new life.

Yes, it is true that our lives are still tied up in the drama of this world, but our hope has shifted. We now have new life that will out last the things of this world. Life is still painful, yet our focus is set on the moment when Jesus returns and makes everything right.

We worship God because we know that our present circumstances are not the final word about our lives.

If God never gave us another blessing He would still deserve our endless praise because of the gift of eternal life that we have in Jesus.

Glory be to God forever!

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Process of Spiritual Formation

It is essential that disciples of Jesus strive towards spiritual maturity.

Our faith cannot, and should not, remain static. Our faith, as well as our understanding of God's will, should continue to mature as we grow in our knowledge of God.

When we do not grow and we become content with our current experience means we will miss out on the life God created us to live.

The Apostle Peter was very aware of the importance of spiritual growth. In 2 Peter 3:17-18 writes:

You already know these things, dear friends. So be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen. (NLT).
To neglect our spiritual formation makes us vulnerable to error. We cannot be content with what we already know, we need to be on our guard and hold tight to what we know. This provides the foundation that we need so we can strive towards maturity.

The writer of Hebrews shares a similar sentiment when he wrote:
So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. (Hebrews 6:1, NLT)
Growth is the expectation in our walk with God. We cannot remain the same and remain with Jesus. Either we are moving with him or we are being led astray.

If spiritual formation is essential to being a Christian, how do we make it a part of our lives?

It takes intentional effort. Consider the encouragement the apostle Paul offered to the Colossians:
And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. 
Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority. (Colossians 2:6-10; NLT).

Paul taught that we need to be:

Consistent - Vs. 6
Faith in Jesus is not a one time decision. True faith is seen in our daily obedience to God's will. Our Christian spiritual formation begins the moment we trust Jesus. It continues as we consistently choose to trust him each and every day.

Concrete - Vs. 7
Being concrete is about holding on to truth. Jesus’ teachings are the firm foundation we need for life because they are truth.  We learn this truth through the study of Scripture, the relationships with other Christians, and the experience of living the Gospel. These things enable the roots of faith to be securely planted in our hearts and allow spiritual formation to take place.

Cautious - Vs. 8
This is about influence. We need to ask ourselves the question: Who is influencing me? When we lack discernment in our friends, reading material, and media consumption we put ourselves in danger of being led astray. A crucial part of our spiritual formation is being intentional about what feeds our minds and our hearts.

Spiritual formation is essential to our relationship with God. 

In fact, you could say that our spiritual formation is our relationship with God. As we mature spiritually our relationship with God is strengthened.

This is why we cannot leave our spiritual formation up to chance. We need to be disciplined in our spiritual formation so that we can become mature and experience the life God created us to live.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

How to Read the Bible: Literary Styles

The Bible is the foundation for our spiritual formation.

Yet, for many of us who follow Jesus, reading the Bible is difficult. We have good intentions for reading the Bible, but we often fail in those intentions.

One of the keys to understanding the Bible is to remember that it is written in different literary styles. What are those styles?



As we come to read the Bible it is crucial that we don't just come to gain new information. Rather, we want to approach the Bible asking the simple question, "How does this apply to me?"

There are certain literary types which make this easier to do than others.

Personally, this is why I prefer the New Testament over the Old. It is easy to skim through the laws found in Leviticus or the genealogies found in Genesis, or even the writings of the Prophetic books. The literary styles that make up the New Testament, especially the discourse nature of the Apostles' letters, make it easy for me to answer the question, "How does this apply to me?"

One of the best things we can do, as a general practice, is to see the Bible, not as a book to be conquered, but as writings to understand. To do this we need to approach the Bible prayerfully and humbly, asking God to speak to us from its pages.

Monday, November 18, 2019

How to Read the Bible: Biblical Story

The Bible is an important book.

 For Christians, we understand that the Bible provides us with the information that we need to guide our lives and move us along on the path of spiritual formation.

 Yet, the Bible is an ancient book, and it is not always easy to understand.

 While the Bible isn't easy to understand it does tell one unified story.



When we read the Bible, whether we are reading in the Old Testament or the New Testament, we need to pay attention to the choice that is being offered. Over and over again in Scripture we read about people who are offered a choice to either follow God's way or to do what they feel is right.

