Saturday, November 7, 2009

Inner Thoughts Part 1

You know what is great about education? It drags things out of you that you did not know existed. It inspires you to learn and grow. Have you ever been speaking and you say something that you needed to hear? Like it has been inside you, but you didn’t have the words or mental capacity before to articulate it, but for some reason in that moment you say exactly what you needed to hear. Or maybe someone says something that you needed to hear. Maybe someone asks you a question that requires you to dig so deep to answer that it actually drags something out that you need to know exist within you. I just finish writing two final papers that did just that. As I read and spoke about them I felt my heart leaping with joy again, I felt passion and peace in my life. Here is the first question and my response. I hope maybe this can inspire or encourage you as it has me.

The Question: Write a paper on the topic: “The Measure of Spirituality.” This should be at least 5 pages or not more than 7 pages.

Holy Roller, self-righteous, pious, virtuous, upright, moral…A description of a spiritually mature person typically includes these terms. In the same breathe though, these words have also hurt, oppressed, and violated people and their creator, the God Almighty, and ultimately, they crucified Him. Many righteous have betrayed God, much piety has fueled oppression, but that does not mean one should dismiss the importance of these terms, in their intended meaning, and adopt emotionally driven mysticism. God is an orderly God. God is a loving God. He is loving and just. Humans have failed being like Him because we all swing like pendulums. From one an extreme to another we sway, conservative to liberal, religious to heathen, loving to hateful. Somewhere in the middle of these extremes is a beautiful ground Jesus calls us to live in. The extreme of religion, piety, virtue, and self righteousness created a system of analysts. The problem with the analysis was that the data group scrutinized was the wrong group of data, not intended to be evaluated. The wrong data is other’s spirituality. I am convinced that the Gospel is truly beautiful and that if everyone lived a life full of self examination that it could change the world in a very powerful way. If we would get out of the way the power of God could be tangible in the city and across nations. I suggest that any measure of spirituality must begin internally to be effective.

The fear in this approach is that a measure may look a bit different depending upon the individual. We are all made unique, none being the same, thus we cannot expect an analytical process to be static. You do not measure a solid the same as a liquid, nor is an ounce of salt as powerful as an ounce of Cayenne pepper. The idea is that we have so many things different about us that it is asinine for any one system of measurement to be considered standard. It is more practical to consider principle over method and mean. I used to have a mentor that would ask me tough questions about dating relationships I found myself in. I started dating one girl and by the second week of dating her my mentor told me that I needed to walk into her house and pray with her entire family, hand out tracks together, and do street evangelism on our weekends. This seemed odd to me, but for him this is what he measured as a spiritual relationship. There once was a blind man, born that way, who had been waiting by this pool for 38 years hoping to become healed. Jesus heals him and opens his eyes. The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well. So because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath the Jewish leaders began to persecute him (John 5:15-16). We read this and scoff at such a response to healing. However, a very real measure of spirituality for the Jewish leaders was keeping the Sabbath. Jesus’ message opposed this mentality and irrelevant measure of spirituality directly. Jesus was less interested about measuring spirituality of others than he was in empowering and challenging others to measure their spirituality within themselves. There was a widow that came to the temple to give her offering. Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything-all she had to live on (Mark 12:41-43)." The measure of spirituality in that day was putting in large amounts, like a carnival game or something, the greater the input the greater chance of a big furry prize. Jesus was not interested in the amount or that measure of spirituality, rather He was interested in her heart. Jesus is very interested in the hearts of those who follow Him, those who are spiritual. Maybe the measuring stick looks different, but it comes in response of the same grace.

I do believe principles can be measurements of spirituality though. John states that God is love (1 John 4:16b). Jesus calls us to be His disciples. A disciple of Christ is now called a Christian. The term Christian was first given as a scarlet letter, a provoking insult. The early followers were being made fun of because they were like little Christs. What an honor it is to wear that badge now though. Jesus said that He and the Father are one (John 10:21). Jesus claims equality with God. God is love, therefore Jesus is love. What is love though? If we are to seek to become like Christ who is love then what is love? Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). Francis Chan eloquently and very challengingly says that you can replace the word love in that passage with Jesus. If you can replace it with Jesus and we are to be like Jesus then you can transpose our name for His in place of love as well. In principle, a spiritual person is like Jesus, who is love. So a practical measure within oneself would be the practice of reflecting on that principle. Am I patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered. Do I keep records of wrongs? Do I rejoice in truth, always protect, trusts, hope, and persevere? This is a way one can measure their own spirituality.

If the Spirit of God resides in you then it will produce fruit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other (Galatians 5:22-26). Does the fruit of joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control characterize our lives? If the answer is no then it is worth looking into for yourself. These characteristics can look different in a variety of circumstances. Maybe patience looks like not pumping your fists in the air while sitting in the morning commuter traffic. Kindness may be as simple as listening to someone in great distress or lending money to the needy. Faithfulness could be being faithful to a spouse or as simple as sticking with God through rough times. Gentleness could be holding your tongue and not being so highly opinionated and argumentative. Self-control may be a diet or fasting. The practical application of the principle will and often does look different for every individual and thus must never have an inert set of measurements as methods.

Paul suggest to the Colossian church that as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful (Colossians 3:12-15). Peter writes and advises that we reflect on our faith and Jesus often. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter:5-11). Disciples of Christ wrote the New Testament to remind followers to examine themselves. They wrote to promote measuring spirituality. The measures though are individual, not corporate or to be counted by others.

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). Paul gives a very clear avocation here. Overall I think that the measure of one’s spirituality must begin within. When that self examination is rich and full and active then I think they gospel will bridge the gaps so many external spiritual measurements have caused over history. By measuring your own spirituality you can be spiritual working at a call center, a home improvement store, being a basketball coach, a soccer mom, or a parent. Any aspect of life can be casually impacted by Christ’s power if we would all examine ourselves before we look to others. We would be wise to heed to Jesus’ critique to the spiritual people of His day, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye (Matthew 7:5).” Self examination of internal spiritual measures will make themselves apparent to others as they watch you live life. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15)… In being able to give a reason for your hope Jesus’ message and love is spread much more than ever trying to recruit others into a system of measure that is irrelevant to them. The danger in measuring others spirituality is you might just crucify God. The early spiritual people took that path. Let us always learn from history and seek to measure our spirituality within.

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