Conformed to the Image of Christ. What is it All About?

How does the gospel play into being conformed to the image of Christ? Are we conformed by our efforts of study and prayer and other works? If we fail, do we simply have to confess our failure then double down and try harder next time? What is God after in us anyway?

What Conformed is Not Primarily…
Conformed is not primarily about character, our behaviors. It involves this, but this is not what conformed to the image of Christ is primarily concerned with.

Conformed is also not primarily concerned with mission, what we do for God. Service to God and others is crucial, but it is not the first concern.

So what is the first concern?

Perfected in the Father’s Love (I John 4:7-19)
In a word, conformed is about relationship. We are perfected in the Father’s love.

Being conformed is primarily concerned with growing in the Father’s love in Christ. Communion first. Then comes the other elements mentioned above as corollary. As we grow in deeper communion, our character is radically changed. And we are immersed in his love, just as his Son was, we, also like his Son, willingly lay our lives down for his purposes. We sacrificially serve God and others. But first things first…

It’s not about trying harder. God is not impatiently waiting until we get our act together.

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Attached is the recording of a plenary session given at the PTM Conference October 2019.  Take some time to listen to the session. I have also attached a .pdf of the slides that accompany the talk.

I’d love to hear your feedback. And feel free to pass it along to others.

Conformed PTM Plenary 2019

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New Podcast Resource on Resilience

Antioch Church in Waco, TX (USA) has begun a new podcast around the topic of resilience for field workers. Here is their description:

Screen Shot 2019-10-09 at 6.28.35 AM“Have you ever wondered what keeps some missionaries on the field for ages? Is it stubbornness or is there more? Researchers are discovering that certain clusters of qualities together make some people more resilient than others. “Resiliency” is a Member Care podcast that takes a dive into the world of grit and stretch-ability to help us better understand and grow in our ability to go through difficulties and come out on the other side better and stronger. Join co-hosts Silas West and Steve Findley in their conversations about resiliency with experts, field workers and those who support them.”

They have two podcasts released with more on the slate. I was interviewed on the topic of personal suffering for the series second episode. You can listen to any of the episodes on either Apple podcasts or Spotify.

Silas West  and Steve Findley are putting out an exciting and encouraging resource. Please pass this onto your networks, particularly those on the frontlines globally.

 

 

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Settling into Patience

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I was in a Woods, thickety in places….It was impossible to hurry there;                               And I settled myself into Patience….“*

Life is indeed very “thickety in places.” What I forget is to “settled myself into patience.” This poetic reminder from Wendell Berry is keenly wise.

Steadfast Knowing
James instructs us in navigating the thickets:

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.

See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.

You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.

10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast.

You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” James 5:7-11

Examples
James’ word to us is to settle into patience as we experience many hardships in this world. Suffering, trials, and adversities are the norm.  What is not the norm, is a Jesus-way response to such dark times.

IMG_3553James provides three examples:

Farming  is much about waiting. Waiting for the right season; waiting for rain; waiting for the miraculous sprouting of seeds that have died in darkness of the soil; waiting to receive the harvest. Patience and receiptivity are key postures. Every good gift we receive from the Father above (James 1:17; Isaiah 28:23-29).

The prophets are examples of suffering and patience. They spoke the word to audiences that seldom listened. Rather they usually were responded to with murderous intent. Steadfastness – firm, unmoving, resolute; In the end, blessed.

Job is the oft referred example of horrific suffering. Mystery abounds in his story. But this we know: the Lord is good and his end intentions towards us are always merciful and compassionate.

Settled Responses
One indicator that we are NOT settled into a proper perspective is when we get grumbling and judgmental of others. How is it that the people of a compassionate and merciful God are oft regarded as critical, standoffish and judgmental? Our expectations are misplaced. In this world you will have hardships (John 16:33). Grumbling is symptomatic of an unestablished heart.

So James gives us a reference point upon which to fix our spiritual GPS. Its out over the horizon of time. “When” is unknown. The end point is not that moment in this life when we finally bust out of the thickety woods into a clear, luscious pasture. No, the fixed point is a “Who.” We don’t watch for relief, we watch for a Person. Jesus.

