It’s no secret that Spiritual Formation is a passion of mine; I desire it for myself, and I desire it for others—for you. As a reminder here is the big all-inclusive Trinitarian definition of Spiritual Formation: “God the Holy Spirit takes the initiative, through various means, in cooperation with our response, changes us to look like God the Son, in order to serve others, to the glory of God the Father.” (J.K. Jones).
What that says is that God the Holy Spirit initiates the process of Spiritual Formation in us. Furthermore, He uses various means (good things, tragedies, life experiences, etc.) to change us to look like Jesus Christ (God the Son), in order to serve others, all to glorify God the Father.
However, there was one piece in my explanation that I left out; “in cooperation with our response.” You see, God the Father wants us to reflect Jesus in our lives, He wants us to be conformed to the image of Christ. If Christ lives in you and your life really is hidden in Christ, then it suffices to say that when people look at you they should see Christ. The problem is that we must cooperate. The Holy Spirit cannot make us look like Jesus if we refuse to cooperate and participate in that formation.
Think of it this way for a moment. Imagine there is a skill that you want your child to become great at (football, band, baking, NASCAR, etc.); in your desire for them to be the best you are willing to do whatever it takes to help them be the best. You hire the most skilled people in that field to train your child. You buy them books. You take them to seminars. You dedicate your life to helping your child become the best. But…you see that your child ignores everything the professionals say, they refuse to read the books, they play on their phones in the seminars, they have caused you to spend your life in vain. If your child is to be the best, they must cooperate and participate in the opportunities provided to become the best.
It is the same with being conformed to the image of Christ. We are filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), we have the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17), we participate with the Body of Christ (Hebrew 10:23-25). Yet, if we ignore the Spirit’s work and prompting in us, if we neglect the Scriptures, and are half-hearted in our commitment to The Church, we are not going to progress in our conformity to the image of Christ.
If I can be honest for a moment, I must admit that what I said to start is a bit misleading. I said that I desire Spiritual Formation for myself, which isn’t completely true. On my good days I want to be conformed to the image of Christ, but then there are other days, the not so good days, the days in which I am pretty apathetic, the days when I am content to conform to the image of me.
These apathetic days are what I want to address. Even on these days there is hope. I want to share something I read recently on a solo retreat. The author was discussing Romans 8:34 and that Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for you and me. Additionally, Paul also explains that the Holy Spirit also intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:26).
This is what James Bryan Smith encourages us with, “[Jesus] is praying that you and I would be completely new people…He will not stop until he has made us all new people.” (Hidden in Christ, 33-34).
I find this encouraging, because it means that even on my apathetic days Jesus doesn’t give up. On the days where I couldn’t care less both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are interceding on my behalf to the Father for me.
May you and I find hope in the fact that God doesn’t give up on us. May we find encouragement knowing that when we are apathetic, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are praying for us. May we cooperate with God in conforming to the image of Christ.
In my last blog post I discussed that when we sin it is a choice, and that one of the tools to help us choose not to sin is Scripture memory. I want to take this a step further and discuss another tool.
However, I feel that I must acknowledge that I understand for many this will be a difficult discussion. Many will read this and say something like, “That’s a little too catholic for me.” All I ask is that you hear me out.
In addition to Scripture memory, another discipline that can help us choose righteousness over sin is the discipline of confession. When I say confession, I am talking the discipline of sitting down with another Christian(s) you trust (of the same gender) and confessing your sins to them. I know, you are ready to walk away right now, we aren’t catholic, you don’t need a priest, you don’t need to confess your sins to anyone but God. Please hear me out.
You are correct, Scripture does promise that if we confess our sins “…He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins…” (1 John 1:9 ESV). It is assumed that John is referring to confessing our sins to God. But this isn’t the only place that Scripture discusses confession of sins.
Take a minute, grab your Bible, and read James 5:13-20 (James is toward the back of your Bible between Hebrews and 1 Peter). Go a head, read it, I’ll still be here when your done.
Did you notice verse 16. Go read it again.
To whom does James say to confess our sins?
Why does he say to do confess them to this person?
You see, there is a Biblical precedence for confessing our sins to each other.
I think confession is incredibly powerful for overcoming the tendency to give into temptations to sin. John Ortberg discusses part of why confession is helpful; in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted, Ortberg writes:
“To confess means to own up to the fact that our behavior wasn’t just the result of bad parenting, poor genes, jealous siblings, or a chemical imbalance from too many Twinkies. Any or all of those factors may be involved. Human behavior is a complex thing. But confession means saying that somewhere in the mix was a choice, and the choice was made by us, and it does not need to be excused, explained, or even understood. The choice needs to be forgiven. The slate has to be wiped clean.”
