Nouwen: Mastered by the Holy Spirit

Nouwen_review_20201208

Henri Nouwen.  2007.  The Selfless Way of Christ:  Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

My first ministry as an adult in the early 1980s was a summer program for high school and college age students.  As my kids began graduating and taking up life as adults, I noticed a disturbing trend.  The majority of them—those not disciplined enough to stay in school to earn a professional degree—had to leave Northern Virginia because the cost of living was simply too high. I coined the phrase, downward mobility, to describe the generational schism this dilemma caused.

Introduction

Until I heard about Henri Nouwen’s book, The Selfless Way of Christ:  Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life, I had never heard anyone else use my phrase—downward mobility.  For Nouwen, downward mobility is conscious decision to resist the idolatry of a lifestyle focused on upward mobility (27) and simply to imitate Christ (38).  Nouwen writes:  The Holy Spirit leads us on the downward way, not to cause us to suffer or to subject us to pain and humiliation, but rather to help us to see God present in the midst of our struggles (47).  The Apostle Paul summed it up this way:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV).

At one point, my church used this last sentence (I can do all things through him who strengthens me) as a tie-shirt slogan for our Vacation Bible School camp.  These words are powerful encouragement for those of us traveling the downward way.

Leadership Temptations

Satan tempts us daily to return to the path of upward mobility.  Following Luke 4, Nouwen (49) sees Satan’s three primary temptations in ministry as:

  1. The temptation to be relevant (turn stones into bread);
  2. The temptation to be spectacular (throw yourself off the temple); and
  3. The temptation to be powerful (rule as king) [1].

Relevance

This first temptation can be the source of a lot of pain.  Nouwen (50) observes:  Doctors can heal; lawyers can defend; bankers can finance; social workers can restructure; but what can you [as Christian,  minister, or pastor] do?  Our natural tendency is to fix things; not to trust in God’s transforming power.

Draw Attention to Ourselves

The second temptation is to focus on ourselves and serve our own needs for attention and acceptance.  Here we need to make space for God in our own lives so that he can use us to be present in the lives of the people around us (58).  Nouwen commends a life of intimate communion with God through the disciplines of solitude, silence, and prayer (59).  If our ministry is not about God, it will ultimately become tiresome and pointless.

Power

The third temptation is to be powerful.  Nouwen observes that:  Power can take many forms:  money, connections, fame, intellectual ability, skills (61).  We want to be in control.  To be a servant of Christ, Nouwen reminds us, is to be a [humble] friend of Christ (65).

Discipline

Nouwen observes that the tension between our vocation as Christians and these temptations is a lifelong challenge (69).  Discipline is required but:  The discipline of  the Christian disciple is not to master anything [like an athlete, student, or professional] but rather to be mastered by the Spirit (70).  Nouwen highlights these 3 disciplines:

  1. The discipline of the church;
  2. The discipline of the book; and
  3. The discipline of the heart (71).

Church

For Nouwen, a Catholic priest, the discipline of the church is to re-enact, to be, and to celebrate the Christ event.  Liturgical discipline focuses on the Christ event—God breaking into human history (73).  We must create time and space in our lives for God.  In this sense, the church is our spiritual director (74).

Scripture

The discipline of the book is for Nouwen necessarily an act not just of reading but of mediating on scripture.  The phrase, Christ is the word of God, is not just high rhetoric; Christ is the word become flesh (77-78).  We must chew the word (78).  The angel tells the Apostle John:  take and eat (Revelation 10:9).  It must become part of us.  Otherwise, the mere words of scripture will become an instrument of Satan (82).

Prayer

For Nouwen, the discipline of the heart is personal prayer (82). The discipline of prayer leads us unromantically, ceremonially to the heart of God (87). This is not about rewards, personal acclaim, helpful projects, or even inner peace (83); this not about personal revelations or sensations (89). Time with God strips all of this away. In prayer, our questions over time morph into our answers (87).

The point of each of these disciplines is, of course, to walk the path of downward mobility to preserver in resisting temptation.

Assessment

I return to Nouwen’s writing periodically as a personal reminder to make time and space for the Holy Spirit in my busy life.  Reminders are imperative for me.  The fact that Nouwen abandoned a comfortable life as a Harvard academic in 1986 to work with special needs individuals in a D’Arche community gives his advice on downward mobility unique credibility.  Spirituality is not a hobby-horse of convenience; it is a life commitment.  I commend this book to your own reading and mediation.

