Category Archives: Spirit-Led Living/Spiritual Growth

Articles on how to grow spiritually and how to flow better with the Holy Spirit’s leading in your life

The Walk of Faith

Tim teaching Burmese pastors and faculty

Tim teaching Burmese pastors and faculty

Walking by faith has taken on new meaning for me this year.

I feel much less secure than ever, and more uncertain about our future. At the same time, I’m learning more about relying on God and the joy of seeing God work in unexpected ways.

For example, I’ve had incredibly powerful experiences of ministry in Myanmar, France and Princeton over the past six months—the most fruitful of my 25 year career. Yet, at the same time, at the end of June, Faith, Hope and Love Global Ministries was just about out of money.

Financially, our backs were (are) against the wall. I knew this day was coming, yet our extensive travel requirements gave us little or no opportunity to address our fundraising needs.
Now my faith is being tested. Will we shrink back from the vision out of fear? Or will we press on, trusting the calling to keep developing our global ministry to pastors and leaders? I know I want to cross the line from fear to faith, on one end of the spectrum, but where is the line dividing faith and foolishness on the other end?   (Fear–>>Faith—?—Foolishness)

Each of us needs to answer these questions for ourselves, based on our own unique circumstances. In general, what I’m learning is that Christians are often called to walk on the edge of faith and sight. We may be able to see the vision of our calling, but, if our vision is big enough, we often cannot see all of the provision. Faith adds the word, “yet,” to the previous sentence. We cannot see God’s provision yet. Nevertheless, we still believe it is coming, and act accordingly.

Practically, walking by faith in times when money is tight or the future is uncertain often includes the following ten action steps:
1.    Stay committed to the vision. Don’t quit or slack off.
2.    Face reality, make needed changes, and do what needs to be done.
3.    Stay focused on what matters the most, and set daily priorities accordingly.
4.    Stay committed to the major initiatives that support your vision, and put off or eliminate less important goals and activities.
5.    Beware of yielding to temptation that would dissipate your energy or undermine your credibility or effectiveness.
6.    Believe in your calling, believe in yourself, and believe that God’s work cannot be thwarted when you faithfully walk by faith.
7.    Surround yourself with the right kind of friends who share your interests, priorities and faith.
8.    Notice what God has already done and is doing, and stay grateful.
9.    Expect God’s faithfulness to exceed yours.
10.    Let go of anxiety over what you cannot control—which only adds stress to your life. Instead, pray and focus on what you can do.

To walk by faith, then, actually means something in concrete terms. We must put one foot in front of the other along the path we believe God has marked out for us, trusting God to provide, without knowing how and when God will do so.

A week ago, Thursday, as I was preparing to tell our Board members that we were almost broke, one of our major donors unexpectedly offered to give his annual contribution early, plus an extra $1000 to cover an unexpected expense coming up. Then, on Monday, a potential major funder wrote to say that after reviewing our website that he would be eager to discuss “the very important work” that we are doing. On Wednesday, someone volunteered to upgrade our websites for free, and another major donor told me that he wanted to give again this year.

We still don’t have enough money to meet payroll in July, let alone cover all our costs for the Chartres Contemplative Pilgrimage in October, or fund the Rwandan Pastors Leadership Conference we’re leading in November. Nevertheless, God is allowing me to see once again that he will not abandon the mission or me.

At times, faith leads to sight—just enough to believe that the needed resources will given to fulfill the work we have been given to do. Just enough to keep us going, trusting, and walking by faith.

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8, NIV)

I wonder where this journey of faith is going to lead, and how God is going to provide in the coming months for us…and for you.

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Don’t Give Up

Been struggling lately? Feeling a little confused? Discouraged? Losing motivation?
Perhaps, temptations seem to be getting more intense. Your weaknesses seem more evident. You may be wondering if you are actually moving backwards, rather than forward.
If so, let me encourage you. You have reached a critical point in your spiritual development. Don’t lose heart. And most definitely, do not give up!

Contrary to appearances, our emotional turmoil may actually be a positive sign. Our struggles may actually be a sign of growing pains in our spiritual life—we may even be on the verge of making a major breakthrough.

