• sonnyholmes

In our childhood we were given an envelop to submit in our Sunday School class each week. It contained our offering and calculated our church score based on several boxes that we checked: Present (20%), On time (10%), Bible (10%), Offering (10%), Lesson studied (30%), Preaching (20%), for a total score of 100%. There were also lines to record the number of visits and phone calls made in the previous week. Each metric was a means of communicating the disciplines expected in the Christian life. In many ways this envelop was a simple diagnostic of a Christian heart. Of course, later in our personal spiritual development we learned that there was much more to being a heart healthy Christian than these Sunday morning measures. Much, much more.

Truth is, many professing believers today score high in the doing department. Over the last generation or so, however, we've been confronted with a basic contrast of faith, the personal dynamics of doing and being. While demographers pose nominal Christianity, that is, Christian in name only, as the norm among many believers today, those of us who practice faith at some level still maintain a checklist of sorts as evidence of faith. The emphasis of doing certain things gives us at least the rudimentary proof of having a Christian heart. It makes us feel better about ourselves if nothing more.

Even so, ours is a culture of stress. Who among us can deny the unmentionables of life in the mean streets right now? The list is long--- crime on the rampage, violent resistance to authority, damaging language, racial bigotry, sexual abuse, family dysfunction, competing factions, political nastiness, and so many others. Recently, and please forgive my short memory, there have been video recordings of several horrible crimes involving numbers of people. Someone posted a reply to one such social media post. It read, "Sorry to say, most of the offenders were probably professing Christians". You see, we've mastered some of the Sunday doing things. But, the being elements seem to be woefully short. Maybe it's time for us to submit to a spiritual heart cath.

Physically, it's a revealing procedure, the heart catheterization. It's complicated and beyond my pay grade, as they say. In short, the heart cath explores the vessels and arteries that supply the human heart, the valves that move the blood, and other cardiac functions. A spiritual heart cath, used here merely as an illustrative metaphor, probes the inner regions of the spiritual heart, below the surface of our actions. It would explore the the deeper realities of spiritual identity. This cath is necessary because Scripture pictures the heart as the central operating system of all human behavior. In a segment about religious legalism, Jesus taught---

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft,

false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands

does not defile anyone.

Matthew 15: 18-20, ESV

The heart cath for me is Scriptural truth that exposes my naturally sinful systems. Yes, I am capable of doing all the right things by virtue of my free will. Those inner heart realities, however, control the being elements of my faith. I can check my doing lists for all the wrong reasons while my being self remains constantly egocentric. Meaning that I can sit in church and still harbor anger, prejudice, and evil in my heart.

King David's life always inspires and challenges me. He was by no means a sinless paragon of virtue. Scroll his life in the Old Testament and note the many times he strayed spiritually. Yet, Biblical history remembers him as "...a man after God's own heart" (see 1 Samuel 13:14, and Acts 13:22). No, he was not morally pure and without error. Beyond the doing elements of his life, however, there was a consistent desire to obey and please God. It was the consistent diagnostic procedure that kept him attuned to the will and blessings of his Heavenly Father even after dreadfully sinful acts.

The heart healthy Christian desires to be a person after God's own heart as well. This wish is the heart cath diagnostic that will give us the strength and desire to do what is right, and be the heart healthy Christian so needed in our confusing times.

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  • sonnyholmes

The Apostle Paul wrote many warnings about the temptations of yielding to shallow influences. His letters reference---

1. The temptation to please men and not God (Galatians 1:10; Ephesians 6:6;

1 Thessalonians 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:4).

2. The temptation to abandon the Gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:9).

3. The temptation to be allured by inconsequential talk (1 Timothy 1:3-4;

1 Timothy 4:7; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:14-18; Titus 3:9, and more).

4. The temptation of losing passion for mission (2 Timothy 1:6; Philippians 3:12;

and many others).

5. The temptation to cave in under opposition (Romans 16:17; 2 Timothy

2:25-26; 2 Timothy:8-9; and others).

There were, of course, many other distractions to on-point mission and an array of easier paths that Paul himself could have taken. Each route could have been justification for those under his leadership to take a less stressful approach to mission. Time after time, however, he instructed the leaders under his mentor-ship to go deep and stay deep. He taught them the value of operating from the zone of spiritual leadership, that is, personal depth, and being disciplined enough to remain there throughout their ministry. One especially provocative example is in his First Epistle to Timothy. He wrote---

Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set

the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I

come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to

teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy

when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse

yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on

yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both

yourself and your hearers.

1 Timothy 4:12-16, ESV

The pressure to deliver in this world is intense. While many church stats are in decline the need to engage a growing national secularism pushes many spiritual leaders to shallow expectations, church membership with little meaning, and spiritual pablum that just doesn't make or grow disciples. Evidently Paul saw these same tendencies in his younger apprentice, partner, and friend Timothy. So, his first letter is punctuated with action words meant to challenge Timothy about going deep and staying deep. Command, teach, set an example, devote yourself, and do not neglect the gift are power phrases written to ignite resolve in Timothy. But, there are four more with special significance regarding spiritual depth----

Practice: an emphatic command for Timothy to do what he had been taught. It is

the central core of spiritual depth, the union of hearing and doing.

