Tag Archives: Spiritual Formation

Balancing Content with Discontent

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

While traveling among the churches in South Africa, I would often sit in my room at night, journaling my experience and how God revealed Himself to me that day.  I’m not a very faithful “journaler” here at home, but I am consistent with it when I travel abroad.  It helps me report back to those who are praying at home.  But often I am not able to articulate what I’m seeing until I get home, as in this particular case.  It wasn’t until I was home, preparing a lesson from Philippians 3-4 that another observation about the South African church struck me.

perfect-balance

Paul lived his life in a constant tension between two attitudes which leaned against each other in perfect balance.  The first was his interminable desire to know Christ better.  He had a drive in him to always press forward, always looking for God and always wanting to draw closer to Christ.  His comment in Philippians 3:10 (“I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection…”) bears witness to this attitude.  Near the very end of his life, the most important writer and church starter of the New Testament church still wanted more of Christ.  It is inspiring.

But leaning up against this constant discontent was the attitude he expresses just one chapter later in Philippians 4: “I have learned to be content in all circumstances…”  Paul was so focused on the eternal, that the temporal, physical circumstances of his life never bothered him much.  Because of this focus, Paul was able to walk in this perfect balance of contentment with the physical but constant discontent  and forward progress with his Spiritual placement with Christ.…

Forward Progress Toward Unity

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

cyclingThere was a season in my life when I did quite a bit of cycling.  Triathlons, actually, were a bit of a hobby for me, so spending countless hours each week on a bike, riding through the country side was just a part of the lifestyle.  I was pretty bad, by the way.  I’m certain I never even finished a triathlon in the faster half of the field.  So, it was no big surprise the afternoon I was out on a long ride and pulled into a rest area only to get my feet stuck in the pedal clips as I pulled to a stop, causing me to basically roll over in the parking lot in front of a large crowd of people.  It was a humiliating experience.  It seems that bicycles were not designed to stand up straight unless they are actually moving forward.

I have always held that church unity is a function of Spiritual formation in the lives of individuals.  That makes it much more a journey than a destination.  And preserving the unity of the Spirit is work…lots of work.  On  one of my trips to South Africa, this point got driven home for me.  There, I encountered a church who seemed to understand intuitively the amount of work involved in genuine Spiritual formation.  Rather than my having to encourage them to  continue learning about unity despite having just completed a 6-hour conference on the topic, they came to me during breaks and after the sessions telling me all the ways they were considering to further develop these ideas about preserving the unity in the church.  They realized (perhaps more so than any church I have been …

Church Unity is Not a Program

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

Church unity is not merely a program.  The church in South Africa understands this.

That, I think, is the biggest difference I have noticed between the church in South Africa and the church in America.  From my very first trip there with a team of teacher/facilitators, overviewing the Five Principles of Unity, I noticed that the teaching was received just a little differently than we ordinarily experience.  That first trip, we did conferences in 14 churches in Cape Town, just like we often do when we take our conferences “on the road” into other countries.  The people were engaged and attentive, as is often the case.  But it was the discussion after the conferences that was different.

When looking into what our ministry does with churches, I often have pastors and church leaders ask something along the lines of “How does this program work?”  The implication is that it is some kind of well-contained magical seminar that can bring unity to a church in 5 easy steps.  And after a few hours of conference, there are often comments of gratitude and such for an entertaining, engaging conference.  All of this happens despite our warnings that the Bible’s guidance for preserving the unity of the Spirit is no easy task and cannot be learned in a 4-hour conference.  Rather, it will take a deliberate commitment on the part of the church body to make some significant changes in their lives and in how they handle relationships.

dietBut I often find that churches (and this is particularly true of the church in America) are not really seeking after changed lives.  They are seeking entertainment and maybe even challenging teaching, but they’re not …

Better Than Disneyworld

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

While at the International Christian Retail Show last Summer in Orlando, my wife and I sneaked away one day to visit Epcot Center (please don’t tell my publicist). I’ve always been amazed at how well the Disney Corporation anticipates the needs of folks who visit their theme parks. They really do a marvelous job of sitting and thinking about all the possible needs a visitor might have and then putting reasonable amenities in place to meet those needs. Then I got to thinking (that’s when things get dangerous), what might the experience be like if they actually knew everything about my particular family and knew the day we would be coming and wanted to tailor our experience to fit our specific needs? Now THAT would be a ride worth taking!

Reading Ephesians 1:1-14, that is exactly what we have as followers of Christ. Our God knew (before time began) exactly when we would come to be “in Christ” and He has put together a lifetime of experiences and lessons custom-made for us. He knows our fears and our passions. He knows our inmost being. He has orchestrated experiences, both good and bad, which are designed to grow us and to bring us into a closer relationship with Him. He knows exactly what we can handle and what we cannot handle. He knows exactly what will turn us toward Him. He knows all the resources we will need and stands ready to provide them. He has adopted us into His family, giving us access to the resources of the kingdom. Moreover, He knows exactly how and when we will mess up or become rebellious, and he has factored that in and has …

Preaching is Up, So Why Isn’t the Church?

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

My impression is that the church in America is getting LESS Biblically literate, not more. I don’t have any scientific data to support that impression. Maybe the Barna Group or someone like that has researched it. I’m just saying that, when we compare the evangelical church of today to the one that existed 50 or 100 years ago, I have a distinct impression that our understanding of the God of the Bible is not deepening–rather, it is getting shallower. I believe we are becoming a Biblically illiterate church. I would welcome your impression on that issue.

If I am right about that, then here is what is really mind-boggling: I suspect we are graduating more students from our theological institutions than ever before. I mean, I strongly suspect that there are actually more theologians among us today than we have ever had among us at any other time in the history of the church. Moreover, the church in America has groomed and perfected the art of preaching beyond measure. We have truly amazing, gifted teachers and preachers in the American church, and their lessons and sermons have never been more accessible than they are right now. Anytime I desire, I can go on line or tune into the radio and listen to Charles Stanley, Andy Stanley, John Ortberg, John MacArthur, Max Lucado, Chuck Swindoll or any of hundreds of other great preachers. You want choices? The church in America has choices galore!

So here is the critical question: how is that we have so much fantastic preaching and so many really smart theologians in the church today but we are actually less Biblically literate than ever?

Let me add another perspective. …