In contrast, when we become complacent in our spiritual life or are too pre-occupied with our own concerns or pursuing our own happiness, we may feel just fine. We may be able to successfully distract ourselves from our inner longing for God. We may be able to avoid thinking about the inner work we need to do to keep growing and maturing.

However, once we turn our attention and intention (back) to God’s calling on our life, we will certainly soon be brought back to the place where we last left off.  We may have shrunk back from the difficulty of our spiritual journey, and now that we have resumed our pilgrimage, we have to face once again what we couldn’t face earlier. We are being given another opportunity to see and feel our loss, our failure, our weakness, our longing, our frustration, our disappointment, or something else that has been too difficult or painful to face.
So what should we do when we find ourselves newly committed but struggling as much or more than ever?

The same things that are always appropriate and most helpful whenever we want to go deeper, to grow spiritually, and to serve Christ more fully and effectively in our lives. We need to…
• Face reality—ask yourself, what is true about your life and circumstances that you need to acknowledge, whether you like it or not?
• Feel our feelings—without running away from them or distracting yourself, can you let the depth and intensity of your feelings teach you something you need to learn?
• Ask God for help—are you willing to pray that the Holy Spirit will help you to see what you need to see, to have courage to face the truth, and to have enough strength to act on whatever is revealed?
• Look for signs that God is actually part of the process—can you identify ways that God is at work through your struggles? Perhaps the Spirit is helping you to identify important questions; is bringing greater clarity about what’s most important to you; is providing opportunities to grapple with something you know you need to deal with; or, is bringing others into your life at the right time.
• Thank God that we are being given an opportunity to grow—can you hold fast to your faith that God will see you through this current struggle and lead you to the place the Holy Spirit wants to take you?
• Ask others to walk with us—who could you reach out to in order to get the support and help you need to face what you need to face and work through the pain or difficulty you are experiencing?

Facing the truth about how hard our spiritual journey can be a good and necessary thing to do, providing we don’t get stuck there. As the Apostle Paul teaches us by his example, we must also hold on to our faith in the midst of our struggles so that we persevere in the midst of them and grow through them.  He writes:
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16, NIV)

No matter how great your struggles may be, today is the day of opportunity for you. Believe it. Pray it. Live it….one step at a time.
Grace and peace in Christ,
Tim

For more on how to navigate better the spiritual journey, order my book, One Step at a Time: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Spirit-Led Living, at https://spirit-ledleader.com/?page_id=29.

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Filed under Pilgrimage--El Camino, Spirit-Led Living/Spiritual Growth

All In

Jill on the Camino

How does uncertainty affect your faith and your passion for serving Christ? What happens within you when you’re anxious or afraid about the future? When life starts to collapse around you, what’s your instinctive response?
We may suddenly feel abandoned by God and desperate to take matters into our own hands. We may feel that God isn’t coming through for us, or we may question God’s activity in our lives. In our fear, frustration or discouragement, we may back off our commitment to Christ or lose our passion for ministry. We may find ourselves more easily get distracted or unable to focus on God or on our priorities. Or worse. We may slide into trying to comfort ourselves or satisfy our needs in ways that feel good at the moment, but wind up harming ourselves or others.

At such times, we need to make a move. Our discombobulating circumstances are giving us an opportunity to go deeper in our spiritual life, but the decision about which way we are going to go is ours.

We have to make a choice. We can succumb to our instinctive reactions and continue drifting, playing it safe, or making self-defeating choices.  Or, we can go the other way.

We can seize the opportunity to go “all in.”

I’m alluding, of course, to the moment when gamblers decide to wager all that they have on the game at hand. They cannot possibly know for sure if they will win, but in order to be successful they must put enough money into the pot to stay in the game and enough to make winning worthwhile. And sometimes, this means going all in, risking everything on their bet.

In life, all of us are placing bets every day. We invest ourselves and resources into a relationship, a job, an experience, or any number of other things. With each investment, we are betting that this way of living will pay off for us in one way or another—yielding more love, more money, more opportunity, more fun, more satisfaction, more meaning, more something—better than if we invested in someone or something else.

