Posts tagged with: spirituality

Jacopo-Bassano-Jacopo-da-Ponte-Departure-of-Abraham-and-his-family-and-livestock2“To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.” –Ecclesiastes 5:1

Obedience to God is a fundamental requirement of the Christian life. With our constant recitations of “thy will be done,” it may seem a rather obvious point, but while many of us are comfortable with the basic aims and directives of the Gospel – feed the poor, serve the needy, steward your talents, love your enemies – when it comes to the actual implementation, we tend to defer to our own designs and desires.

Yet no matter how much spiritual frosting we may apply, that basic question still longs to be asked: “Lord, what would you have me do, and how would you have me do it?”

In a free society, wherein individual choice and action are largely uncontrolled and often empowered, we have increased opportunities to align our lives and actions to God, and thus to others. But this same elusive freedom can also mean heightened temptations to become wise in our own eyes. For the Christian, such freedom is only as authentic as it is subservient to the true and the good — a perplexing and paradoxical notion, to be sure. (more…)

Golden-Calf-Painting1Last week, I wrote about the danger of self-chosen sacrifice, channeling evangelist Oswald Chambers, who warns us to “never decide the place of your own martyrdom.”

“Always guard against self-chosen service for God,” he continues. “Self-sacrifice may be a disease that impairs your service.”

As an example of how the process ought to go, Chambers looks to the story of Abraham and Isaac. God demanded something quite peculiar — the sacrifice of Abraham’s son —  and Abraham simply obeyed. “God chose the test for Abraham,” Chambers writes, “and Abraham neither delayed nor protested, but steadily obeyed.”

In Cornelis Vonk’s primer on Exodus, part of CLP’s growing series, “Opening the Scriptures,” he highlights an example of the opposite.

Moses had gone up to Mount Sinai, where God was to send down his law in written form. Yet down below, even as the Israelites had quite visibly witnessed the supernatural power of God — whether through the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the fire by night, etc. — they gave way to their humanistic impulses. Anxious and impatient for Moses to return and eager for guidance and direction, they could wait no longer.

“Make us gods who shall go before us,” they said. (more…)

The Holy Spirit is often described in the New Testament as a deposit, a down-payment. Thus Paul writes, “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 1:21-22).

This image is primarily a communication of comfort. What God has guaranteed he will surely reclaim in full. As Jesus says, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am” (John 14:2-3). This image of the Spirit as a deposit is the reason why some of these verses are my favorite Scriptures, because they resonate so closely with the identity of the Spirit as Comforter.

But this deposit is also something that God expects to be active, not passive. It is something he has entrusted to us and wants us to put to productive use. God, in this sense, expects a return on his investment in us. Like the owner in the parable of the talents, God has an ongoing interest in the deposit he has placed in us (see Luke 19:23).

We have been empowered by this Deposit to do good works, to offer up our service, our very lives, in grateful sacrifice to “him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb” (Rev. 5:13).

Praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever, to him who gave us this deposit of comfort and encouragement!

Blog author: dpahman
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
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The Chi Rho symbol, pictured here from the Book of Kells, is a traditional abbreviation of the Greek word “Christos” or Christ.

Today at Ethika Politika, I examine the connection between the spiritual practice of meditation — the Jesus Prayer in particular — and justice:

If we take justice to mean “to render to each what is due,” we may have some understanding of how this relates. Practice of the Jesus Prayer increases focus and builds a habit that helps to drive out wandering thoughts and pacify our emotions.

Internally, then, it helps us render to each part of ourselves what is due. Rather than being tossed around by vagrant thoughts and emotions and appetites, we are able to stay in the present and, more importantly, coram Deo.

Furthermore, beginning by rendering to God what is due, we do not end there. Indeed, love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbor (see Matthew 22:36-40).

I go on to note the work of Christian Miller regarding the emotion that Jonathan Haidt calls “elevation.” Basically, there is a correlation between virtuous examples in one’s life and one’s own degree of virtuous behavior. (more…)

Accessible IconIn this week’s Acton Commentary, “Disability, Service, and Stewardship,” I write, “Our service of others may or may not be recognized by the marketplace as something valuable or worth paying for. But each one of us has something to offer someone else. All of us have ministries of one kind or another. Our very existence itself must be seen as a blessing from God.”

