spiritual

Personal Spirituality

In the day in which we live, “religious” has been replaced with the term “spiritual,” which is both ambiguous as well as hard to define. That said, it is clear that religion and spirituality play a roll in the lives of every human being, as we were created to worship. Therefore, as individuals imaging the divine, we all have what might be termed “personal spirituality;” and in the protestant evangelical Christian tradition, personal spirituality is relational and not merely religious. Thus it is common to hear evangelical Christians say, “I don’t have religion, I have a relationship.” But if “spiritual” needs definition, then the concept of a relationship over religion certainly needs clarification.

As a pastor, I have regularly been confronted with the dreadful reality that it is far to easy to default to a pattern of life and ministry that is overly religious. By religious, I mean that daily life and ministry can have an appearance of spirituality and devotion, but be terribly devoid of genuine godliness and sincere worship. In other words, ministry, for the minister, can become inordinately professional. The task of sermon preparation and the sacerdotal functions in the ministry are inherently spiritual; or at least appear to be. Consequently, the minister and those ministered to by him, might wrongly assume that the one doing such things is inherently spiritual too. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Christian in general, and those called to Christian leadership specifically, must never allow the daily disciplines of Christianity (i.e. prayer, Bible reading, memory, etc.) and the functions of Christian ministry to become heartlessly mechanical. As an instrument of worship, the disciple of Christ must aim to worship through these activities and not simply do them by rote. Therefore, enjoying the relationship of Christianity demands Spirit directed devotion and worship; not just a codified ethic.

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Boston Observations

Like virtually every American I was glued to the news this last week as a result of the Marathon Bombing. I was however somewhat detached being that I was teaching at a small international bible college in Ireland. That said, I did have a few observations in light of the happenings.

Bravery

Quite honestly it is awesome to behold the bravery of “strangers” in the face of the atrocious acts of cowardice displayed by the bombers. The bombers dropped their packages and briskly waked away, leaving destruction in their wake. But immediately following the explosions loads of people ran to the aid of the injured. My heart broke and was warmed all in one moment.

Brave men and women, knowing not whether other bombs were awaiting them, risked their lives to hurry to those that were hurt. Individuals tired after running 26 miles continued to run to nearby hospitals to donate blood. The cowards hid and [apparently] planned future acts of terror. Fortunately, aside from one other terrible act, their reign of terror ended quickly.

Solidarity

In Europe, upon hearing my accent each individual I encountered instantly expressed their sincerest sympathies. Their hearts hurt for the pain of our nation. They didn’t have to be American, they’re human, and the heart of any individual with a modicum of compassion, breaks in the face of such suffering.

Efficiency

The Law Enforcement and Emergency Medical communities are to be lauded for their expertise and efficiency. EMS workers worked with brave professionalism. I imagine that they would have prior to 9/11/2001, but all the more since. The Law Enforcement agencies [apparently] worked harmoniously together to identify (with the aid of many witnesses) the alleged terrorists and effectively remove them from the streets within 4 days of their conscienceless act.

Idiocy

The press displayed (almost as expected) absurdity. If they would limit their scope of practice to reporting the facts, it would be bearable. But in a day in which “that which bleeds leads” and he who is first to the story wins the ratings game, stupidity abounds. In addition flows the constant drone of editorializing and and biased interpretation. I’d much rather know what they know and not what some uppity news correspondent thinks it means.

I realize that at this point I’m editorializing too, but quite frankly that’s what a blog is.

spheres

Sphere’s of Gospel Sovereignty

Abraham Kuyper, the great Dutch Prime Minister of the 19th Century, developed a concept known as Sphere’s of Sovereignty. The idea is that different principalities hold different authorities in different areas in different ways. Last week in our Sunday gathering we were considering the Great Commission as presented by Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 28:18-20). Jesus says to his disciples in this passage, “ALL authority is given to me.” This would have seemed a radical statement to make to a group of marginalised peasants out in the sticks of the Roman Empire. But it’s true.

We live in a society that has authorities in different spheres. People go to work under their employer’s authority. They live in a nation under government authority. They live life in familial structures, in contexts of social authority. We are all dominated by authority structures and these are not a bad thing. Authority is God-given, but some authorities over-step their mandate. There is an authority that reigns supreme. All these domains of authority exist within the realm of Christ’s authority. It all belongs to Jesus. Kuyper, in speaking about spheres of authority says this, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry ‘Mine!'”

Gospel Spheres

The fact of the matter is Jesus trumps all authority claims. The work place assumes authority that says, “you can’t mention Christ here.” Families assume authority that say, “Christ doesn’t have dominion over the skeletal closets, and familial practices.” Governments assume authority which says, “There is no place for your God here.” Society assumes authority that says, “Don’t talk about faith, that’s a private matter.” Religiously assumed authority says, “Every faith is equally valid, your faith is no more valid than mine.” But there is an over-riding all-legitimate authority. Jesus says, “All authority is given to me… Go…”

The Great Commission is about responding to a higher sphere of authority. Paul was subdued by political authority being placed in chains, but he said the gospel is not chained (2 Timothy 2:9).