With each decision, each of us is making bets related to our spiritual life, too. The more we wager on what we can get out of this life for ourselves, the less we are investing in God and in Christ’s call on our lives. And vice versa.

Following Christ is not a game, to be sure, but, to use Pascal’s language, living by faith does require a wager. Since none of us has ever seen God or been resurrected from the dead, we cannot know for sure that there is life after death or if faith in Christ is the key to eternal life. But we can place our bets.

We may not know for sure if the Holy Spirit is really at work in our lives or how God is going to provide for our needs, but we can choose to trust and live accordingly. We can resist the temptation to slide away from God or stay stuck in the quagmire of doubt and fear, and put our faith into action in concrete ways. We can say “yes” to the Holy Spirit and deepen our commitment to Christ and others, and “no” to competing impulses and loyalties, letting the chips fall where they may.

Where the need to make spiritual choices becomes real to me is when I start to freeze up because I feel anxious about the future or about my ability to preach, teach or write effectively. I feel it when I’m talking to those who are suffering or who are struggling with intense, honest intellectual questions, and I have to decide if I am going to melt away out of fear of upsetting them or openly affirm my faith in God’s goodness and activity in our lives.

I feel great inner tension when I am invited to minister in a country where I may not be safe, and I have to decide if I will accept the call or hold back out of fear. Like many people, over this past year, my investments and the market value of my house dropped significantly, and contributions have failed to keep up with expenses. Do I pull back to protect my interests or press forward with the ministry with fewer assurances for myself?

In each situation, I cannot remain neutral or passive. I have to make decisions.

What about you? Are your circumstances right now forcing you to make some choices? Is the Holy Spirit calling you to stop hedging your bets and go all in—or, at least, more in than you have been willing to go up to this point?

Today is the 25th anniversary of my ordination. On June 3, 1984, the pastors and elders of my church laid hands on Jill and me as we knelt in front of the congregation. We were committing ourselves to serve Jesus Christ for the rest of our lives as ministers of the Gospel.

Now, twenty-five years later, I humbly rededicate myself to this calling. By God’s grace, I want to live my life for Christ as fully and faithfully as possible, all in.

[Jesus] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? (Mark 8:34-37, NRSV)

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Filed under Prayer, Spirit-Led Living/Spiritual Growth

Spirit-Led Living in Real Life

This is the first of a series of postings from Myanmar (Burma), where we are serving for the next couple of months with Faith, Hope and Love Global Ministries. Email me if you want to be on our e-newsletter list.

What do you expect God to do in your life today? Are you expecting the Holy Spirit to create divine appointments for you in the midst of whatever else you have planned?

Before heading out to Burma, I had a chance to visit my brother in Texas. As I was driving to his house on Saturday afternoon, my eye caught a couple of people fighting with a sign blowing in the wind. I had about a nano-second to try to read the words as I drove by, but I saw enough to wonder if there might be a church service in the school building nearby.

Later that afternoon, I dragged my two young nephews back to that intersection and my instincts were confirmed. I had two other options for churches, but this one’s service fit my schedule the best. On Sunday morning, I slipped in the back door shortly before the worship began.

I really liked how warm everyone was and the feel of the congregation. Afterwards, I sought out the pastor to thank him for the morning, but soon sensed that something was troubling him. I felt a strong impulse to offer my perceptions and perspective on pastoral leadership in order to try to encourage him.

I was clearly being presumptuous. I had no knowledge of his church or of him other than what I heard in the sermon. My comments were unsolicited and audacious. Yet, I sensed the Holy Spirit was prompting me to boldly say what I was seeing and thinking—for the pastor’s sake.

You could say, I was taking a chance on the Holy Spirit.

Surprisingly, he opened up his heart to me as we stood in front of the sanctuary with parishioners milling about. He talked about very personal matters, and he let me know that he was looking for a way out. At one point, he suddenly grabbed me by the arm and asked me—a total stranger 15 minutes earlier—to pray for him right there and then. I did.

