Sunday, December 11, 2016

Spur one another on

AVI expressed some worry about the popularity of mystical Christianity-Lite. As he says, if book X were so transformative, teachers and students should stand out as models of sanctity.

OK, that's hard to quantify, since the greatest is the servant of all, and therefore maybe not terribly visible. Unless, as he said, you have eyes to see.

Still, the winds of fashion blow through Christian literature just as strongly as they do elsewhere, and mostly blow tumbleweeds. I remember when the Prayer of Jabez was all the rage--in fact I was asked to lead a study on it. I declined and strongly suggested alternatives.

What should we study? Or more broadly, how should we be training each other? It is risky to ask me for an answer--recall that in the contest to be King of Beasts the lion said judge by the roar, the eagle said by how high they could fly, and so on.

Luke commended the Bereans for their careful study of Scriptures. I think we have lots of good opportunities for that, for people with a studious bent and some even for people without one. Paul commends the Macedonians for their generosity. We get lots of appeals for generosity--I'm not sure how well we respond overall.

But the bottom line is "What does God expect of us?" Faith, hope, love. Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Efforts to cultivate faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, love. Or the three T's: charity, clarity, purity.

The knowledge, or "clarity" we have sermons and Bible studies for. And thematic studies, and life situation studies, and study studies for all I know. The other two T's demand practice. You don't become kind or patient from a worksheet or a sermon. Generosity, humility, self-control--you have to exercise these.

We don't need groups of the elect telling the rest of us what to do, of course. I, gifted with reasonably good health and pleasant circumstances may superficially seem like just as nice a person as you, who have achieved this through heroic virtue. I don't think the "elect" will be able to tell the difference.

"Spur one another on to love and good works." How?

"Hey, Bill, I like how you've been so humble lately!" Umm. Maybe not quite what the doctor ordered. Good try.

Still, encouraging encouragers seems like a good pastoral focus.

What else?

Maybe if groups focus on some aspect of Christian life or experience, read stories of great examples, practice together, each find a confidante or spiritual director for whichever practice each is trying to build up ("General purpose" spiritual directors are probably overbooked.) For example, for developing regular prayer, simple plans are probably good. Plan it and work the plan and get a little accountability. For pruning away fruitless parts of our lives--that can be a lot more intimate and not so easy to plan. Although things like "Quit watching Netflix for Advent" test runs are probably easy to arrange. "See what your life is like when you get up from the computer earlier."

I wonder how many churches use the equivalent of general officer to manage the logistics involved in putting together service teams. We live so far apart and our schedules are so booked that getting a group to help fell a tree for a widow can get complicated. At one church there was a somewhat mentally handicapped man who made it his service to the church to organize teams to help people move. He had his list of contacts, and he'd call up one after another until he had a team and vehicles. Some projects are a lot more complicated. Our church has pastors in charge of different functions of ministry, but we're not a small church.

Patience and joy are tough virtues to encourage in somebody else. I haven't met anybody yet who appreciated a call to "be patient" or "be happy (so I can think you're joyful)." Any ideas?

And how can we encourage the cultivation of love?

UPDATE: To clarify what I mean by "special purpose spiritual director" think of Titus 2:4; the older women teaching the younger.

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