Pressing On: the Spiritual Maturity Project blog

The Irony of "Application"

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Spiritual Maturity Project
The Irony of "Application"
9:37
 

One of the major goals of the Spiritual Maturity Project is to enhance Bible readers' knowledge of scripture and confidence in reading.  To this end, I have created a course in our Foundations series (three courses), to be launched in a few days.  Watch for the announcement.

Becoming fruitful Bible readers faces one major challenge and it reveals an irony.  In our pragmatic culture (generally a good), we have adopted a practice of "application" that, ironically, gets in the way of the goal it seeks to achieve.  

I'll explain what I mean by way of an example.  In Matthew 9:2-8, we find a version of the story about the paralytic whom Jesus heals.  It's controversial because Jesus says to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven," which causes a debate between Jesus and some religious leaders, who think Jesus is committing blasphemy.

Many, many of us have learned to read the Bible with an eye to application.  We want  to know how the passage...

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Sins and Infirmities

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Spiritual Maturity Project
Sins and Infirmities
10:07
 

Isaiah 53:4-5 portrays two aspects of what the Suffering Servant - our Lord, Jesus Christ - has done to our great benefit.  He has "borne our infirmities" and "was wounded for our transgressions."  

Sins and infirmities.  These two categories of human experience pose questions that call for wisdom and discernment.  What counts, in God's eyes, as sin?  (This question has dimensions that resist easy answers.)  What does he regard as infirmities? What does God forgive and what does he heal?  

A first-step answer is pretty straightforward.  "Infirmities" obviously refers to diseases.  This Isaiah passage says, "He has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases."  Yes.  True.  Is this the end of the story for understanding infirmities?  No.

The Bible also describes sickness of soul, which overlaps with physical illness but also goes beyond it into thoughts, feelings, and resulting behaviors.  Infirmities...

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Trusting the (Usually) Unseen Hand of God

Uncategorized Aug 19, 2021

There is much to cause worry in the news these days.  This is nothing new, of course, yet that feeling of foreboding, like something is irreversibly wrong, permeates popular consciousness.  Many people, including some expert interpreters of current events, believe that things are spinning closer and closer to out-of-control.  Consider:

  • The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
  • The earthquake in Haiti.  That poor, broken island.
  • Wildfires in California.
  • Critical water shortages on the Colorado River
  • The Delta variant of COVID-19, with all the worrisome implications back in our minds.
  • The continuing political polarization and hostility between "red" and "blue."  

These tragedies are heart-wrenching.  It is a time to reflect on how we, as followers of the Risen King, respond to all the bad news.  

The scriptures show repeatedly that discipleship involves an attitude of relinquishing.  As our technology has gotten more powerful, the...

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Reading the Bible as a Religious Book: What's the Matter?

Uncategorized Jul 29, 2021
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Spiritual Maturity Project
Reading the Bible as a Religious Book: What's the Matter?
9:41
 

In 2 Samuel 3, we find an account of regime change, to use a familiar modern term.  Like virtually any regime change, it is not a pretty story.  Saul's surviving son, Ishbaal, who sits on Israel's throne (Saul and three sons are killed in battle against the Philistines in 1 Samuel 31), as least as nominal king, is assassinated in chapter 4 and David is made king of all Israel in chapter 5.  Throw in the rivalry between Abner (Ishbaal's general who defects to David) and Joab (David's general who kills Abner), and you have a doozy of a Bible story.  

From the standpoint of Christian discipleship, how do read these scriptures?  What spiritual benefit comes through engaging these texts?  Once again, we have a chance to think about how we think and to examine our reading habits so that we can grow in the knowledge and love of God.  As a regular part of the ministry, I stress the critical need for regular Christians to read all of the Bible, not...

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Learning to Trust, Truly

Spiritual Maturity Project
Learning to Trust, Truly
8:10
 

A number of news articles I have read recently refer to studies of the declining mental health of people here in the United States and elsewhere as we slowly emerge from the grip of the pandemic.  One report from the Centers for Disease Control says that as recently as February, 2021, over 40% of adult Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression.  This same study, like a number of others I consult, mentions also that the hardest hit among us are our young people age 18-29.  A society's spiritual problems concentrate and become most evident among our young.  Now that is something to worry about. 

