PREACH // Spiritual Transformation

So yesterday evening’s preach didn’t exactly go according to plan as I just felt God calling me to go off piste. But this is what I would have said… (and did say most of at the 8am)…

 

///

 

Spiritually transformed

Ephesians 4:1-24

 

If you’ve done Alpha, you might have heard the story of Shane Taylor. Shane was at one point in his life known as one of Britain’s youngest most dangerous people.

He started with burglary, moved onto selling drugs, became violent, stabbed people and worse… at the age of 12 his ambition was to kill a police office or prison officer – to be well respected by fellow criminals. Here’s a bit of his story…


 

That is the power of God at work transforming just one man’s life. And we see it in the bible too – Saul being transformed from a murderous zealot killing those who followed Jesus, to one whose sole purpose in life was to tell people about Jesus’

Or Zaccheus, the crooked tax collector, whose house Jesus came to eat at and then Z is transformed and agrees to give away half his possessions and pay back what he owed people (Luke 19).

Jesus came, it says in Luke 19:9-190 MSG, for the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.

 

Restoration is all about transformation. Being transformed into his likeness, into a relationship with the Father

Jesus is all about transforming us more and more into the likeness of God. And that is what our vision here is at TRINITY, to see lives transformed by the love of Christ, Just like Shane, just like Saul and Zaccheus.

And this new teaching series we are starting today is all about lives transformed.

Rick Warren says this:

the world’s promises leave us empty and searching for more. God’s will is the only answer that promises to TRANSFORM our lives from the inside out.

 

Over the next few weeks at the 630 we are going to delve deeper into what that means, what that really means.

On our website our vision says this:

Jesus Christ came to teach, to serve and to heal. Most importantly, he came to die for us, so that we might be offered a life lived in relationship with God. Jesus invites us to find in him the security, joy, friendship and adventure, which we have all been made to enjoy. We believe in the power of this Good News to change lives and communities, and Jesus sends us to be agents of that change across our town and beyond.

This vision is the heartbeat of TRINITY.

And so we are going to unpack that and delve deeper into it. Over the next few weeks we are going to look at what it means to be transformed:

Spiritually (today)

Physically

Mentally

Relationally

Financially

Vocationally

 

You know that first step, that first encounter with Jesus can be mind blowingly transformative as it was for Shane, OR it might be less dramatic a transformation, it might be making a gentle choice, but that’s what it is, the first step.

And if you’ve always known Jesus, well wow that is so amazing and an absolute gift. Never be worried that you haven’t had a testimony story like some do. If God has given you a path where you’ve always known him, I think that is a really precious gift.

BUT! You are still on the same journey of transformation… we are all journeyimg towards that likeness of Jesus

 

You know when I became a Christian, one of the first things one of my friends noticed was that I had stopped swearing, literally overnight. But there was, and is, a lot more work to be done than that! And I tell you there are times when I still want to tell the whole world to F off… (if I’m completely honest) but I need to go on being transformed – We need to go on being transformed, seeking to be more like Christ. We need to be transformed in our whole being

…o0O0o…

In our passage from Ephesians we read that Christ gave the workers – the 5 fold gifts so that the body of Christ (ie the church) may be built up, and it says in : v13: UNTIL we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Until that day when we are united with God, we are all a work in progress and to be honest it’s our choice if we accept just that first step

OR we make the choice to keep on moving forwards towards that end goal, to seek the fullness of Christ.

Jesus said: ‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.’ John 10:10

Do we stop at having life? At receiving that gift of salvation and think that’s it? Or do we want the second part too? Life to the full? Or life in abundance as the NRSV says…?

It’s our choice…

 

…o0O0o…

 

So today, particularly looking at spiritual transformation. ‘Spiritual’ is one of those words that can mean so many different things. People say ‘oh I’m not religious, I’m spiritual’,

It’s quite a modern thing, that is like we want to form our own spiritualities, to believe what we want, what we think. We make God in our image, not the other way around.

In fact spiritual transformation could be the title of the entire series, because our spiritual lives inform the rest of our lives. Our spiritual life encompasses anything that helps us to focus on God: worship, prayer, devotional time, reading God’s word for example.

 

 

lets go back to v 13 again: What does it mean that we might reach fullness of Christ?

Because Paul seems to suggest that is our goal.

