Category: Spiritual Formation

Far Easier

“The almost impossibly hard thing is to hand over your whole self to Christ.
But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead.”

~C.S. Lewis

Taking Hold

“I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” ~Philippians 3:12

The holy Son of God came to this earth and put on your flesh and blood. He put on your humanity and he took on your sins. He became your sin for you. He lived here just like you so he could suffer and die for you. He gave up everything to save you and reconcile you back to God. He set aside his glory, his position, his power – he gave up everything because he loves you.

He did all of that for you. He loves you that much. Doesn’t that grab you?

If you’re just showing up at church on Sundays to sing the songs and say the ‘amens’ and eat and drink the Lord’s Supper and then you’re out the door and in your car and back home and nothing changes… If you come to church “just as I am” and you leave “just as you were” and nothing changes…

That is NOT the life Jesus died on the cross to give you. Christ Jesus did not leave his home in glory and die on Calvary to influence a couple of hours of your week. He gave himself to change your whole life. He died and lives now and forever to radically and dramatically alter every minute of every hour of your existence.

The love of Christ takes hold of you. It grabs you. It seizes you. It grips you and controls you. It squeezes you and shakes you and it will not let you go. So, yes, you want to know Christ. You want to become Christ-like. You want to be so much like Jesus that when a mosquito bites you, he flies away singing, “There is Power in the Blood!”

The love of Jesus rules us. It completely controls us. We’re held by his love like we’re in a vice. We can’t break free. So we don’t live for ourselves, we live for the Lord and for others. We conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. We consider others better than ourselves. We look to the interests of others. We work diligently to make our attitudes the same as that of Christ Jesus. We work out this salvation with fear and trembling, we demonstrate it, we make it real. And we recognize in all humility and gratitude that it is God who works in us, God who is shaping our will and renewing our minds, and transforming our image according to his good purpose.

Christ Jesus did not take hold of you so you could improve your golf game. Jesus did not take hold of you so you could buy a second home or win a soccer scholarship or become the president of your company. He took hold of you to transform you. He did it so you could live in a righteous relationship with him and in sacrificial service to others. His love for you compels you to take hold of it, too.

Peace,

Allan

All Who Are Mature

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made complete, but I press on… I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.” ~Philippians 3:12-15

Only those who understand their own lack of completion have reached a spiritual maturity. In other words, you have arrived only when you understand you’ve got a long way to go. Being saved means straining, pushing, pressing, adding to, attaining, striving. Our feet hit the floor every morning and we say, “How can I become more like my Lord today? How can I grow in humility, sacrifice, and service?” Because I have not yet arrived. None of us has arrived. And all of us who are mature should understand that.

I’m afraid we sometimes act like we’ve already arrived. We can act like there’s nothing else to learn or nothing else to do. I don’t have to study that. I already know what I believe about that. I don’t need to do this. I’ve already done my time. I’ll never change my mind about that. I’ll never try that. And curse those who might.

The Bible says that’s the immature view. The mature view is: I’ve got a long way to go. I’ve got a lot to learn. I’ve got newer and deeper things to experience. And while Paul says that mature Christians will agree with him on this, he doesn’t lash out against those might disagree. He trusts that God will make the truth clear to them at some other time (Phil. 3:15).

That tells me we shouldn’t expect every Christian to be mature. As long as the church is made up of humans, it’ll include people who don’t always think or act like adults. Paul says we trust those people to God’s care and we don’t let our disagreements disrupt our unity.

We strain toward what is ahead. We press on toward the goal to win the prize. That’s the ‘one thing.’ And that means, at some point, you’re going to have to do something you’ve never done before. Seriously. This requires exploring the new and experiencing the different. If your walk with Christ has stayed pretty much the same for the past several years, you’re going to have to do something different. If you’re no more sacrificial or no more a servant to others than you were a few years ago, you’re going to have to try something new. If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.

You want to become more like Christ. You know God’s will is that you be transformed into his image. And if it’s not happening, are you telling me you’re just going to keep doing the same thing? What’s the definition of ‘insanity?’ Doing the same things in the same ways and expecting different results. That doesn’t work! Just ask Jerry Jones! It’s clinical!

So you strain ahead and you press on toward that goal of completion, of transformation into Christ’s image. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how long you’ve been around, or how long ago you were baptized.

Can I read Scripture in a new way? Can I engage God in prayer in a different way that will result in more humility and deeper dependence on him? What can my small group do differently that will make us more sacrificial? What new thing can my Bible class do that will grow us into better servants? What new ministry can I explore that will shape me into Christ-likeness?

