Spiritual Formation Is…

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Some good words about spiritual formation from Dallas Willard…

Christian spiritual formation is focused entirely on Jesus. It’s goal is an obedience or conformity to Christ that arises out of an inner transformation accomplished through purposive interaction with the grace of God in Christ. Obedience is an essential outcome of Christian spiritual formation (John 13:34-35; 14:21).

Spiritual formation is, in practice, the way of rest for the wear and overloaded, of the easy yoke and the light burden (Matthew 11:28-30), of cleaning the inside of the cup and the dish (Matthew 23:26), of the good tree that cannot bear bad fruit (Luke 6:43). And it is the path along which God’s commandments are found to be not “heavy,” not “burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

But Christlikeness of the inner being is not a human attainment. It is, finally, a gift of grace.

(From Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ by Dallas Willard)

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How Can I Build Up Others?

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How do we go about daily executing the tasks that are in front of us? Obviously, we need to plan and prioritize. If not, we lose focus and other things will set our agenda for the day. We generally want to do things that make a difference, but if we don’t put first things first, our time can get away from us as the trivial things take center stage.

The question we need to ask ourselves, however, is what are those areas we need to place first? I think the answer is fairly simple. It’s people.

In Matt Perman’s book, What’s Best Next: How The Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things Done, he writes that in regards to the daily execution of tasks, we need to ask ourselves in everything we do: How can I build others up? For Perman, this brings us back to the fundamental principle behind everything: You are here to do good for others, to the glory of God. 

All productivity practices, writes Perman, all of our work, everything is given to us by God for the purpose of serving others. Therefore, we need to be deliberate about this in all of our work–both the work we get paid for and the work of running our households. This means not simply doing the things we do for the sake of others; it means building others up in the very act of doing what we do. The aim needs to be not simply to get our tasks done but to build people up in the accomplishing of our tasks.

For me, this reorientates why we do what we do. We send emails, go to meetings, answer phones, wash dishes, wait tables, cook food, give presentations, design buildings, teach children, stock groceries, clean houses, diagnose diseases, write news stories, drive buses and more for the building up of others.

We need to remember that our job is bigger than the tasks we perform. Perman writes that we need to see our day “in terms of people and relationships first, not tasks. Tasks matter and are important and fun, but tasks have to take a back seat to people.”

I think there is always a tendency to view people as getting in the way of what we are trying to do. We are busy and important people, or so we think, and tend to lose sight of what it is we are really trying to do. Jesus told us to love God and love others. Pretty simple. Well, maybe not that simple. But Jesus words do help us to refocus what it means to be truly productive people.

 

Divine Power To Destroy Stongholds

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For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).

While considering these two verses, D.A. Carson writes…

Argue a skeptic into a corner, and you will not take his mind for Christ, but pray for him, proclaim the gospel to him, live out the gospel of peace, walk righteously by faith until he senses your ultimate allegiance and citizenship are vastly difference from his own, and you may discover that the power of truth, the convicting and regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, and the glories of Christ Jesus shatter his reason and demolish his arguments until you take captive his mind and heart to make them obedient to Christ. The result will be a life transformed.

-taken from a Model of Christian Maturity: An Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10-13.

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Moving Beyond Amusement!

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“[It] is not that television is entertaining but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience. […] The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining. (87)”
Amusing Ourselves To Death by Neil Postman

These words by Neil Postman have proven to be characteristic of our age. We long for entertainment and fear boredom. This has dramatically affected the way we educate. Material must be presented in ways that grab and keep the attention.

I don’t believe we should ever seek to be boring, but the reality is that if everything we deliver or teach has to be exciting, then its relevancy will be based not on truth, but on whether it entertained. The topic which is most exciting will be deemed as the topic that is most important.

Our entertainment driven culture has no doubt affected the way we do church. And in some ways, it should. We should learn to be engaging and learn how to tell better stories from the pulpit. The danger however, is when we feel the need to make the next church service more enthralling than the last one. When we do so, we forget the purpose of why we are at church to begin with as well as portray a false image of what it means to follow Christ.

The reality of life, and even the Christian life, is that it is not all entertainment. Some of it is rather ordinary. And some of it is a bit of work. On a Sunday morning, the sermon you hear in church might not be as exciting as the one you heard the week before. This is okay and needed. If we begin to think that Christianity and church is about a quick enjoyment of a worship service, then we have missed the heart of what it means to follow Christ.

Following Christ is about being conformed into his image (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 4:24). This means we live a life formed by the cross as we walk humbly in obedience to God, sacrificially loving and serving those around us. This is not always easy nor glamourous. As Tim Chester has written, living for Christ involves learning to wash the dishes.

You should not think however, that though our lives are filled with the ordinary, that they will be void of joy. Christ has come to give us life. And when we see the life he has given us, we will recognize all things we do as permeated by His grace. Washing dishes provides us with the opportunity to consider others. Being obedient, though difficult, will be seen in light of God’s purpose for all of humanity. Our lives will become ones in which we trust God with the mundane and understand that it is through the ordinary that God sometimes chooses to do the extraordinary.

Christianity is more than an entertaining experience. I’m not saying that we don’t or can’t experience God, but if we begin to buy into our media saturated culture and reduce following Christ to just an experience which is valued only by it’s entertainment value, then I’m afraid we will begin to stop making disciples. Instead, we will be producing consumers.

We must therefore, move beyond amusement  into amazement; amazement of what God has done for us through Christ. And for this to happen, we must trust, beyond our methods, the Spirit of God. Paul, when he preached in Corinth, made the following statement: And my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:4-5). We do well to do the same!

Temptation: A Denial Of God’s Goodness

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The basic idea behind all of temptation is this…

God is presented as depriving us by his commands of what is good, so we think we must take matters into our own hands and act contrary to what he has said. This image of God leads to our pushing him out of our thoughts and putting ourselves on the throne of the universe. The condition of the ruined soul and world naturally results. (Dallas Willard in The Renovation of the Heart)

Therefore, as Paul wrote to the church in Rome, we must be careful not to be conformed to this world and it’s understanding of God, but instead, be transformed by the renewing of our mind.

We must begin to see temptation for what it is and understand God for who He is. God is not a cosmic kill joy trying to destroy all fun and joy, but instead wants us to experience ultimate happiness. As C.S. Lewis has written, it is not that our desires for happiness are too strong, but too weak. Lewis writes that “we are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Temptation, therefore, is about causing doubt in us towards the goodness of God. “God is just holding out on you,” we are told. So we must have our minds renewed, as Paul has written, toward the image and character of God. Willard correctly writes that “the single most important thing in our mind is our idea of God and the associated images.”

We do ourselves well to gaze upon the glory of God. To know God who is holy and loving is to be changed by him. Paul wrote that we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).

When the world hints, or rather shouts at us, that true happiness is found in being free from the bounds of God, we need to remember the character of God.  We need to recall that He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom 8:32). We can trust God in obeying his commands. We can begin to see temptation for what it truly is, a denial of the goodness of God.

As temptation comes our way, in whatever form, let’s recall the true character of God who gave himself up for us and trust the words of the Psalmist…

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Ps 16:11)

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