Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Passionate Spirituality 3 - Colin Holtum. Not What But Why

I think this is the third sermon which addresses ‘Passionate Spirituality’. When we returned from Kenya this time I wasn’t surprised that this characteristic was seen to be in need of strengthening. In some ways serious disciples will always be dissatisfied with their relationship with Jesus. There is something of a cycle of cause and effect. The more we become passionate about our spiritual life the more we put into the other characteristics that contribute to a growing church, and the stronger these characteristics become the more passionate we want to become about our faith. This is healthy Christian living.
What it isn’t
Not necessarily exuberant worship .
Research has shown:
It is not about a particular style – Charismatic, contemplative etc. These more fit into an individual’s personality and preferences
It’s not about a particular practice - Liturgical prayers or undertaking spiritual warfare etc.
Neither is it just about increasing the amount of time or effort we put into doing ‘spiritual stuff’
These are our spiritual culture, but they can be exercised without experiencing growth and change.
It’s not about ‘performing one’s duty’ and doing any of these things out of a guilt complex. In fact churches that tend towards legalism, where being a Christian means having the right doctrine, moral code, church membership, etc, usually fall below average when measuring ‘passionate spirituality’
So what are we talking about?
What it is
It’s all about whether we are living lives committed to Jesus and practice our faith continuously with joy and enthusiasm. Are we ‘on fire’?
It’s about our attitude to our relationship with Christ than the amount of time we spend trying to do ‘spiritual things’ All of our life, everything we do should reflect our passionate spirituality. In cells , our Holistic Small Groups, we talk about the value of Everyday Encounters with Jesus and work towards these becoming an every-moment awareness of what Jesus wants us to do as He partners with us in His work of bringing in the Kingdom of God.
People who are in love can sometimes bore others with the enthusiasm that they talk about the focus of their affection. People who are fanatical about something like politics, a hobby or a sports team can fall into the same category. However it’s natural for us to be enthusiastic about the things that attract us most, and, as followers of Christ, we should want to share our experiences with others. Sensitively but passionately.

Illustration: Brother Laurence
For more than three centuries, the writings of Brother Lawrence have taught Christians that God is as present in the kitchen as He is in the cathedral and as accessible in the living room as He is around the Lord's table. This profound teaching has empowered people to seek the joy of God's presence in the midst of every moment and circumstance.
Brother Lawrence was born Nicholas Herman in the region of Lorraine, located in modern day eastern France. He received a revelation of the providence and power of God at the age of 18, but it would be another six years before he joined the Carmelite Priory in Paris
Nicholas entered the priory in Paris as a lay brother, not having the education necessary to become a cleric, and took the religious name, "Lawrence of the Resurrection". He spent almost all of the rest of his life within the walls of the priory, working in the kitchen for most of his life and in his later years, as a repairer of sandals. When he was assigned to the kitchen he found the tedious chores of cooking and cleaning at the constant bidding of his superiors a real challenge. But from these experiences he developed his rule of spirituality and work. Lawrence wrote "Men invent means and methods of coming at God's love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God's presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?“ I recommend we read this classic work to aid us in our personal quest for a deeper relationship with God . You can get it as a free download for your Kindle or other readers.
Let’s look at what today’s reading from Paul’s 1st Letter to the church in Corinth says and see how that can also help us.
1 Cor 13. –A Common Passage
It’s commonly used as a wedding reading because of it’s noble words, and the good sentiments it encourages, but without the context of the rest of the Epistle it remains just that, great literature but merely noble words. When understood in context it takes on a whole new message to inspire our discipleship.
Background to Corinth
A cosmopolitan city and centre of trade that had all the advantages and vices of modern life. Many ancient gods had cults that worshipped there and visitors would have considered the citizens as passionately religious. The Christian church that was founded there soon tried to compete with this exuberance, and as we heard last week it had all the spiritual gifts that God gives but Paul wanted them to use them appropriately.
What's Your Style?
God created us and knows all that has shaped us. He doesn’t mind how we display our spirituality, what he cares about is why we do it.

We need to recognise there are different subjects and ways that inspire and motivate different people in their worship.
  • Contemplatives focus on prayer and intimacy with God as the means to meet the longing for a deep and vital Christian experience
  • Evangelicals put the Word of God at the centre of their lives and seek to proclaim the Gospel
  • Charismatics seek to develop our awareness of the closeness of God’s presence among His people.
  • People who focus on Social Justice base worship upon compassion and justice in our relationships and the wider society and culture in which we live.
  • The Holiness stream seeks to address personal transformation and train us in godliness
  • The Incarnational stream help s us see God active in the ordinary and everyday
What's Your Motive?
We have said that God is more interested in why we do things than the way in which we do them. Jesus readily condemned many of the religious people of his day for this. At the beginning of chapter 13 Paul says the same thing to the church in Corinth. “You can exercise all the gifts you like, but if you don’t do them with an attitude of love then they are meaningless.”
Tongues used without loving consideration can seem like resounding gongs or clashing cymbals- this is a link to spiritual practices of the pagan religions of the day who ‘encouraged’ their followers with monotonous, repetitive noise from these single note instruments.
Prophecy, gifts of wisdom or knowledge, even the faith to move mountains, won’t mean anything when used without love. In fact not only are the acts worthless but the person who uses them like that is of no value at all in God’s view of things. “I am nothing” writes Paul
We can appear generous and do all sorts of practical support, even perhaps going as far as giving ourselves up as martyrs, but if our motives are more of self-interest than interest in the people we are helping then the act gains nothing and the effort is wasted.
So we have to be motivated by love, but what is this love that Paul is talking about?
The Greek word agape that is used here for love was previously not in common use but came into use in the NT to differentiate between what Christian love was like in comparison to sexual or emotional love eros, or even brotherly love, philadelphia. The writers of the gospels and Paul used agape to describe love that is given to others without thought of whether they are worthy to receive it or not. It models God’s love towards us.
What's Your Purpose?Paul goes on in this chapter using action words to describe this sort of love, and one could sum it up by saying that ‘love is service’.
The core of our cell groups (The DNA) is based on three imperatives and these will help each of us to develop our passionate spirituality.
The most important commandment: Love God with all our heart, with all our understanding and with all our strength. The ‘eleventh’ and New Commandment: of Jesus for His Church is Love one anotherThe Great Commission challenges disciples to make more disciples by Loving the lostSee what happens to your motivation if you substitute the word ‘serve’ for love in all these imperatives and ‘service’ for love in this passage from Corinthians.
To help us increase the gift of loving service to others we need to begin by changing the way we think, and then put thoughts into action.
What Are You Thinking?
We need first to THINK
  1. More about others than ourselves.
  2. Like stewards not owners of gifts
  3. About our work and not what others are doing
  4. That Ministry is an opportunity not an obligation
What Are You Doing?Then we need to ACT by starting to serve with a loving attitude by:
  1. Making ourselves available
  2. Paying attention to other’s needs
  3. Doing our best with what we’ve got.
  4. Doing every task with equal dedication
  5. Being faithful to our ministry
  6. Maintaining a low profile
Passionate Spirituality: It's not about what you do, more about why you do it. And who you are doing it for.

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