We’ve been praying for revival. Our nation desperately needs revival. The Church desperately needs revival. I think its safe to say, our congregation longs for revival. We must recognize that a revival won’t begin outside, revival begins when we begin to live with an awareness of God’s presence in our lives. Revival begins when we start choosing righteousness over sin.
Will you commit with me to find someone to whom you can confess your sins? To whom you can acknowledge your choice to sin? From whom you can here the grace of God spoken as your are reminded that God is faithful, even when we are unfaithful?
Let’s decide together to do whatever it takes to become slaves to righteousness, instead of living as slaves to sin
We all use pet names or nicknames to address those we love. We call our spouses/children “honey” or “darling”, or if you’re in the south “sweetie” or “sugar”. I’m sure you get the point, however, there are often times we overlook the places in scripture which God uses those types of terms to refer to his people. When God commissions Moses to go back to Egypt, He refers to Israel as His “firstborn son” (Ex. 4:22) which was a place of honor and blessing. Before entering the promised land, Moses reminds the people the God had chosen Israel from among all the nations to be His “treasured possession.” But there is another place in which God uses one of these terms of endearment that we should take note of, especially since Paul reminds us that the Gentile believers (non-Jews/Israelites) are ingrafted branches into the tree that is Israel, God’s firstborn, His treasured possession.
Recorded in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:1-43), God refers to Israel as Yeshurun, which is another term of endearment. Yeshurun means “upright one” and refers to the same people God calls his treasured possesion, but we should take note of how it’s used:
Yeshurun grew fat and kicked; filled with food, he became heavy and sleek. He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior. (Deuteronomy 32:15)
There is much more that follows in the subsequent verses. You should read them. Moses saw this day coming and actually predicted what would happen when the people had all they “needed.” They forsook the LORD and forgot all about Him. Judges 2:10 reminds us that after Joshua died, the next generation “knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for them.” How? How could God’s firstborn, His treasured possession, the upright one turn away from his Father. Maybe its a slow drift. Maybe it looks something like the prodigal son. Or maybe we just become so “self sufficient” that we don’t think we need the LORD.
I think its ironic how the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ, left His throne to become a servant. Calls fishermen to follow him and not princes. Eats with sinners and tax collectors and not the religious elite. Then He reminds all who listen to him that it is the “poor in spirit” that will be blessed, and following Him will most assuredly draw persecution of some kind and requires his followers to deny themselves. And let’s not forget how He teaches His disciples to pray, “give us this day our DAILY bread.” It is my prayer that we at SCC do not become like the Yeshurun described in Deuteronomy. Instead, especially with revival approaching, I pray that we are making straight the path of the LORD. The maintenance of our relationship with Christ takes a daily effort. Consuming our “daily bread.” This week, take inventory of your own heart. What needs to change? What needs to continue? Remember, you are God’s treasured possession!
You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of Sonship. and by him we cry “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)
Last week I was able to attend a conference called “Wilderness” that CIY puts together every October. This conference is unlike any other I have ever heard of. From Monday night through Friday morning you are given the opportunity to abide…to just spend time with God. Usually conferences keep you busy with workshops and main speakers. Not this one. This conference calls in a small group of ministers (our mentors) from across the country who are kind of the “been there and done that” guys who are there to help lead guys like me closer to God. Every morning we worship and pray together and are handed a piece of paper with the days Bible reading and questions. You have all day to spend with God with no time constraints to do this. The only thing you need to be at is lunch and supper. After supper is more worship and small group time with your mentor to discuss what you learned for that day.
This year was a very good year for me. The question I was being hit with all week was am I abiding? It’s a word that I read and known for a long time, but have never really put it to work in my own life. To truly live means that you live in God, which is through Jesus. It means that every day you choose to abide in Him. To choose Him over yourself. To choose Him over your desires. Am I abiding is a question that I will never forget. It has reshaped who I am. To abide in Him means that I have given it all to Him and relying totally 100% on Him. No part is held back, there is nothing left in my barrel (from last week…ask and I’ll tell you the story). It is all for Him and His glory.
So how would you answer that question? Are you abiding? Is God really who you are abiding with and relying on? Or is it someone or something else? 1 John 2:6 says, “Whoever claims to live (abide) in him must walk as Jesus did.” John doesn’t give any room for excuses here. He is very clear that we “MUST” walk as Jesus did. Not just on Sundays, but every single hour of every single day! Jesus knew the importance of abiding with God and that’s why every day he made time to spend with his father in heaven. Jesus knew there would be difficulties along the way, and so he chose to abide in God to find peace, strength, and rest because of them. Jesus was able and willing to do the will of the Father every day because he chose to abide.
Do you abide? It’s the question we should ask ourselves every day. Jesus himself tells us why we should in John 15:5. He says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” To remain in Him means to stay connected to Him. Are you abiding?
