Spiritual Formation: Part 5

The Renovation of the Heart: Disciples in God’s Kingdom

At this point we have established the fact of the problem, and the nature of the problem. Here we come to the substance of Jesus life and teaching as a response to the problem. We read throughout the gospels:

"Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 'The time has come,' he said. 'The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!'"

"From that time on Jesus began to preach, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.'"

Which begs the question...


What is the Kingdom of the Heavens (God)?

The Psalmist writes, "the highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to man."

The Kingdom of God, simply put, is wherever God is King; there is a realm where whatever God desires to happen, actually happens, this realm is called 'heaven' or God's 'Kingdom.' There is a realm where God has set aside His dominion and placed authority into the hands of human beings, this is the realm of the earth.

The earth is sustained and exists by virtue of God's will, however, human beings were given control over what God had made. We have seen elsewhere that man has excluded God's direction from the realm of human activity and this is the cause of the problem.


Two Kingdoms

God has always intended for mankind to have their own authority! In the beginning God gave humanity dominion of the earth, it was to be our role to exercise concern and authority over the world; to protect and create, to cultivate and care.

Just like the ultimate goal of all healthy parenting is children who become parents, so God wanted to give power into the hands of human beings. Like adult children who love and obey their parents, and parents who love their adult children and respect them as fully capable and mature human beings; so God wants to see us mature and align ourselves of our own free will with His power and authority!

Of course we have worked towards two kingdoms in a very different way! We have rebelled! Like a child stealing the car out of his parents drive-way that was intended for them on their 16th birthday, we have taken by violence that which was ours by birthright!

We have worked toward a human kingdom that was autonomous but in rebellion, as opposed to reaching autonomy through maturity. God always wanted us to have our own dominion, but not the way we have made it...


You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve.

God is wanting to have a relationship with His children, but a relationship of mutual affection, and mutual engagement. God wants to share life with us!

Just like a mother wants her children to do good, not merely out of obedience, but out of the depths of their character, so God wants us to submit our will to His, not merely to 'do what He says,' but to will it! Phillipians 2:13


The Invitation to the Kingdom

When Jesus arrived on the scene preaching a message of God's Kingdom coming, what He was essentially saying was, "God is bringing His rule, and His reign; God is going to put everything back together the right way!"

This is Jesus invitation to allow God to become our king. We are invited to partner with God; to allow the Kingdom of God to merge with the Kingdom of Man; to allow the dictates of heaven to direct life on earth; to cooperate with God.

In a very real sense, we are not having our will overrun by the will of God; it is not one kingdom taking another over by force. Instead we are submitting, choosing God's will over our own; it is more like a nation petitioning for entrance into the E. U.

This is God's plan for putting the world right: inviting individual women and men to become disciples within His Kingdom; willing subjects who want to put God's good authority into effect in every aspect of their being.

It is this willing cooperation with the Spirit of God that works for the effective renovation of our hearts, and the subsequent transformation of our world.


With these concepts and observations under our belt, we turn to approach the teaching of Jesus called 'the Sermon on the Mount.'
Divine and human agency are not mutually exclusive...

Heaven and earth are not so sharply divided as we might think.


DTS Promotional Trailers

What a Week!

Clean-up day in the Pooley Place neighborhood

BBQ at Pooley Place

BBQ at Pooley Place

BBQ at Ashland Avenue

Clean-up at Lisa's house

Pizza and water give-away at the Thursday in the Square Concert

Pizza and water give-away at the Thursday in the Square Concert

Pizza and water give-away at the Thursday in the Square Concert

Pizza and water give-away at the Thursday in the Square Concert

Church @ Cafe 59

BBQ at Pooley Place

Neighborhood Clean-up on Pooley Place

BBQ on Ashland Avenue

Clean-up at Lisa's house

Clean-up at Lisa's house

Someone tell Jason you're only supposed to get sick from the tapwater in MEXICO!

Nursing Home visit on Sunday Morning

Clean-up after Church @ Cafe 59

BBQ at Pooley Place

BBQ at Pooley Place

We had a couple of BBQ's, a couple of clean-up days, passed out free goodies at an outdoor concert, and visited our adopted grandparents (all 50 of them!), and had church on Wednesday and Sunday! We ran the teenagers pretty hard! They were a great blessing!

Make sure to ask those youngsters about their week in Buffalo!


Response to a response

"The problem is that my generation has decided that what they decide from all of there questioning is that what they come up with IS truth, which may not be the case."