Footnotes

[1] Also see:  Henri Nouwen.  1989.  In the Name of Jesus:  Reflections on Christian Leadership.  New York:  Crossroads Book.

Nouwen: Mastered by the Holy Spirit

Also See:

Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God 

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Spirituality: Monday Monologues (podcast) November 23, 2020

Stephen_W_Hiemstra_20200125b
Stephen W. Hiemstra 2020 (Ken Burtram Photography)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on the Christian Spirituality. After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

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Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Spirituality: Monday Monologues (podcast) November 23, 2020

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Why is Spirituality Important?

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6 ESV)

Some questions defy pat answers: Who is God? Who am I? What must I do? How do I know?

African Runners

At one point in world competition among marathon runners, Ethiopians ruled. The Kenyans had talent, but Ethiopians trained harder and trained better. Training at high altitudes built their strength; training as a team built their competitiveness.

Africans were not always allowed to compete in these games. The right to compete did not come all at once, but it started with efforts to abolish slavery. William Wilberforce, a devout Christian, spent most of his life leading the effort to abolish slavery in nineteenth century Great Britain. He later wrote about the need for spiritual training saying:

no one expects to attain the height of learning, or arts, or power, or wealth, or military glory, without vigorous resolution, and strenuous diligence, and steady perseverance. Yet we expect to be Christians without labor, study, or inquiry. (Wilberforce 2006, 5–6)

Spiritual Journey

Wilberforce must have had me in mind. For years, I professed Christ as savior but did not embrace him as Lord. My faith was incomplete. As I learned to apply the lordship of Christ to my life, I experienced a more sustained sense of Christian joy.

The content of faith is critical. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) If I have faith that eggshells are white, I have only defined eggshell color. But, if I have faith that Christ rose from the dead, my whole world changes—God exists and death no longer has the final word. The call to faith defines our identity in Christ.[1]

Postmodern Dilemma

The idea of Christian faith has become unfashionable. The postmodern world we live in is often like the Sahara desert where mountains of sand blow about daily. Direction in a world of shifting sand requires a surveyor’s marker that establishes location. Standing on a marker, a map shows both direction and distance. Without the marker, however, a map becomes a puzzle—like words without definitions—whose pieces have meaning only relative to one another. Scripture is our map; our marker is Jesus Christ[2].

The sun does not always shine; neither does it rain every day. Spirituality is living out what we know to be true on good days and bad.

[1] “Through the CALL of Jesus men become individuals. Whilly-nilly, they are compelled to decide, and that decision can only be made by themselves.” (Bonhoeffer 1995, 94).

[2] Benner (2002, 26) sees the role of a spiritual director as of pointing to God’s work in a person’s life.

References

Benner, David G. 2203. Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1995. The Cost of Discipleship (Orig. pub. 1937). New York: Simon and Schuster.

Wilberforce, William. 2006. A Practical View of Christianity (Orig. pub. 1797). Ed. Kevin Charles Belmonte. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Christian Classics; Hendrickson Publishers.

Why is Spirituality Important?

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Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

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Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Spirituality is lived belief. When we pray, worship, or reach out to our neighbors, we live out our beliefs. Our beliefs structure our spirituality like skin stretched over the bones of our bodies. These beliefs start with faith in God the Father through Jesus Christ as revealed through the Holy Spirit in scripture, the church, and daily life. Our theology orders our beliefs. Without a coherent theology, we lose our identity in space and time having no map or compass to guide us on our way. In the end, we focus on ourselves, not God.

Spiritual Foundation

Christian spirituality accordingly starts with God, not with us. Like the woman Jesus cured of a spinal disfiguration, our only response can be to glorify God with songs of praise (Luke 13:13). We experience lasting Christian joy, not with recognizing Christ as savior, but with recognizing Christ as Lord. Spiritual disciplines and experiences are part of this spirituality, but they are not necessarily the focus (1 Cor 13:8).

This focus on what God has done begins in verse one of Genesis where God is pictured creating the heavens and the earth. What exactly have we done to deserve being created? Nothing. In fact, our first independent act was to sin. What exactly have we done to warrant forgiveness? Nothing. Christ died for our sins. The only meaningful response to these gifts of creation and salvation is praise.

Early Church

The early church interpreted and summarized God’s revelations in the biblical text and early creeds. It later developed the catechisms to summarize key church doctrines. The Heidelberg Catechism, Luther’s catechism, and the Catholic catechism focus on three key statements of faith: the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments (Chan 2006, 108). Not surprisingly, Sunday morning worship has for centuries focused on these three faith statements, often being memorized and put to music. The Heidelberg Catechism, for example, encourages a focus on worship and is itself divided into 52 sermon topics for weekly use.