Then the briar will finally be removed from the flesh of the earth and the soil of our own hearts will be remade. This is Jesus’ work. Ours is to wait upon him, “established in our hearts.” We remain dependent with a fixed gaze upon him.

Please, Don’t Just Try Harder
This is not about “figuring  it out” or “trying harder” – two auto-responses of our self-determined ways. No, that will not do. That is NOT the Gospel. We, like the farmer’s fields, receive. Jesus turns us toward himself. He immerses us in his Gospel reality through his Word. The Spirit shapes us as the Father fathers us. We receive as we patiently, steadfastly, with established hearts wait.

Settle into patience, sisters and brothers. Its thickety up ahead.

 

*Wendell Berry in Jaber Crow, p. 89.

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The State of Your Treasury

Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.”  And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and              what is old.”   Matthew 13:51-52

In Matthew 13, Matthew records a string of kingdom parables:  “The kingdom of God is like….”

Afterwards he asks the disciples if they understand. They respond in the affirmative.

Then Jesus tells them the truth stated above in verse 51-52.

A scribe is a person who has been well versed in Scripture. The treasure is the truth and wisdom that is accumulated over time as one is instructed in the Word of God, which is what one has to give to others.

Treasure Hunters
One of the first grad courses I had was taught by Howard Hendricks called Bible Study Methods. “The Prof” was passionate in his class and the Spirit lit a fire in me. I was set onIMG_8136 a course of being systematically immersed in the Word. Over the next 6 years, I studied every book of the Bible, one book a month. The Lord was building a treasure in me that I was unaware of.

But he then shifted in me the way I engaged the Word, from an analytical method to a more reflective method. Both are essential, both are needed. The danger of analytical only is that it can leave one with mere head knowledge, which can lead to pride (1 Corinthians 8:1). The danger of only relying upon reflective method is that one is ungrounded in solid biblical theology and lacking a firm grasp of the expanse of the entire Bible.

We need both: grounded biblical knowledge and an expanding love for the God of the Word. Both are graces from the Spirit.

.The invitation to each of us is that every day of our  lives, day after day for as much time as we can afford, we are in the Word. Reading, studying, meditating, praying, listening – all the while the Spirit is accumulating a treasure within our hearts.

Malnourishment
In the book Embracing Contemplation (edited by John Coe and Kyle Strobel), Steve Porter quotes the following:

IMG_6058There is, as John Calvin puts it, an “indissoluble union” of God’s person and the written
word….. Robert L. Saucy helpfully summarizes: Thus we are not simply reading the words of God in the Scriptures. We are encountering and incorporating the living Word himself. The Scriptures give us life and healing because they give us Christ, the living personal Word of God, and all that he is for us. Both Scripture and Christ are living and active. . . . By continually consuming the Word we are nourishing ourselves through communion with Christ. We taste the goodness of the Lord himself (1 Pet 2:2).*

To not be in the Word is to lack being nourished by the person of Jesus and to remain immature in our relationship with him. This is the exact warning in Hebrews 5:12-6:1:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity….

How is your feeding on Christ through his word? Are you meeting the Living Word in the Written Word daily?

What is the state of your treasury? This is the treasure we draw from for our daily lives and in our care of others. 

Principle: Feed on Christ first, then give from that to others.

Do not give into the lies that its too late or I don’t know how or I am too busy. Find someone who will mentor you and above all else pray for the Spirit to lead you into all truth. He is the one who opens our eyes and ears and hearts and minds to receive the Truth.

*Embracing Contemplation (p. 146). InterVarsity Press. Emphasis mine.

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Story Stealing and the Art of Questions

Stealing the Floor
We’ve all done it.

A friend is telling some story about the monster, cataclysmic, bomb-winter storm they experienced. No sooner than they get their bits of story out, take a breathe, we step in and interrupt with our version of a similar story. The story line and floor has been hijacked.

When we are just hanging out laughing and telling fun stories, this is no big deal. But if someone is prying back a layer of their life story, then to steal the floor is poor form.

However, we do this habitually.

The aim in our being with others is to not fill up the room but to make space in the room. Create space for others to plunge deeper into their stories. Linger. Allow for silence and reflection. Make space….