I don't much think that this is true only of our generation. Our parents generation has done the same thing, only without the questioning! They have decided that what they come up with IS truth, however, they didn't arrive at those notions through serious wrestling with the Spirit, but rather through acceptance of dogma.

Accepting the party line, and chucking the party line, neither of these is acceptable (have you heard Derek Webb's track A New Law?) but merely a way of avoiding a life with an ear to the Spirit.

I think what Wright was getting at was exactly this, we must seek God, not anything else. No substitutes. Not even when honest and godly men stand up in the pulpit and say, "Here is truth, this is what the Bible says." There is no short cut.

It is this that our generation inherently grasps with all of its deconstruction and rethinking of established ways of doing, thinking, and being. And it is this that the previous generation often fails to grasp with its desperate hunger for the comforts of conformity. (Including theological conformity.)

I guess I see the previous generation of Christians as hopelessly enmeshed in cultural syncretism. Evangelical Christians are in bed with the Republican machine, for all of our (yes I consider myself a part of the flock) pro-life rhetoric, we really don't think through the inconsistency of supporting 'pro-life' politicians who rabidly support pre-emptively bombing foreigners, capital punishment, etc. (for example)


There are problems with giving people the freedom to wrestle with God on their own. But those problems are less than the ones that come from refusing to let people wrestle with God. It all boils down to trusting the Holy Spirit in people's lives...

...will we point people towards Jesus? Or towards our own conceptions of truth?

...will we release our control of others into God's hands? Or will we continue to impose our own frame of reference on others?

It is scary to say to someone, I don't want to answer that question for you; I would prefer that you seek God, wrestle with scripture, pray, read, contemplate, experience, and hear the voice of God for yourself! But this is of course, where Jesus has much to teach us about pedagogy. He pointedly refused to answer people's questions.

The goal of Jesus interactions with people was never to transmit information, but to instigate a radical shift in worldview; He did not seek to give people techniques, but to foment rebellion; His aim was not to educate, but to demonstrate and make available crucifixion and resurrection as a superior mode of living.

This poses real problems for the forms of Western Christianity that our parents grew up with (and I caught the tail end of in my own upbringing). This simply isn't comfortable for people who want to view Jesus through the lens of "absolute truth that I can rest on." This is not to say that there are not things that are real, or statements that do not correspond to reality, but merely that the post-modern critique of modernism's intellectual arrogance must be heard and taken into account (even if we ultimately come to different conclusions than that of certain postmodern philosophers!).

I guess it boils down to this. Our parents tend to think of truth as something static. Our generation tends to view it as dynamic. While I don't necessarily go so far as to agree with our generation in total (although a strong case could be made for truth being personal as opposed to propositional ie "I am the way, the truth, and the life"), we have to acknowledge that our experience of truth is dynamic, and that this requires an intellectual humility that older Christians lack (this, unfortunately, has not gone without notice by the world looking on, to the detriment of our witness)


This finally gets us, however, to the deeper issue:

God is not interested in us 'getting it right;' as though holiness was akin to having the correct answers to the math test, and it didn't matter if you worked the sums out yourself or copied your neighbors scan-tron sheet, so long as the machine read your answers as the right ones you "passed the test." He is interested in us 'becoming' holy; holiness is like the ability to take the equation and solve it, using your own resources to solve real mathematical dilemmas.

There is, of course, some value in possessing truth the way the cheater possesses correct answers to math questions. Knowing true things about reality has value. But of infinitely greater value is the ability to discern reality, to be able to answer math questions as they come. If someone parrots (and sincerely believes), "God loves me," they will have gained some significant benefit, however, if that person has a deep experience of the reality of God's love, they will take that with them into all sorts of diverse circumstances and automatically apply that love to various situations in their own life and the life of others.

This is where this conversation ultimately ends: God is not interested in have us 'do good,' but rather 'be good.' He is not interested in us 'saying truth' but in us 'aligning with truth.' It is not the external actions that God is primarily concerned with (adultery and murder) but the realities of the human will (lust and contempt) that God wants to deal with. The fruit of the tree is a mere byproduct, God is concerned with making the tree 'good.'