Here’s the email I received from him a few days later. (Used with his permission, with contextual information altered or deleted.)

Tim, I’ve been intending to email you and update you, but been busy. Our talk really went a long way in renewing my hope. It was so nice to visit with someone safe (no affiliation to our church and no denominational agenda) and share my frustrations. One of the things you said that really helped was talking about the emotional toll of leadership. It was so nice to have someone know exactly what I’m dealing with. Leading a church is a draining and at times a painful undertaking. It is unlike any other job since we pour our heart into it. I think that is a lot of what has been going on with me, the emotional pain of recent events and the slow, steady toll on my heart of leading this church for the last 6 years.

I ordered your book, One Step at a Time, and am through the Introduction. I’m enjoying what you’ve written. It seems to be addressing a struggle of mine….

Recently with some of the acute frustrations here I made the decision to start planning my “exit strategy” and go into counseling. Our talk put some hope back in my sails, at least for the short, medium-term future, in terms of continuing to lead this church….

I met with my therapist this week and we talked about what has been going on, and about my visit with you on Sunday. That also helped me clear my head and just take things “one day at a time” in considering my future.
Brad

I had no idea of what the Holy Spirit might do when I drove by that half posted sign Saturday afternoon or decided at the last minute to attend that church just because the starting time was more convenient than the one down the street. I still didn’t sense the Holy Spirit was leading me to talk to the pastor until we were in the middle of our conversation after the service.

Suddenly, I knew. I was experiencing a “divine appointment”. God had led me to this church on this particular day to encourage this pastor at a critical moment in his life and ministry.

As I drove back to my brother’s house, I felt exhilarated. I was praising and thanking God for the opportunity to be used by the Holy Spirit in such a surprising—though not unexpected—way.

All of my Spirit-led encounters are not this dramatic or powerful. Yet, I do expect the Holy Spirit to be working and leading me into meaningful, joyful, and fruitful interactions with others every day. I take no credit for any such divine encounters, except that I choose to show up in life with high expectations, expecting the Holy Spirit to lead me and use me to serve God’s good purposes regularly on the journey.

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

How is the Holy Spirit leading you to divine appointments that serve God’s purposes? I’d like to hear your stories. Please comment here or email me at tim.geoffrion@fhlglobal.org.

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Filed under Asia, Spirit-Led Living/Spiritual Growth

Transformation—One Step at a Time

This is the second part of a sermon I preached in Sister Bay, Wisconsin, on November 16, 2008, entitled, “Change We Can Believe In.”

The book that grew out of our pilgrimage

A Request I Couldn’t Get Out of My Mind
About two years ago, one of my sons’ friends and his parents came to our house for dinner one night. As we were flipping hamburgers on the grill, Mike (the father) and I started talking about spiritual growth. In a moment of candor, he said to me, “I would really like to grow spiritually, but I don’t know what to do. I wish someone would break spiritual growth down into specific steps that I could take.”

As I worked for the next year and a half on a book that was just published a couple of weeks ago, Mike’s request haunted me. By the time I was done writing it, I realized that I had been writing for Mike and other Christians who want to grow spiritually. Taking pilgrimage as a metaphor for the spiritual life, I titled the book, One Step at a Time: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Spirit-Led Living (https://spirit-ledleader.com/?page_id=29, the Alban Institute, 2008).

At the heart of this book is my wrestling with the question, “How can I experience more transformation in my life?” Biblical writers teach that believers are changed by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives, but if transformation is so elusive for so many of us, what’s wrong? Is it our theology or something we need to do differently? What could I say to help others experience real, lasting transformation in their life?

Insight on the Camino
Two and a half years ago, the summer before my conversation with Mike about spiritual growth, I went on a long hike. A very long hike. Jill, my two sons and I walked 500 miles across northern Spain on pilgrimage. I was on sabbatical, and I felt led to walk this ancient pilgrimage route to seek God’s leading for the next phase of my life. Even more, I was hoping that God would use this intense, extraordinary experience to transform me in some way.