Asking Simple Questions
The craft of asking questions in conversation is one worth mastering.

When someone img_1249shares something, simply ask, “what was that like for you?”

Here’s the principle: DO NOT TURN THE CONVERSATION ONTO YOURSELF.

This is one of the simplest ways to be a companioning friend to another. Just keep asking curious questions. Let them tell their story until its all told out. Then ask them another question about them.

“Earlier you mentioned your mom, how is she doing?

“What was your child home like?”

When you were in China, what did you love most about the people?”

“Why do you like debriefing so much?”

So few of us are ever pursued in conversation.

My heart is cultivated when I am with matured, curious friends who ask me questions that cause me to pause and wonder about myself, life, or the Lord. I love being with friends who allow a conversation to linger on a single topic and a single person for as long as needed. And if someone’s turn doesn’t come up that time, well that is fine.

A Field Test
Ask a friend out for coffee. Start off with a “so what’s been going on in your life lately” type of question. Listen for a word, a phrase or an event that seems significant. Be curious. “Wow, your son made the basketball team. How cool! What does that feel like after his long illness?” And just keep on asking.

DO NOT TURN THE CONVERSATION ONTO YOURSELF. Oh, the urge will be there for sure. But resist. Stay the course. Keep the conversation on them.

This is a skill that can be developed, a craft that can be mastered.

It is a trait of a true companion friend. And it is a rare grace we can offer others.

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Companioning Double Take

I have been impressed by the responses to the previous post on Spirituality of Companioning. It seems we are bumping into some catch 22’s.

Crammed v. Companioning
Our lives are mashed full of meetings, gigs, conferences, travels and events. We have little emotional energy let alone time for lingering, pursuing, and following up others.

This reality takes us out at the knees in all three areas Jesus calls us to abide: with himself, his word and his people.

Further, one’s stomach can get into a knot just thinking of the transparency that happens when we get close to one another over a very long time.

A spirituality of companionship is likely deficient for most of us. Besides, who pursues you?

A Plea
This may come across a bit dramatic but…..

I implore each of us to make companioning of others a core element of all of our life.

This is the Jesus way of ministry, of leadership, of community, of friendship.

Otherwise, we might find ourselves hiding from one another behind our titles, our schedules, our phones, our weariness. We live the proverbial scene of being in a room full of people and utterly alone.

Philosopher Charles Taylor writes about our society’s image of each of us being “buffered selves.” We individualize everything as we distance ourselves one from another. This is not the biblical reality.

We are one body in Christ, members of one another with Christ as our head. This is not a mere metaphor. This is reality. We are in union with the Son and one another by the Spirit.

In everyday parlance, it comes down to this: Will you be my friend? Will you sit with me and be curious about my story? Will you share yours with me?

The world (and the church) is dying for this sort of companioning.

Principle: Companioning others is not a nice add on if we have time. It is the key element that leads to life change in all of our lives. We cannot mass produce life change.

Resources
Bobby Clinton has written that one of seven characteristics of a person who finishes well is extensive mentoring relationships ( and 2/3rds of us do not finish well….).

You can read some of his articles here.Though his writings can be a bit stiff, I would encourage you to at least reflect on the diagram on page 13. Who are the ones in each of these relational areas of your life? If you cannot write a few names down in each arena, I’d encourage you to begin to talk to the Father about him providing more intimate companions and you opening your life to them.

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Paul Stanley and Bobby Clinton co-authored this book on mentoring relationships.

 

 

 

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My good friends Randy Reese (d) and Rob Loane at Vantage Pointe 3  co-wrote this important book. I highly recommend it. In fact, I highly recommend everyone look into VP3’s The Journey material. All the folks at VP3 are masters of this craft of companioning. It is why they exist. Their material is the best, the very best, I have seen of its kind. Yes, it is costly in time and money but it is life- and community-transformative. I have been through it three times and each group asked for more at the end of the 8-9 month experience. Give VP3 a call, they are brilliant and kind folks.  (I am on the VP3 board, but receive nothing for an endorsement. It’s the only board I’ve ever been on where I experience personal formation while sitting in a board meeting!).

