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Friday, September 27, 2013

The Marks of a Spiritual Life

     The spiritual life is often spoken of with little understanding of precisely what is meant by it. In many circles, its use remains vague and may have various applications. A person may be admired for civic devotion yet be said as lacking any evidence of spiritual depth. A coach may be ineffective but spoken of having a spiritual impact upon the team. A church may be involved in many ministries of outreach in the community but have a reputation for having little spiritually among the membership. Is it surprising that there exists a lack of clarity of what is meant by the spiritual life?

     An answer to this perplexing question may be located by a careful look at any number of persons in the Old and New Testament. For the sake of this brief discussion, let us limit our attention to the Apostle Paul. From a careful examination of what the Bible tells us about Paul, I suggest that the spiritual life is marked by two irreducible qualities. First, consecration. Paul took his gift for deep thought and ability to communicate complex ideas simply and with clarity and dedicated it to the cause of God. Paul’s intellectual capacity was not in itself spiritual. History is replete with women and men of enormous intellectual gifts who did not believe in God. Paul’s intellectual gifts became spiritual when devoted to the divine purpose of God’s work in the world. The spiritual life, then, may be said as that life that is given a new direction or given to the new purpose of serving God.

     The second irreducible quality of the spiritual life is inspiration. Paul was aware of the Divine Presence. There was something more about Paul than his own natural talent and gifts. This “more” was the indwelling and active God. Paul spoke of this “more” often and in various ways particularly when he spoke of the evidence of God’s strength in his own weakness. When a person presents their life to the purposes of God, what we earlier identified as “consecration”, the Holy Spirit is released and works God’s work through them. Consecration and inspiration are the individual-directed and God-directed aspects of the spiritual life.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sound Theology Will Do That

“Yes, sound theology will do that.”

     Dr. Greg Ogden shares in one of his books the delightful Peanuts cartoon where Linus and Lucy are involved in substantive dialog. Lucy is worried because it has been raining so hard for so long. She wonders whether there will be another world-wide flood as in Noah’s day. Linus informs her that this won’t happen. Referring to Genesis 9, he reminds her that God promised never to flood the earth again. Lucy says, “Well, that takes a load off my mind.” Linus, while sucking on his blanket, says, “Yes, sound theology will do that.”

     Sound theology is shaped by God’s Word, the Bible. The authority for what is sound theology has never been placed to a democratic vote by the people. As Christians, we submit to God. Now this may sound obvious to many but consider this true incident. A North Carolina pastor shared with me some years ago that he was called to start a new church. The agency funding the church start wanted to lay the foundation, provide the blueprint for establishing a large congregation. The expectation is that by staffing for a large church and providing biblical principals of administration, the church would grow rather quickly into a large church. In fact, the experiment was successful. The church now has over one thousand in worship on an average Sunday.

     Early in the church, start a woman came to visit this pastor. She was interested in joining but wanted assurances that the pastor would provide all the pastoral care that her family would require. Tactfully, he said that he would participate in a system of pastoral care that included trained lay people for care with an associate for pastoral care. Simply, he would participate with others in responsible pastoral care but would not be doing it all himself. That was not acceptable to the woman. “That’s not how it’s done in my church!” she protested. The pastor then proceeded to show her the biblical principals for pastoral care within churches, demonstrating that those principals speak to pastoral care as something the church members provided for one another. Her response was, “I will not permit the Bible to inform what I know is right!”


Thursday, September 12, 2013

The First Christian Small Group

     Jesus’ own pattern of disciple-making was to be intimately involved with a few so that His life and theirs would develop such traction that transformation would occur organically. The disciples comprised the first Christian small group, and their close contact with Jesus provided not only learning experiences but the opportunity to view appropriate application in daily cultural settings. Observing Jesus not only as teacher but as a fellow sojourner in life offered the disciples the insight required to make incremental changes in their own lives to conform to His. Jesus taught the crowds, but He discipled a few in a small group.

     Alexander B. Bruce, in his book, The Training of the Twelve, provides considerable clarity as to the methods Jesus used to develop His disciples and deploy them in the ministry of spreading His message to others. Bruce observes, “From the evangelic records it appears that Jesus began at a very early period of His ministry to gather round Him a company of disciples, with a view to the preparation of an agency for carrying on the work of the divine Kingdom.” Bruce goes on to unfold the three stages in the history of the disciples’ fellowship with Jesus that would insure that they were committed to continuing His ministry beyond Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. What becomes apparent is that Jesus desired not only to have disciples, but to have about Him those whom He might train to reproduce their discipleship in others. By limiting His discipling efforts to a few, who would then reproduce themselves in others, Jesus was capable of reaching men and women on an extensive scale.

     Effective discipling today must imitate the model of Jesus: selecting a few, pouring one’s life into them, and asking that they reproduce themselves in a similar manner with others. This model, equipping disciples through a small group, provides intimacy and the value of shared spiritual gifts exercised within the group, without the intimidation of a larger group setting. The high level of interaction between Jesus as discipler and those being discipled teaches well, provides a high level of accountability, and can be a center for shared missional activity that further promotes maturity in Christlikeness, the ultimate goal of the Christian journey.


Friday, September 6, 2013

Creative Spirituality

     In an engaging and insightful book, Creative Spirituality: The Way of the Heart, Robert Wuthnow identifies some of the criticism that has been voiced in recent years about spirituality in the broader culture. One of the most recurrent criticisms is that too many Americans shop around for spiritual cues, rather than settling into communities of faith where they can learn discipline or serve others. Spiritual seeking draws criticism because it seems to reflect a shallow consumerist mentality.

     Against this consumerist mentality, Holy Scripture, the Bible announces that an authentic relationship with God is rooted in a personal engagement in all that God is doing in the world. It is an announcement from personal gratification to participation in God’s activity; from an inward spirituality to an outward commitment to disciple the nations. Quick routes to personal gratification may be an easier course to navigate, but is a pilgrimage that is unknown in Scripture and one that fails to encounter the deep mysteries of faith.

      This failure to navigate the deeper waters of faith leaves people standing on the shore of God’s promises, rarely encountering God in a fashion that results in transformation. Discouragement settles in, and those who claim to follow Christ wonder if there is not something more. In more than twenty-six years of ministry, I have met many who have derisively commented that faith failed to do anything for their lives. In each instance, my unspoken question has been, “What exactly did you do to care for and nurture that faith?”