The key spiritual discipline in the Christian faith naturally is Sunday morning worship. The worship service includes prayer, readings from scripture, the spoken word, the sacraments, music, statements of faith, and other expressions of faithful worship. In worship, music binds our hearts and minds.

Spiritual Practices

This worship experience is strengthened daily through personal devotions as well as devotions with our spouses, families, and other small groups. The original small group is the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—our template for healthy community. And when we take our spirituality into the work world, it too becomes an opportunity for worship.

Hear the words; walk the steps; experience the joy!

Reference

Chan, Simon. 2006. Liturgical Theology: The Church as a Worshiping Community. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Thielicke, Helmut. 1962. A Little Exercise for Young Theologians. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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Benner Points to God

Benner_review_20200805b

David G. Benner. 2003.  Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction.  Downers Grove:  IVP Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The term, soul mate, is often bantered about in the popular media without a clear definition.  Usually, a soul mate is simply a photogenic member of the opposite sex who understands you. In seminary a friend spoke intriguingly about spiritual friends who: nurture the development of each other’s soul (16). This definition sounded remarkably like the relationship I shared with my best friend in high school who went on to become a pastor. When I learned that my friend took his comments from David Benner’s book,Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction, I immediately ordered a copy.

Introduction

Some books are good for information; others offer solace in life’s journey. Benner’s work clearly falls in both camps. He writes: The essence of Christian spirituality is following Christ on a journey of personal transformation…Spiritual friends accompany each other on that journey (26). Reading along I discovered things about myself that had never previously been expressed in words.

Spiritual Direction

One such point was Benner’s comment about spiritual direction.  The objective in offering direction is not to provide counsel or even react to things said, but rather to point friends to God’s work in their personal lives.  Benner writes: spiritual direction is not primarily about theology. It is about personal, experiential encounter with God (155).  Soul care consists, not of advice or disciplining, but of compass reading.  Disciplining focuses on first steps while spiritual direction focuses on later stages in the journey (28).

Jesus modeled this focus saying: I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3 NIV). Only someone well along in the journey of life needs to reflect back on childhood experiences.  Paul likewise appeared to position himself primarily as a spiritual traveler rather than teacher.  For example, Paul writes: Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8 ESV).  As a fellow traveler, Paul’s work as an evangelist placed him in the position of a guide pointing the way to Christ.  A guide travels; a teacher waits for students to appear.

This “compass reading” objective of spiritual direction and spiritual friendship is critical in offsetting the idolatry of individualism.  Normally, a preoccupation with holiness is critiqued by our society as “navel gazing” or becoming all churchy.  While is certainly possible to become obsessed with the programs and trappings of the church, becoming sensitive to God’s work in our lives normally has the opposite effect.  God is unseen and speaks through people and things seen.  When we become sensitive to God’s work, we become more fully aware of everyone and everything else in our lives.  This sensitivity accordingly strips away the pretense of individualism.  Compass reading has the effect of providing us a better set of priorities because God moves closer to the center of lives.  Jesus focused on children, in part, because they are more sensitive, not less sensitive, to what is happening around them than most adults.

Background and Organization

At the time of this book’s publication, David Benner was a Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Spirituality at eh Psychological Studies institute in Atlanta, Georgia.  His book is written in 9 chapters:

  1. The Transformational Journey;
  2. Hospitality, Presence, and Dialogue;
  3. The Ideals of Spiritual Friendship;
  4. Demystifying Spiritual Directions;
  5. Soul Attunement;
  6. A Portrait of the Process;
  7. Becoming a Spiritual Director;
  8. Spiritual Accompaniment in Small Groups; and
  9. Spiritual Accompaniment in Marriage.

The first 3 chapters focus on spiritual friends; the next 4 focus on spiritual direction; and the last 2 focus on combining the two.  These chapters are introduced with a lengthy preface and followed by an epilogue.

Assessment

If our faith in Jesus Christ is more caught than taught, spiritual friends play a critical role in our walk with the Lord. Reading Benner’s book was a key point in my journey.