During a sermon a couple weeks ago at my church, the preacher made an important point about common attitudes toward old people (to listen, click the “Launch Media Player” here and listen to Rev. David Kolls’s message, “Following God Through Transitions” from July 28, 2013). In the same way that we often view those with visible disabilities as passive objects of pity, we often think of those who have reached a certain age as having nothing to offer. This is simply wrong-headed.

We all are important to God. “God don’t make no junk,” as the saying on the T-shirt reads. This isn’t to deny the reality of brokenness and sin. But in the face of these evils, God still affirms and preserves his creation. Life itself is a blessing from God, and mere existence is proof enough that God values people and has purposes for us. Every one.
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coolidgeEach Independence Day, I make a point of re-reading President Calvin Coolidge’s speech given on the 150th anniversary Declaration of Independence. I’d encourage you to do the same.

Coolidge has a deep understanding of American history, and after contemplating what led the founders to write what they wrote, and what inclined Americans to follow their lead, he ultimately concludes that it was their spiritual inclinations, and the moral and spiritual orientation of the American people, that played the most important role:

Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action which have been a great blessing to the world. Before we can understand [the founders’] conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought. Their intellectual life centered around the meeting-house. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew, or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures. Over a period as great as that which measures the existence of our independence they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.

Although Christians have exhibited an unfortunate tendency to oversimplify and overamplify the various impacts of particular religious beliefs on the American founding, Coolidge’s point is a bit more basic and overarching. (more…)

Home Economics: The Consequences of Changing Family Structure (Values and Capitalism)When it comes to integrating family and vocation, modernity has introduced plenty of opportunity. But it has also produced its own set of challenges. Though our newfound array of choices can help further our callings and empower our contributions to society, it can also distract us away from the universe beyond ourselves.

Thus far, I’ve limited my wariness on such matters to the more philosophical and theological realms — those areas where our culture of choice threatens to pollute our thinking about marriage, weaken our obligations to the family, and limit our view of Christian discipleship and vocation in the process.

In his new book, Home Economics: The Consequences of Changing Family Structure, Nick Schulz provides firmer support to these concerns, focusing on the more tangible economic outcomes we can expect from key shifts in the modern American family, namely: declines in marriage, increases in divorce, and spikes in out-of-wedlock childbearing.

Avoiding the deeper debate about whether these developments are “right” or “wrong” in a moral or theological sense, Schulz seeks instead to analyze the data as an economist, identifying which economic outcomes we can expect from which changes in the American family, along with some intriguing social speculation as to the why.

Schulz begins by pointing to an widely discussed study from the Brookings Institution, which found that “if young people finish high school, get a job, and get married before they have children, they have about a 2 percent chance of falling into poverty and nearly a 75 percent chance of joining the middle class by earning $50,000 or more per year.” Another study, referenced in a book by Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, found that “adolescents who have lived apart from one of their parents during some period of childhood are twice as likely to drop out of high school, twice as likely to have a child before age twenty, and one and a half times as likely to be ‘idle’—out of school and out of work—in their late teens and early twenties.”

The research rolls on, and Schulz wields the scalpel nicely, explaining how children raised without a mom and a dad are at much higher risk of failure across a variety of areas. (more…)

prayer“How is religion related to entrepreneurial behavior?”

As Joe Carter pointed out last week, a new study by Baylor University sought to examine this very question.

Focusing specifically on American entrepreneurs, researchers Mitchell J. Neubert and Kevin Dougherty found that although entrepreneurs “appear no different than nonentrepreneurs in religious affiliation, belief in God, or religious service attendance,” they do “tend to see God as more personal, pray more frequently, and are more likely to attend a place of worship that encourages business activity.”

Baylor recently posted some interviews with the researchers to get their thoughts first-hand (HT). Dougherty, an associate professor of sociology, emphasizes that in a time of economic recovery, we should pay close attention to any area that might impact those looking to start a business:

We’re at a particularly important time for the promotion of entrepreneurship, coming out of a recession, not just in our country, but globally, so if there’s a time period where we need people engaging in new business creation, now is the time, and if religion has something to do with that, it’s important to know what that is and how that occurs.

