Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

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understanding grief

Exploring Spiritual Formation: Grief – Part 1

This is the first of two posts that explore the subject of grief in the life of a believer. Part 1 presents the hallmarks and pitfalls of grief, along with a biblical perspective of grief. Next month, in Part 2, the post will present ways we can prepare ourselves for, and respond to, grief.

Loss and Grief

It’s a stunning number: over one million deaths worldwide due to COVID-19 in 2020—with untold millions grieving the unexpected loss of a loved one.

Though loss of life is surely one of the most severe causes of grief, COVID-19 has fostered other losses, such as the loss of jobs, travel, meetings, conferences, businesses, relationships, human connections, gatherings of all kinds, ministry opportunities, and milestone celebrations. Add to this the loss of normalcy, sense of general well-being, and rampant uncertainly about the future, and we have the makings of a pandemic of grief.

Bearing much fruit
Photo by David Kohler Unsplash

Exploring Spiritual Formation: Fruit – Part 2

This is the second of two posts that explore the growth of fruit in the life of a believer. Part 1 presented biblical fruit and focused on the fruit of the Spirit. In Part 2, the post will present three necessary components for bearing the fruit of the Spirit. It will also touch on fruit and disciple making, and fruit and cross-cultural considerations.

Dwindling Fruit

Somewhere in the second month after the onset of the Coronavirus Pandemic, I began to notice a slow eroding of my peace of mind. By the end of the third month, I discovered my quotient of joy was diminishing as well. Then, during the fourth month, several incidents severely tested my patience. While any of us may find ourselves with varying quantities of the fruit of the Spirit in a particular month, the decrease of so many in a relatively short time concerned me and prompted me to explore the subject.

Where does love, joy, peace, patience (long-suffering), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (meekness), and self-control, come from? And how can we bear such fruit, regardless of our circumstances? As I studied God’s Word, I learned that the production of good fruit is dependent on three components: abiding in Jesus, acting in concert with the Holy Spirit, and pruning.

Fruit of the Spirit
Photo by Mika Baumeister at Unsplash

Exploring Spiritual Formation: Fruit – Part 1

This is the first of two posts that explore the growth of fruit in the life of a believer. Part 1 presents the biblical subject of fruit and highlights the fruit of the Spirit. Next month, in Part 2, the post will present three necessary components for bearing the fruit of the Spirit. It will also touch on fruit and disciple making, and fruit and cross-cultural considerations.

Fake Fruit

I love candy. As a child, when gifted with a few coins, I would head off to “The Little Store” and purchase something sweet. Favorites included strawberry licorice, orange slices, and grape popsicles.1Those who know me best will be wondering why chocolate isn’t on this list. Yes, I ate a fair share of chocolate in my youth, and still do (perhaps more than a fair share). However, the cacao bean is a vegetable, and we’re talking about fruit here—and the items listed above are still some of my favorites! We didn’t have much fresh fruit in our home when I was young, and it wasn’t until adulthood that I learned to appreciate the superior taste found in the real thing. Now, when I bite into a fresh, sweet strawberry, I wonder why I so often settle for the fake goodness of candy.

There are other forms of fake fruit, like the realistic looking pieces available for use in advertising, restaurant displays, or decorating one’s home (I have some in a bowl on a table in my living room).2Just for fun, here is a link to an online store that sells fake fruit for display purposes. It’s amazing how realistic some of it looks: Display Fake Foods And here is an article on the history of a museum in Turin, Italy that highlights fake fruit: Fake Fruit History However, though it may be beautiful, and though there are good uses for it, no one wants to eat fake fruit. Not only does it taste terrible, but it has no nutritional value.

Exploring Spiritual Formation: Empathy

Jesus and the Disciples

Perhaps you will find this odd, but, one of my favorite stories about Jesus is found in Matthew 15, where, responding to Peter’s request for an explanation of a parable, Jesus says: “Are you still so dull?”1Matthew 15:1-16. The parallel passage is in Mark 7:1-18, where Mark makes it clear Peter asked on behalf of all the disciples. The parallel passage also contains the same Greek word (asunetoi) translated as “dull” in the New International Version (NIV). It makes me laugh every time I read it.

