Thursday, November 15, 2007

Deepening your spiritual walk with God (Part 1)

Deepening Our Spiritual Walk with God: The 8 ‘B’ssentials (Part 1)
Text: Colossians 3:1-24


Recently I was a speaker at a student conference organized by the Fellowship of Evangelical Students (FES) on Professionals of Tomorrow (POT). It involves about 200 university students studying healthcare (HOTs), law (LOTs) and teaching (TOTs). I have had an enjoyable time speaking, teaching and sharing with the group of young energetic, idealistic, and committed young adults. They are concerned about their studies and their future. Some of the questions they asked me are:

-How to study well?
-Why is there more girl Christians than boy Christians?
-How do I know my boy/girl friend is the correct one?
-Will I be a good doctor/pharmacist/lawyer/teacher?
-What will Malaysia like in the future?
-How do I know I am in God’s will?
-How do I serve God when I graduate?
-Where did you meet your wife?
-How do I continue and finish well as a Christian and not fall away?
-How do I deepen my spiritual walk with God?

I have been thinking and processing their questions since I came back. Basically they are asking, “How can we deepen our walk with the Lord?” I believe that Col 3:1-24 gives us the answer to that.

The theme of Colossians is the complete adequacy of Christ as contrasted with the emptiness of mere human philosophy. Colossians is a genuine letter of Paul (1:1) is usually not disputed. In the early church, all who speak on the subject of authorship ascribe it to Paul. Instead, it is to be dated during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, where he spent at least two years under house arrest (see Ac 28:16–31). Some have argued that Paul wrote Colossians from Ephesus or Caesarea, but most of the evidence favors Rome as the place where Paul penned all the Prison Letters (Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon). Colossians should be dated c. A.D. 60, in the same year as Ephesians and Philemon. Paul’s purpose is to refute the Colossian heresy. To accomplish this goal, he exalts Christ as the very image of God (1:15), the Creator (1:16), the preexistent sustainer of all things (1:17), the head of the church (1:18), the first to be resurrected (1:18), the fullness of deity in bodily form (1:19; 2:9) and the reconciler (1:20–22). Thus Christ is completely adequate. We “have been given fullness in Christ” (2:10). On the other hand, the Colossian heresy was altogether inadequate. It was a hollow and deceptive philosophy (2:8), lacking any ability to restrain the old sinful nature (2:23).

Here are eight ‘B’ssentials

(1) Be Aware of Your Calling/Vocation
COL 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Os Guinness in his book, The Call, notes
“Calling (or vocation) is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service…

Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him.

Our secondary calling, considering God who is as sovereign, is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for him… we can therefore properly say that as a matter of secondary calling that we are called to homemaking or to the practice of law or to art history.

The Catholic Distortion
Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, Demonstration of the Gospel argues that Christ gave ‘two ways of life’ to the church. One is the ‘perfect life’ and the other is the ‘permitted life.’
Augustine and Thomas Aquinas elevated the contemplative life (vita contemplative) over the active life (vita active)

The Protestant Distortion
Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church recommends the abolition of all religious orders- one level of vocation.
Elevating the secular at the expense of the spiritual.
At its extreme vocation is an alternative word for job.
Secular-clergy gap

We are not primary called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to someone. We are not called first to special work but to God. The key to answering the call is to be devoted to no one and to nothing above God himself.

(2) Be a Person of Integrity
COL 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.

“Everyone is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?” This is the argument from democracy: numbers define what is right

“It’s not illegal.” True but is it right?

“They did it to me, so I’m going to do it to them.” There is a very seductive logic in that tit-for-tat rationalization.

“If I don’t do it, somebody else will.” But sometimes, they don’t.

“Why follow standard operating protocols? Others don’t” They are there for a reason.
Patient confidentiality

CA Carson, Sermon on the Mount
“It (the sermon on the mount) portrays the pattern of conduct under kingdom authority, a pattern that demands conformity now, even if perfection will not be achieved until the kingdom’s consummation”

“Not only are we in the process of becoming; we are becoming what we love. We are to a large degree the sum of our loves and we will of moral necessity grow into the image of what we love most; for love is among other things a creative affinity; it changes and molds and shapes and transform. It is without doubt the most powerful agent affecting human nature next to direct action of the Holy Spirit of God within the soul.”

(3) Be Growing into Christlikeness
8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices
10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

-Self discipline
-Spiritual discipline

Dallas Willard
“spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner self of Christ himself.”

This process of spiritual formation is enhanced by the spiritual disciplines of bible study, prayer, fellowship, liturgy, worship, solitude and decision making.

Willow Creek Repents?
Why the most influential church in America now says "We made a mistake."

"Few would disagree that Willow Creek Community Church has been one of the most influential churches in America over the last thirty years. Willow, through its association, has promoted a vision of church that is big, programmatic, and comprehensive. This vision has been heavily influenced by the methods of secular business. James Twitchell, in his new book Shopping for God, reports that outside Bill Hybels’ office hangs a poster that says: “What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?” Directly or indirectly, this philosophy of ministry—church should be a big box with programs for people at every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage—has impacted every evangelical church in the country.

So what happens when leaders of Willow Creek stand up and say, “We made a mistake”?
Not long ago Willow released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry. Basically, they wanted to know what programs and activities of the church were actually helping people mature spiritually and which were not. The results were published in a book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek. Hybels called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing.”

If you’d like to get a synopsis of the research you can watch a video with Greg Hawkins here. And Bill Hybels’ reactions, recorded at last summer’s Leadership Summit, below are few highlights.

In the Hawkins’ video he says, “Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might sound crazy but that’s how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation.”

Having put all of their eggs into the program-driven church basket you can understand their shock when the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.”

Speaking at the Leadership Summit, Hybels summarized the findings this way:

Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.

Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake up call” of his adult life.

Hybels confesses:
We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.

In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.

Does this mark the end of Willow’s thirty years of influence over the American church? Not according to Hawkins:
Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet."

To be continued…

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