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Renewing Our Minds

I want to return to a theme that has been core to the Spiritual Maturity Project from its inception. It is a point so crucial to vital Christian growth, yet so easily misunderstood. To grow spiritually necessitates growing in understanding. To grow in understanding requires time, patience, and sustained study. There are no shortcuts.

Immediately, a question comes to mind: "Grow in understanding what?" Here we must pay special attention. Two key parts of the answer always must stay together. We grow in understanding the doctrinal and ethical content of the Christian faith, but that content is not a bunch of disembodied abstractions. The content of the Christian faith flows from Jesus Christ himself, from his life and teaching. "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me..." (Mt. 11:29).  "But we have the mind of Christ" (1  Cor. 2:16). Understanding the doctrinal and ethical content of the Christian...

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Confidently Anticipating Our True Home

The start of another new year easily brings out the reflective side of human nature. We naturally think about possibilities, about how the upcoming year will turn out, about what we need to do differently to make life better. Given our human nature, this taking stock and envisioning a desired future comes to us almost as naturally as breathing.

To reach those desired ends, we set goals. What is not so clear is that those goals all flow toward a final one, an ultimate goal. In all our goal-setting is the intuition toward something full, ideal, perfect.

The Christian life has a goal. We easily think of it as heaven, but do we understand the Bible's portrayal of heaven? Where are we going when we go to heaven? We typically ask, "What is heaven like?" but maybe a better question is, "What kind of person will I be in heaven? How will I feel and see and experience life in heaven?" (You may be interested in our free mini-course (4 sessions) on this topic. Go to: ...

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The Most Mysterious Time of the Year

Permit me to riff on a popular Christmas song. It's the most mysterious time of the year.

Yes, it is definitely a wonderful time of the year, and I pray that your Christmas celebrations are full of joy. But let us take time to ponder the mystery. The Christian faith bears witness to a truly unprecedented event: the Creator God, the one true God, takes human nature. Immanuel has come to dwell with people. 

This basic message about the nature of Jesus the Messiah, standing out across the pages of the New Testament, sets in motion a chain of logic. Further searching leads us to see God's nature as Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - each operating distinctly but in unity of nature and purpose. We Christians are so accustomed to talking of God this way that we grow numb to the staggering reach of the vision. 

We can never grow weary of pondering the mystery. So, as a little exercise, let me offer this item from my own practice. In my morning prayer time, I use the daily...

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The Enigma of New Wineskins

For a long time, and in many readings of Luke 5 (or Mark 2 or Matthew 9), I have pondered the meaning of "new wine in old wineskins" (vs. 37-38). Jesus responds to the religious leaders disputing with him about certain practices, "No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins."

Right away, questions press upon us about what Jesus means. What is the new wine? What is the old? What is the new wine compared to the old? Why does Luke 5 conclude with the observation that people prefer the old wine to the new wine? What does he mean by new wineskins? What is supposed to be our takeaway from this passage? 

Since I am now pastoring a congregation after so many years in higher education, I am thinking again about Jesus' references to wineskins and wine. But it is not only pastors who need to think about what Jesus is saying here, for his words...

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A "Stretching" Read in Christian Apologetics

An important part of growing spiritually is to practice stretching ourselves through reading. (Listening is also important, but it doesn't replace reading.) To move increasingly in the direction of Christlikeness, we need to expand our knowledge of teaching and content associated with the Christian life.

At Spiritual Maturity Project, we are building a resource to help people go ever deeper in their reading habits. At our web site, if you click on the "Resources" link at the top of the main page (https://www.spiritualmaturityproject.org/), it will take you to another page with several icons, one of which is "Publications." If you click on that icon, and then scroll down past the short video I did on reading the Bible well (take a few minutes to watch the video!), you will find our "Reader's Library" (https://www.spiritualmaturityproject.org/publications). You will see a list of books categorized into various fields of study, such as "Bible" or "theology." Each book comes with a...