There are more passages that describe the disciples’ cluelessness—including two in which Jesus again confronts the disciples about their lack of understanding.2For example, Matthew 16:5-12; Mark 4:1-20, 6:45-52, 9:30-32; Luke 18:31-34; John 12:12-16, 16:17-18, 20:1-9 And there are other people who also don’t understand Jesus at times, including Jesus’ parents, Nicodemus, and the crowd.3See Luke 2:41-50; John 3:1-10, John 8:12-30, 10:1-21 But none of those passages use the Greek word translated in the New International Version as “dull.”4While other translations are more generous and translate the Greek word asunetoi as “without understanding” (e.g., KJV and ESV), the connotation of the English word “dull” is certainly within the semantic range of asunetoi. Of this passage, Calvin says: “As the disciples betray excessive ignorance, Christ justly reproves and upbraids them for being still void of understanding, and yet does not fail to act as their teacher,” Calvin, John, “Matthew XV,” in Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Vol 1, Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume XVI (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, Reprinted 2003) 259. See also Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene A. Nida, et. al., Editors, “asunetos” in Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, Second Edition (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), 386, 32:49, where Louw and Nida include the following in their assessment of “asunetos”: “pertaining to a lack of capacity for insight and understanding.…from a lack of the proper use of mental capacity.” See also Carson, D. A., “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8, General Editor: Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 351. See also “asunetos” in Bauer, Walter, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979) 118c. See also “asunetos” in An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon Founded Upon The Seventh Edition of Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 127a.

Spiritual disciplines requires effort but provide great benefits.

Exploring Spiritual Formation: Discipline

The Problem

I hate discipline. But I love what it does for me. When I see the word, I think of how I felt each time my parents punished me for my transgressions. Yet those episodes helped me learn right from wrong. And when I heard the gospel, I knew I was a sinner in need of a Savior. Though it was painful to admit my sin, I’ve loved what repentance and seeking the forgiveness of God have done for my life.

Despite the benefits of discipline, the word itself can cause discomfort. As I talk with others about engaging in the spiritual disciplines, many say they feel an inner resistance to the concept due to the connotations of the word. There is, however, more to discipline than punishment. Here is a brief review of some concepts attached to “discipline.”1Kurian, George Thomas, Editor, “Discipline,” in Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001) 241-242. The following concepts are included in the definition of discipline: “Teaching of precepts and commandments that help Christian growth and discipleship….Punishment….Rigorous training….Rites and activities of a denomination….Practice of correction of serious faults of faith or life by the congregation or its leaders.” Also, see Lane, William L., “Discipline,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume 1, General Editor: Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 948-950, for a presentation of some Old and New Testament concepts of discipline including: OT— “training, instruction, and firm guidance…reproof, correction, and punishment” and NT—“Instruction.…training by act, example, and word” and the discipline of suffering for one’s faith.

Lament and contentment in suffering

Exploring Spiritual Formation: Contentment

This is the fifth of a series on “Exploring Spiritual Formation” by Lynn Karidis.

The Situation

Pasta. Again. Don’t get me wrong, I like pasta. At least, I used to before it began to show up on my dinner table multiple times a week. Now I’m not so sure. My predicament is no one’s fault but my own. I’m the one who stocked the pantry for our shelter-in-place experience.

It’s true I’m discovering how many ways one can use pasta to feed the family. But my discontent is troubling me. After hearing about the thousands of people who’ve lost their jobs—and seeing hundreds of cars lined up to receive help from food banks—I feel a bit foolish for complaining about anything that shows up on my dinner table. Though my dilemma is real, I want to avoid responding like the Israelites did while wandering in the wilderness.

Exploring Spiritual Formation: Burnout

The Situation
You love Jesus. You’ve dedicated your life to serving him. You’re loyal, diligent, and you work hard. It’s not unusual for you to check your email after hours, and you’re even willing to work on your day off, if necessary. Lately, it seems like it’s necessary a lot.

You’ve been known to sacrifice for the good of the team, and you often give up time with family or friends to tend to others in need. You’re usually willing to take on extra projects. Sleep is a luxury. Exhaustion is a constant companion, and you can’t remember the last time you took a vacation that didn’t involve a visit with a supporter.

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