Immerse yourself: this is a simple emphatic construction of the verb "to be" and

is often translated to "absorb", "give yourself wholly", "throw yourself into", or "be

committed". I love the "immerse" translation of the ESV because it so identifies

with the depth theme. It is to make these things the single objective of his

spiritual leadership.

Keep a close watch on yourself: as a guard against pleasing the wrong men Paul

expected Timothy to maintain a close personal accountability to what he had

been taught (see 2 Timothy 3:10).

Persist in this: Paul understood more than most people the seasons of leadership

effectiveness, the temptations always present in the rigors of mission, the

"anxiety for the churches" (1 Corinthians 11:28), and the need for persistence,

endurance, steadfastness, discipline, and the whole armor of God.

The outcome? "...for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers" (v.16). it is once again the important link between a spiritual leader and those entrusted to his or her care.

Are our times more critical than any other era in Christian history? Who knows. The drift that so characterizes the Western church just now seems strategic to those of us called to provide spiritual leadership in it. And, the trend is for shallowness! It's what feels good, resonates most readily, and draws crowds when presented in a way favorable to a secular world.

The challenge today is about going deep, and staying deep. It is about depth, the zone of spiritual leadership.

Copyright: <a href=''>kentoh / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

  • sonnyholmes

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the mystery of life (God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas (Westminister, John Knox Press, re-edit, 2010). It is a long reference but worth the read---

The lack of mystery in our modern life is our downfall and our poverty. A human life is

worth as much as the respect it holds for the mystery. We retain the child in us to the

extent that we honor the mystery. Therefore, children have open, wide-awake eyes,

because they know that they are surrounded by the mystery. They are not yet finished

with this world; they still don’t know how to struggle along and avoid the mystery, as we

do. We destroy the mystery because we sense that here we reach the boundary of our

being, because we want to be lord over everything and have it at our disposal, and

that’s just what we cannot do with the mystery…. Living without mystery means

knowing nothing of the mystery of our own life, nothing of the mystery of another

person, nothing of the mystery of the world; it means passing over our own hidden

qualities and those of others and the world. It means remaining on the surface, taking

the world seriously only to the extent that it can be calculated and exploited, and not

going beyond the world of calculation and exploitation. Living without mystery means

not seeing the crucial processes of life at all and even denying them.

The phrase "It means remaining on the surface..." struck a chord when thinking about spiritual depth and shallow living. Life without the mysteries of God is an empty life, a life lived on the surface, a life without depth. Modern sophisticates tend to exempt the mysteries of life from the agenda in two very specific ways---

1. Culture avoids the supernatural by downplaying the mysteries.

Rational, secular living is the result of pretending mysteries don't exist. A

culture bent on quantitative measurement, sharp definition, critical thinking,

and empirical data extract the supernatural from the seams of life.

De-mystifying Jesus, the Gospel, the New Testament, and other liberal studies

have raised doubt about the existence of a Creator God, providential leadership

in all things, and His sovereign guidance of life. Interestingly enough those

trends were the result of what historians have labeled "the enlightenment".

More like "dis-enlightenment" if you ask me. Still, they are the remains of a

liberal theology that makes much of man and little of God. As King David

wrote, this kind of life is vile and empty. He wrote, "The fool says in his heart,

“There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none

who does good" (Psalm 14:1, ESV).

2. Shallow living ignores the mysteries by making everything a mystery.

The modern pretense in shallow churches and spiritual leaders is that every

solution to the sinful nature of man is hidden in the mysteries of God.

Therefore humans cannot overcome the curse of that sinful nature and grace

gives us license to live the life destined for a fallen world. As a result, there are

no moral absolutes by which life is lived. They are hidden from us in the

mystery of His ways. You know how this plays out. God is love. God gives

abundant grace to sinners. We are all human. And, more. When everything is

mystery, nothing is mystery.

Daily I am reminded of the truth God gave Moses. He wrote---

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed

belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Deuteronomy 29:29, ESV

God has chosen not to reveal everything to us. But, He has revealed something. There are mysteries hidden from our view. There's revealed truth also, so that we can hear His Word and obey it.

An example? Here's the one I hear most often---

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined,

what God has prepared for those who love him.

1 Corinthians 2:9, ESV

These words are often quoted to people experiencing grief, tragedy, or some life hardship. We can't even imagine what God has prepared for us.

But, in the next sentence, God placed this mystery within the grasp of mere humans. The Apostle wrote---

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches

everything, even the depths of God.

1 Corinthians 2:10, ESV

See, there are revealed things too. Spiritual leaders live in the balance of what He has revealed and what is hidden in the mystery of his ways. And, they lead those entrusted to their stewardship by them and to them.

This depth of living and leading in the mysteries and revealed things of God is the zone of genuine spiritual leadership.

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