What the Bible teaches us is that when people choose to do what they think is right, the result is hurt, pain, distrust, division, and death. This is the explanation for why the world is in the shape that it is in.

The Bible does point to a person of hope. That person is Jesus. He is the one who always choose the way of God, and thus was able to bring restoration and renewal to the world. We are able to join with God in this renewal project as we follow Jesus.

Seeing this thread that runs through Scripture helps to know what we are to pay attention to as we read the Bible: How can we make the choice to follow God's will?


Monday, November 11, 2019

How to Read the Bible: What is the Bible?

For us who follow Jesus the Bible is a very important book.

It provides the fundamental truth for us to believe. It forms our faith. It teaches us how to follow Jesus.

Since the Bible is such an important book for our spiritual formation, we should know what it is.

 

The Bible is a collection of books written over a 1,000 years and tell the story of God and how He relates to humanity. The prophets of the Old Testament and the Apostles of the New Testament both believed that these writings contain the truth that God wants His people to know and understand.

Since God's voice can be heard through Scripture we need to prepare ourselves to hear it as we come to the Bible to read. Before we open the cover of our Bible (or open the Bible app on our phones), we should spend a few moments in prayer and ask God to give us ears to hear the truth He wants us to know. It is important for us to invite God to speak to us through these words that were written thousands of years ago.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Story of the Unchanged Clothes

In a different time and place lived a young man whose life was quite different from ours.

He lived just outside the city walls of the spectacular Capital City. The young man spent his day rummaging through the huge city dump in search of food and clothing.

There were other people who lived in the dump, mostly children who had been abandoned by their parents. The young man didn’t socialize with them. He spent his time alone hoarding whatever bit of treasure he found in the trash.

One day the young man was at the edge of the dump when he heard the blare of trumpets. He ran up the hill towards the road to see what was causing the commotion.

There on the road was a magnificent golden coach pulled by four beautiful white horses. Traveling with the coach was a long procession of horses, wagons, and people. The long caravan was headed into the city.

When the golden coach passed the young man he heard a loud and commanding voice yell, “Stop!”

Instantly the coach stopped and the possession came to a stand still.

The door to the coach opened and out stepped a tall man dressed in royal fashion. The man had a great white beard and piercing blue eyes. On his snow covered heard sat a golden crown covered with jewels.

The man was the King of the country.

The King approached the young man. Kneeling slightly so he could look the young man in the eye, the King asked, “Are you hungry?”

“Yes sir, I haven’t had anything to eat today.”

“Good,” the King said patting the young man on the shoulder, “I have a feast prepared for me at the castle, come and join us!”

“Oh, thank you sir,” the young man said. “Is there anything that I have to do?”

“Just accept the invitation my son, come and enjoy the feast.”

There for all the people to see, the King and young man from the dump got into the golden coach and journeyed into the city.

At the castle the King personally showed the young man his room. On the bed in the room was a set of sparkling white clothes and in the center of the room was a huge tub of hot water.

The King turned to the young man, “Before you can come to the feast you must wash and change your clothes. I will not have anyone smelling of the dump in the Great Hall. Once you have washed and changed you can join us.”

The King then left the young man to attend to his other guests.

The young man went over to the big tub of water. He looked into the tub.

“I have never seen water this clean in my life. It would be a shame to make it all dirty. I think I will just take this rag and wash around my face and hands.”

The young turned to the clothes after he had washed, or rather smeared, the dirt on his face and hands, “Before today I never knew anything could be so white. They will make me look wonderful.”

The young man began to unbutton his shirt. As he undid the buttons he began to think about how long he had worn that shirt. He had found it in the dump over three years ago, it had kept him warm, and it was comfortable.

“I can’t give up this shirt,” he thought. “It is a part of me. I will just slip this white shirt over the top.”

The young man picked up the shirt and pulled it over the top of his old, dirty, and smelly shirt. It was time for the pants. Again the young man thought about his pants and how long he had worn them.

“I just can’t give these pants up, they are so comfortable, and I will just pull these white pants over the top.”

The white pants went over the top of the grimy, mud-caked pants of the young man.

When the young man entered the Great Hall, the crowd gathered gave out a collective gasp. There he stood with uncombed hair, a dirt streaked face, and wearing a dingy gray suit of clothes.

The King stood up and said, “Why didn’t you wash?”

“I did wash my hands and face.”