The NLT puts it like this:

 

until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

And says:

 

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ

 

Our goal, our journey of transformation is to become, in every way, more like Christ.

And what does that mean? I mean let’s face it that is our goal but it’s a pretty tough goal, it’s not like we can pass a few exams and then we get ‘Jesus status’!

Paul says, we won’t be immature, we won’t be swayed by different teaching, we won’t be easily tricked by fake news. No we’ll know the truth, we’ll be full of love and growing more like Jesus. That is real spiritual transformation.

The MSG version describes it like this: in v16:

 

We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

Exactly that – we take our lead from God. We get nourished by him, made healthy by him and strengthened in his love.

So HOW on earth do we do that? How do we continue to seek that spiritual transformation, to journey towards being more like Jesus?

Habit //

 

We need to form some personal habits.

Here’s the thing – and some if us need to hear this – You cannot just come to church each Sunday (once a week) and expect to be spiritually transformed. We need more than that.

That’s like eating one healthy meal a week and eating whatever you like the rest of the time and expecting to get healthier. No! We need to punctuate our week with habits that bring us closer to God.

 

 

Habit definition: a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.

We mean making a COMMITMENT!!

We have to make the commitment to want to be more like Jesus. Ask yourselves honestly. Is this a journey you want to be on?

Then if the answer is yes – and why wouldn’t it be?

Then commit to it and make some habits to help us seek spiritual transformation: so here’s a few key habits, personal habits, I’m not looking so much here at corporate stuff, but that is equally as important – gathering with other Christians etc

But these are thing that we need to vomit to in our own personal walk… things we need to make a habit in our lives.

 

Word

First up, God’s word. Where do we find out more about God than in his word? We read about his character, how much he loves us, that we are his beloved children.

The entire bible is a story of relationship, God’s relationship in the trinity, and his relationship with us, his beloved people.

God’s word is living and active – Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

God’s word is alive. It’s not just a stale old text where we read about what’s gone on in times gone by, thousands of years ago. No it’s alive for us today. So when we read about God we are not just reading what has already happened, but what can happen for us too.

Have you ever read a passage and just thought, wow, that is so right for me right now, or felt God had given you that verse for a particular situation you are facing, or felt it was for someone you know – a comfort or a word of affirmation?

God’s word has the power to do that – reaching right into our inner being – dividing soul and spirit as it says.

When I read the bible I always try to remember to pray first, Lord speak to me through your word to seek his presence within it.

 

Ps 119:105 – your word is a lamp for my feet and a light to my path…

I often find God guides me through his word…

God speaks to us in different ways but the bible is a good test. If something we are feeling doesn’t weigh up with what God’s word says then it probably isn’t right.

And we need to go on doing that, seeking him in his word and working towards that ongoing spiritual transformation.

You know I read my bible almost every day and have done since I became a Christian and I have read it all many times. But still, I find so often I read something I’ve read many times before and it just stands out like ‘wow’ I have never thought of that before or it seems completely new (&I don’t think that’s just because I have a bad memory!).

That is the power of God speaking through his word.

 

Prayer

 

Prayer is a conversation. Two way!

There are so many different ways we pray but for here I am focusing on just that conversation we have with God. That will look different for each of us and in different seasons be different.

Here’s some biblical hints on praying:

 

Romans 12:12 – pray constantly

1 Thess 5:17 pray without ceasing

Eph 6:18 and pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…

Talk to God, share with him your innermost thoughts and fears, I mean he already knows it anyway so there is nothing you can’t share with him. Pray about everything and at all times!

I am sure you’ve heard this before, many times, but if you are friends with someone, how do you develop or grow that friendship? You spend time together, you do things together, you talk together. It’s the same in our relationship with God, we have to spend time with him. Bit like making someone a fiend on Facebook but never engaging with their posts. I’m sure we all have people like that on our social media – do we actually want to be friends with them?!!

True friendship is 2 way, talking, sharing, being together.

And sometimes that’s in talking, sometimes it’s in listening too!

So for example sometimes when I go out running I just pray at the start that God would go with me and if there’s anything he wants to share with me I’ll listen and then off I go. Sometimes it’s nice to just have some head space and other times I feel like he reveals things to me, or highlights things to me that he wants me to think about or pray about.