Benner Points to God

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Rice Reclaims Reformed Spirituality

 

Rice_review_20200606

Howard L. Rice.  1991.  Reformed Spirituality: Introduction for Believers. Louisville:  Westminster/ John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

As a lifelong Calvinist and seminary graduate, Howard L. Rice’s Book, Reformed Spirituality: Introduction for Believers, came as a surprising find. The term, spirituality, has a New-Age ring to it. In reading about spiritual practices, I  accordingly assumed that I was straying from the reformed tradition. Thanks to Rice, I no longer feel that way.

Introduction

Rice organizes his book into eight chapters, starting with an introduction and followed by seven topical chapters.  The topics addressed are informative:  The experience of God, problems and possibilities, prayer, study, consultation, the practice of discipleship, and discipline in the Christian life.  None of these topics come as a surprise.  The introduction starts with the Heidelberg Catechism: What is your only comfort in life and in death?  (7).  At the time of publication, Rice was chaplain of the Seminary and a professor of ministry at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Spirituality Defined

Rice defines spirituality as:  the pattern by which we shape our lives in response to our experience of God as a very real presence in and around us (45).  He notes that:  spirituality demands letting go of control, taking emotions seriously, and emphasizing being as of equal value with doing (49).

Rice highlights the Puritan experience in explaining the reformed tradition (12). For Puritans, the preferred term is piety, not spirituality, reflecting the reformed suspicion of private revelation and guarded attention to the more colorful spiritual gifts. In worship, Reformed spirituality focuses more on scripture and the sermon while, in individual practice, it focuses more on prayer and meditation.

Importance of Theology in Reformed Spirituality

Rice emphasizes the importance of theology in the reformed approach to spirituality. For example, Richard Baxtor (1615-1691; 37) sought renewal of his congregation through personal instruction in the catechisms.  While this terribly un-modern technique sounds dated, I know of at least one pastor who successfully used it to energize a youth group.  The catechisms help church members to appreciate the doctrines of the church and to relate them to life.  Theology is not the only lens that Rice employs.  He observes that we encounter God in experiences of conversion, ecstasy, visions and spoken words, intuition, transcendence, and incarnation (30-35).  These observations normally qualify one as a charismatic in reformed circles!

Rice clarifies the role of small groups and church committees in the reformed spiritual life.  Reformed theology is systemic, complex, and complete–small groups and committees help maintain spiritual balance.  For the Calvinist, the spiritual life requires walking with a community of faith.  Rice writes:  that is why corporate worship, hearing the word preached, and sharing in common administration of the sacraments are so central for any Reformed understanding of the spiritual life (53).

Assessment

As a text on reformed spiritually, Rice’s book was unique in helping me understand my own faith practices.  Clearly, I might have benefited from Rice’s systemic presentation at a younger age.  Rice deserves to be studied more than once and is suitable for small group discussion.

Reference

Baxtor, Richard 2007. The Reformed Pastor.  Carlisle:  Banner of Truth Trust.

Rice Reclaims Reformed Spirituality

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Stott Outlines Gospel; Speaks Plainly

Stott_review_20200427John Stott.  2008.  Basic Christianity (Orig pub 1958).  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Apostle Peter reminds us:  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15 ESV).

Our ability to respond to Peter’s admonishment is clearly challenged today.  Outside of the criticism of our faith arising from the advocates for modern science, we are confronted in our shrinking postmodern world with a host of alternatives to Christianity from other religions and from complex and confusing voices in secular society.  In the midst of this whirlwind of controversy, John Stott’s book, Basic Christianity, offers us a plainspoken starting point.

Introduction

Stott outlines the Gospel in eleven chapters.  After a brief introduction, he presents has four parts:  1. Who Christ Is, 2. What We Need, 3. What Christ Has Done, and 4. How To Respond.  The first part focuses on the claims, character, and resurrection of Christ.  The second part focuses on sin.  The third part focuses on Christ’s death and salvation.  The fourth part brings us to count the cost, make a decision, and live the Christian life.

Background

John Stott (1921-2011) was rector (pastor) emeritus of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London and founder of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.  He was one of the authors of the Lausanne Covenant which started as a 1974 Christian religious manifesto promoting active world-wide Christian evangelism and continues to influence missions work today.  My first acquaintance with Stott came in 1983 when I visited Bonn in Germany as an economics student and a friend gifted me with Stott’s book—Gesandt Wie Christus (1976).  At the time, I assumed Stott was German.  Needless to say, Stott is still one of the world’s best known evangelical writers.