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.

Peace,

Allan

One Thing

“One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 3:13-14

This righteousness from God, this knowledge of Christ and his resurrection, I’m straining for it, Paul writes. I’m pushing for it. I press on, Paul says, because I have not yet arrived. I have not yet obtained it all or been made perfect. I’m not there yet.

The call is to keep moving forward. Our tendency, though, is to stay put. I think our tendency is to get to a good place and just kinda stay there. But that is never God’s plan.

Angels never appear to anyone in the Bible and say, “Greetings! I am an angel of the Lord! God is calling you to do nothing. Thank you.” and then disappear.

“Gideon!”
“Yes!”
“I am an angel of the Lord. Stay put. God bless.”

Staying put is never God’s plan for his people. Holding our own can be a flat-out sin.

“How’s your church?”
“Oh, you know, we’re holding our own.”

No! Being saved means straining, pressing, pushing; adding to and attaining to and striving toward. Our feet hit the floor every morning and we say, “How can I become more like my my Lord today? How can I grow in humility, sacrifice, and service?” Because I know I have not arrived. None of us has arrived.

Peace,

Allan

Journal of Christian Studies

The inaugural issue of the Journal of Christian Studies arrived in my mailbox two weeks ago, the entire issue is now free online, and I’m eager to share it with you today. The Journal is a thrice-yearly publication of the Center for Christian Studies in Austin, of which – full disclosure – my brilliant brother Keith is the Executive Director. In keeping with the long tradition begun by Austin Graduate School of Theology, the Journal of Christian Studies wants to make biblical scholarship accessible and practical for the local church. They’re going to use each issue to focus on a particular topic or theme and unpack it in a way that benefits ministers and lay leaders in their congregations. Keith describes the Journal of Christian Studies as “more accessible than the purely academic journals but more rigorous than the popular-level magazines,” a venue for “thought-provoking writing that instructs and encourages the church at large.”

This vision captures the very essence of the old Austin Graduate School of Theology, where serious scholarship intentionally moved smoothly from the ivory towers into the trenches of church leadership. I remember well my professors at Austin Grad – mainly Michael Weed, Alan McNicol, and Jeff Peterson – after 30-minutes of tough sledding through some complicated theology, taking a deep breath and saying, “Okay, here’s how the Church needs to hear this” or “Okay, here’s why this matters to your church,” then spending the next 30-minutes in very practical and helpful guidance. That’s what Keith and the Center for Christian Studies is attempting to continue, by offering biblical and theological education and training for local churches and church leaders. And this initial edition of the Journal of Christian Studies is a very good sign that they’re really onto something.

This first issue tackles the topic of the Church’s response to COVID-19 and the multiple challenges that lie ahead. It opens with Ed Gallagher’s piece on the local church as a worshiping and serving community of God’s people in which the author reminds us why regularly coming together in the same place at the same time is so important to the formation of Christian character. Relationship, reconciliation, bearing one another’s burdens – God is at work in the hard work of being community together. This is something I believe we have failed to adequately communicate in our churches and the current times demand we step up our teaching.

Keith compares the emergency procedures our churches enacted during the COVID lockdowns to similar emergency situations that forever altered the practice of Christian baptism and the communion meal. He cautions us to engage in serious thought and reflection when it comes to our language and our rituals, especially as it concerns our rapid move into live-streaming our Lord’s Day worship assemblies.

Todd Rester provides some helpful historical reminders that our current day is not the first in which God’s Church has dealt with a global health crisis. It’s almost refreshing to read that church leaders in the Middle Ages also took steps to mitigate the spread of the plague and other horrible diseases, while still maintaining pastoral duties to the flock. At the same time, it’s almost depressing to realize that they were more faithful and brave than we seem to be. There are lessons to be learned from looking at the history.

Todd Hall completes the issue with a focused look at the pandemic’s effect on spiritual formation. How do we recover our spiritual disciplines? How do we deliberately move away from the screens and the earbuds, scrolling through Facebook and binging the latest Netflix drama, isolation and fear of the other, toward more intentional time with God in Word and prayer and with his people in service and worship?

I can’t recommend enough to you this issue of this brand new journal. It’s deep and serious theology of the Church and what our God is doing in and through his gathered people, and how the pandemic has impacted our expectations and experiences. It’s a call to pay closer attention to what we do and why we do it when we come together. Read the whole thing. Start with Keith’s article first.

Peace,

Allan