my life marked by compassion.
my life marked by compassion.
Eugene Peterson, best known for his work in bringing us the paraphrase of the Bible called The Message, was a pastor of a small church in Maryland for 3 decades. He observed, “The people who give me the most distress are those who come asking, “Pastor, how can I be spiritual?” Forget about being spiritual. How about loving your husband? Now that’s a good place to start. But that’s not what they’re interested in. How about learning to love your kids, accept them the way they are?” (Christianity Today, March, 2005)
In my years of ministry, there have been those who questioned whether I was truly spiritual because I don’t speak in deep reverential tones in my sermons. When I pray in church I feel no need to address a two syllable “Gaa-awd!” I love to laugh, play a practical joke, and eat bean burritos with all the consequences that go with them. I confess that I don’t spend hours each day on my knees in the church’s sanctuary. I like country music and enjoy a good action flick. Does that mean I am not spiritual? To some, perhaps. Spirituality often gets confused with quietness, introspection, and pious acts. Is that what it is all about?
The disciples in the Church in the city of Corinth got all excited about being ‘spiritual,’ and they thought they were quite impressive because they spoke at length in tongues, prophesied, and had meeting that were chock full of Holy Spirit manifestations. Paul wrote a long corrective letter them that all those who aspire to spirituality need to read. Imagine the shock they felt when they heard his letter and he said, “Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life.” (1 Corinthians 3:1, NLT)
He went on to point out that despite their all their spiritual gifts, their lives were a mess! They fought with each other. They lacked love. They would not serve each other. They sued each other in the courts. They would not deal with open sin in their own congregation. They were proud of their knowledge of spiritual freedom and cared little if their actions caused someone less mature in faith to be offended. Pastor Paul told them, “You think you’re so spiritual, but you’re really not very deep in God, at all! You have not even grasped the basics!” Throughout his letter, he reminds them that true spirituality will produce a transformation of character, that being spiritual is always show by a deep and consistent love for God and others. Note the underlying attitude of loving service that informs his instruction about their ‘spiritual’ worship. “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:26, NIV)
True spirituality does not really grow out of mastery of church doctrine, or the ability to speak in tongues, or learning to pray in 16th century Elizabethan language, or from following forced practices of external piety. Genuine spirituality is about two things. I have that on the best authority! Jesus Christ Himself said that all God’s requirements for our lives are summed up in two statement – “Love God and love others!” Want to grow in grace, to develop a great soul? Get serious about repentance when you sin against God, about choosing daily to die to our need to be first or to have your efforts recognized by others. Choose to give yourself; body, soul, and spirit, to the Lord.
A by-product of self-made ‘spirituality’ is arrogance, something Paul called being ‘puffed up.’ He reminded the Corinthian Christians who were so ready to proclaim their spirituality “… you have become arrogant … I will come—and soon—if the Lord will let me, and then I’ll find out whether these arrogant people are just big talkers or whether they really have God’s power. For the Kingdom of God is not just fancy talk; it is living by God’s power.”(1 Corinthians 4:18-21, NLT) If we try to make others think of us as ‘spiritual,’ we will become actors and looking good will replace being good!
I pray those who interact with me today will see Jesus in me. I hope that they will find in me a loving heart full of real concern for the world around me. I pray that in all I say and do the desire to do His will be self-evident. If I am living to honor the One Whom I call, “Lord” with integrity; I will be ‘spiritual’ without the forced behavior or pious pretenses.
Here’s a word from the Word. I pray it will lead us to truer spirituality today! “Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For the Scriptures say, ” ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’ ” Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.” … So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” (Romans 14:10-13, 19)
Brian McLaren observed that he believes that many Christians have bought into a ‘gospel of self-enhancement. They have turned the Bible’s declaration that “God loves the world,” into “God loves ME!” (lecture delivered at Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem, PA) Jesus did not come to give us the ability to become self-actualized – more healthy, more wealthy, and more happy than our neighbors. He came to restore us, individually, to the image of God; calls us into the Church, and from a place in the Church, requires that we find ways with other disciples to lovingly serve the wide world around us.
Here’s a word from the Word. As you read pray that the Holy Spirit will let you appreciate the joy that can be found in humble service to God, expressed in serving others.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.
He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges.
Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death-and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth-even those long ago dead and buried-will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father. – Philippians 2:5-11 (The Message)
Don’t flail about, wildly swinging cutting words, slashing in the darkness. Kneel! Find your place in the Father’s will. Wrestle with the emotions. Jesus did! His stress was intense, His desire to walk away from the Cross, but He didn’t. Instead, He submitted Himself to the plan of god. “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”(Matthew 26:39, NIV) The way out of the corner was not the path He preferred but it was the way to great glory!