The remaining colonists formed relationships with neighboring Wampanaug tribe who taught them to hunt, fish, and plant. Less than one year later, the colonists had collected enough food to feed the community through the coming Winter. They ended up joining the colonists for a three-day feast in honor of their bounty. This is what we celebrate today as “Thanksgiving.” (1)
A coming together against the current of the times to break bread and show gratitude. It moves beyond giving to a friend in need, or donating for a roundabout benefit, like tax write-offs. It extends to those who could be perceived as enemies–what Miroslav Volf referred to as the “other.” The Wampanaugs and the colonists had plenty of reason to hate each other. Had the tribe turned a blind eye, their inability to sustain themselves and lack of resilience would have wiped out the colonists. Instead, the Wampanaugs empowered the “other” to thrive. No wonder the colonists threw a three-day party to give thanks.
But it comes out from another party’s generosity. The colonists were thankful after being shown tremendous compassion. It’s charming to me that between the fear-mongering of Halloween, the consumerism that surrounds Christmas, and the debauchery that accompanies New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, of all the holidays (with the ironic exception of Black Friday) is somewhat free from the madness. For many, it stands out as a reprieve. Yes, Christmas should too. But culturally speaking, Christmas is entrenched with a materialistic message. Thanksgiving is still “safe” as far as most people are concerned. I wonder if it’s because of the generosity associated with it. Even the most self-centered persons will take a break from their self-indulgence to be thankful for something, even if it’s being thankful for all their stuff. In other words, thankfulness is still culturally engrained in the holiday. And it’s historically tied to generosity. Of course, it all disappears the next day when the stores open! But if you want to see a longer-lasting generosity, one has only to search the Scriptures.
When Paul wrote his very emotional second letter to the Corinthians, he kept attributing the church’s thanksgiving to the generosity of Macedonians (2 Cor 9:11-12). Earlier, he described them as being “in a severe test of affliction,” and yet that “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” (2 Cor 8:1-2)! To rephrase, the poorest of the poor were the most generous, and it was “overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor 9:12). See that? Thanksgiving comes from generosity. But these people were very poor! Why did they give so much, when they had so little? And why, especially being poor, did their giving bring them so much joy?
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV).
This is the generosity that lasts the longest, and goes the deepest.
This isn’t to say people who don’t know God can’t be generous; we can all do acts of generosity—even self-sacrificial ones—without knowing God. Rather, the gospel changes our deepest motivations, and loosens us from our most prized resources. We loosen our grip on things that matter less. And as seen in the Macedonians, the gospel makes everything we own seem less important than it used to be.
And these have the most to be thankful for this week. In fact, Paul states earlier, that the reason you are given anything at all is so that “you will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”
So when you enjoy the food, the family, the solitude, the air you breath this week–let it be a constant and thrilling reminder of the wealth you’ve received from God in Christ.
I leave you with a prayer of intersession from John W. Doberstein’s prayer book,
O God, who givest daily bread without our prayer, even to all the wicked, we pray thee that thou wouldst give us to acknowledge these thy benefits, and enable us to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
1- History of Thanksgiving. (2013). The History Channel website. Retrieved 12:56, November 22, 2013, from http://www.history.comhttp://www.history.com/videos/history-of-the-thanksgiving-holiday.
In the last month, my twenty-month old Abby has choked on grapes, split her lip, stepped in a mound of fire ants, sprayed herself in the eye with chemical cleaner, developed a disturbing preoccupation with electrical outlets and hot coffee, and has incessantly pestered temperamental dogs. And our boy hasn’t even been born yet!
If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that parenthood is the hardest thing ever. But strangely enough, as many parents will attest, it’s also the best thing ever. Because every difficult moment is outmatched by the joy of seeing her smile, pointing at a bug, giggling at me while hiding under the kitchen table, dancing to AC/DC, or cuddling on the couch. So yes, there are hard times on the parenting end, but there are way more good times to care about that. It’s the hardest and best thing ever. Which is why this Father’s Day will come with a certain satisfaction for me. Of course, that’s probably because I have a good dad, and love being a dad to my daughter.
For some, Father’s Day evokes a different response. It reminds some that they lost their fathers–perhaps through war, a car accident, or cancer–the men who used to make them laugh while making faces under the kitchen table, have left an empty table setting at dinner. Others have fathers who are there, without actually being around. These are the successful dads who love their work more than their family, and kids who’s only memory of their dad is that success is the most important thing in life. I think also of dads who lost their daughters and sons during the tragedies that unfolded at UCSB in Isla Vista on May 23, 2014. Daughters who once put a smile on the faces of fathers, and the unspeakable pain that has been left in their absence. I thought of Abby when these stories surfaced in the news. I had no words. The dawning of Father’s Day for some of these people isn’t just hard, it’s unspeakably painful. And there is no silver lining.
