Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Spiritual Formation Page 1 of 7

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.

The Prodigal Prophet: a review

The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God's Mercy by [Timothy Keller]

Like the two brothers of the parable

Many are familiar with Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God, published in 2008. In that book, Keller highlighted the grace of God portrayed in the parable of the prodigal son. Similarly, in a more recent book, The Prodigal Prophet, he shows how the story of Jonah gives us an Old Testament illustration of that parable. He writes in the Introduction,

Many students of the book have noticed that in the first half Jonah plays the “prodigal son” of Jesus’s famous parable (Luke 15:11-34), who ran from his father. In the second half of the book, however, Jonah is like the “older brother” (Luke 15:25-32), who obeys his father but berates him for his graciousness to repentant sinners.1Timothy Keller, The Prodigal Prophet, 6.

In the Introduction, Keller outlines how the book of Jonah portrays the Prophet’s disobedience (chapters 1 & 2) and then his reluctant obedience (chapters 3 & 4) in a parallel fashion. Jonah’s main theological problem is understanding how God can be both merciful and just. Keller writes,

The question is not answered in the book of Jonah. As part of the entire Bible, however, the book of Jonah is like a chapter that drives the Scripture’s overall plotline forward. It teaches us to look ahead to see how God saved the world through the one who called himself the ultimate Jonah (Matthew 12:41) so that he could be both just and the justifier of those who believe (Romans 3:26). Only when we readers fully grasp this gospel will we be neither cruel exploiters like the Ninevites nor Pharisaical believers like Jonah, but rather Spirit-changed, Christ-like women and men. 2Keller, 5.

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.

Wheat field

Making sure the roots go deep

Deep roots are essential in times of drought

Growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan taught me the importance of roots going deep. In the Prairies, rain is very unpredictable and with dryland farming, rain is also an absolute necessity in summer. If during those hot, dry, dusty summer months, weeks went by without rain, the concern became palpable. Farmers would mention rain as a prayer request at every prayer meeting. My grandfather would call us early in the morning to find out if the latest rainshower had hit our farm or not.

But if the crop had developed deep roots in the early part of the growing season, it could survive even a month or longer without rain. Roots grow toward the water. Even if the top few inches of the ground are dry, the crop can survive by drawing on those resources well below the surface. The roots of wheat can grow to a depth of 1.5 meters, but they can’t grow through bone-dry dirt and their growth is impeded by compacted soil. So during spring seeding, the soil must have sufficient moisture and be loose enough to allow those seeds to germinate and to send their roots down to the level of the moisture.

Shallow roots

A few days ago in my NT Bible reading in Mark 4, I read about the seed that is sown on rocky soil.

Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. – Mark 4:16–17, NIV

If the seed of the Word of God falls on rocky soil, the roots will not go deep. Lack of deep roots evidently means that a person does not have the faith that sustains them through times of hardship, distress, or opposition. When times become difficult and they are criticized for their faith, their commitment to following Jesus quickly wanes.

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