Perpetual Wrestling

There is a deep theological point underneath all this. I believe, as an a priori, that
he church will never get to the point where it has solved all the exegetical
questions, understood all the theology of the New Testament, so that subsequent
generations can sit back and look it up and not have to think for themselves. I have
come to believe that God has so ordered things that each generation will have to
wrestle afresh not just with a few details on the side but with the large questions of
Jesus and the kingdom, of Paul and the faithfulness of God, of John’s view of God
and the world, of Revelation’s vision of the new Jerusalem coming down from
heaven. If the church as a whole is not doing this, it is not growing into the wisdom
it will need for its many-sided mission. And that means that though most church
members will not give themselves professionally to the tasks of scholarship, they
need to be part of a fellowship in which such tasks are being energetically pursued
and the resultant challenges and dialogue given proper space and weight. This means
– and I don’t think either the church or Christian scholars often reflect properly on
this – that the task of biblical scholarship is a necessary part of the church’s life in
every generation. It isn’t just that, as an unfortunate accident, we don’t quite
understand the Bible yet as well as we should, but perhaps another few monographs
and commentaries will do the trick. It is, rather, that each generation needs to
struggle with the big questions as well as the small ones as part of its own healthy
witness and worship.


Spiritual Formation: Part 4

It’s Terminal: This is a Diseased Tree…

Jesus pulls no punches when it comes to the human heart. He compares the hearts of the holiest people of his day with dishes full of last weeks dinner, and tombs full of rotting flesh!

We read in Matthew 23:25-28, Jesus critique aimed directly at the heart (the will, the spirit).

Jesus uses the apt metaphor of a tree producing fruit; you can tell what kind of tree it is by what kind of fruit it produces; but the important thing is the health of the tree. If the tree is good and healthy, you will see good, healthy fruit; if the tree is bad and diseased, you will see bad, diseased fruit.

Tying fruit onto a dying tree is about as useless as good deeds that come out of false motives. Jesus will have none of it; He wants us to be healthy, not merely appear to be so.

The flaw in the human heart is equivalent to a diseased tree.


The Reality of Our Disorder

Of course, many will say, "You can't expect perfection! We are merely human!" We often excuse ourselves with phrases like, "I was acting out of character," or, "I wouldn't have done that if..." or "I just blew it!"

Now in one sense these are fair concerns; if we are not the sort to curse unless we are in physical pain, that certainly says something about our character, but it also says something that we curse when we are hurt. The act reveals our character; we are the type of person who curses when we smash our thumb.

When we do these things they are evidence of our character…

We are the kinds of people who “blow it!”

Jesus tells us that "the good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks."
(Luke 6:45)

We have said elsewhere that the world is what it is largely due to humanity's role within it.

This means we must come to terms with the reality that we are the kinds of people who produce global pollution, societies of abuse and violence, parents who neglect their children, cultures with little value for women; in short we are the kinds of people who will take God's beautiful creation, and turn it into hell.

Spiritual Formation Part 3

Process: Disease of the Heart

The Biblical Doctrine of the Fall

The previous post outlined what we can observe in the world around us. The Bible gives us much the same picture (with added detail):

We read in Romans 1:18-32 that humans turned from God, and ended up turning away from their humanity in the process. This lead to brokenness on the inside, causing brokenness on the outside.

The above passage is tremendous in its assessment of the state of our world:

Rebellion lead to sin; sin lead to a fundamental corruption of our human nature; that lead to acts of destruction; this wrought havoc on human life both individual and corporate; which worked itself out into the very creation itself suffering corruption


The Process of Spiritual Formation

The passage above also points to another reality: we are all in process. Our spirit is formed. We did not get to the place we are at without numerous influences. We are all going through “character development;” (just as we all have received an education, the question being "what kind of education") the question is what kind of character is being formed in us?

We have all, from the moment of conception, been pressed upon by outside influences; our genetic stock, our social environment, our physical environment. We, too, play a role in the formation of our spirit/will; every decision we make serves to shape our spirit, to form it... do we do this intentionally or unintentionally?

To what end are we being formed?

What is the end result or goal of the process we are in?

Are we even engaging with the process, or are we merely passive reactors?

This brings to mind a poster I read (one of those "inspirational" posters they sell in the airline magazines), it said:

“Be careful what you think, your thoughts become your words.
Be careful what you say, your words become your deeds.
Be careful what you do, your deeds become your habits.
Be careful what habits you form, your habits form your character.”


Diagnosis: The Problem is a Twisted Will

The Psalmist prays:

Turn my heart toward your statutes;
Turn my eyes away from worthless things.

The problem according to the Buddhist (as much as I can grasp) is simply that we have a heart! There is the problem; the solution is to eradicate desire, eradicate the will/heart/spirit, and suffering will cease. With this the Christian must disagree.