I wonder what some of these must feel when we applaud dads in church on Sunday. Not to take away from the dads who were faithful and the kids who are appreciative. Good dad’s are rightly celebrated. And Father’s Day is a celebration for many dads. But for some, it’s an annual reminder of despair. And as it draws closer, some of you are dreading the day.
In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul tells a bunch of Jewish Christians that they are no longer held to the ritual practice of their old “holy days.” The reason, he argues, is because these festivals, Sabbaths, and special days point them to something better: “the substance is the Messiah” (17b). This is loosely analogous, but when I read this text, I thought about Father’s Day. See, for many of you, this holiday reminds you that you don’t have a dad. For other’s it reminds you about how your dad has disappointed you, or was never there to begin with. But I want you to consider a new thought to fill your mind with this weekend. The gospel (good news) in the Bible is that when we are united with Christ by faith, we are brought into the family of God, and adopted by God the Father. We become HIS children. The apostle John exclaimed, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). It’s easy to think of your fatherlessness on this holiday, but in Christ, you have a perfect Father.
For others, Father’s Day is a continual reminder to some fathers of the loss of their child. No pat answer can remove that type of pain. But the gospel does offer you hope that all the turmoil and tragedy we’ve experienced–even the loss of a child–will somehow be reversed and turned inside out, when Jesus returns. I don’t know how that works, but those are the outlandish claims of God. The gospel is more than a pat answer. It offers deep hope.
There is also something else worth remembering for the rest of us. That Fatherly love of God is (sometimes) intangible until the family of God brings in those who hurt and gives them a family to belong. That’s what makes the gospel less than a pat answer for many people. Someone hurting may believe and experience the gospel of a Father to the fatherless by the power of the Holy Spirit. But a family of believer’s are responsible for driving that truth home.
This Father’s Day, let’s remember the fathers.
Remember the fatherless.
Remember the fathers who were robbed of their children.
Weep with those who weep.
Rejoice with those who rejoice.
And bring in those who have no where else to go.
Look around your church, workplace, comm group, recreation, and neighborhood. Is there anyone in your life who has a bad experience with Father’s Day? You have an opportunity. Celebrate by giving expression to the Father’s love.
If we were to summarize each earlier post in this series, we would have these three bullet points:
The last chapter is James’s concluding exhortation to persist in Christian maturity amid difficult situations by trusting in God. It’s almost as if James in applying his theology directly to different groups of people in his Jerusalem congregation. For these purposes, we can identify three different categories in James 5.
Once again, key verses will be in italics, followed by brief exegesis of key themes, and a summary in red. I will highlight prevailing motifs and themes in green.
James 5:1-6 “Come now, you rich people! Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming on you. Your wealth is ruined and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your silver and gold are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You stored up treasure in the last days! Look! The pay that you withheld from the workers who reaped your fields cries out, and the outcry of the harvesters has reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. You have lived luxuriously on the land and have indulged yourselves. You have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned—you have murdered —the righteous man; he does not resist you.” (HCSB).
The problem being identified is not the wealth that a person may have, but what they do with the resources given. In this case, some of the more well-to-do in the Jerusalem congregation were hoarding their wealth for themselves, while refusing to assist those struggling within their own church family. James here is accusing them of having “murdered” the righteous man in this case (v6), and taking them back to his exhortation in chapter 2, which was to care for the poor in the church. If those who are wealthy (as is the case with these particular individuals) are not also generous, they are heaping up “miseries” for themselves in the life to come (v1), for their faith is in vain—indeed, they are proving themselves unregenerate!
James is just contextualizing his theology on a particular people group, reminding them that,
James then transitions from a group of unregenerate in the church to those who are enduring well in a reminder to persist in hard times.
James 5:7-12 “Therefore, brothers, be patient until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s coming is near. Brothers, do not complain about one another, so that you will not be judged. Look, the judge stands at the door! Brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the Lord’s name as an example of suffering and patience. See, we count as blessed those who have endured. You have heard of Job’s endurance and have seen the outcome from the Lord. The Lord is very compassionate and merciful. Now above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. Your “yes” must be “yes,” and your “no” must be “no,” so that you won’t fall under judgment.” (HCSB).