Apologistics

Stott acknowledges the enormity of the task of defending the faith–apologetics.  For example, he recounts a conversation with a young man having trouble reciting one of his church’s creeds because he could no longer believe it.  Stott asked him:  If I were to answer your problems to your complete intellectual satisfaction, would you be willing to change the way you live?  The answer was clearly no.  His real problem was not intellectual but moral (25).  This conversation is not an isolated event–advocating a disciplined life-style today is a tough sell. Why give up self-control to Christ and live a disciplined life when in Alice’s Wonderland every headache can be solved with a different colored pill?

Children Expected to Grow

Stott’s final chapter on being a Christian is most interesting.  He writes:  Our great privilege as children of God is relationship; our great responsibility is growth.  Everyone loves children, but nobody…wants them to stay in the nursery (162).  We grow in two dimensions—understanding and holiness—which work out in our duties to God, to the church, and to society (163-166).  This growth includes growth in our prayer life.  Stott advises readers to respond to God in prayer in the same manner that he speaks to you—do not change the subject.  If he talks about his glory, worship him; if he talks about sin, confess it; if scripture blesses you, thank him for it (164).  Stott’s comments about the spiritual practice of daily examine flow right out of this discussion.  In the morning, commit the details of your day to God’s blessing and, in evening, review what happened during the day.

Assessment

John Stott’s Basic Christianity provides a well-ordered accounting of the Gospel that is worthy of study and reflection.  His summary—God has created; God has spoken; God has acted—is brief but compelling (18).  The Apostle Peter’s admonition sounds initially like evangelism.  But, if the truth be known, the accounting of our hope in Christ benefits us at least as much as anyone we meet.

Stott Outlines Gospel; Speaks Plainly

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Peace: Write a Spiritual Memoir

Peace_review_20200316Richard Peace.  1998.  Spiritual Autobiography:  Discovering and Sharing Your Spiritual Story.  Colorado Springs:  NavPress.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the rites of passage for seminary students is to write and talk about your walk of faith.  The first time it comes up it is intriguing and highly personal.  After a while the task becomes more laborious and a bit intrusive.  Why do committees keep prodding me about my journey of faith?  Richard Peace’s book, Spiritual Autobiography, provides some welcome guidance.

Introduction

Peace cites three things that one can learn in writing a spiritual autobiography:

  1. To examine your life in order to understand the ways that God has been active.
  2. To notice the activity of God in your life and in the lives of those around you.
  3. To share with others what God has been doing in your life (7).

Later, he also observes that writing a spiritual autobiography provides a sense of direction to life (61).  Along the way, Peace uses the example of the life of Abraham to illustrate his points.  He also draws on the lives of Augustine (Confessions) and C.S. Lewis (Surprised by Joy) at different points in his writing.

As explained in his introduction (How to Use This Guide), Peace organizes his book into three broad sections:  “A Small Group Guide”, a description of “How to Prepare a Spiritual Autobiography”, and “Leaders Notes” (7).  Peace recommends breaking up a group study into seven sessions:  pilgrimage, call and blessing, encounters, relationships, testing, presentation, and celebration.  The preparation covers the role of the autobiography, content, process of writing, special issues, and the “spiritual discipline of noticing” (3).

Background

Peace writes on spiritual autobiography following 20 years of teaching a class at Fuller Theological Seminary entitled:  “The Pursuit of Wholeness”.  As a professor of spiritual formation, Peace is responsible for helping aspiring pastors develop their own spiritual awareness and voice. 

It is interesting that Peace occupied the Robert Boyd Munger chair.  Munger was also a faculty member but is best known for a sermon:  My Heart–Christ’s Home.  Munger was also my pastor when my father studied at Berkley University and when I was a toddler.

Writing about Life’s Transitions

For me, the chapter on the content of a spiritual autobiography was an eye-opener.  Peace advises the writer to divide one’s life up into periods either by age or by periods reflecting the search for God (65).  In turn, divide these periods into sub-periods—eight to twelve altogether (67).  Examine these periods for encounters with God, crises of faith, and growth outcomes (71).  Then, describe the periods with information that you remember or gather from journals, photos, and letters. 

Peace’s explanation of this process is worth the ticket of admission because it is a method for uncovering unresolved issues—the pains of life that form us and, if they are unprocessed, limit our growth intellectually, emotionally, behaviorally, and/or relationally (76-77).

Assessment

Peace’s book, Spiritual Autography, is most helpful in understanding and talking about the faith that you already possess.  We paint the world in colors that we draw from the palette of our own experiences.  When we can talk about those experiences, we own them; they no longer own us.  Pain’s writing is accessible to maturing Christians and small groups should consider using it as a Lenten study.