I didn’t really know what I was getting myself in for. The first night we slept in bunk beds, in a room with 120 other pilgrims. Our clothes got soaked, our legs were aching, we were exhausted, and this was only day 1. Some days the temperature was over 110 degrees. Jill injured her leg and nearly got heat exhaustion. My feet ached and my legs throbbed. We had to face things in ourselves and in our marriage that we didn’t want to have to face.

I was praying to be transformed every day, but all I was getting was crabbier, more tired, and more fed up with myself and everyone else. Oh, there were lots of wonderful moments, too, but I was really wondering if significant transformation was even possible in my life.

Then one day, something shifted. I started off in a particularly crabby mood. We had an extra long way to go that day, and on top of it, the rain started falling. This was really going to be a good day, I could tell!

Along the way, I noticed that the rain would come and go depending on the wind. When there was no wind, the rain just kept dripping on me. But when the wind would start up, sometimes the rain cloud above me would blow away, and we’d get a respite.

All of a sudden, I got this insight.

The Holy Spirit is like the wind. When I pray and ask for help with my negative moods or temptations or hard feelings, I am inviting God to do in me what I cannot seem to do for myself. It’s not magic, and it doesn’t work every time, but often, when I truly surrender my will to God’s, and ask for help with an open heart and mind, God produces a change within me. To go back to the metaphor, the Holy Spirit often blows away whatever is making me all wet spiritually, mentally or emotionally.

I also came to realize that the changes the Holy Spirit makes in me are seldom permanent. I trust that God has given me eternal life, but I still need the Holy Spirit to breathe into me freshly every day and every moment for me to continue to experience the changed life that comes from God.
Such an ongoing dependence on the Holy Spirit is what Jesus meant by abiding in him. Apart from Jesus we can do nothing. With Jesus we can bear much fruit. Apart from the Holy Spirit, we will be our old normal, limited, unchanged selves. With the Holy Spirit, we can experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

It’s that simple.

I didn’t say, it’s that “easy”, but it is a simple concept. With and only with the Holy Spirit’s active working in our lives and through us, can we experience the change we most desire, and the change we are called to as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, too many Christians have accepted the message of salvation, but have not learned how to let the Holy Spirit transform their hearts, minds and behavior on a day-by-day basis. Or, if they know how to yield to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, they often choose not to. Did I say, “they”? I meant, “we.” We all know the experience of knowing the right or good thing to do, but choosing a different course.

The Christian bookstores are full of inspirational and instructive books on living the Christian life, but not one will do you any good, if you are not willing to say “yes” to the Holy Spirit. You can listen to sermons, get videos of great teachers, and read the Bible until you’ve memorized every word, but if you are not prepared to say “yes” to the Holy Spirit on a moment by moment basis, you are not going to experience transformation. You are not going to experience the change you need, the change you hope for, and change you can believe in.

I cannot tell you specifically what the Holy Spirit wants to say to you at this moment, but I guarantee you that the Spirit has something to say to you that fits with God’s will for your life. God is trying to lead you in the ways he wants you to go, on a step-by-step basis.
We are not called to figure out God’s master plan for our life ahead of time. We are called to learn how to stay connected to the Holy Spirit, to recognize the Spirit’s prompting when it comes, and to say “yes” for the next thing God is asking us to do. Then, and usually only then, after we have said yes and have followed through on the Spirit’s leading, will we be ready to hear the next bit of instruction.

Transformation rarely happens in one fell swoop. We change as we learn to take one step after another as the Holy Spirit leads us. As we say yes to the Spirit’s leading today, we move to the place where we can say yes to whatever he wants us to do tomorrow. Then, when we add up all the days of our lives that are filled with moments in which we are being led by the Holy Spirit, the net result is a truly transformed life.

The place to start, though, is with this present moment.

What’s the Holy Spirit saying to you now?

What’s your answer?

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. —2 Corinthians 13:14

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Change We Can Believe In

This is the first of two parts of a sermon I preached on November 16, 2008 in Sister Bay, Wisconsin.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” –Romans 5:1-5

 

This fall has been a huge time of change in America. The financial markets have fallen precipitously, industry giants such Ford and General Motors are on the brink of bankruptcy, and many people are losing their jobs and feeling the strains of a worsening recession. Now, in the midst of all the stress and strain, everyone is hoping for some positive change in the days, months and years ahead.