If you have some resources to share, please do. But at the end of the day, all we need is a willingness to sit with another and hear their heart.

May the Spirit grant us to grow into being masters of the craft of abiding: with Christ, with his word and with one another.

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Spirituality of Abiding: Companion One Another

“The language of telling people what to think and what to do dominates most leadership paradigms in the church, with very little attention given to the actual details of being a Christian in the home and workplace…There are, however, serious efforts being made…to recover a leadership of companionship and a spirituality of relationship.

Eugene Peterson, Foreward to Deep Mentoring: Guiding Others in Their Leadership Journey by Randy Reese and Robert Loane (IVP, 2012), pages 7-8.


There are tremendous seductions to be experts in our fields. People with knowledge that others need and  to provide that knowledge via workshops, programs, and trainings. Nothing wrong with these means. I provide them regularly.

But make no mistake this is not “a leadership of companionship and a spirituality of relationship.”

A Spirituality of Companioning Others
Let’s be honest: Relationships can be hard. Messy. Confusing.

What’s more: Life change takes, well, a life-time. Slow. Often mundane with occasional “aha’s” breaking through.

It’s so much easier to show up for a three-day gig, off load info, have some meaningful conversations over meals and be on one’s way. Again, nothing wrong with this, but….

Life change comes over the course of long-term, abiding relationships. 

Abiding in life-long relationships is a true spiritual practice. It is a means of grace to open us up to the abiding, transforming presence of God, just like any other spiritual practice.

Our spiritual maturity is severely diminished when we resort to a hit-and-run, consumeristic sort of engagement with one another.

A spirituality of abiding requires much more of us than our expertise. It requires faithfulness, companioning, and bringing our very selves over a long period of time.

Faithfulness: Will I keep coming back around; Allowing boredom and the mundane to be part of the means of life change? Stick-to-it-ness. Constance. Reliability. Being there for harsh losses and major life celebrations, but especially over the long arc of ordinary-ness.

Companioning: What greater gift can we provide than an abiding presence over the course of decades? Walking side by side through the stages of life and career are means of walking well.

Bringing myself: The reality of long-term relationship is that you are going to see me at my best and worst. We are messy. I will have to apologize, so will you. I will have to forgive you, and you me. This is the very space and place that God does amazing transforming work. There are few places to hide in such relationships.

A Shepherding Companionship and A Spirituality of Abiding Care
What global workers need are shepherds who will show up in their living rooms and walk their streets. Frankly, these experiences have been my most deeply rewarding.

I remember having a nerf ball war with Tim and his two young sons in their small village home in Cambodia. There we were on the word plank floors chucking balls at one another. Its the same type of mayhem that ensued in my own family room with my own boys. Yet, this particular play required days of air travel and hours of car rides. Those boys are now in college. Tim and his wife are still on the field. No, a nerf ball war did not keep them on the field. And yet, these visits allowed for lingering conversation and honest wrestlings along the way. Tim and his wife are heroes of mine, they are still scattering the Gospel seed in tough soil.

A Spirituality of Abiding
Jesus abides with us. He invites us to abide with him.

Jesus, the Word, has placed his word in us. He invites us to abide in his word. It changes us from the inside out.

As Jesus companions us, so we are invited to companion others. This is the stuff of lasting life change.

May the fellowship of Spirit open up all around us ways and means of abiding, companioning presence with one another.

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Resource: His Word Abiding

Unbeknownst to me when I wrote last week’s blog, our pastor’s sermon this past Sunday was from Luke 24:25–27 (Emmaus Road story) on the role of Scripture in our knowing Jesus.

It is fascinating that the post-resurrected Jesus’ response to these two Emmaus Road walkers (likely part of the 72 disciples group) as well as later to the Apostles (Luke 24:44-46), is to point them to the Scriptures to understand the events they had just experienced.

In other words, to know Jesus, he points us to the Scriptures. His word is where he meets on a daily basis.

This is an excellent sermon well worth your time.  The speaker is Pastor Ken Robertson at International Anglican Church in Colorado Springs, May 19, 2019.

http://www.springsiac.org/sermons/

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