Born from the breath of God, sparked in the hearts of man, a promise held, lost, forgotten, reclaimed, gated and confined.
Tables turned, sacrifices set free,The dregs of society welcomed, a following, a showing, a learning, a growing.Stones rolled away,Keys handed over, an invitation to taste and see, The Kingdom of God.
So It Begins
Salvation in Jesus is not intended to be a one-time experience. It is not intended to be a golden ticket that will allow you to board the Glory Train that takes you to the ‘Sweet By and By.’ It is not intended to be an excuse to disengage from the world. It is not intended to give you the freedom to judge and condemn those who do not think or look like you do. It is not intended to merely be a rope that we tie around our waist and then wait to be pulled out from the muck and the mire and the trials of life.
Salvation in Jesus is an opportunity to experience life beyond what we could even hope for or imagine. (1) Salvation is stepping into the awareness that you are a never ceasing spiritual being (2) and that the Kingdom of God is here and available now. Salvation is an opportunity to see the Written Word of God not only in the Holy Scriptures but in the leaves of the trees, the color of the flowers and in the wind that gives them life. “This is a God-bathed and God-permeated world. It is a world filled with a glorious reality, where every component is within the range of God’s direct knowledge and control….” (3) Salvation is learning how to take the plank from our own eye so that we can learn to simply love our neighbor. Salvation is an invitation to experience and live in the Kingdom of God.
“For Israel had begun its history as a nation summoned by God’s grace, to be his people, to serve him alone and to obey his covenant law. The notion of a people of God, called to live under the rule of God, begins just here, and with it the notion of the Kingdom of God.”(4)
How exciting to be God’s chosen people. To have prophecies of a coming king that will rule the land and his people with him. A king that will once and forever erase the oppression and slavery and his people will be recognized for who they truly are…the righteous of the earth.
Back in the day, not so different from today mind you, it seemed that God’s people had difficulty in knowing how to live. So God put his finger to stone, not once, but twice and gave his people 10 Commandments to live by; 10 Commandments to help them make right choices in the lives they were living. Along with the 10 Commandments there were 613 rules that one had to adhere to be righteous, worthy and considered for entry into the Kingdom of God.
If some well meaning religious folk are given a papyrus scroll of 613 rules and few millennia to wait around for a soon arriving king to usher in a new kingdom, it’s inevitable that the gates to that kingdom are going to significantly narrow. The expanse of the borders will shrink and soon the whole event will become an exclusive black-tie affair. In essence it becomes a closed kingdom reserved for a select few.
When Jesus came onto the scene there was a well established narrative for entrance into the Kingdom of God. The selection committee as it were had five stringent requirements.
1. You had to be Jewish. Only Jews could interact with God. Of course the world was also flat back then so who knew there were so many other people groups, right?
2. You had to male. In fact, a Jewish male. In the course of ministry I have spoken with many people who have asked, “What’s the point? What’s it all about?” Can you imagine being a Jewish woman in those days? So close…yet so far. That had to be a questionable existence.
3. Keepers of the Law. What if rule #313 was just really difficult? A stumbling block for you? “Sorry buddy. Rules are meant to be followed and while you’re at it, you can pick your own-self up.”
4. Physically Whole and Healthy. It was common belief that sickness and disease were in fact a curse from God! Never mind that your hearing is extraordinary and your other senses are finally tuned. You’re blind…sorry, but you’re out.
5. You had to wealthy. It was common knowledge that the poor and been abandoned by God. By today’s standard that would mean the majority of the world that He created was out.
Along comes Jesus and he disrupts, denounces and in the eyes of the religious leaders of the day defiles all their well meaning and good intentions. He calls them out and challenges their narrative. He chastises them and along the way kicks open the doors and unlocks the man made gates of heaven. He starts handing out party invitations to everyone who had been excluded and told that they were deemed unworthy of something as beautiful and as eternal as the Kingdom of God.
“The written off…the sat upon, spat upon, ratted on…the weeping ones…the deserted ones…the rejected ones…the shy and intimidated ones…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…the merciful…the taken advantage of ones…the perfectionists…the peace makers and the harassed ones. The religious system of his day left the multitudes out, but Jesus welcomed them all into his Kingdom. Anyone could come as well as any other. They still can. That is the Gospel of the Beatitudes.” (5) “The kingdom of the heavens enfolds them, the whole earth is their Father’s – and theirs as they need it. The Lord is their shepherd, they shall not want.” (6)
We see the kingdom of God in Jesus and we enter it; however that doesn’t mean we inherently know how to live in it.