Yet, seeking change is nothing new to most of us. Whenever you or I want a better life, a better marriage, better work, better relationship with others, a better community or church, or even a better world, we are talking about change. We may not be able to describe exactly what we would like, but we know it’s different from what we are experiencing at the moment. We want some kind of change in the hope that our future will be better than our past or present.

At its core, the Gospel is itself all about change.

• When Jesus came into the world he preached repentance from sins and a return to heartfelt, faithful, and loving devotion to God. That was a message of change.

• When Jesus died and was resurrected, he brought hope of eternal life to the world, showing that death need not have the final say in our lives. That was a big change.

• When we move from guilt to forgiveness, from judgment to salvation, from death to life, from despair to hope, and from powerlessness to power through the Holy Spirit, that’s real change.

• In Romans 5:1-5, everything Paul talks about has to do with change. By faith, we move from alienation from God to justification. We move from anxiety over our sins and fear of punishment to forgiveness and peace with God. We move from despair over life’s hardships to hope, because we see God at work in our suffering to produce perseverance, character and confidence for the future. Above all, we move from trying to worship a scary God out there somewhere, to having our hearts filled with love by the Holy Spirit, who is present within every believer in Jesus Christ.

• And, if God has his full way with us, we will also move from serving ourselves to serving Christ with our lives. With this transformation, our whole way of looking at life changes dramatically. We move from a self-centered way of being in the world to becoming instruments of God’s love to one another. Life ceases to be “about us” and increasingly becomes about Christ and serving God’s purposes in the world.

Now all of these changes help give us what we most need. They start as promises, but increasingly become reality for us as grow in faith and in our relationship with God. Truly, they are “the change we can believe in”!

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that we live in a world that is filled with all sorts of impediments to the change God wants to produce in us and among us.

• We have our human weaknesses, bad habits, addictions, and psychological hangups.

• We are subject to our sinful nature, and are surrounded by lies and deceptions from unseen spiritual forces that fool us or tie us up in knots.

• We can easily become afraid or distracted from the Spirit’s leading, and revert back to our pre-changed ways.

Do you know what I’m talking about?

Nothing can undo the work of Christ on the cross, and nothing can separate us from the love of God, but many things can sap the life out of our spirit and undermine our joy and ability to fully live out our God-given purpose.

What I experienced in Africa

The Rwandan genocide in 1994 is an extreme example of what I’m talking about. The church leadership utterly failed the nation of Rwanda, where 85% of the country was “Christian” before the genocide. Before the killing was over, one million people were murdered and 500,000 women raped in 100 days. As I sat with one of the bishops of the Anglican Church in October, he told me that the country is still suffering from effects of the genocide, and that the root of the problem was deep-seated hatred for others, and a failure of church leaders to develop the people spiritually. They had no concept of letting the Holy Spirit pour out God’s love in their hearts.

On the other hand, perhaps one of the most inspiring people I’ve met so far in Africa is Pastor Jacob Lipandasi. I first met Jacob at the Pastors Leadership Conference in Goma that I was leading a year ago. I learned of his compassion for the widows and orphans in his village, and my wife, Jill, and I helped him to raise $500 to buy seeds and tools in order to help the most vulnerable people in his area to plant their own crops.

This year, we invited Jacob to participate in a new program of spiritual life coaching. We had chosen just 3 of the 30 pastors from the conference to participate in the six month program, and he was one of them. We did not have enough money in our new ministry to pay for his travel expenses at the time, so he borrowed the $15 needed so that he could get the cheapest place on the cheapest boat to cross Lake Kivu to come for coaching. I found out that he stood on the outside of the boat for 13 hours, over night, just to come. He arrived with no money for his return ticket. He was trusting God to provide.