“Why didn’t you take a bath?”

“The water was too clean; I didn’t want to dirty it.”

“The water was for washing, it wasn’t supposed to stay clean. Why didn’t you change your clothes?”

“I am wearing the clothes you gave me.”

“Why didn’t you take off you old clothes?”

“They were much too comfortable for me to remove. I just couldn’t part with them.”

“My son, I want you to join the feast, but you have to obey my instructions. Go, take a bath, and throw away your old clothes. Dress in the clothes I give you, and then come and eat.”

The young man left the Great Hall, but instead of returning to the room he left the castle.

The young man continued to walk until he was back at the dump. “After all,” the young man thought, “here I can be comfortable and I don’t have to change a thing.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Experiencing God

Our relationship with God, as with any relationship, is grown through our experience with Him. 

That raises the question: How do I experience God in my life?

I believe that we experience God through obedience. As we obey God we experience His presence and witness Him at work.

The reason many people are frustrated in their relationship with God has little to do with their passion, their love, or their worship. It has everything to do with their obedience.

We will always be frustrated in our relationship with God when we approach Him on our terms rather than humbly submitting to Him.

The New Testament contains a story which illustrates this very principle.

Matthew 19:16-30 tells the story of the rich young man and how he missed having a relationship with God through Jesus.

The young man came to Jesus with a question; “What must I do to have eternal life?” The young man knew there was something missing in his life. He had wealth and at least had a desire to live a moral life, but that wasn’t enough. The young man came to Jesus for the answer, but the answer is not what the young man wanted to hear. “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.” Jesus tells the young man what he is to do, but the young man wouldn’t do it. “But when the young man heard this, he went sadly away because he had many possessions.” (NLT)

The young man wanted eternal life on his terms.

Yes, he realized something was missing from his life, but he also had his limits to what he was willing to do. Since he was not willing to do what Jesus asked he went away sad.

I have a feeling that if Jesus had asked the young man to fast for 40 days he would have done it. If Jesus had asked the young man to spend time in study I think the young man would have made his best effort. The young man had a desire for eternal life and a desire to know God better and deeper.

The problem is that desire alone is not enough.

We have a desire to know God better and deeper. We desire eternal life. We desire to have an eternal relationship with God. We can even list off the things we have done in order to have this relationship, but we still find something is missing. All our quiet times and prayers have not brought us closer to knowing God.

The reason we have missed God is because we have failed to do what He has asked. We are sad in our relationship with God because we are not willing to come to Him on His terms.

Jesus asks us to be baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We walk away frustrated because that is a “work” and we are confident that a relationship with God is built on “faith”.

Jesus asks us to invest time in the elderly couple next door. We cry out to God for His presence, but we are not willing to go next door to experience it.

What is Jesus asking you to do?

The reason men like Abraham, Moses, and David had amazing relationships with God was not because of their quiet times and fasting. Those relationships developed because their faith led to action, and through that action to an experience of God.
“Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was declared right with God because of what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, he was trusting God so much that he was willing to do whatever God told him to do. His faith was made complete by what he did—by his actions” (James 2:21-22; NLT).
Abraham was willing to follow God even if it meant giving up his son Isaac. Are you willing to part with the most precious thing in your life to be with God?

A relationship with God is not just found in the study of His Word and in prayer.

A relationship with God is developed through our obedience, as we step out in faith and experience God at work in our lives.

We need to stop coming to God on our terms and begin to surrender ourselves to His will.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Responsibility of Making the Right Choice

One of the most powerful tools we have in spiritual formation is choosing. We are a product of our choices.

Our choices are powerful because they are the way we respond to the world and the circumstances of our lives. We don't have control over the things that happen in the world, but we do have control over how we respond. These are the choices that form our character.

This is the reason why I believe it is essential for us who are parents and church leaders to have high expectations for the younger generation. Right now they are making choices that are going to determine the direction of their lives.

We can’t expect young people to spend their lives watching Netflix, playing video games, interacting with social media, and going into debt with credit cards to one day, in their mid-twenties, to become mature responsible adults. 

When we allow our children to make the easy choice, to constantly choose what is fun, and to avoid doing hard things, then they will become people who are selfish, petty, shallow, and irresponsible. That type of life will not prepare them for the real demands of life.