Spiritual Formation in Christ
“Spiritual Formation in the Christian Tradition is a continuous process of life and experience through which we are progressively and gradually Formed, Conformed, and Transformed into the image of Christ. It happens within the context of real life. It’s not an add on!”(7)
Spiritual Formation is the process whereby the inmost being of the individual, (heart, will, and spirit) takes on the quality or character of Christ himself.
Spiritual formation is a meeting between our effort and God’s action. We do not equate this effort to being ‘saved.’ We do not earn our salvation. Grace is opposed to works however grace is not opposed to effort. (8)
Transformation begins in the mind, with the renewing of our mind. Colossians 3:2 “Set your minds on things that are above.” Jesus gives us a head start by emptying himself of Divine Dignity (9) and chooses to live among us. Jesus comes and says that we should follow him, watch him, live with him and he will show us how to live in the Kingdom of God. I’ve always thought it so amazing that those men and women who walked with Jesus were not renewing their mind through the washing of Written Word (10), but with the Living Word himself. Of course, this is all available to us today as well, but the tangible dust of the Rabbi must have been something to behold.
Spiritual Formation happens in the context of real life. Pastor Trevor Hudson has a wonderful teaching entitled The Cycle of Grace that illustrates this point.
My own teaching on the Cycle of Grace can be found at: http://new.livestream.com/belmonttv/godinthenow The Cycle of Grace (message begins around the 50 minute mark.)
Trevor Hudson begins this teaching by having us look at a day in the life of Jesus using the Gospel of Mark 1:29-39. In that passage we see Jesus engage in the spiritual disciplines of solitude and prayer, ministry and preaching and engaging in community. As apprentices of Jesus we see him engaging in the Kingdom of God throughout the everyday common movement of life. We soon witness something different though; the pacing, the attention, the giving, the withdrawing, the concern, the unhurriedness, the oddly joyful and the oddly peaceful. There is Good News in the breath and touch of Jesus. There is a gleam in his eye that tells the outsider, “You’re an insider. You are cared for and wholly loved.”
We begin to witness, that which we once considered common, is in fact, incredibly holy.
When you witness and experience something new and all together good you instinctively know that life is now different. You innately know that the way you are going to live from here on out will be different. That is, if you only knew how.
If we don’t endeavor to learn how to live well within the vastness of the Kingdom, while still appreciating the details, we will soon have a very narrow view of what the full salvation experience entails.
In sharing his life Jesus brings us the Gospel. “We immerse ourselves into the life and words and prayers of Jesus. As we do, we then become part of his relationship with the Father; it is a journey into the heart of God.” (11) And our Father is the Prodigal God who is entirely good and beautiful and giving. A Prodigal God who has given us His Spirit. A Prodigal God who has struck up the band. A Prodigal God who has given us dance charts and is waiting for us to get into the swing of truly living.
Learning to Dance
Jesus has come and he’s over turned the tables in the temple. He even slowly made a whip. He’s challenging the religious leaders of day. He’s teaching scripture with authority. He’s driving out demons and curing the sick. He’s kicking open the doors. He’s going to the highways and byways and handing out invitations to a dance party and he has quite a following. Perhaps his hair and beard are long. Perhaps he’s lean and fit. It makes no never mind what people have decided about him because there is no doubt about it, he’s a Rock Star.
For the record he also possessed the most brilliant mind that ever walked the face of the earth. Jesus knows that eternal living is to know the Father and to truly know the Father; Jesus also knows that we have to deal with the inner man.
Jesus undoubtedly being the most brilliant mind that ever walked the face of the earth was also a profound impactful speaker and teacher. “He aimed his sayings at their hearts and their habits as these were revealed in their daily lives.”(12) Jesus also naturally gave to us the greatest discourse known to man, ‘The Teaching from the Hill.’(13)
This teaching from the hill, while causing us to first take an honest look at our own inward lives, is so beautifully given that as result of practicing these sayings we in turn begin to wholly love God and to trust him. We begin to see God in our neighbor, or as C.S. Lewis wrote, “You have never met a mere mortal”(14) We are mindful that we have been invited to the dance and it appears that Jesus is a ‘more the merrier’ type of fellow. He loves us for who we are and asks us to do the same for our neighbor. There is a wonderful freedom in growing to know and to love God the Father and acceptance of our neighbor.