Frequently we talk about “those things” we wish we could get rid of in our lives. Habits, addictions, tendencies, sins that we recognize as being detrimental to our lives. We even go to great lengths to understand why we struggle with the things with which we struggle. Somewhere in the midst of this desire to find the cause of our issues I think we have lost the reality that “those things” are choices.
Don’t get me wrong, our past can give us an affinity toward certain habits and sins, but at the end of the day, we make the choice to indulge. This is how Paul explains it in Romans 6:16, “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.” (NLT).
Recently, while reading The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges I was struck by this statement, “It is hypocritical to pray for victory over our sins yet be careless in our intake of the Word of God.” (page 75).
Our desire to get past “those things” while failing to regularly consume God’s Word is like someone wanting to run a 26.2 mile marathon but failing to regularly run in the months leading up to the race. We would look at a person who did this and think that they didn’t really want to run a marathon, and that they just wanted to talk about running a marathon.
Furthermore, when we are intentional about our intake of Scripture and put it to memory, the Holy Spirit brings those passages to mind at the right time. Maybe you need to start with Romans 6:16, so that when you are faced with temptation you can be reminded that it is your choice. You choose what to obey, temptation or God.
If you struggle with saying things you shouldn’t maybe you need to memorize Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those that hear.” (ESV).
If you struggle with lust it might be helpful to memorize Matthew 5:28, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (ESV).
Greed? Colossians 3:5, “ So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.” (NLT).
Unforgiveness? Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you.” (ESV).
I could go on, but you get the point.
Understand, we have a choice Who/what we will obey. If we are going to be conformed to the image of Christ, for the sake of others, and to the glory of God, we must be intentional about our Scripture intake.
It’s your choice, who will you obey?
Today I wanted to share with you a devotion from Steve Chapman from his devotional book “A Look at Life From a Deer Stand.” “I climbed onto my ladder stand before daylight and settled in for a morning hunt. There was a sizable pond to my right, and the noises that came from it softly filled the area. One particular sound caught my ear and brought a smile to my face because it reminded me of one of my favorite stories…
A little boy said to his grandpa, “Granddad, make a sound like a frog.”
His grandfather was sort of a rough old fellow and bluntly denied his grandson’s request.
However, the boy was not about to be refused.
“Please, Granddad, make a sound like a frog!”
“No!” came the old man’s grouchy reply.
“Oh, please, Granddaddy, make a sound like a frog.”
Exasperated with the little guy’s persistence, the Granddad asked, “Why?”
“Cause Grandma says, ‘When Grandpa croaks, we can all go to Six Flags!”
It sounds like the grandpa had built a less-than favorable reputation for himself. His legacy had apparently been established, and the assumption was that he would never change. This story makes me want to work on my memory. By that I don’t mean my brain’s ability to recall; rather, on how I will be remembered in the minds of others. May it never be that my wife, my children grandchildren, or friends would ever grimace at the mention of my name.
According to Proverbs 10:7, the key to creating a memory that brings smiles to the faces of those around us is to allow righteousness to reign in our hearts. On the other hand if we want our names to leave the taste of rottenness in the mouths of those who say them in the future, then all we have to do is embrace wickedness. Things that rot are eventually forgotten completely; they disappear into oblivion. However, Psalm 112:6 honors those who choose God’s way with a losing legacy: “For he will never be shaken; the righteous will be remembered forever.”
A good goal for life would be that should the day arrive when we become grandparents, we will never hear any of our grandchildren say, “Granddad, make a sound like a frog.”
In 2011 I was talking with a friend who had registered for the Illinois Marathon half-marathon race. As we talked I thought, “I should do this.” Keep in mind that this conversation was in January, the half was to take place in April, a half is 13.1 miles, and I hadn’t run since I left ISU in 2004. Naturally I did the only reasonable thing there is to do, I went home got online and registered for the race, I also talked another friend into joining me in my insanity.
Even since this entry into the running world, I have learned several things about which I could spend a great deal of time writing or talking about. I have inevitably learned a lot about running, but I also have learned, through observation and conversation, much about spiritual life. I learned that while on a 6+ mile run with people it provides a lot of time (especially when you are as slow as me) to talk. There have been times when the run was pretty much a full on Bible study, other times it was a discussion of the value on our marriages and how we can continue to honor those marriages and set an example for others.
However, these are not the things I want to address presently, rather I want to talk about one of my favorite aspects of running. I absolutely love the running community. Through running I have seen community that transcends race, religion (several of the runs, I mentioned, where we talked faith and Scripture it was a protestant, a Catholic, a Mormon, and an atheist), gender, lifestyle, politics, etc. These things fade to the back as we all gather around a common interest, running.
