It is the joy of Jesus himself that we enter into as we abide in his love. This is the work of the Spirit. It is not a joy that we manufacture; it is a joy that we receive. And, just like Jesus, we enter into it through laying everything down at God’s feet. We die with Christ, and we share in his resurrection life.
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One news story after another has revealed lurking cases of abuse in faith communities that, from the outside, looked vibrant and whole. These stories can be disorienting. They leave us asking difficult questions. How can I know if a new church community is a safe place? When is it right to extend my trust to the leaders of a church? If I’m serving in leadership, how can I tell whether my own community is a good place for people to find their spiritual footing?
Part of growing up in God is discovering our spiritual DNA, learning and reckoning with what we have inherited—good and bad. When we make that reckoning, we start to make a map of our distinctive spiritual heritage. Like the genome sequences, that map can help us chart new discoveries in spiritual life that bless everyone around us.
The end of the year can be heavy, both symbolically and emotionally. It’s a chance to anchor ourselves in time and consider making a new start. That means the end of the year is a great opportunity for spiritual reflection. Here’s a 20-minute prayer exercise to help you bring your year to a close in the presence of God.
There might not be a clear moment of crisis when we shifted from one kind of life to another. But we can still give testimony to how God is at work in our lives. When I was in student ministry and shared my story, I discovered that people responded to genuine vulnerability and honesty more than to a slick rhetorical presentation. It wasn’t about whether I “said things right,” it was about whether what I was saying connected to who I really was as a person. When the experience of Jesus that we describe matches what others see in our lives, that’s true witness.
Taking time to marvel is a way to step off the hamster wheel. Instead of feeling like we’re missing out, or looking to the “next thing” that might scratch that hedonic itch over and over again, it dawns on us that we are already surrounded by marvelous, normal things. Instead of taking things for granted, we feel thankful. Wonder catalyzes gratitude.
If we think of ourselves as Christian leaders, we must first become followers. We must let Jesus include us on the only terms which he uses to include anyone: “Come, follow me.” If we, for any reason, think that we have arrived or secured a place for ourselves apart from answering that call, we are mistaken. Our own sin should be enough to remind us that we need a savior just as much as the next person does! No level of respectability and no set of social markers can rescue us from sin; only Jesus can do that.
It’s in his story of suffering that we see who Jesus is—the kind of person he is, and the kind of Messiah he is. In particular, we can learn about Jesus from his attitude toward his own suffering while it happens. Looking at the passages in Luke about Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and passion, there are four aspects of his attitude toward suffering that emerge:
• I’m ready for this.
• I don’t have to fight this.
• I can love others in the middle of this.
• There’s something better on the other side of this.
When a truth rests in our heart, it means that how we live will be different because of it. First, someone understands the truth in their head. Then they believe it in their heart. Then they bear out that belief through the actions of their body. In reflecting on the results of their actions, they gain a deeper understanding, and the cycle repeats.