What is the “Therefore” there for? Well, after just reading vv.1-6, it seems that James is reminding the poor and downtrodden that their cries have “reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts” (v4). The reason Christians can carry on in the midst of tremendous suffering is because we have a sense that God hates injustice, and is going to work things out, in this life or in the one to come. That means your grueling efforts are not in vain. The enemy of God’s kingdom will not prevail. There is hope for the Christ-follower if they will but persist to the very end! After all, the Lord, who’s “coming is near,” (v8) is “very compassionate and merciful” (v11). The first appearance of “brothers” in verse 7 of this chapter signifies that James is now addressing those within the faith, whereas the rich of 5:1-7 seem to be unrepentant and unregenerate. So there is a clear difference between the eternal identity of those being addressed in verses 1-6 as in verses 7-12. The former has put all their trust in their riches; the latter has put all their trust in God, and James is imploring them to stay in that place of trust, as evidenced by the repeated terms, “be patient,” “strengthen your hearts,” “endurance” in this sequence of Scripture (highlighted in green).
Contrasted with the “miseries that are coming” on the unregenerate who hoard their resources, James urgently implores the believers Jerusalem to…
James finally ends on a note of prayer.
James 5:13-20 “Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will restore him to health; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit. My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (HCSB).
This is one of the most beautiful swathes of Scripture in all of James.
In his closing chapter, James identifies those who have no faith (vv.1-6), those who are proving their faith (vv.7-12), and concluding with a call to arms (vv.13-20), reminding everyone that there will be some who stumble and fall, and that salvation doesn’t come to make us an island, rather, we are saved into a community that is under the allegiance of Christ, and we are to leave no man or woman behind.
This was a rewarding journey through a delightful epistle. I hope you got as much out of it as I did. Remember our original intent in starting a study like this, where we are not just looking at the minutia of the letter, but zooming out to a view of 30,000 feet in order to identify sweeping themes that hold this book together. Before I end this blog post, let me provide you with a brief summary of James. I hope after reading this, you will find James beyond just a disjointed grouping of “fortune-cookie” proverbs; it is robust with the themes of trust, suffering, wisdom, holiness, and love for the poor. Check out the summary below. When you are reading James, and mining different verses, you will be able to plug them into this overall train of thought that James had, in order to illuminate the individual verses at hand with tremendous meaning.
When life gets difficult, God will use bad circumstances to transform you, as long as you trust in Him; this occurs when our thought life is brought in subjection to what God says is true (ch.1). This new maturity is most visible in two ways: 1) how we treat others in the body of Christ, specifically, the ones who cannot repay us; in fact, the way we treat the poor in our own local churches is evidence of our faith (ch.2)! and 2) how we speak to one another (ch.3). These elements can only be cultivated in the Christian who continually trusts in God in all circumstances, bringing the theme back around to the first chapter (ch.4). At the end of the age, our fruit will either condemn or vindicate us, so we must be diligent to grow in holiness and love towards one another—the one who perseveres is confident that they are the Lord’s, and must not leave anyone in the family of God behind, even those who appear as falling away (ch.5).
If we were to summarize each earlier post in this series, we would have these three bullet points:
Now let’s glue these together and see if we can get something that flows better. Here is my best attempt:
As a Christian, we must grow to maturity by trusting God in difficulties, and His Word will help us by renewing the way we think about our circumstances; in other words, we are immersed in the messiness, yet unstained by it. With this in mind, getting messy requires that we look after the poor in our own church, because God loves them, and generosity is evidence of genuine faith in us. To be unstained by the world requires keeping a firm watch on the things we say, since holiness is manifest in our speech.
A shorter version of this might be:
Chapter 4 starts to feel a bit like disjointed proverbs (more so than before!). But a close look reveals a steady pattern. Let’s read through the text all at once before we dive into the details. Remember that what I believe are key verses will be in italics. Any suggestive motifs I’ve put in green; these are useful in identifying the dominant idea of the chapter which is what we’re going to need when we do Biblical Theology (or any sweeping study). I’ve included the entire chapter this time.
James 4:1-17 “What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war within you? You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires. Adulteresses! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. Or do you think it’s without reason the Scripture says that the Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously? But He gives greater grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people! Be miserable and mourn and weep. Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you. Don’t criticize one another, brothers. He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it” (HCSB).