These reports prompt me to ask, "How are you doing?" How are you doing?  Honest evaluation, like confession (which this sort of evaluation is), is good for the soul.  

I'm asking a serious question and (perhaps) pleading with us, then, to take stock of our answers to two other related questions, because our honest answers have direct...

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Trained by Practice

Spiritual Maturity Project
Trained by Practice
6:48
 

Hebrews 5:12-13 admonishes its audience for their immaturity: "You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness."  The truth of this statement stings, but also aims us toward the goal: "Solid food is for the mature."  Being grown up, that's the goal.  And the mature, the text continues, are those "whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil."  Grown-up Christians can distinguish.  They can tell the difference.  They discern.  

This growth comes through practice.  "Trained by practice."  Think about every word of that phrase. 

So many of our life skills come through focused, purposeful repetition.  Training by practice.  Pick any skill.  There are no shortcuts that allow for us to dispense with repetitive practice.  The accomplished piano player never gets over drilling on the scale.  The serious...

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Faith and Persistence in Spiritual Maturity

Spiritual Maturity Project
Faith and Persistence in Spiritual Maturity
8:52
 

In one of the books known by Protestants as part of the Apocrypha and as part of the biblical canon by Catholics and Orthodox, you can find a book called the Wisdom of Solomon.  The tenth chapter portrays Wisdom's engagement with, watching over, and guiding of, seven leading Old Testament figures: Adam, Abel (Cain's murdered brother), Noah, Abraham, Jacob (Israel), Joseph, and Moses.  The text does not name these figures, but if you know their stories, you can recognize them quickly.  

The interesting thing about them is how God works providentially through their lives and the circumstances of their times, to accomplish God's purposes.  That is a hard thing to say about poor Abel, who makes a cameo appearance in Genesis 4 before dying.  The Lord "had regard for Abel and his offering," which provoked in Cain a terrible jealousy.  All we know of Abel is that he was a keeper of sheep and that he brought a sacrifice from the first fruits of the new...

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Learning How to Learn the Christian Way

discipleship learning Mar 16, 2021
Spiritual Maturity Project
Learning How to Learn the Christian Way
6:46
 

To be  completely honest, I have been struggling for a long time with awareness of the gap between conventional discipleship beliefs and practices and how the Bible characterizes true discipleship.  "If you remain in my word," Jesus says, "then you are truly disciples of mine."  "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father," (Matthew 7:21).  We might very well tense up reading these verses.  How are we to take them?

It helps, I think, to start with exploring the nature of learning, since discipleship and learning refer to the same experience.  To understand how learning happens pushes us further back to the need for an adequate understanding of our human nature.  Learning always involves our taking the form of our environment.  I could illustrate this truth countless ways, but, instead, I'll ask you to imagine how, though you certainly are a moral agent with some...

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A People Growing Together Toward Maturity

Often in our thinking about spiritual growth, we tend to stay fixed on our personal, individual relationships with God. Because of the shaping of perspective we have received from an individualistic western culture, it is more difficult to imagine (1) God having a relationship with a community, but in fact, much of the Bible assumes this very point. When God speaks, he speaks most often to the people as a whole.  It means that (2) the community is a something together that we are not merely as a collection of individuals who happen to share the same interests. 

In Exodus 19:5-6, we find the foundation text: "Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.  Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be more me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation."  There is much to ponder in these short verses, but right now let's train attention on how God's people are a something together.  You...

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Lay People, God's Priestly People

One of the major challenges in church life over the years has been keeping clear the proper roles of laity and clergy. You may have seen the church sign that says something like: "John/Jane Q. Smith, Pastor; ministers, every member." Something to that effect. It's the right thing to say, but let's face it, it is an empty platitude most of the time.

What if we took the saying seriously? What, in truth, does it mean? How do lay people, busy as they are with jobs, family responsibilities and a host of other demands, also serve as ministers? These basic questions need repeated engagement. We will circle around to them often, because, for all of us (clergy included) to grow to maturity in Christ, the people of God - the laity - need to know the significance of their ministries in taking up their crosses and following Jesus.  Read and re-read Ephesians 4:11-13.  

You may have heard the phrase, "priesthood of all believers," which comes from the Protestant Reformation. In...

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