Last week we finished up a 6 week series called DEEPER. I gotta tell you, it’s really challenged me personally to pay more attention to what God is up to in me. What he wants to do, how he wants to change me, how the scriptures can make a difference in my life and how relationship with him restores what’s broken in me. We talked about things like prayer, solitude, scripture intake, community, etc. Essentially, our conversation was around spiritual formation, that in turn led us to spiritual disciplines, and if applied to our lives, it will eventually change us and rearrange a few things in us.
One thing we have to be careful of is that we don’t ‘go deeper’ for the sake of depth. The temptation is to do all the things we talked about just to make us feel like we’re spiritual – to make us feel like we’re ‘good with God’. That would be a huge error. We talk a lot about the Jesus Creed at The Village: what it means to love God AND love others. We talk about a BOTH/AND kind of faith, not a one dimensional experience. Too often we look to scripture reading and to prayer as things that enhance ‘my life’ and ‘my life’ only. Spiritual formation isn’t just about growing deeper, it’s also about and possible more about growing taller.
In Matthew 7, Jesus was sharing a tale about ROCK & SAND. Before he gets into this great story, he says this, “Everyone who hears these words and puts them into practice”. Jesus wants to make this straight: Don’t just hear my teaching, don’t just tuck my words away in your pocket, don’t just plant them in your heart…without putting them to use. In a sense he’s saying that his story, his gospel, his kingdom, isn’t just about deep roots, it’s also about tall trees and extended branches. Funny thing about this story is that building a house on a ROCK is actually about how strong your foundation is. That said, the foundation is tested when a storm comes, when one actually takes the things they’re learning and puts them to the test. A tree will only know how strong it is when it’s branches are extended.
Paul, a prolific writer in the NT, in a letter to a young church in Ephesus gives us some insight as to how God wants us to respond to the things happening deep inside us. He says this, “You are God’s masterpiece (work of art), created for the good works, which God has prepared in advance for you to do”. We were made to extend our branches. We were made to DO good, not just to be good. We were created to initiate and create good things that point back to our creator. Too often we get stuck in between the things we do to grow our faith and the things that our faith compels us to do. Paul, in this letter, is inspiring us to take the gifts God’s given us and use them – to take them out of the closet or off the shelf, unwrap them, and put them to use. In essence he’s saying that all the good stuff God is doing under neath the surface (where no one sees) needs to be evident in the things we do, the work we’re involved in, the relationship we foster, and the lives we live.
Because now that we’ve gone deeper (and continually do so), we should really grow taller.
We’ve been asking some great questions about what we can do to move deeper in our faith journey. Our recent posts about this have centred around things like prayer, solitude, silence, immersing our self in the narrative of scripture, and being connecting to a spiritual community. It feels like it has hit a good nerve, one that needed to be prodded with. Many people wonder how we can know God more…and if we know him more, what does it mean to love him…and if that happens, how can my life look differently because of it. What we don’t always do is take steps toward that end – we hope for it, like losing weight or finding a job, but then we don’t take any steps to get us closer to our desired end.
What we’ve really be talking about is our journey towards spiritual formation and the implementation of spiritual disciplines. These disciplines, when filtered through God’s story, and made alive through community, move us forward in how we love God, love our neighbour, and how we can make the world around us better. One author says that spiritual formation is the process of being conformed into the image of Christ, for the glory of God, for the abundance of ourselves and for the sake of others. What a balanced way to look at our formation of all things spiritual.
In order for us to get to some kind of balanced approach and view of spirituality, we should strategically be implementing some of rhythms and routines that take us there. Here is where we can introduce what St. Benedict taught as ‘The Rule of Life’. I know, I know, you hear the word ‘Rule’ and all our defences go up. Mine do too. I don’t like feeling closed in or restricted, but that’s not what this is. Rule in latin means ‘something we do regularly’. The word Rule in greek is the word we use for ‘trellis’. Interwoven lines (branches or wood sleeves) that make up a framework or web. In light of those two understandings of Rule we can approach The Rule of life with less scepticism and more intrigue and desire.