During the coaching, he refined his vision for his ministry to help these poor women move from just providing food for themselves to actually creating businesses for themselves so that some day that might get out of poverty. Jacob will need to attend more schooling to learn how to do this, and he has no idea where the money will come from to pay for his further education or for the training center that he wants to establish, yet he has faith and he has compassion that compels him to keep looking for solutions. He is determined.

Jacob’s life has been changed by God in many ways over his lifetime, and he wants to be a change-agent in the life of others. No, he does not have all of his plans figured out. But he is putting his faith into action. The Holy Spirit has done and is doing a powerful and beautiful thing in his life, and only God knows what will unfold in the future as he continues to seek to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Looking closer to home

Now we don’t have to look to Africa to find examples of Christians who do not know how to be filled and led with the Holy Spirit or for those who do. We can look in our own lives. There are times when we experience the Holy Spirit’s working mysteriously or powerfully, and times when we are being led by dark forces and sinful impulses within. That mixed reality is true of every Christian everywhere.

The question is not, are we sometimes driven by our sinful nature? The question is, how committed are we to learning how to be a Spirit-led follower of Jesus Christ?

What have you learned about how to be more Spirit-filled and Spirit-led in your life? 

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Crowning Christ, Loving the Least

This posting was inspired by a discussion during lectio divina this past week ahead of The Reign of Christ (traditionally, Christ the King) Sunday.

 

A Burmese boy orphaned after the murder of his parents.

A Burmese boy orphaned after the murder of his parents.

 

After an hour of reading, re-reading and meditating on this week’s Gospel text in our lectio divina group, we were getting ready to go. We had been focusing on Jesus’ well-known parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46. There the Son of Man sits on the heavenly throne, reigning as the King of the universe, judging humanity based on their response to the needy. He uses the same criterion for both those who are welcomed into eternal life and those who are sent to eternal punishment: “Whatever you have done (or not done) to one of the least of these, you have done (or not done) to me.”

Each of us was squirming a bit in our seats at times, and a tad troubled with the strong language of judgment. As we shared our thoughts and questions with one another, one woman wondered aloud why this text was chosen for Christ the King Sunday. Apparently, the choir was planning to sing about crowning Jesus with many crowns as part of the congregation’s worship. Yet, she questioned, what does crowning Christ as king have to do with ministering to widows, orphans, and other suffering people throughout the world? In one case, we rejoice in the risen, exalted Savior and Lord who reigns in triumph in heaven. In the other, we grapple with the grief of those ruled by poverty, oppressive regimes, and cruel exploitation in the here and now.

That’s when it hit me.

Jesus told stories to make a point and often to evoke an emotional reaction. (So far, this one was working.) He did not speak as a systematic theologian, and he never wrote down a single word of theology—or anything else as far as we know. Rather, he was a preacher and teacher, who used parables to powerfully touch the hearts and minds of whoever had “ears to hear”.

So, what are we supposed to hear, see, and feel from this parable? That living compassionately is a way of life for true followers of Christ—caring for those in need is not an option, but an expectation of all disciples. “Righteousness” is not simply about believing the right things about God, completing prescribed rituals, or following rules. Righteousness is a condition of our hearts that shows itself in concrete action toward those who most need our support, help, or encouragement.

Acknowledging Christ as King, then, is not just done by bending our knees and swearing allegiance to Jesus, or by lifting our hands and singing songs of praise in a worship service. Yes, discipleship involves a submission of our wills and trust in Christ for salvation. Yes, following Jesus calls for confession of faith and worship. Yet, what the parable of the sheep and goats shouts loudly is that those who truly crown Christ from their hearts also do so by how they treat their fellow human beings.

This parable is not teaching works-righteousness, it’s insisting that the righteous will do good works.   

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ … ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:31-36, 40, NRSV)

We crown Christ king every time we respect and care for others as we would him. We crown Christ king every time we let his love flow through us to others as if we were loving him. We crown Christ king every time we see someone in distress, and instead of judging them, dismissing their pleas, or ignoring their needs, we say, “There’s Jesus! How can I best show my love to him now?”

Now that I’m thinking this way, I suspect I have a lot of coronations coming up.

I’m actually excited about the prospects.

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