I want you to think about something Greg Boyd wrote:
“Moral culpability is not just about people acting certain ways when they could have and should have acted differently.  It’s more about people becoming certain kinds of people when they could have and should have become different kinds of people” (Satan and the Problem of Evil; p. 122).
This is why it is important to remember that spiritual formation is always happening. Time, circumstances, and choices all play a part in forming the person we are. Christian spiritual formation is the intentional effort in making the process about becoming more like Jesus.

As a pastor I am concerned about how the church assists in this process of becoming more like Jesus.

How do we help people become more like Jesus?

I think it begins by telling people that to be more like Jesus requires being different.

We live differently because we are people who have our minds set on heavenly things rather than earthly things (Colossians 3:1-4), because we are people who walk by the Spirit rather than by the flesh (Galatians 5:16-26), and because we are people live humbly putting others ahead of ourselves (Philippians 2:1-11).

To do each one of these things we first need to make a choice to do it. Without that intentional act we will not be different.

How do we encourage the people we influence to make the choice to be different?

The first step we should take is to emphasize the fact that God, because of His great love for us, opened up way of redemption for us (Romans 5:6-11). This should be the foundation for our decision making. In other words, our choices become our response to God's love.

The second step we should take is to pray for our children, students, and friends.  This is the example that the apostle Paul gave in Colossians 1:9-12.  The reason Paul prayed for the Colossians was to empower them to be the type of people who honor Jesus.  We need to pray for people to be filled with a knowledge of God’s will and with spiritual wisdom and knowledge so they can become people who honor Jesus with their lives.

The third step we should take is to give people tools, methods, and disciplines to help them train in godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). If we are honest we would admit that our process of discipleship isn’t working.  Our church families are not filled with people becoming more and more like Jesus. In fact, I would wager many of us have given up on the belief that true transformation will take place. Sadly, we are content with a little behavior modification here and there.  We need to help people understand that they are responsible for their spiritual growth and that spiritual disciplines such as meditation, prayer, worship, service, fasting, solitude, and celebration are ways in which we can train our bodies to ignore the pull of the flesh and to follow the Spirit.

Each one of us is in the process of becoming.  We are either becoming more human and thus fit for God’s Kingdom or we are becoming less human and thus fit for the kingdom of darkness.

Our choices play an essential part in our Christian spiritual formation.

Not only are are called to pay attention to the choices that we make, but we are to help those around us to make good choices. This is why Christian community is a vital part of Christian spiritual formation.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Be Disturbed

We live in a world full of good. It has exceptional beauty, delicious food, amazing fun, and wonderful relationships.

In spite of the good we experience in the world, we know it is not entirely good. Our experience of life tells us that the world is a combination of good and evil.

According to the Bible, the world was created good by God, but has been corrupted by the sin of angels and humans. We live in a fallen world.

One of the ways we see this corruption at work is the selfishness that exists in people. The worst selfishness that we are exposed to is the selfishness that exists in our own hearts.

Many of the problems that we face throughout life, both big and small, can be traced back to selfishness.

This reality is understandable when we remember that we spend our entire lives with ourselves. Our entire perspective on life centers around our experience of the world. It is logical to expect that our comfort, cares, and desires would be at the forefront of what we are most concerned about.

Christian spiritual formation is important because it calls us to lay aside our cares and concerns and adopt the cause of Jesus. For this to happen we have to intentionally lay aside our rights and desires. It is through those process we are able to understand the injustices and indignities inflicted and the rest of humanity.

Dallas Willard wrote:
“Apprentices of Jesus will be deeply disturbed about many things, but they will be largely indifferent to the fulfillment of their own desires as such. Merely getting their own way has no significance for them, does not disturb them.” 
Renovation of the Heart, p. 72
Pause for a moment and ponder: What disturbs you?

When I think about what disturbs me on a regular basis I am saddened. I am saddened because I get the most disturbed by the inconveniences and interruptions to my agenda.

God has shown me this reality through my children. I dearly love my three kids, but they have the ability of frustrating me like no one else does. Why is that?

I get frustrated, I get disturbed, because they have minds of their own and they don't always do what I ask them to do. They disrupt my plan and that bothers me.

What is the cure for that? The cure is to become like Jesus.

The apostle Paul wrote:
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. (Philippians 2:3-5; NLT)
Here we discover the goal of Christian spiritual formation: to develop the attitude of Jesus.