GOSPEL Fears

There are other spheres of authority though. These are the spheres of our idols and fears. Sometimes, it is the unnamed things that wield the true weight of authority in our lives. The authority of approval says, “If you tell me about Jesus, I will no longer accept you.” The authority of comfort says, “To make disciples of Christ is work, and you will no longer be able to maintain your comforts.” The authority of control says, “If I make it clear that I’m a Christ-follower, I will no longer be able to control people.” The authority of superiority says, “This person doesn’t deserve to hear the gospel. I do not want to see them as my equal.” What fear or idol is assuming the authority in our lives and the lives of our church families? These are forces to be reckoned with. But here’s the answer. Jesus has all authority over every sphere. He is Lord of all.

The Great Commission is responding to Jesus’ All-authority, over all peoples, to obey all Jesus’ commands, recognising his empowering presence at all times and in all places.

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Explosions in Boston

Certain events are seared into our memories.  I will never forget sitting in my elementary classroom as the space shuttle exploded after lift off.  Or hearing the news of the towers falling on September 11, 2001.   I’m not sure how you heard about the events in Boston on Monday.  I was at my computer and saw someone post, “Praying for Boston.”  This peaked my interest enough to Google “Boston.”  All the top hits revealed the Boston Marathon was in progress.  Strange.  Well maybe not as I am friends with a bunch of athletes and just assumed that they were praying for friends running.

Then I saw “explosions rocks finish line” and my heart sank.  Of course I was sickened as I felt like the war against terrorism had come to our shore; again.  I know, its entirely too early to speculate who is responsible for this attack, but warrior spirit rose up within me wanting to defend and protect.  We have to wait for the evidence to come in before we can identify who is responsible for this horrible act.

It’s far too early to start answering the many questions that surface from such a horrible attack, but I feel its appropriate to share how I have processed some of my questions.

Evil exists in the heart of humanity.  I am limited in covering this subject in full, but in short, the Bible makes it clear that humanity is sinful.  I am preaching through Romans right now and phrases like “There is none righteous, not even one”, “There is none who does good”, “Their feet are swift to shed blood”, “Destruction and misery are in their path” fill the first three chapters of this powerful book.  The apostle Paul makes it clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).  As individuals, we are warned of the wrath of God and are encouraged to turn to Christ for life and security.

This may seem obvious, but we must recognize and understand that evil exists in our world when events like this occur.  Our culture seems to have difficulty admitting that evil does exist for one reason or another.

The role of government as revealed in Scripture.  Our government does a lot for us.  In fact, almost all political debates revolve around how much, or little, should the government do for the citizens.  As I have scoured the Scriptures, I see one, quite possibly the only, command given towards authorities like our government.  This command is presented clearly in Romans 13:4, “It is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”  This short sentence concisely identifies the problem and how it is to be dealt with.  Evil is the problem and the government has a responsibility to inflict the wrath of God on the one who does evil.  Bringing about justice to the individual, or individuals, behind this act of terrorism should be the top priority of our government.

How are we to respond to such events?  I’m not sure if this is the proper order, but this is the order of responses that come to my mind.

My first thought is thankfulness for the work God has done in my own heart through Christ.  I recognize my capacity for anger, rage, and evil.  I can’t help but to think, “But by the grace go I.”  I totally believe it’s okay to have a little righteous anger, but in that I realize if it wasn’t for the grace of God restraining me I could have been responsible for some evil act.

Second, I am so thankful for my life and family.  I thank God that my family is safe.  How many accidents has He protected me from that I was unaware?  I’m reminded of the shortness of life.  I need to appreciate each moment as a gift.  I think this is what Solomon meant when he wrote, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting” (Ecc. 7:2).

Third, my heart and prayers go to the victims of this which are many—from those killed, the injured, their families, and the first responders both volunteers and professionals who first responded to the victims and to the scene of the crime.

Fourth, I pray for our leaders in charge of us as Paul commands (1 Tim. 2:1-2).  I pray that they would have wisdom, discernment, and courage as they stand against evil.  They have many difficult decisions to make as they protect those they have been entrusted to protect.

Fifth, I pray for those that “bear the sword” (Rom. 13:4).  There are men and women who have been tasked to bring about justice.  I am thankful for the sheep dogs who are willing to place their personal safety second to the safety of the general population.  The weight of this responsibility on them and their families is hard to describe.  I am thankful for them and pray for them as they carry out this great responsibility.

Finally, I cry out “maranatha” which Paul writes in 1 Corinthian 16:22 and means “Our Lord, come!”  Ultimately He is the one who will restore order in this world.  I realize that He is our only hope.  We need His help and should cry out to Him.