First I read the chapter without stopping. Then I looked for naturally occurring segments that seem to carry a unified thought. For example, the first three verses are all about an inner war going on in every Christian. The next two verses are about two kingdoms opposing one another (and so on). After I’ve done this through the chapter, I created a bit of an outline to help me make sense of James’s driving themes. Here they are below…
The basic trajectory of the fourth chapter matches these five points.
Remember, we are not looking to uncover the nuances in every verse, but to retrieve the basic point of the chapter, the tapestry. Later, we can go back and look at every verse in light of the overarching point. But what we have so far is a straightforward message woven through the fourth chapter of James. At this juncture, we should add a prominent motif: “adulteress!” (v4). If you consider that an adulteress describes one who is unfaithful to their covenant partner, this becomes a screaming analogy of the Christian who rejects the lordship of God by entertaining their fleshly indulgences. In other words, James is warning the Christian that the “war” between the regenerated spirit and the sinful desires within is ongoing, and they must tirelessly engage in that battle without relenting if, indeed, they are under the lordship of God. Further, we are not of the dark kingdom because “the Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously” (v5), and gives us a “greater grace” to persevere. You may remember that this is the very same premise that James started off with in his first chapter:
Christians are made more complete when they endure conflicts by trusting in God.
Ordinarily, one might be at easy with the period at the end of verse 10, and move on to the next paragraph to form a new thought, but as shown by his lead-in, “Therefore” (v7), James does seem to continue with his train of thought.
Verses 11-12 are a more in-depth look at the masters of each Kingdom—God and Satan—and yet God clearly has no equal in this battle, for he tells us that if a Christian submits to God, and resists the devil they will experience victory (v7).
This is where it gets a bit controversial. The following paragraph on criticizing each other suggests that submitting to the lordship of God is inextricably tied to how we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in the local church; a dynamic emphasized in Chapter 2. But what does “criticizing” mean? Surely there is a type of constructive criticism that is honorable and useful in the body of Christ. The type of criticism that James speaks of is more damaging to others in the church—i.e., it is able to “destroy” (v12). We see this in the ambiguously labeled “fights” going on in the church (vv1-2). That’s why James says that criticizing each other is essentially to “judge the law” (11), since the law James is most likely referring to is the law of love that came earlier in the epistle (2:8-11). So then, James is not forbidding constructive criticism, necessary discernment of sin, or church discipline; but rather, flagrant condemnation from of selfish ambition or jealousy (3:16). Or to overlap a similar theme from chapter 3…
Keep in mind that James was writing to a group of exiles struggling with their identity as Christians in a culture that was very different from their way of life and belief; their background is similar to any post-Christian environment today: it is hostile and foreign to the worldview of Christ-following men and women.
The bottom line: God knows better than we about every minutia of our lives, and we would be silly to disregard Him on anything, even what we are planning on doing tomorrow (vv.13-15), and especially how we view those in the body of Christ (v11-12). But submission to the lordship of God is not tiresome or disagreeable for those regenerated and filled with the Spirit (v5), but joyful and full of life (v8,10). Such is the life of the Kingdom family. For it is not human thriving to simply keep oneself unstained (1:27b), but one must also be a part of the expanding kingdom family of God (2:15-17), for “it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it” (4:17).
Many of us want accountability, and rightfully so—we go to mid-week gatherings, we sign up for redemptive groups, we meet other Christians for coffee, we ask pastors for wisdom, we set up counseling appointments, and these are often with great effect—but not everyone who does this is as vulnerable, humble, and teachable as they need to be. So instead of “accountability” what we end up with is victimization. Instead of surrounding ourselves with people who can check our blind spots, we surround ourselves with people to blame. Accountability is illusive, not because there aren’t people willing to bear our burdens, but because we sometimes expect those people to do for us what we are too prideful to do ourselves: repent of our sin.
When this happens,”accountability” is nothing more than a cheap buzzword that we think will save us if we say it repeatedly. “Accountability,” “Keep me accountable,” “Who are you accountable to, bro?” “She’s been keeping me accountable.”
Think about this. If you struggle with lust, you can probably entertain those lusts, even act them out, in secret for many years—perhaps for the rest of your life—without anyone finding out. What good is having a hundred accountability partners if you are better at hiding your sin than they are at keeping you accountable? I think we give other Christians too much credit in this regard: we think that others will check us on all the sin issues of our heart, and yet we are masterful at hiding such things! The only way our friends can really know how we struggle, and thereby work to restore us, is when we are brutally honest with the right people. But some in the church feel as if “accountability” will do all the work for them, kind of like a butler who launders their clothing while they are asleep. Yet they wake up to find their dirty clothes strewn across the living room floor because they don’t really have a butler, and they don’t know how to operate the washing machine by themselves. The problem with Christian accountability is not accountability, per se, it is the Christian who is not really willing to humble themselves, submit to others, and face the fact that they are worse than they think. We all are.