Neubert, an associate professor of business and entrepreneurship, notes that although this particular study doesn’t get into why entrepreneurs pray more or what exactly they pray about, he hopes that future research will examine these areas more fully. (more…)

tworoadsOver at Fare Forward, Cole Carnesecca provides some great insights into how we should think about calling, offering some similar sentiments to those expressed in my recent post on family and vocation. “Whatever else you may think you are called to,” Carnesecca writes, “if you have a spouse and children, you are called to your family.”

Focusing on the troubled marriages of Methodism founder John Wesley and Chinese evangelist John Sung, Carnesecca explains how a misaligned and over-spiritualized concept of calling can lead us to neglect our basic responsibilities:

We often can over-spiritualize [calling], defining it as a single God-ordained path or the type of thing that comes to the missionary or pastor but not to the lay member. Or we under-spiritualize it, thinking of it as more and no less than a “career.” Both of these approaches miss two crucial points about calling.

I like to describe calling (in my other life as a youth pastor) as the meeting point of opportunity and obligation—what we are capable of doing and what we are responsible for. I mean this to apply to more “everyday” forms of calling— the way that God leads and guides individuals into life choices and experiences—and not the more “Damascus Road” forms of calling that are less difficult to understand. But for any form of calling, both opportunity and obligation must be taken into account and both can be misunderstood.

Indeed, through an orientation of ultimate obedience to God — “thy will be done” — it seems impossible to separate the two. God will not call us to areas that will involve a breaching of basic obligations and responsibilities, whether to the family or otherwise. Likewise, he will not call us to something like family if it will mean the destruction of our God-ordained purpose in this life. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
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factory workers, monotonyDiscussions about faith-work integration are on the rise, with an ever-increasing number of related books, sermons, and blog posts (ahem) appearing with every passing day.

Over at Faith, Work & Culture, Jeff Haanen poses a challenging question to the movement, asking, “Is the faith and work movement just for white guys?” (HT):

Just a cursory glance around the faith and work landscape, and you’ll find a bunch of middle class white men (with the occasional woman or Asian). So what’s going on here? Does integrating your faith and work only matter for white professionals and not African-Americans or Latinos? (For the sake of this post, you’ll have to excuse some generalizations.)

After offering a brief history of 20th-century American prosperity and the widespread self-actualization that followed, Haanen offers his hypothesis:

Twentieth century America did not bless all ethnic groups evenly with wealth and comfort. African Americans lived under the thumb of institutionalized racism even years after the civil rights movement, and struggled for years to acquire the kind of jobs, and thus material comfort, that their white counterparts did. Today, it’s mostly Latinos who occupy the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder; they make even less than blacks per capita across age groups.

All that to say this: while white guys were wondering about their purpose in life, blacks and Latinos were just trying to survive. When I was a pastor of a Latino congregation, it wasn’t terribly surprising that questions of existential despair or vocational fit never arose. Dignity and providing for the family trumped “fulfilling the cultural mandate.” Getting a job and paying rent was a bit higher on the hierarchy of needs.

Haanen’s point about disparate shifts in the makeup and distribution of work is an important one. The minimum-wage McDonald’s worker will likely face a host of spiritual challenges distinct from those faced by the white-collar executive. Likewise, the differences in time and comfort outside of that work will play no small part in defining that struggle. As Haanen also indicates, “intangible” factors like racism are bound to transform these struggles further, even among workers in the same job type and industry.

But having recognized all of this, it’s also important to recognize that just because a worker hasn’t the time, resources, or energy for armchair theologizing on “vocational fit,” it doesn’t mean that meaning, purpose, and transcendent activity isn’t taking place amid the strenuous circumstances. Whether or not we are actively thinking and talking about “cultural mandate,” the basic dignity of our work and the basic activity of serving society and providing for one’s family is an integral part of fulfilling that mandate. At a certain level, “needs-based” work has a forceful way of tempering our individualistic inclinations, and at that level, I think we need to seriously reconsider how closely we’re aligning “vocation” with our own personal preferences or our end-game goals. Does God not also call us to that initial job or task that begins a longer trajectory filled with other more “fulfilling” things? (more…)