When we pray we draw closer to God, like we are opening ourselves us to be drawn closer to the very heart of God. As we put our lives into God’s hands and invite him into every area of our lives, we invite in his presence. We allow our hearts and minds to be transformed more and more into the heart and mind of God.

 

Holy spirit

For spiritual transformation, the HS is kind of essential!

So here’s the thing, there is a spiritual world, THIS is a spiritual world. I know that sometimes people find that sort of statement a bit tricky to get our heads around but really we shouldn’t have any difficulty believing that.

 

If we look at the very beginning, Genesis 1. What do we see:

 

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Right at the very start, the SPIRIT of God was hovering over the waters at creation itself.

And we know that God is three persons – Father, Son and HOLY SPIRIT.

We have seen in our recent series on the HS, the Holy spirit at work both in Jesus’ time and now.

Eph 6:12 says:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

And so it shouldn’t be hard for us to recognise that our world IS spiritual, it is the HS at work throughout creation, throughout this world, on earth and in heaven.

We don’t know what that looks like, but we can sure see the work of the spirit, the evidence of a spiritual world

it is the HS that keeps us in tune with what God is doing, when we pray and we sense a word from God, or we think of something we should do. Perhaps we are prompted to pray for someone – they just come into our heads for no reason, or we think of something we really have to do today or go somewhere and we’re not sure why – that is the HS within us. Guiding us into God’s plans and purposes.

In seeking to be led by the HS we are allowing ourselves to see more into that spiritual element of the world, I don’t know if I’m explaining this very well. Or it’s just sounding a bit ‘super spiritual’!

The thing is, God is a spiritual being, 1/3 of him, of the trinity is the spirit at work the same spirit that was there at work at the start of creation. We are created in his image, we have his spirit within us. We should want that part of us to be nurtured and developed and allowed to flourish as much as any other part.

If we want to be spiritually mature, spiritually transformed then being aware of and being led by the HS is vital!

 

Love / serve

We need to Love and to put that love into action…

1 John 4

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

We believe in a God of Love – that God is love. And I love this passage.

We need to love and serve others because of that amazing love that God has poured out for us. But so much more than that – that last verse:

12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

The implication here is that though no one has seen God, they can see him through us – because his love will be made complete in us. That’s pretty mind blowing right? Is that the ultimate in spiritual transformation? IF we love one another, God will live in us and be seen through us.

As we show God’s love to those around us, it reveals God himself! The NLT says …his love is brought to full expression in us.

If we love one another, we are the very expression of God’s love…

And we can’t just do that by sending loving vibes to each other or thinking positive thoughts, no we put that love into action. That’s how people see God’s love, through the way we interact with each other. Serving one another, doing kind things for others, reaching out to those in need…

You know, RW suggests that our Spiritual health is measured by love.

That makes total sense doesn’t it?! If God is love, and we want to be transformed more and more into his likeness, and he wants to reveal his love through us then the more we seek to be life him the more that love will show…

…o0O0o…

There’s just 4 habits to help us towards spiritual transformation, I am sure there are many more but these seem key to me.

 

: Get into God’s word

: pray constantly about all things

: be led by the HS,

: and love as much as you can

 

Perhaps some of you are doing all of those already, perhaps you do one or two, but I want to challenge you to commit to them all!

 

 

‘Prayers on The Move’ App Review

POTM

So thanks to the lovely peeps at SPCK I’m taking a look at the new ‘Prayers on the Move‘ app which officially launches next week but is out now. If you’ve not come across it yet it’s a free app, available on Android and the App store, helping people to get started praying each day.

The blurb says this:

‘SPCK’s Prayers on the Move app is designed to enable you to get into the habit of praying. Habits are formed by repetition, and it has been said that it takes 30 days to build a new one’.

Which is perfect as there’s prayer for each day of the month!

The press is full of depressing stats about the church dying but if you take a different tack and ask people about spirituality or prayer their answers are very different. For example in a recent YouGov poll 42% of people answered ‘yes’ to the question: ‘do you ever pray?’. That’s quite staggering really and as an evangelist I think we need to build on these kind of results. ‘Church’ ‘Christianity’ ‘Religion’ are all terms that people tend to roll their eyes at but yet ‘prayer’ and ‘spirituality’ seems to provide us with an opportunity, an opening to reach out to people. Clearly this app is Christian in focus but actually a lot of the prayers are open enough to encourage those who might be put off with an overly religious or specifically Christian message.