The various scenes and situations that Jesus discusses in his discourse on the Hill are actually stages in a progression toward a life of agape love.” (15) Ignatius wrote, “There is my exterior self. There is my present self. And there is the self that Christ is transforming. To become Holy is to truly become ourselves. It is a journey out of our prison of self and ego to a place of responsiveness for others.”(16)
A place of responsiveness to others – transformation language is social language. However, “I cannot invite others into the journey unless I myself am living and walking in the journey.” (17)
So, now we must find out what our relationships to others must be like if we are to be spiritually formed in Christlikeness. (18)
I couldn’t wait to go on my honeymoon with my wife Sandy. What I was most looking forward to was just simply being and hanging out with her; walking down a street while holding hands, window shopping, choosing a restaurant and of course, sharing an early morning cup of coffee. I was excited to begin to learn the rhythm and pace of this new life and adventure. Honeymoons are great. The deal is; a love affair should always be increasingly growing and as new and as exciting as the honeymoon.
When we began walking with Jesus it is much the same experience. We realize that we are accepted and loved for who we are no matter where we have been, what we might have done, or what we are even still doing. To internalize this truth is an incredible, overwhelming and undeniable new reality. In those first few seasons there is a noticeable change to our lives and the decisions we make. We are in a state of grace and we don’t even fully know what grace is, but we’re burning it like a 747 burns fuel. (19) We have no shame and we readily share our ‘salvation experience’. We share how we’ve found this rock and roll star Jesus and how he’s changed our life. We are filled with a hope that Jesus is going to show us a better way to live. That he is going to show us how to live well.
We find a church and often sadly, too soon the bloom fades from the rose. We find ourselves believing a story but not really finding ourselves written into it. Our own stories and experience, our own personal narratives haven’t fully been activated and consequently after a far too short period of time our lives really aren’t that different from before we knew Jesus. What we fail to realize is that we are over churched and under discipled.(20) Our pulpits are filled with encouraging messages on how to make better choices and touchstones to help us how to live ‘right’, but these messages rarely mention where this living is supposed to take place. Yes, it is to take place within the context of life, but this context of life is enveloped within the Kingdom of God. We fail to see the reality of the Spirit and the availability of the Kingdom.
And when it comes to learning how to dance…learning how to become a disciple…there is only one person who can say for sure if they are learning or not: and that’s the individual.
Bob Dylan once sang not so long ago “He’s not busy bein’ born, he’s a busy dyin’”(21) One way or the other we are all busy. Jesus is inviting us to get busy livin’.
That means we have to learn how to dance.
It’s vitally important to understand that Spiritual Formation and being an Apprentice of Jesus isn’t wholly a private a matter. Discipleship is just not as the old song goes, “Me and Jesus, we got our own thing going.”(22) Ironically though, our first dance partners are our own Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength. When we are learning how to dance there is always going to be some toe stepping going on, it’s part of the learning curve. However, perhaps it is only fair that the first toes we step on are our own.
One of the keys to learning to live in the kingdom of God is learning to fully love God with all of our heart, and with all of our soul, and with all of our mind, and all of our strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. When practiced, this commandment ushers in a new way of living and helps us discover the joy of the second greatest commandment, which is choosing to love our neighbor as ourselves. (23)
It is in the heart that the seed of the Kingdom of God is planted. It is the heart through which Jesus enters and out of the heart which communion with the Father is initiated. A heart fully surrendered to the will of God is remarkably strong and pliable. That’s quite the double feature.
The surrendered heart now steps to a new and different beat. There is a new rhythm and groove flowing into a mind that is now being washed and renewed. A mind that is seeking and setting itself upon things above, the place where Christ dwells and not on things that are on earth. (24)
The heart and mind moving as one begin to find a unity with the body. It is here, the body, where we can’t be neglectful. We are told in scripture that our bodies are the Temple of the Lord. (25) Our bodies are also what allow us to move across the dance floor.
I often think of that smooth stone that left David’s sling and found its way to be imbedded squarely in ample space of Goliaths’ forehead. Was that stone divinely appointed to careen perfectly through space? Was that stone cut from a Calvinistic slab of granite? Was that slinging stone just a lucky shot?
When I picture that scene, I picture David before the bru-ha-ha with Goliath. I picture David in the fields guarding his family’s sheep. I picture David like any other boy with a sling shot and a pile of rocks and with not a whole lot to do. I picture David slinging stone after stone at tree stumps, coiled snakes, old clay vessels in lieu of pop bottles and perhaps even a few of the backsides of some innocent sheep. Point being…is that when it came time to sling that smooth stone at the forehead of Goliath, David had already slung hundreds of rocks if not thousands of rocks. David’s body through practice was able to naturally and confidently respond. This course of action is no different from when you and I practice spiritual disciplines and spiritual disciplines must be practiced.