The problem according to the "secularist" (as much as I can grasp) is simply that our will is frustrated! The solution is to find ways to just give people whatever they desire. With this, too, the Christian must disagree.

We read in James 1:13-18 that there are "good and perfect gifts" to desire! The problem is not desire in and of itself. Neither, however, is the problem simply that we do not get what we want, when we want it. (This passage states that some desires, when fulfilled, lead to death!) The problem is that our desires are evil!

Our will is twisted, our heart is diseased, our spirit is wounded.


The core of man is the will or spirit, it is the part of us that desires and chooses; it is what it is as a result of a process of experiences and choices; by effectively shutting God out of that process, we have brought ourselves to a place where our hearts are set upon desires that (if fulfilled) will destroy us and our world.

What is the solution?


Spiritual Formation: Part 2

The title link will take you to Part 1

Symptoms: Observations

It takes little observation to come to the conclusion that the World is in chaos. War, extinction, pollution, genocide, hunger, disease, drought, hurricanes and typhoons, the list could continue...

It also takes little observation to come to the conclusion that this state of existence has a root cause, namely homo sapiens sapiens (for those of you who don't speak Latin, that means you and me!). War, pollution, hunger, and disease are easily traced back to human activity or inactivity; more recently we are hearing that human beings are also major causes in factors that create drought, famine, and even storms on the far side of the plant.

It takes even less observation to see that humanity is in chaos. Murder, rape, torture, theft, dishonesty; alienation, loneliness, depression, anxiety, suicide, emptiness; abandoned children, betrayed spouses, addicted bodies; in the words of an old-dead-guy, "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

The conclusion, simply, is this:

The world is broken because humanity is broken.


So what is the problem with humanity?

At this point there is obviously some diversity of opinion. However there is also remarkable continuity amongst thinkers from many diverse contexts...

A cross-section of thinkers, observers, ethicists, educators, theologians and spiritualists from all cultures and times (as best as I can understand them), line up to support this conclusion:

The problem with humanity lies in the human will.

Granted, not everyone would use this terminology, however, if we continue to use the term will as we have been (synonymous with heart, and spirit; the seat of human desire and choice), I believe that this statement is consistent with the understanding of Classical Greek thought, Buddhist thought, the Monotheistic tradition, and even some of what might fall under the rubric of "eastern philosophy." *

Arguably the dominant paradigm in our own culture (what we might here call Modern Western Secularism), it should be noted, seems to move away from this conclusion**


The problem lies in the human will.

The Ancient Greeks concerned themselves with implanting virtue (the capacity to will and to act for good) in the heart of men. Muslims, Christians and Jews speak of repentance, obedience, and submission; subjecting our will to that of God. Buddhists speak of desire as the source of suffering, and so work to eradicate the yearning will within a human being.

The capacity for choice, the ability to create, the drive for purpose, that comes from the heart of a human being is also the source of human evil. We find ourselves in a state where our will or spirit does not rule the self, but is rather subject to it; emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations telling us what to choose, as opposed to our capacity for choice and purpose re-aligning our thoughts and emotions around the will.

The emotional and intellectual states of a six month old with the body of Lou Ferrigno would be an appropriate mental picture to associate with such a state (helped of course by Mr. Ferrigno's portrayal of a man who's capacity for choice was completely overrun by his emotional states).

Our will (the center of creative power, choice, and purpose) flails around at odd times and places, in total disjunction to any real sustained agenda. We choose to honor our commitments and then to break them, act selflessly toward a stranger and then stab a friend in the back, depending on which set of emotional attachments are screaming loudest in our mind at the time the decision presents itself...

There is something drastically wrong in the heart of man.


The conclusion, simply, is this:

The world is broken because humanity is broken and...

...humans are broken because our spirit is broken.


...more to come.

*I am fully aware that there has also existed throughout cultures and times the gnostic view that the essential problem with the world is that we lack the proper knowledge (gnosis). This seems tied either to the pantheistic view that Good and Evil (and hence moral action, including choice) are actually an illusion, or the dualism that calls the world Evil and and escape from it Good. How these ways of seeing speak of human choice (the will) I don't really know. But they seem (to my best way of understanding) to either deny the existence of the will, or to marginalize it's role in the problem of human nature.

**Interestingly enough Modern Western Secularism seems not so much to ignore the will, but rather to view the fundamental problem with humanity is the frustration of the human will for any reason. The real problem is that the Universe doesn't acquiesce to our demands; we don't get what we want and when we want it! The solution then becomes a special kind of gnosis that allows us to better manipulate our bodies, or the physical world around us, to produce the desired results.