One teacher on spiritual formation says we should allow 4 areas in our life to come together so we can see God in our ‘everything’. If we get stumped on the word ‘rule’, we can get even more stumped on the word ‘everything’. Most of us want to compartmentalize our faith. We put God in some places and can’t seem to see him in other places. So, instead of separating our worlds, we can see them as various branches that make up our ‘trellis’ (rule) of life.
Here’s his (one) example of how we can do this:
This branch in our life is anything contemplative. Reading scripture, silence & solitude, journaling, fasting, etc. This is the area of our life that feeds our everything else. We need to have moments in our day/week that are reflective and prayerful: where we take in the narrative of scripture for the purpose of transformation, when we speak to and listen to God.
This branch in our life is so necessary, yet many don’t do this well at all. This is where we can implement some sort of sabbath; time away from work and busyness, for the purpose of replenishing ourselves. In this area we do things that feed us, that rejuvenate us, that make us feel alive – things that we enjoy. You figure out what that is for you and your family. BTW, sabbath is not just about ‘going to church’ it’s about trusting God to work while you don’t.
This branch is about the people we care about and the important people in our life. We can be asking questions like this here: How am I investing in my family? How do I care for my friends and build them up? What kind of relationships and I building with my neighbours? And how am I investing in my church community? These are the relationships God has led us toward – to do life with – on different days and in different ways. Do I care about them appropriately and am I allowing God to use them to shape me into the person he’s called me to be.
This last branch is so important too. Not because work is the most important thing in my life, but because we should desire to bring meaning and life to our work. The work we get paid for and the work we do voluntarily. Most of us think work should define us, and when it doesn’t we feel unsatisfied. Instead, our character, personality, ethics, should bring definition to our work. When we see it as something that can honour God, it changes everything.
Here’s that word again. Everything. How can God be in my everything? By inviting him there. By asking him to open your eyes to all the places he is – already. Paul tells the Colossians that whatever they do, in word or deed, to do it in the name of the Lord, giving thanks to God the Father. Everything we do…we can do it for God, in light of his love, in hopes of his restoration and with the purpose of inviting him in every branch of our trellis.
As we move forward, lets try to develop a ‘rule of life’ – a framework that enables us to see God in everything. The purpose of it all? To love God more, to love our neighbours fully, and make the world better, everyday, in everything.
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small(er) group questions:
We didn’t talk much about these disciplines in our series:
What comes to mind when you think of them? What’s the same about each of them? What’s difficult about them? Ever fasted? Is Sabbath so 1000BC (yesterday)? What about giving/generosity enables me to move closer to God?
What’s easier? Putting God at the top of a list or inviting him to be part of everything on the page? Having a compartment that says God, or having God in every compartment?
When you hear ‘RULE OF LIFE’ what do you think? Is it appealing to you or are you apprehensive?
We talked about 4 aspects in one version of a Rule of Life? What’s most natural to fits your thinking? What’s more of stretch? How do you think they work together?
Paul says in Colossians, ‘Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it in the name of Jesus?’. What do think about that? What would you like to say to that?
(The remaining verses of Colossians 3 address how we treat each other in our homes and at work. Sounds like the scripture instructs us to live in light of God’s story everywhere we go?)
What if I told you that I met this beautiful girl in a store one day? One look was all it took? I got to know her, checked her out, tried to figure out what she was all about. I was so fascinated and so impressed that I didn’t want to leave the store without her. Even though I had some other things to do, I went back that same day to see her again. This time I was serious, so I put a deposit down on her and purchased my very own own Fender Jazz Bass. It wasn’t just any Fender, it was a 77 (a vintage year) and it was fretless (with a beautiful wood sound to each note). She was beautiful! Stunning! And now she was mine.