The app has a decent intro, with info on prayer itself, a section on why pray? and how to begin to pray – another fab feature for those who might be new to anything of faith. And it’s so simple to use. Each day of the month just has a very simply quote or prayer to pray, like these which you can either listen to or read.

prayers2a

prayers3a

Their suggestion is, why not give just 1 minute a day to prayer. So, it’s not exactly aimed at your seasoned prayer warrior, but it’s perfect for a friend who expresses an interest in prayer, or an attendee at your Alpha course or just to suggest to people via your Facebook page maybe. As the app says:

‘praying may help you to develop your spirituality and to connect with something bigger than yourself’

There’s also an intro video (below) from the rather fab Justin Welby who notes that if we encourage people to open themselves to God, who knows what might happen…  So often I think when we want to share our faith we worry about things like what people might think, or ‘when to Jesus‘, or whether we are going into full on bible bashing mode, but this is actually a great tool to share with people that is non-threatening, relevant and might just start people on a journey that you can help them with. 

Although all that said, I’m actually loving some of the prayers like the one pictured above from Lord Astley: 

‘O Lord, you know how busy I must be this day; If I forget you, do not forget me’

To be honest I should be praying this every day! and actually if you are a well-worn pray-er then maybe you could use the app to just kick start your prayer each morning, or to give you a prompt, there’s some really beautiful stuff in there. So first off, give it a go, then why not share it with people around you, as the good Archbishop says, you never know what might happen…

 

Using the Internet as a Spiritual Practice

Photo by James Cridland, via Wylio

So, this is a subject I am researching for a #VicarSchool essay – arguing for the Christian Practice of internet use, and I would love to get others thoughts on this. What’s the point in quoting loads of academics?! (well there isn’t that much written about it so it wouldn’t be loads anyway…!) But… instead of quoting them I would like to be able to quote normal Christians using the internet on a daily basis.

So if you feel so inclined and would be up for answering some questions, how about any, or all, of these:

: How does your faith inform your use of the internet (if at all?)

: If a Christian Practice is something that enables God to be made known to us, or to be experienced by us, how is God apparent to you through being online?

: Do you feel that your faith/spirituality has been affected by using the internet, and if so in what ways?

Feel free to comment below or drop me a message here or via Twitter @redjules

Any thoughts and comments would be very gratefully received, Thank you :)

Reading the paper as a spiritual exercise…

So at #VicarSchool we’ve been set some tasks as part of our Christian Spirituality module which we have just started. We were given a list of things to do under various headings and we had to chose one from each heading. They look at different aspects of spirituality and how these impact our lives, as well as encouraging us to think outside our comfort zones. One of the sections is ‘cultural’. From the things on the list my understanding of this section is that partly it looks at things that people who are not active in a faith might find as spiritual practices, or which could be taken to be a substitute for them. So for example they are things that people can be passionate about, like supporting a cause or volunteering.

One of the choices is to read a daily newspaper if you don’t already, and if you do, then read one of an opposite political stripe. Well largely I get my daily news in 140 character posts via Twitter, that’s all I have time for, but occasionally I read the Sunday paper so I thought this might be a good one for me to do. I don’t like newspaper labels, well I don’t like things that label people persee, but one paper that drives me round the bend (as it does many) is the Daily Mail. So I have chosen to start with this. At this stage my plan is to read a few different papers that I would never touch and see how they affect me and how (and if) one can think about them spiritually or theologically.

So this is week 1 and I know you will be delighted that I am going to share my thoughts on the various newspapers I am going to read with you all… expect ranting and crossness but I hope also a little bit of theological reflection…

So the Daily Fail is where I start. My parents read the DM, my Grandparents used to read the Daily Mail. As a child on Sundays we would go to their house and everyone would share bits of the paper and me and my brother would argue over the ‘cartoons’ section – which sadly no longer exists but used to be a separate little paper full of cartoons and puzzles for kids. These days I pick it up occasionally at Mum and Dad’s and I barely get beyond the front page before I feel irate about something printed in it, or in fact, everything printed in it. The reason I dislike it so much is that it is always written in a way that someone is getting the blame for something. It incites people to hate. It encourages people to tear others down. But people do read it every day. People get their daily news via it, it informs thousands of people each day, it enables people to form opinions on matters of politics, news, entertainment and more (whatever those opinions may be…). In fact their own stats suggest that an average of 1,700,000 people read the paper each day.