Key to this attitude is humility. It is having that ability to look past our own agenda and see the needs of other people. We are to take an interest in the lives of those around us.

One of my favorite passages for the Gospels is Matthew 9:36:
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (NLT)
Jesus was disturbed by the needs of the people around him. He didn't blame them for their condition or lecture them about the inconvenience they were causing him, but he had compassion on them. They needed help and he took time to help them.

One of the prayers we need to pray in our pursuit of Christian formation is to see the world through the eyes of Jesus. We need to see the things that disturb Jesus so we can learn what should be disturbing us as well.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Start the Process


Life is much easier when we go with the flow. The reason it is easier is because it requires little effort since we are moved along by the currents of the culture around us. 

Yet, this is also the reason it is a problem. When we simply go along with the flow we allow our lives to be at the mercy of the culture. We go where the culture takes us. 

I believe this is one of the key reasons why American Christians lack spiritual maturity. We haven't put intentional effort into following Jesus. Rather, we simply went with the flow of our culture.

Thankfully, God in His mercy, has still brought healing to our hearts and transformation to our lives. It is not like we haven't experienced any transformation, but the growth we have experienced has been stunted.

The fact that we have experienced spiritual formation should cause us to pause and thank God for the work He has done in our lives. At the same time it should move us to confess that we have not lived up to our side of the transformation.

It is crucial for us to understand that there is a part that we play in Christian spiritual formation. All through the New Testament we find expectations for the way we are to live. There are lists of things we need to stop doing and lists for things we need to start doing. Faith requires action and obedience is an act of faith.

With that in mind think about what Dallas Willard wrote in Renovation of the Heart:

"Spiritual formation in Christ is an orderly process.  Although God can triumph in disorder, that is not his choice.  And instead of focusing upon what God can do, we must humble ourselves to accept the ways he has chosen to work with us.  These are clearly laid out in the Bible, and especially in the words of and person of Jesus."  p. 10

Since Christian spiritual formation is an orderly process, then it is a process that we must choose to begin. I already wrote about The First Step of Christian spiritual formation.

How do we take that first step? What does it meant to surrender to Jesus?

I think we find the answer in Matthew 4:17;  From then on Jesus began to preach, "Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near." (NLT)

Repentance is the intentional action we take to surrender to Jesus.

Repentance isn't just feeling sorry for and confessing our sins. Those are important elements of repentance, but I think repentance means much more.

Real repentance is about changing our loyalties.  

Remember, sin is rebellion against God and His Kingdom. That means, through sin, we have pledged our allegiance to Satan and his kingdom.  Repentance is the undoing of that reality. By repenting we declare our loyalties are changed and now we loyal citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. 

This intentional change of loyalty is absolutely crucial to spiritual formation.

There are other steps that we must do through this process. We have to do things like pray, study, give, be baptized, forgive, and serve. For these acts to truly have a transformational affect on our lives, we must first repent. 

Repentance, at is core, is an act of faith. It is an act of faith because through repentance we declare our belief, trust, and commitment to God. This is what it looks like to surrender to Jesus.

Christian spiritual formation is an intentional process. It is a process that begins with our choice to repent. Make that choice.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Way of Personal Fulfillment

One of my core beliefs is that there are universal desires that reside in the hearts of all people. These desires may manifest themselves differently in our lives, but they are still the same desires.

One of these universal desires is the desire for intimacy. Each one of us crave to have friendships and other relationships where we feel accepted and valued by other people. This desire is core to who we are as humans. It is the reason God declared loneliness to be not good (Genesis 2:18).

Another desire that is common for people is the desire to have purpose. For most people throughout history this desire revealed itself in the desire to live. When every day is a struggle between life and death, there isn’t a lot of soul searching around the idea of the meaning of life. When life isn’t about daily survival we are afforded the opportunity to ponder about life and wonder if our lives have any greater purpose than mere existence. This desire morphs from the desire to live to the desire to make a difference in the world.

People want their lives to matter and to have a sense of personal fulfillment. No one wants their life to be a waste.

I believe people are doing one of two things: They are either on the pursuit to find personal fulfillment or they are looking for a way to numb the belief that their life doesn’t matter.

Spiritual formation in Christ is crucial because it is the only way to truly experience the personal fulfillment of purpose and meaning that our hearts crave.