We don’t practice Christian spiritual disciplines to earn favor with or appease God. We don’t practice spiritual disciplines to make a good showing at the church softball league. We practice spiritual disciplines because they are good ways of putting Godly Kingdom habits into our body…in one level, it’s learning to live without thinking. We develop a natural response. We become people who do not have to ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’ because we already know. (26)
A New Dance…
Then, when we begin to feel that internal growing and connection between our heart, mind and body, we once again remember ‘The Teaching from the Hill.’ We remember these words so gently given, yet piercing, and asking us to look inward at the heart of the matter, in other words, to check the motives of our own heart. We feel incredibly loved and rich when we realize that the Teaching from the Hill is given in such a way that it helps us to fully love God and then in turn to fully love our neighbor.
We are being transformed.
We understand that individual salvation isn’t just about ourselves.
We move into the social context of life in ways that are alive, vibrant and new; and the entirety of this experience is a shelter and healing to our souls.
We begin to see God and his Kingdom in our neighbor, and his Kingdom begins explode with colors and awareness of all his goodness and creation. All of our senses become finally tuned and we find ourselves unleashed and traveling while discovering eternal living around each spin, twirl, two-step and every other dance step we can learn at the party.
We begin to see who we are. We find our own step and like Ignatius, we learn that we too can respond to others from a place born in love. We’ve flung some stones ourselves and now respond naturally. And our response carries an invitation with it. An invitation to the greatest story ever told; a story where we find our own name and adventures written within the pages.
Suddenly everyone and everything has the potential of being our dance partner.
Busy Bein’ Born or Busy Dyin’…
You are either a disciple or you’re not and only you know if you are. Because it is not a question of who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. We can take ourselves out of that roll and we can simply ask, ‘Are you a disciple?’ Again, the only the person answering the question knows the answer to the question. A disciple is experiencing the Kingdom of God. (27)
Thank God that dance lessons are provided.
Reference List Ephesians 3:20: New Revised Standard Version Harper Collins Publishers 1989 Willard, Dallas: The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 1997, p. 21 Willard, Dallas: The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 1997, pg 61 Bright, John: The Kingdom of God. Nashville, TN Abingdon Press Publishers 1981 pg 28. Originally published 1953 Pierce & Washabaugh Publishers. Willard, Dallas: The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 1997, pgs 116, 117, 118 Willard, Dallas: The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 1997, pg 117 Hudson, Trevor: October 10, 2013 Session 7, Santa Barbara, CA Willard, Dallas: The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 2006 pg 166 Moon, Gary: An Apprenticeship with Jesus: Learning to Live Like the Master, Baker Publishing Group, Ada, MI 2010 pg 21 Ephesians 5:25-26 New Revised Standard Version Harper Collins Publishers 1989 Hudson, Trevor: October 10, 2013 Session 7, Santa Barbara, Ca Willard, Dallas: The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 2006 pg 114 The Gospel of Matthew, Chapters 5-7 New Revised Standard Version Harper Collins Publishers 1989 Lewis, C.S.: The Weight of Glory: Preached Originally as a sermon in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, on June 8, 1942: published in THEOLOGY, November, 1941, and by the S.P.C.K, 1942 Willard, Dallas: The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 2006 pg 139 Hudson, Trevor: Quote cited October 10, 2013 during Session 7, Santa Barbara, CA Hudson, Trevor: October 8, 2013 Session 3, Santa Barbara, CA Willard, Dallas: Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO NAVPRESS 2002 pg 179 Willard, Dallas: The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 2006 pg 62 Hudson, Trevor: October 10, 2013 Session 7, Santa Barbara, CA ‘It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding’ written by Bob Dylan released March 22, 1965 Columbia Records, New York, NY ‘Me and Jesus’ written by Tom T. Hall released 1975 Mercury Records, Nashville,TN Matthew 22:37-39 New Revised Standard Version Harper Collins Publishers 1989 Colossians 3:1-2 New Revised Standard Version Harper Collins Publishers 1989 1 Corinthians 6:19 New Revised Standard Version Harper Collins Publishers 1989 Moon Gary: October 9, 2013 Session 5, Santa Barbara, CA Hudson, Trevor: October 8, 2013 Session 3, Santa Barbara, CA