So I started this, feeling quite excited actually, what would I learn? would it help me theologically or give me an understanding of a different demographic? 
and then I looked at the paper. 

First headline, queue of people pictured with ‘THE QUEUE THAT SHAMES BRITAIN’ emblazoned across it. A ‘story’ about people queueing at 7am just to see their GP. You see I read this and it just makes me feel cross, I haven’t even read the story and I feel angry. It make me wonder, does everyone feel like this when they read the DM? The story starts ‘shivering in the cold before dawn yesterday, more than 30 patients queue in the desperate hope of seeing a doctor. The scene, a bleak picture of a health service in crisis, is one repeated in many parts of the country…’  although no one in the picture is wearing hats or gloves, in fact some aren’t even wearing coats and none of them look ‘desperate’. 

The second day the front page was emblazoned with ‘END OF THE CASH MACHINE RIP-OFF’ and ‘Why weary looking Kate didn’t take George to church’, with a picture of her looking, to be honest pretty normal for someone with a toddler and a baby on the way. 
So negative… 
In fact another paper featured the same story of Prince George not going to church but with wonderful headlines full of how marvellous Kate and the royals are.

The further I head into the paper, I find more of the same: negative, doom and gloom, how people in power are letting you the reader down…

Here’s some other headlines…

The Danger Drones
Travelling by train – you’ll be lucky
Boxing Day Weather Bomb
legacy of 24-hour drinking, a nation awash with booze
Whitehall’s Crazy Eco Zealots
World’s Stupidest Selfie

and so on, and so on…..

So… what on earth can I draw from this doom and gloom? Well it occurs to me that many people do read this daily and I can’t help but wonder how it affects people who read it regularly. We talk about having a ‘positive mental attitude’ or how smiling and laughing can make you feel better, so surely if we fill ourselves full of the negative that must have the opposite effect? 

I was reminded of  2 Cor 10: 3-5 which tells us :

 Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.



Perhaps ‘weapons of warfare’ is a bit strong here, but surely, so many negatives can cause more harm that some physical injuries and indeed have the power to destroy people. As a Christian I do try and keep my thinking linked to my faith, of course that isn’t always possible, but what if you don’t have that attitude, or a similar one to guide you? Studies have shown that negative feelings, bitterness and unforgiveness can actually affect our physical health. So surely filling ourselves full of negative stuff can only encourage us to be more negative? 

I tweeted about writing this post and Matt Clements (a fellow Tweeter) pointed out:

‘as the paper trying to be clever pointing the finger, surely the Mail is the pharisees’ paper of choice?!’

hmmm, good point, so I nicked it for my post :)  In fact I rather like that analogy, ‘the paper of judgement’, the one pointing the finger and missing the point entirely, very pharisaical. Where would they be in Jesus’ time? reporting from the sidelines on the latest from the ‘crazy prophet’ or printing pictures of him looking ‘harrowed’ or join in with the jeering at his trial, gleefully celebrating his comeuppance? (and printing a very tiny retraction on page 74 after his resurrection maybe?)

I did wonder if in actually reading the Daily Mail I would find it less awful than I thought *queue sniggers*. Well, sadly not, it really made me feel worse than I thought it would, and I only read it for two days! So, whilst I’m not sure I gained anything personally from reading this paper, it made me think about those that do. So often these days it feels like people are full of anger. When something goes wrong, we seek someone to blame, we want recompense, and society encourages us to do so too. How many phonecalls have you had telling you that you are entitled to PPI compensation? (whether you ever actually had it in the first place or not); how many times have you seen someone getting cross as a Customer Service till? or complaining on Facebook about their BFF, Sister or Gas repair man? rather than actually dealing with the situations calmly and with grace?

Of course this isn’t all the fault of the Daily Mail, much as I dislike it, I can’t put all that on them! But it is something that seems to be becoming the norm isn’t it and aside from the paper making me cross, it actually just makes me sad. Sad that people are encouraged to be angry and cross and full of blame, when a national paper, could actually have a real impact on people’s lives, on the way they feel, on the way they view life. I wonder, had the DM been around 2000 years ago, whether their incessant negativity would have impacted further how people felt about Jesus?

So enough of the doom and gloom, I’m on to the red tops next, thought I’d get a balance…