When ever I show that bass off I often say, “Isn’t she beautiful”? Most people that know the difference reply with a “Ya, she’s gorgeous”.
I often use that phrase when I talk about the church or church communities. She, the church, really is beautiful. There are so many wonderful things about her. She comes with some scars and her history has some messy parts to it, but when she is working right…there’s nothing like her.
We’ve been walking through our winter series at The Village called, DEEPER. We’ve been asking one main question: What can we do to deepen our relationship with God and the life Jesus compels us to live? We’ve responded with things like prayer, solitude, and reading scripture. Funny thing is that people tend to neglect to think about how being connected to a community whom we share our faith journey with is one of the essential aspects of growing or deepening our faith. Not just going to church, or the act of driving to a church building. Rather, being connected to a community of people with whom we can learn what it means to love God, love our neighbour and make our world better.
Why? Here are a few things to think about…
God thinks that two are better than one.
In Genesis we see a God who refers to himself as ‘community’. When creating humans (Gen 2), God says, “Let us make man in our image, our own likeness”. As God is about to create people to live in community, he lets us in on his DNA – he is even bigger that we can imagine. Theologians call this The Trinity. We can call it the first community. When God did create humans, he created them male & female. Two very different and diverse humans, however, they were intended to live in…community.
We jump to Ecclesiastes 4, that writer says this, “Two are better than one…” As we read God’s story, we notice that God’s intention was always for people to do life together, and not alone.
The are strings attached.
We often use this phrase to get ourselves out of responsibilities that come with commitment. “I’ll do it as long as there are no strings attached.” I want to tell you up front, when it comes to belonging to a (church) community, not only are our strings attached, our limbs are attached too. Paul, a NT writer, on many occasions refers to the church as a body (Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12). Not just any body, but the body of Christ. When doing so he describes it’s members as being various and diverse parts of one body. As parts of a body then, we all differ in the way we contribute to the whole (both the church and the world). Paul also calls these gifts. Paul also says that at times, one body part will hurt and the other will feel the pain. When that happens we are to encourage the other person/part so that it feels ever more connected to the body. I’m so glad I’m invited to be part of something that intertwines and interconnects…and in that new body I’m a part of, I have the opportunity to give and to receive.
As beautiful as she is, she ain’t perfect.
You either don’t know about the church’s shady history or you choose to forget some of it is scarred. Many people today, for various reasons, are divorcing their desire to meet God from any connection to the form or structure of the church. They want God, they like Jesus, but they aren’t so sure of the church. Let’s be honest, we’re a broken bunch. Sometimes things have been done to us, other times we’ve done the wrong. But the truth is that we wouldn’t need God if we weren’t broken. That doesn’t excuse past behaviours, but it might explain a few things. One author says it like this, “The church is God between two thieves.” Please don’t chuck the whole thing out because of the church’s messiness. Don’t over look it either. But we can see the good, because there is lots of good. She really is beautiful.
Don’t stop gathering.
The writer of Hebrews (10:24-25) tells his readers ‘not to stop’ gathering together. To continue meeting together, and in their meeting together, to encourage one another towards love and good deeds.
There’s lots of reasons to stop gathering with the church. They had theirs in the first century, and we have ours in 2014. However, the reasons to stay connected are the same: Encourage each other to follow Jesus and inspire one another towards love and good deeds. Becoming a community of people who love God, love our neighbour and make the world better is still what Jesus invites us to become and belong to.
As we keep asking ourselves, what can we do to deepen our relationship with God and the life Jesus compels us to live? part of the answer will always be, ‘stay connected to a (church) community. Because only when we journey with others will we have the best opportunity to become who God is calling us to be. The church, she is beautiful, brokenness and all. Why, Because Jesus makes her that way. Jesus takes our brokenness and makes it beautiful.
Giant redwoods of Western US have relatively shallow roots. Normally, large trees couldn’t stand tall without deep roots. What compensates them? Their enormous weight is supported by the interlocking of the tree’s roots. Where other trees stand on their own, these trees stand together.
