Sunday, October 16, 2011

Understanding Spiritual Formation 2: The Image of God

The term "spiritual formation" is not always understood. This is the second in a series of posts seeking to explain what I mean when I talk about "spiritual formation".

The concept "image of God" has had many different interpretations over the centuries. Some great, some horrific. I have at least two interpretations of that phrase which resonate with me.

The first is that humanity was created to be God's representatives to creation. God's command to be the caretakers of the earth is a part of being image of God. We were created to be the co-regents of God. In the fall (Genesis 3), we see Eve allowing the serpent to misrepresent God; then with her response she also misrepresents Him. This activity is the first time we see a person acting out of concert with their identity as image bearers.

The second is that the image of God consisted of both Adam and Eve. The genders are an equality with a distinction (similar to the Trinity). Again at the fall, it appears that both Adam and Eve acted selfishly instead of lovingly toward each other. The result was that the intimacy of Genesis 2 was lost, and their relationship became adversarial (God pointed that out to them in Genesis 3), and again the image of God was placed on the back burner as the image of man was elevated.

John 1 says that no one has seen God (implying then that it is impossible to know what he looks like unless it is revealed), thus no one can correctly image him. BUT, Jesus (the One and Only) has made him known to us.

Jesus incarnate is the perfect representation of God the Father.

The incarnation happened through the Holy, the same Spirit that formed Jesus in the womb of Mary, is the same Spirit that now forms us as we are "in Christ".

Christ represented the Father perfectly. He did this through the empowerment of the Spirit.

Therefore, when we look like Christ, we image God.

The Spirit empowers us to look like Christ, because the Spirit speaks for Christ and represents Christ and is a counselor like Christ (John 14-16)

Spiritual Formation, then, happens when we open ourselves to the formative work of the Spirit. My thoughts later on how we do that.

For now, though:

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Understanding Spiritual Formation 1: The Work of the Trinity

The term "spiritual formation" is not always understood. This is the first in a series of posts seeking to explain what I mean when I talk about "spiritual formation".

For me, the jumping off point of any discussion of spiritual formation begins with creation.

According to Genesis 1, God spoke everything into being. According to John 1, God the Son was there. According to Colossians 1, God the Son was the actor in creation. Genesis 1:2 tells us that the Holy Spirit was hovering over creation.

God the Father spoke
God the Son acted
God the Spirit enabled

Jesus' baptism provides a similar picture. The Father speaks, the Son acts, and the Spirit is again hovering. John 3 tells us that the Son only speaks the words of the Father, because the Father has given him the Spirit without limit.

God the Father spoke
God the Son acted
God the Spirit enabled

The new creation (us) is not different. You can use whichever theological words you like (calling, election, predestination, adoption, etc...), the Father initiates the new creation. The Son does the redemptive work. The Spirit (sanctifies) brings it to completion.

God the Father spoke
God the Son acted
God the Spirit enables.

God the Spirit enables us to be the new creation.

Thus Spiritual Formation is the activity of the Spirit as He forms us into the image of Jesus Christ who is the perfect representation of God.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Spiritual Formation: Your Body as a Living Sacrifice

In his commentary on Romans, Leon Morris writes:
"Does any other religion put such an emphasis on the body? The Christian view of the body as sacred and as the servant of the soul is unique among religions of the world, Judaism excepted. Certainly the Greeks of the first century stressed the importance of the soul and regarded the body lightly. We see something of the same attitude in modern times when the excuse is offered for someone who has sinned with his body: 'But his heart is in the right place!'"
So it isn't "the thought that counts"? Nope. Your actions matter. What you do with your body "counts".

The body is the concrete manifestation of our lives. It is our instrument for righteousness. Is it any wonder then, that the world's strongest attacks on our "Christianly thinking" (see 1 John 2:15-17) happens in the realm of our body use?

Chrysostom said:
"How is the body to become a sacrifice? Let the eye look on no evil thing, and it has already become a sacrifice. Let the tongue say nothing filthy, and it has become an offering. Let your hand do nothing evil, and it has become a whole burnt offering. But even this is not enough, for we must have good works also. The hand must do alms, the mouth must bless those who curse it, and the ears must find time to listen to the reading of Scriptures. Sacrifice allows of no unclean thing. It is the first fruits of all other actions”
In the forward of "A Spiritual Formation Workbook"is the following paragraph:
"I like the nurturing character. The rule for our weekly gatherings is a good one: give encouragement as often as possible; advice, once in a great while; reproof, only when absolutely necessary; and judgment never."
What a great rule for a community. It requires everyone to sacrifice themselves for the good of others. Sounds like a poster that will soon find the wall in my office. I envision it saying:

Encourage Always
Advise When Asked
Correct When Necessary
Judge Never

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Manipulation is Not Leadership.

Proverbs says alot about flattery. One of my favorite proverbs reminds us that the wounds of a friend are preferable to the kisses of an enemy. Often people who don’t really have your best interest in mind will use flattery to manipulate you. I get frustrated with myself when I slip into manipulation by flattery mode.

But flattery isn’t the only way we manipulate people. Some people are master manipulators. They spend their time evaluating a person, figure out that person’s “buttons”, and then press all the right ones to get what they desire from that person. Some people are “passive-aggressive” manipulators; they’ll bully a person by withdrawing and being silent.