Instead of throwing around magic buzzwords, the Bible calls us to open our lives to fellow Christian’s who we trust and can speak into our lives. And it’s not enough to ask people to “keep us accountable”—we must also listen and heed the righteous judgment of others, while being honest with our shortcomings, sinful habits, and idolatry. This is true accountability. It’s a two-way street where all our crap is on the table, and brothers/sisters can gently show the blind spots in our lives. It is also a God-ordained means of sanctification, whereby God uses the community around you to conform you into His likeness.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.” James 5:16 (HCSB)
Karl Barth used to teach his young students to read the Bible and the newspaper at the same time, so that they could interpret culture through the grand story of Scripture.
Mark Sayers is a champion at this.
The Road Trip That Changed The World is a diagnostic narrative on the lightweight spirituality we inherited from Jack Kerouac, who, in his novel, On The Road, reacted against the conformity of the 1940’s by abandoning home, family, and place in search of the unfettered freedom of the road. But even if you haven’t read Kerouac’s definitive work on the Beatnik generation, you are certainly affected by it along with the rest of our culture. Ever wonder why American Christianity seems so lackluster and flimsy? Well, this is a book you should read. Sayers gives extensive treatment of Kerouac’s worldview–known hereby as “The Road”–that wound up affecting the spiritual climate of Western culture with consumerism, individualism, and a thirst for change. Charting this affect as it ripples through decades of both secular and Christian culture, a reoccurring theme in The Road Trip is that people today want a spiritual experience without being shackled down to the spiritual requirements. This “on-a-journey-with-no-destination” mentality paved the way for the Sixties, and post-Christian America, creeping all the way to the coast, with California symbolizing a dead-end to a spiritually frustrating road trip. In what Sayers describes as our endless search for the next “woosh” moment, life became a series of cheap thrills with no backstory.
The book begins with an illustration of a fork in the road which helps bring together two major sections.
The first section is the diagnosis. He presents the road of unrestricted hedonism that our culture is following. Chapters 5 through 15 work out some of the less desirable implications that go with the journey on “The Road.” Sayers is a masterful story-teller, so you never feel like you’re sitting through a history lecture. It feels more like theatre. In Seinfeld-ian style, the reader is drawn through vignettes of American culture, before piecing them together into an image revealing how deeply this generation is hurting. One of my favorites was his portrayal of Sayyid Qutb, whose religious devotion provided a contrast to Kerouac’s shallow excesses. These vignettes all serve as indictments against the thin spirituality so common in our culture.
The second section is the prescription. Sayers directs the Christian on a different road with the cross in view. He calls for consumeristic Christians to come back to the gospel, and the rich practices of historic Christianity. Sayers pleas for a church with “believers who are deep”(267), in an attempt to peel back the lid that has stifled the Christian imagination. He often explains the worldview of “The Road” alongside destructive facets of contemporary culture that came as a direct result. While his conclusions are more broad and immeasurable than I was hoping for, it was still a much-needed call for returning to the self-denial that used to identify a disciple of Jesus. And throughout these 271 pages, the visible backdrop of the gospel looms, with a hope that transcends cultural and social norms by evoking our hearts with a greater story.
You can purchase the book here.
