Community and the Church

We need one another more than we understand and more than we often want to admit.  Human beings were not created to live in isolation. We need people to come alongside us, to support us and to speak blessings into our lives. Likewise, we should pursue community in order to love and serve others. We are blessed by God so that we can be a blessing to others. Jean Vanier writes,

In community people care for each other and not just for the community in the abstract, as a whole, as an institution or as an ideal way of life. It is people that matter; to love and care for the people that are there, just as they are. It is to care for them in such a way that they may grow according to the plan of God and thus give much life. And it is not just caring in a passing way, but in a permanent way. Because people are bonded one to another, they make up one family, one people, one flock.[1]

Community is vital to our spiritual growth because as we live life with others we face challenges that nudge us to depend upon God and invite him to change our attitudes, behaviors and thoughts towards others. Relationships in community require a level of commitment, transparency and patience, and when these areas are tested, we grow as a result. Boa writes, “God’s redemptive plan is to restore relationships on every level—with God, self, others, and creation—so that we will experience and express the shalom (peace, love, unity, harmony) of the Trinity.”[2]

God has drawn us to him and has gathered all who believe in him to be his kingdom people, the Church. The church is to function like a body, where all the parts work together. The purpose of the church is to worship and glorify God together as his redeemed people. We are to be God’s people in the world while loving and serving one another.  We are members of the family of God, and as a family we learn from one another, challenge one another, encourage one another and share Christ with one another. Furthermore, we are to extend this same nurturing and compassion to the world. We are to be salt and light in the world, to partner with God in his mission of reconciling people to himself.


[1] Jean Vanier. Community and Growth (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press,1989), EPUB edition, ch.1, “Community as Caring.”

[2] Kenneth Boa. Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001), 417.

The Role and Work of the Holy Spirit

In John 16, Jesus is talking to his disciples and telling them that he is going away. He explains that he will no longer be with them, but that he will send the advocate, the Holy Spirit. Thus, after Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, he sent the Holy Spirit to continue his kingdom work and to bear witness to Jesus in the world. The Holy Spirit came in the world indwelling all followers of Christ and sealing us with a permanent seal. We are eternally secure in God and can never be separated from him, nothing can snatch us away. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39). The Holy Spirit gives us assurance of our salvation and everlasting life.

The Holy Spirit continually guides us into the light and life of Christ. We are being transformed into the likeness of Christ through the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. By the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we receive power and boldness to live our Christian lives. Thus, we should daily walk in his power and strength while partnering with him as he moves in the world enlightening people’s eyes to the knowledge of the love of God.

 Boa writes, “He empowers us to live a new quality of life, he purifies and purges us as we submit to his authority and control, and he equips us with spiritual gifts and opportunities to build up others in the faith.”[1] We are refined by the refiner’s fire and delivered from the evil and destruction that so easily hinder us. The Holy Spirit sets us free from our pain and suffering while lifting our burdens off our shoulders.  However, the Holy Spirit will not force this upon us, but rather as we open our hearts and lives to him, he will move with redeeming and restorative power.  This transforming movement by the Holy Spirit is not just for our benefit but also for the sake of others.  As we move in the world as resurrection people, who proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ, people will be drawn by the Holy Spirit to the loving embrace of the good Shepard and the eternal Father.


[1] Kenneth Boa. Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001)

Being vs. Doing

“It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep”(Ps 127:2 NASB). This word from God teaches us about being and doing. We live in a world that is always busy. There are cities that boast that they are “the city that never sleeps.” This is because the world defines people by what they do. The world’s push is to always be doing because from their view this is where meaning in life is derived.

In contrast, Christians should focus on being rather than doing. We are defined by our relationship with God and our new nature in Christ. Kenneth Boa explains, “Our primary purpose is not to do something for Christ but to know him; our activities and abilities are useless for the kingdom unless he energizes them, and this will not happen if they take precedence over intimacy with him.”[1] Whatever we do in life should flow from who we are in Christ. We are his beloved, and he blesses us regardless of our doing. This should fill our hearts with the thanksgiving and gratitude, which should ignite us to participate in his kingdom work.

For me to better enjoy the process of being in Christ, I need to enter “God’s rest” (Heb 4;10) on a regular basis in order to be reminded that life is not the chaotic race of doing that the culture portrays, but rather life is about being with God and about his love transforming my life. My life should be focused on being, so that Christ’s life and light is seen flowing through me. 


[1]  Kenneth Boa. Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001), 273-274.

St. Francis of Assisi Prayer

Saint Francis

I came across this statue of St. Francis today, and I thought to share a prayer that is often attributed to him.  This is the form adapted by the folks at Common Prayer

Draw us into your love, Christ Jesus : and deliver us from fear.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

 

Process vs. Product

When we think about our lives, we can think of them as either a process or a product. If we think of life as a process, then we can equate it with a journey, and if from a Christian perspective, then life could be described as a daily, step-by-step walk with God. Thus, the focus is on enjoying life with God and living in the present moment as he gradually transforms us into the image of Christ. Throughout this journey, God will lead us to love and serve others, and when we see the powerful things he accomplishes in the world through us, we should rejoice and declare his glory.[1]

In contrast, if we think of our lives as a product that must be attained or arrived at, then we are inclined to live a mechanical or robotic life, meaning that our primary focus is on completing specific outcomes. As a result, we live in a relational detached way because every relationship ultimately is manipulated in order to align with our striving to be a complete, polished product.

There may be momentary enjoyment with this type of life focus as we arrive at some product of our imagination, but the enjoyment will be fleeting because another product image will fill our minds, and we will again work tirelessly to attain the new product image. Thus, our lives are mostly lived reaching for the future; when we are constantly time traveling to the future, obsessed with what we want to attain, we are not living in reality, and in our present lives, we experience delusion, emptiness, anxiety and depression.[2]


[1] Kenneth Boa. Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001), 256-258.

[2] Ibid., 256-258.

 

Identity in Christ and God’s Provision

Jesus said to his followers, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser….I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:1,5 ESV).  Jesus calls us to follow him as his disciples, and when we receive him and follow him, we become “in christ,” a healthy branch connected to the life sustaining vine. We live in him, and he lives in us.  We have a new life and identity in Christ as well as freedom from the law of sin and death. When we are in Christ, there is not condemnation, and we are co-heirs with him and share in his glory (Rom 8:17). We receive all the riches and spiritual blessings of Christ.

God created us as contingent human beings who have needs that are intended to be fulfilled through him alone.  We have physical and psychological needs that God intends to satisfy.  When we are “in Christ” all of our needs have already been met, and thus we should grasp this truth and yield to God and not attempt to fulfill our needs solely in our own strength.  God will use all types of means as he provides, and we must trust in his perfect timing.       

A Quiet Mind Before God

St. Teresa of Avila, in her book The Interior Castle, writes,

“Meanwhile the will, entirely united to God, is much disturbed by the tumult of the thoughts : no notice, however, should be taken of them, or they would cause the loss of a great part of the favour the soul is enjoying.  Let the spirit ignore these distractions and abandon itself in the arms of divine love: His majesty will teach it how best to act, which chiefly consists in its recognizing its unworthiness of so great a good and occupying itself in thanking Him for it.” (64) 

When we enter into quiet prayer, our minds and will often dart in numerous directions. We should practice on ignoring these thoughts and continue to fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith.  We do well to focus our hearts ablaze on his loving embrace while recognizing our unworthiness of so great a love. As a result, we occupy our minds with worshipful gratitude.