These are thoughts from a few years ago...


Church = Red

Kingdom = Black


One circle, both red and black; representing the Church is the same as the Kingdom.


Two separate circles, touching at one point where the Church will be replaced by the Kingdom, at the Return; the Church is separate from the Kingdom (and will someday be replaced by it)


The Church is a manifestation of the Kingdom; the Church is a smaller circle inside the larger Kingdom circle.


The Church manifests the Kingdom; the Church is a larger circle with the Kingdom inside it.


The Church is a manifestation of the Kingdom, and also a catalyst for the Kingdom, expanding it; the Church is a smaller circle inside the larger Kingdom circle, but it is pushing forward, creating a bulge in the Kingdom, out into the World.


The Church is the outer edge of the Circle of the Kingdom, with the center Being God/Heaven

The Church is the outer edge of the Kingdom, Heaven (God) is the Center, outside of the Kingdom is the Outer Darkness where ultimately no-thing exists; perhaps it is better to think of God as directly touching the outer darkness (by way of the Crucifixion) and the Church and the Kingdom also coinciding at that point. In one sense it is the absolute center, in another it is the utter edge.


...probably none of these diagrams are anywhere near appropriate. The real questions are:

What is the Kingdom of God? What is the Church? How does the Kingdom relate to the Church? How does the Church relate to the World? How does the Kingdom relate to the World? What are some other possible Venn Diagrams we could posit? How does this help us to understand the Kingdom? The Churches' role in the World? ...?


The Blind Watchmaker?

"Dawkins' work here is not in the line of Darwin, but of metaphysical speculation which attempts to hitch its wagon to Darwin's star. His soul-mates are people like Ernst Haeckel and Herbert Spencer--to mention only two of the more respectable from a logically pretty grubby bunch. When he writes a book like the present one he is not functioning as a scientist. If he were, he should incorporate his "findings" into the most advanced textbooks in the field and see how they fare as representations of established knowledge. He complains that "the true, Darwinian explanation of our own existence is still, remarkably, not a routine part of the curriculum of a general education." (4) Then by all means let him enter the academic arena and present his views about the watchmaker as established knowledge. He should not reserve his views for infliction upon a largely helpless public whom his scientific credentials and elaborate rhetorical devices will overwhelm and make incapable of any accurate assessment of argument. When he writes books like The Blind Watchmaker he is just a naturalist metaphysician, trying to cozy up to the scientists and blend into their company in such a way that his true colors will not be noticed. He takes the liberty to dress down what he calls "redneck creationism" (252), but unfortunately there are rednecks on the side of "Darwinianism" as well. He is one of the most outstanding."

Spiritual Formation Part 1

We had fun last night...

There were several new faces, which is always exciting.


We talked last time we gathered about:

Spiritual Formation

With the Great Commandment as a template we defined a human being in terms of neighbor (social aspect), strength (physical aspect), mind (emotional and intellectual aspects), heart (the will; the spiritual aspect), and soul (the holistic; all-inclusive personal aspect).


We defined the spirit in synonymous terms with the heart and the will:

We call it the heart because it is the core of who we are; it is not all of who we are, but it is the part that gives shape and drive to the rest of our person.

We call it the will because it is the part of us that desires, yearns, chooses, creates and originates.

We call it the spirit because it is non-physical; it is not sense-perceptible.


The spirit is not perceivable through the five senses, however this does not mean that it is non-existent.

We are used to thinking of the spiritual in very cloudy imagery, but the spiritual is not fluffy, nebulous, or even metaphorical. By contrast it is concrete, specific and very real; fiercely and intensely real! We remember going to church, or even viewing awe-inspiring landscapes and thinking, "This is a spiritual experience," and so we define spiritual as, "warm-fuzzy feelings." (This is actually the realm of the emotions!)

In reality the spirit organizes human life. Whenever we want something, choose something, originate something; our spirit is active. When our desires are frustrated by the desires of another, our spirit/will is bumping into theirs! In point of fact, we interact at the spiritual level all day long!

It is simply, what one author has called, the Failed Enlightenment Experiment that has convinced (through repetition and propaganda, not through logic and sound evidence) that what is real is what we can "clunk with our knuckles..."

Simple reflection will allow us to realize that we operate under constant interaction with non-physical realities.


...more to come.