You can see what else I’ve been reading…
There are some great books on spiritual growth, but Wilhoit’s emphasizes a heavy communal approach. Spiritual formation is described in Wilhoit’s own words as “the intentional communal process of growing in our relationship with God and becoming conformed to Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit” (23), and presents the local church as an irreplaceable necessity. Wilhoit asserts that spiritual formation is the central task of the church, and not a supplement. Instead of placing the loci of formation on a few specialized people or programs, he suggests that the local congregation “must resume the practice of making spiritual formation of their members into Christlikeness their primary goal” (10). This topic of spiritual maturity seems one of the more evasive practices of the church, because it is so easy to lob abstract theoretical grenades into the congregation that make little sense or are difficult to apply to the tangible sphere of recreation, family, and work. There are plenty of books on spiritual formation and discipleship that start with the imperatives of Scripture, but leave you to guess the implementation of those Scriptural truths. Granted, while no one wants to be mechanical or formulaic with spiritual maturity, it would still be nice to have a tangible push in the right direction, even if only to polish the rust from our orthopraxy. What I appreciated most about this book is Wilhoit’s practical insight into the disciplines of spiritual formation in community. Here’s a glance…
In the first chapter, Wilhoit quickly sets the groundwork for spiritual growth in the Gospel. A lot of groundwork!—seven pages are devoted to unpacking the meaning and implications of the Gospel for the Christian’s identity, so as to prevent moralistic therapy from pervading the process that he outlines in the book. This chapter is excellent, and can stand on it’s own, with anthems such as, “All our spiritual problems come from a failure to apply the gospel,” (32) and “the gospel is the power of God for the beginning, middle, and end of salvation” (27). These indicative truths serve as a divine railway to guide the reader into a practical set of imperatives designed for measured growth. What follows chapter one is a curriculum (ch. 2) made up of four responses to the gospel that are designed by Scripture to take a church through a holistic engagement of spiritual nourishment, discipleship, and formation. These four are receiving, remembering, responding, and relating. Each subsequent chapter is a lens for viewing the practices in terms of community and the local church. Spread throughout the remaining 8 chapters is the following narrative…
Wilhoit’s does not settle for anything less than seeking to become fully mature in Christ. He writes with a “already-but-not-yet” balance, while also seeking every facet of church life that can be useful for growth, and squeezing it until it bleeds.
He takes his cues from the early church, rather than pop-psychology, and the Scriptures, rather than pragmatic advice. The drive of this book is to experience Jesus Christ, rather than nurse a self-esteem, and the path Wilhoit sometimes take involves repentance and self-denial.
He establishes an in-depth curriculum for spiritual formation, and makes specific recommendations for how to carry out each of the goals presented. After describing these practices on a personal level, he shows what it might look like on a communal level, yet, without ever faulting to the formulaic.
The footnotes alone are worth the price of the book! At every chapter, he lists recommended readings that cover a variety of different approaches and backgrounds useful for the topic at hand. Even better, he includes a short excerpt on each book!
While I have not yet attempted to put this book into practice, and cannot vouch for its veracity, quite yet, it is to date one of the best attempts at formulating a “plan” for spiritual growth in the church I’ve ever read. My main complaint is that I have not been able to see it proven by experience, since this book is intended to cover a Christians’s lifespan, rather than a three-month programatic “discipleship” class. In a comical twist, it is an unverifiable hypothesis that can only be proven on the deathbed. For this reason, it is both a blessing and a curse. All considered, I must highly recommend this book for looking so far down the road.
This is the greatest victory: if college students experience Christ simply by gathering to study the Scriptures, be baptized, partake of the Lord’s Supper, sing, eat, and pray, then what we experience at Adorn on a larger scale–as with many similar gatherings across the nation–can be experienced anywhere by the very 20-somethings who have cultivated it for so long. Think of what would happen if these same college students were to siphon this passion into the local church as Jesus instructs us to? (Heb. 10:25). Ahh. I don’t think we would be able to bare the weight of His displayed glory. It’s for this that I hope, pray, and have been confidently preparing for the past four years, with the single-minded vision to experience Jesus together and teach others to do the same.
He is the only champion. He is the only hero. And he blessedly gave us Adorn as a set of training wheels, to set our burning affections towards him.
Now, our last Friday is August 24th. We will be devoting this last month to studying the God-given DNA we have experienced over the years, learning from the Scriptures of how we can cultivate this on our own, in community.
We are calling this, The Finale.
We have five weeks left, Adorners. Let’s make them count.
It may seem relatively simple, but asking a newbie to show up and set up chairs, clean, or make coffee, has had some great results at Adorn, but only when the other volunteers are intentional to get to know that person. Serving is very conducive to relationship, and it’s easier to get to know someone when you share a common goal (e.g., greeting people at the door).
Tribes can develop in a neighborhood pretty organically if you have that type of socialite on the block who can just throw parties. For those who can’t do this, organized community groups are very helpful. Instead of serving at a church, the common bond can be the neighborhood space, bible study, mission, food, etc.
You would be surprised how effective it is to grab a couple socially awkward guys and invite them to shoot guns in the wilderness. Bring a bag of chips and drinks, and conversations will follow shortly after. Or billards. Or a book club. Whatever floats your boat.
This is my favorite cannon for community. When all else fails (or even if it doesn’t) just break out the food. People love gathering around shared meals. It’s not just a way to fill a felt need, but an open table is a loud invitation tot he stranger that they are welcome where you are. No wonder Jesus came “eating and drinking” (Luke 7:34).