Is there anything wrong with manipulation?

Many leadership “gurus” talk about the concept of “influence”, as being one of, if not the core competencies of leaders.

One author says “leadership is influence - nothing more, nothing less”.

I read another book recently that said, “to lead others, an individual or group must be able to sway people to follow a proposed direction.”

The same book tells the story of a pastor who believes God has given him a vision to buy a vacant lot next to his church in order to create a parking lot (check the end of this post to see why this in itself is problematic). In order to accomplish this “vision”, he takes each of his church’s deacons out to eat individually. He has them meet him at the church so he can drive, and with each deacon, as they arrive back at the church he subtly points to the vacant lot and says, “Do you think God would ever allow us to buy that property?”

Over time, the deacons begin to talk about the property, and eventually decide to buy it, believing they have come to a Spirit led decision because they all had it on their mind.

So I wonder… is this Leadership? or is this manipulation?

Here’s why I think manipulation is wrong. Manipulation is me making an effort to do something in someone else that I believe the Spirit has done in me, but won’t do in them.

When I choose to manipulate someone, I’m choosing to use deceit and subversion rather than straightforward honesty and authenticity. Which approach do you think the Holy Spirit is more likely to work through?

Manipulation in church often stems from the idea that
God gives a vision to one person, not a group.

I’ve heard many of the young, hip, evangelical church leaders make this argument.
I’ve read it in the aforementioned books. It goes like this:

“God reveals his vision to one person. It has been my observation from the Bible and in personal ministry that teams do not develop vision.”


“In the Bible, God never gave the vision to a committee.”

The result of this kind of thinking is leaders who believe that once God has given them a vision it is up to them to convince everyone else (by hook or crook) of the rightness of their vision. The implication of this theory is that the Holy Spirit cannot work through anyone other than “the leader”. So much for the priesthood of the believer.

note this comment from one of the above sources:
“If you’re not the senior pastor, you have to trust that he’s hearing from God.”

The biggest problem with this idea is that it is just flat wrong. The greatest vision God ever gave to men was given to a group, not an individual. That vision statement looked a little like this:
"It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
Which brings me back to my starting point… Manipulation.

There is a very fine line between true leadership through influence and deceitful leadership through subversive manipulation.

I speak of the church, because that is my life; but these principles are true everywhere: marriage, friendship, occupation, parenting, etc.

Anytime we use manipulation to influence people, we’ve asserted that the Holy Spirit cannot work through simple honesty and straightforwardness… and that is not a great place to be.

I’m not trying to throw stones here, I’m just sayin’

Saturday, September 24, 2011

10 Questions to Evaluate the Spiritual Formation Process of Your Church

Since I love lists, I often save good ones I find. A few years ago, I came across this one from Mark Waltz. He asked the following ten questions about spiritual formation in the church. Back then, I thought it would be fun to answer the questions from my perspective and then get feedback from you as to whether or not you see things like this?

Looking back at my answers several years ago, I am at once encouraged because I still very much believe what I wrote then. However, I am also a bit frustrated because I'm not sure we've done an effective job in accomplishing some of the things I wrote about then.

What do you think? Were these good answers then? Are they good answers now? Do we need to re-look at some of this stuff?

1. How is spiritual transformation defined in our church?

The work of the Holy Spirit in transforming us to the image of Christ who is the perfect representation of the Father.

2. What does a "win" look like in spiritual transformation?

For us, it is when an individual commits themself to a community of believers.

3. In what ways is spiritual transformation expressed in our mission, vision and values?

We call ourselves "commuities connecting to God and others". Point of Connection #3 is "Partnering with Others"

4. How are we trusting or not trusting the Holy Spirit to transform the lives of our people?

Because we believe the Spirit's primary "weapons of transformation are the church and the Word, we emphasize those two things, believing the Spirit will work through those efforts.

5. Does this feel like an “add-on” to everything else we’re doing... or how is it integrated into the fabric of our church life?

As we simplify and sharpen our focus, it will more and more become our DNA and less and less "another program/ministry"

6. Is there evidence that our people are engaging spiritual transformation as a lifestyle? If not, what's preventing that reality?

yes and no. many are committing themselves to the life-sharing relationships which lead to transformation, however we are likely not at 50% yet, so there is much to be done.

7. What key words, what important concepts will we use to cast vision and create a culture of spiritual transformation that is embraced by our people?

Explore, Launch, Partner, Serve, Engage; Formative, Caring, Missional

8. What environments will we intentionally continue or create to help our people engage the story of the Bible in their journey of spiritual transformation?

Our celebration gatherings and LIFEGroups will continue to be THE PRIMARY vehicles we use for spiritual transformation. Simplifying to these focused "environments" allows our people to be "in the bubble" less because after all, someone did say, "the fields are white to harvest...the laborers are few."

9. How do we help our people engage spiritual disciplines as pathways rather than task items to mark off their to-do lists?

I think this is why disciplines must be tied to community. i engage in spiritual disciplines not for my own benefit, but so that i can better image God. my vertical relationship is no more mature than my horizontal relationships.

10. How will we measure and celebrate spiritual transformation in the lives of our people?

this is the next step. we are currently identifying "landmarks" of spiritual formation that we will encourage our LIFEGroups to celebrate together. There are some that can be celebrated in our gatherings... baptism is the first that comes to mind.