Peace: Write a Spiritual Memoir

Also see:

Marion Roach Smith Writes Memoir

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Family and Spirituality: Monday Monologues, September 23, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a sermon on Family and Spirituality (Español).

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

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Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Family and Spirituality: Monday Monologues, September 23, 2019 (podcast)

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Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Family and Spirituality

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Sermon given in Spanish at la Iglesia El Shadai DC, Manassas, VA, September 15, 2019.

Prelude

Good afternoon. Welcome to la iglesia El Shadai DC. For those that do not know me, my name is Stephen W. Hiemstra. I am a Christian author and volunteer pastor.

This afternoon we continue our study of the family in Christ. This past week we reflected on Deuteronomy 6:7  and the necessity to teach our kids God’s commandments. Today we consider the relationship between our spirituality and the family.

Invocation

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father,

All praise and honor be to you for you give us family with whom we can share our joys and sorrow and who give life meaning.

Forgive us when we let our families down and focus more on ourselves than those around us.

Thanks for family meals, vacations together, and all the support that our families offer.

Draw us now to yourself. In the power of the Holy Spirit, open our hearts, illumine our minds, and strengthen our hands in your service. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen

Scripture

The text of the day comes in three different verses. Hear the word of God:

“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27 ESV)

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exod. 20:12 ESV)

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4 ESV)

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Introduction

In what way is the family an important part of our spirituality?

In my last book, Simple Faith (2019, 52-53), I wrote:

What is an infant’s template for thinking about God? In an infant world, mom is the early model of God’s immanence because she brings him into the world and cares for him. Dad’s role as progenitor and provider is less obvious and serves as an early model of God’s transcendence.

Babies see their parents as their first vision of God and it is only with the passage of time that we as young people believe in God directly. For this reason, we have many responsibilities as parents to present a template of God graciously and clearly for our children, as Pastor Julio described this past week.

The Connection with Spirituality

Let’s return to our question of the day.In what way is the family an important part of our spirituality?

Our first verse is the key to this question, as we read:

“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27 ESV)

Normally today we focus on the relationship between male and female in this verse because of our obsession with sexuality, but this focus distracts from the larger picture here.

Every person, man or woman, young or old, small or big, is created in the image of God, including those in our families (2X).

Our spirituality begins with the work of God in creation and is sustained by the Holy Spirit up to this minute in the teaching of scripture. Consequently, our relationships in the family are important in our spirituality as one of the first things because our families are the first neighbors in the Christian life and we are equal under God as the Apostle Paul wrote:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28 ESV)

Message

The importance of the family in scripture is obvious because the Bible begins with the marriage of Adam and Eve (Gen 2:22-24), and ends with the wedding feast of the Lamb of God and his church (Rev 19:7-9). But in daily life the blessings of family and its spirituality are most obvious to those that don’t have them (2X).

Our other scriptures of the day are a testimony of this image of God theology. The fifth commandment says:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exod. 20:12 ESV)

The Bible repeats this commandment eight times[2]which indicates its importance. The Apostle Paul reminds us that this commandment includes a promise: 

 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” (Eph. 6:3 ESV)

In the context of Exodus, this commandment points to the Promised Land, but a good relationship with parents is a blessing for every family.

The last part of the family that is frequently forgotten are the kids:

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4 ESV)

As we learned this past week, we need to teach our kids especially two things: discipline and instruction of the Lord. The discipline is important because life has many temptations and distractions against which we need God’s protection and guidance.

Something more difficult arises when we need to teach our kids things that we ourselves never learned. In this situation, we need to learn for ourselves before teaching our kids or, better, we need to learn alongside of them. In my case, ministry to my kids taught me the necessity to do more for the church. In other words, God called me by means of my own kids.

Final Words

In what way is the family an important part of our spirituality? God creates us together as a family and together we learn the way of faith. Amen.

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray.

Dearest father,

Thank you for the blessing of family.

Teach us your ways day by day in our relationships together.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, give us words of grace and hands for service for those closest to us. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen

Footnotes

[1] Exod 20:12, Deut 5:16, Matt 15:4, 19:19, Mark 7:10, 10:19, Luke 18:20, y Eph 6:2.

References

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2019. Simple Faith: Something to Live For. Centreville: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC.

Family and Spirituality

Also see:

Prayer for Healthy Limits 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/TakingCare_2019

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