“Jesus does not deny us personal fulfillment, but shows us the only true way to it. In him we ‘find our life.’ He would keep us from selling our birthright as creatures in God’s image - a birthright of genuine goodness, sufficiency, and power for which we are fitted by nature - for a mere bowl of soup (Genesis 25:30-31). Perhaps a little illicit sex, money, reputation, power, self-righteousness, and so forth - ‘the pleasures of sin for a season’ - or for the promise or possibility of such.” 
(Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p. 68)

The way of Jesus is the only true path for personal fulfillment, because only Jesus can lead us to live the life God created us to live. Only Jesus can infuse our daily activities, as mundane and ordinary as they appear to be, with Kingdom importance.

When our lives are marked with love, peace, joy, gentleness, and the like (Galatians 5:22-23) we are able to experience fulfillment no matter what task or activity is before us.

The way of true personal fulfillment, to live the life we were created to live, is the path blazed by Jesus.  We need to follow Jesus to experience true life!

Following Jesus is more than just believing in him and adopting a few moral principles. It  is actually  adopting the way Jesus lived his life. It requires doing those things which empowered Jesus to love, forgive, and to serve.

What activities empowered Jesus to live life? Jesus spent time studying Scripture, fasting, serving, and praying. Spiritual disciplines helped Jesus live life. We need to follow his example.

Following Jesus doesn’t keep us from personal fulfillment, rather it is the only way to truly experience it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The First Step

Every journey requires a first step.

It doesn’t matter if the journey is an actual physical journey, like traveling from New York City to Los Angeles, or a metaphorical journey, like transitioning from being a salesperson to being an engineer, there is always the first action that sets things in motion.

Without a first step you will never be able to complete the journey.

The girl who wants to play the violin needs to set aside time in her life when she drops everything else in order to practice the violin. Only by taking that first step to practice the violin will she be able to master the instrument enough to perform before an audience.

The student who wants an A on his research paper needs to put time into reading and taking notes on the subjects he is going to write about. Only by taking that first step of taking his research seriously is he able to lay a foundation that is able to yield him an A.

The boy who wants to play basketball needs to put in time to shoot baskets, do dribbling drills, and run lines in order to have a good grasp of the fundamentals of the game. Only by dedicating time to learning the basics can he hope to play well in the game.

There is a foundational act the precedes growth and mastery of a subject.

This reality also applies to our Christian spiritual formation.

Dallas Willard wrote:
“Those who are not genuinely convinced that the only bargain in life is surrendering ourselves to Jesus and his cause, abandoning all that we love to him, cannot learn the other lessons Jesus has to teach us. They cannot proceed to any thing like total spiritual transformation. Not that he will not let us, but that we simply cannot succeed. If I tell you that you cannot drive an automobile unless you can see, I am not saying I will not let you, but that you cannot succeed even if I do.” (Renovation of the Heart, p. 66)

Our intentional spiritual formation in Jesus has a clear starting point, and that is our choice to surrender to him.

It is important to understand that surrendering to Jesus is more than declaring that we believe he is God’s Son who rose from the dead.

To surrender to Jesus requires us to lay aside what we believe life is all about, our habits, our beliefs, our politics, and follow him. We follow him, even if he leads us into  hardship and death.

If we don’t surrender our lives to Jesus, it is impossible for us to experience true spiritual formation. Spiritual formation in Christ requires that we trust him more than we trust ourselves.

Jesus told the apostles:
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” 
Matthew 16:24-25 (NLT)

The only way to experience the eternal life that is the result of spiritual formation is to surrender to Jesus, and that requires us to follow the way of the cross.

If we are still preoccupied with trying to create the life of our dreams, we will not follow Jesus wherever he leads. Instead, we will question him and hestitate to obey, only following when it makes sense to us to follow.

This is why Jesus’ demand for surrendering is necessary, because without it we will not follow him.

When we surrender to Jesus we are declaring that we believe Jesus will give us life, even in those moments when our obedience seems to take us in the opposite direction of life. The trust that is developed from our choice to surrender is crucial to our spiritual formation in Christ.

On the journey to become the person God created you to be, don’t neglect the first step.

Prophetic Revelation and the Gospel

  1 Peter 1:10-12 (CSB) Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who prophesied about the grace that would come to you, searched and careful...