Two are better than one!
We’ve been asking this question during our ‘winter’ series at The Village,
What can we do to deepen our relationship with God and the life Jesus compels us to live?
We’ve looked at a number of things so far: our desire to change, the importance of prayer, and how essential it is for us to disengage from our busy lives with the purpose of engaging God’s presence.
This week we revisited what it means for us to immerse ourselves in God’s Story- Scripture. If we want to move forward in our relationship with God, reading the scripture has to become as routine as anything else in our lives. John Ortberg said, “I have never known someone leading a spiritually transformed life who had not been deeply saturated in Scripture.” For early followers of Jesus, scripture was a life line, it was the story they based their lives on, what they chose to be rooted in. For them it wasn’t just words or information, but God speaking to them through the lives of people who had gone before them and discovered what it meant to follow God. The Desert Fathers said reading the scriptures were like coming into contact with fire that burns, disturbs, and calls violently to conversion and change. Reading the Scripture isn’t just like reading the newspaper. It can’t be, for one main reason – the scriptures are ‘inspired’.
As soon as we say something like this we bring in some critiques, and rightfully so. Since when are words on a page more than…well…words on a page? But the early church believed so deeply that the Scriptures were more than words (insert old Extreme Song here:) they were God-Breathed – Inspired. We get this from 2 Timothy 3:14-17.
Rob Bell illustrates this well…
Take a song, for example. Certain pieces of music move us in
unique and powerful ways, and the word we often use is inspiring. What do we
mean by this? We mean that the song is chords and notes and sounds and harmony
and volume and all those physical, tangible elements, and yet there is
something else to the song, something beyond its material essence that speaks
It breathed into you something good, hopeful, true, comforting, healing or
The Bible is full of books, written by people trying to figure
it out, wrestling with their demons, doubting, struggling, doing what they
could to bring a little light to their world, and yet these books have been
breathed in to, showing us what redemption looks like, giving us hope,
insisting that people like you and me can actually do our part to heal, repair
and restore this world.
When Paul says scripture is God-Breathed, he means that, yes, it’s words, yes, it’s information, but it’s more…there’s life in it…God’s breath is in it! Because of that, many have come to see that these words do more than inform us, they transform us. God’s story does something to us. It changes us and starts us on a journey towards relationship with God. We are transformed in the way we relate to God and the way we relate to others. (Loving God & Love Others was Jesus’ #1 command) And here’s why we are transformed? The scriptures lead us to Jesus. A quick glance at John 5:39-40
will tell you. The words don’t change you, the person the words lead you to do.
As we continue to dive into what it means to follow Jesus, be inspired to read what’s inspired
. Be drawn to a story that’s more than words on page, that is mysteriously bigger than any story we can know or imagine. Take time to read it and then allow it to read you
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A few simple tips to engage God’s Story:
– Read it (simple, I know)
– Reflect on it
– Pray (before and after you read it)
– Engage it in community (i.e. gathering together on Sunday at The Village)
– Engage it alone (i.e. early mornings, before bed, etc)
Here are some tools to help you along the way:
(a wonderful online bible with different translations and tools)
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small(er) group questions:
The bible is one of the only books that tells us to read itself: What do you think about that? Do you take it’s advice to heart?
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on
it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.
Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:8)
Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees,
that I may follow it to the end.
Give me understanding, so that I may keep your
law and obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.
Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. (Psalm 119:33-36)
The Bible Informs / Inspires / Transforms. Which of those excites you most? Which one do you think is most important?
Let’s read 2 Timothy 3:16-17. What would you like to say about this verse?
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.
In John 5 Jesus challenges the religious leader’s to see the scriptures as a lens that leads to him? Do you find people get side tracked and to often see is primarily as something else? If so what?
study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you
have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet
you refuse to come to me to have life.
Why is it important to read the bible on your own?
Why do you think it’s equally or more important to read the bible in community?