Ever since I began my journey running I have started, stopped, and restarted several times over. It is frustrating to begin from square one again, but that’s been my pattern. A couple years ago I was a few months into running again, I was scheduled for 6 miles that day, but by mile .5 I wasn’t feeling it and began to mentally talk myself into simply running 2 miles and being done for the day. As the group began pulling away, because I just couldn’t keep pace with them, one guy stayed with me and I decided I would go until he took off then I’d turn around. That day I ended up getting in my full 6 miles, because he stayed with me the whole time. The crazy thing about it is that his pace then was easily 4 minutes a mile less than mine, yet he ran slow in order to encourage me and keep me going. I recognized a while later that I probably would have quit after that day had he not stayed with me.
Additionally, “races” are incredible venues for community. The last run I did was a 6.5 mile trail run, it was also an out and back, which meant not only were people running in the same direction but we were also meeting people coming at us. The entire 6.5 miles was filled with encouragement, warning of obstacles, and motivation from others. As I listened to people speaking words of encouragement and motivation between breaths I couldn’t help but think about the example that it sets for the Church.
This is why the author of Hebrews writes, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (10:24-25 ESV).
The very thing I have experienced within the running community is what we should be practicing and experiencing in the faith community. We need to begin to look for those people who are struggling, thinking about quitting and run with them. We need to be warning each other of temptations that may be headed at us. We need to tell each other “Good Job.” “Keep it up.” “Press on.” “You’re almost there.” “It’ll totally be worth it when you cross the finish line.”
Who do you need to encourage? Who has God placed in your life that you can come alongside and help them press on?
It is time for the Church to begin setting the example for the rest of the world.
How often have we caught ourselves saying I can hardly wait? Waiting is one of my least favorite things to do. When I am going on a trip and I get stuck in traffic…not good. When you are at an amusement park and your favorite ride has a line that is 2 hours long…not good. Growing up my family would always take a week during the summer and spend it in Monticello on Lake Freeman at my grandparent’s lake cottage. The hour and 10 minute car ride seemed like an eternity. As we got closer to the lake my sister and I would start to try to get the best spot in the car to see the big green bridge that crossed the lake, because we knew when we saw it we were there and there would be no more waiting. It was a contest to see who could see the bridge first. There was some shoving and possibly elbows that were thrown but we wanted to be the first to see it. The big green bridge was always something we looked forward to seeing. When it’s something you are excited about waiting seems harder, but worth the wait in the end because of where you end up.
Many of us find ourselves in many different areas of life waiting. Waiting for an answer, for a decision, for an opportunity, for more time, or for the end. Whatever we are waiting for, trusting that God will guide you where you need to be is crucial. I knew that we would end up at the big green bridge because I trusted my dad in getting us there. God does the same for us. He is taking us on a journey through life and He is leading you where you need to go. It may be nerve wrecking or seem crazy but He is in control. All we have to do is sit and be still and trust that He will get us there. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God”. The Psalmist tells us to be still and know God. In a sense he is telling us to wait for it. Wait for God to show up and lead us to where we need to go. So in all the times we get impatient and get tired of waiting, remember that God has everything planned out for you. If you rush away in a different direction because you are tired of waiting you will miss out on what God has in store for you. So don’t rush and don’t be impatient. The big green bridge is coming…just wait for it.
I cannot recall talking to a Christian who didn’t desire for their prayer life to be more fulfilling, more fruitful, just simply better. Discontentment regarding our ability to pray seems to be common among Christians. I want to share something that I have found helpful, however, what I am about to say does not sit well with all, but I ask you to hear me out.
Through my spiritual journey I have found prayer books have brought a whole new depth to my prayer life.
Let me explain. It is easy for me to slip into autopilot mode, to say the same thing I always say, and cruise through. Using prayer books leads me to pray in ways that I wouldn’t pray, often even praying for things I typically wouldn’t think to pray. Prayer books stretch me.
One such book that has bore much fruit for me is John Baillie’s work A Diary of Private Prayer. I was first introduced to the original version a couple years ago, and recently found an updated copy. I would like to share a portion of the morning prayer on day 11 from the updated version.
“Yet, Lord, do not let me rest content with an ideal of humanity that is less than what was shown to us in Jesus. Give me the mind of Christ. May I not rest until I am like him in all his fullness. May I listen to Jesus’ question: What are you doing more than others? And so may the three Christian graces of faith, hope, and love be more and more formed within me, until all I do and say brings honor to Jesus and his gospel.”
I wonder what it would look like if we all began to allow prayer books to stretch us and help us grow. This is not at all to say these replace our spontaneous off the cuff prayers, simply that they supplement them. I wonder what would happen if we all began to pray this short prayer above regularly.
Imagine with me what it would look like if the Church across the nation were to regularly pray to “not rest until I am like him in all his fullness.” And for “faith, hope, and love [to] be more and more formed within me, until all I do and say brings honor to Jesus and his gospel.”
I can’t help but think we may begin to see some of the cultural change that we long for. If we won’t pray for it, who will?
Will you commit with me to pray this prayer every day for the next month?
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