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Spiritual Maturity and Fruitful Bible Reading

bible reading job psalms Aug 25, 2022

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to help people grow deeply in understanding the contents of the Bible. "Searching the Scriptures," as John Wesley often called the habit, is a means of grace for us to develop in faith, yet something seems to put a chill on this practice for far too many people. One reason has to do with a faulty assumption about the Bible and Bible reading. We have a long history in the West of assuming that the Bible is perfectly clear and that anyone can read and understand with little difficulty. As we gain familiarity with larger and larger swaths, however, the more we find the Bible putting real pressure on these easy assumptions. Consequently, too many people feel very unsure about how to understand the Bible, which inhibits reading, thereby worsening the insecurity and reinforcing the hesitance even to try reading it.

Take this example of two sets of verses, one well-known one from Psalms 8 and another, from Job 7:

(Ps. 8:3-5, NRSV), "When I look...

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King Jesus is Taking Over

One very illuminating way to read the book of Acts is under this theme: "The Resurrected Jesus is King and He's Taking Over." This theme may sound too aggressive, somehow inappropriate for Christian thought, especially with our worries about how the faith is used to promote violence at times. The tricky part, then, is to stay clear exactly how Jesus takes over. A handful of snapshots to illustrate.

The events of Acts 2 through 8 take place in and around the temple area in Jerusalem. Peter preaches the Pentecost sermon there, proclaiming Jesus as Lord (ch. 2). The lame man receives healing and enters the temple with Peter and John, "walking and leaping and praising God" (ch. 3). His healing gets the crowd's attention and Peter preaches another Jesus-as-Lord sermon, which gets him (and John) in trouble with the priests and Sadducees. After an inquiry, in which Peter (with John) once again bears witness to Jesus as Lord, the temple leaders threaten them, but let them go (ch. 4). And...

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Unconquerable Love

Many Christians have wondered, in the Gospel accounts of Jesus' trial before both Jewish and Roman leaders, why he doesn't give his judges a direct answer. In Matthew 26, for example, when Caiaphas, the high priest, demands that Jesus respond to the witnesses who said that they heard him say that he could destroy the temple and raise it in three days (see John 2:18), the text says, "But Jesus was silent" (Mt. 26:63). When the high priest asked him, point blank, "Tell us if you are the Messiah," Jesus' response is maddeningly sideways, "You have said so." Later, the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, asks him the same question and gets the same response: "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said, "You say so." The text once again emphasizes, "But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer" (Mt. 27:12). When Pilate pressed him, "Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?" the text repeats, with emphasis, "But he gave him no answer, not even...

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The Tougher Side of True Discipleship

The great Methodist missionary, E. Stanley Jones, in his devotional work, Growing Spiritually, bluntly criticized the view that, as Christians we can expect to gain only partial victory over sin. According to this bias, life remains a cyclical struggle of temptation, sin, confession, and forgiveness. Forgiveness, yes, but always little more than sin and guilt. We should not expect much more.   

To this pessimism, Brother Stanley retorts, "Only a forgiven sinner? The whole thing leaves you with your eyes in the wrong direction--on your sinful self, instead of upon the saving work of Christ." He speaks to what scholars of John Wesley, in whose legacy Jones operated, call the "optimism of grace." Not because of any strength inherent to our own natures do we have hope of full salvation (the going on to full-grown, victorious, Christian adulthood), but because God has freely given us grace to respond faithfully--moment by moment--in loving obedience.

To be sure, life is...

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The Life He Gives Us

We stand on the edge of the end of Christmastide, with Epiphany coming in a couple of days (January 6). Once more, before this season ends, let us think about the meaning of Christmas. It commemorates the Incarnation of the Word of God. God the Son takes on human nature to save us. 

Just how does he save us? And what does "save" mean? The answer to the first question is often lodged in Jesus' death, as well it should be. He saves us by dying for our sins. Yes and amen. But there is oh so much more to the salvation story than the cross, as central and life-altering as it is. Talk of Jesus' saving death (to move to our second question) relates very strongly to forgiveness and restoration to relationship with the Father, or a change in status. This mighty act of divine mercy in Christ is of central importance. It is essential to understanding what becoming a Christian involves.

But again, there is more. And it is that "more" that I want us to ponder. We'll do so by way of...

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