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BECOMING DISCIPLES
BEING LIKE JESUS IN EVERYDAY LIFE

Based On: The Essence of the Church by Craig Van Gelder, Baker Books (2000).

Often, Christians define the church in one of two primary ways. We may see it as a theological institution, or we may see it as more of a social organization, but we usually lean towards one or the other.

In fairness, the church is a social organization with a theological orientation but placing too much emphasis on one of these aspects over the other can be problematic. We end up missing out on the essence of the church’s nature - what the church was meant to be.

For example, too much focus on the theological aspect of the church can limit our ability to impact our surrounding community. Likewise, too much focus on the sociological aspect of the church can limit our capacity to grow and develop disciples.


too much focus on the theological aspect of the church can limit our ability to impact our surrounding community.

In either case, these aspects tend only to describe what the church does more than what the church is. Somewhere in between and behind these functions we ought to be able to find a more faithful understanding of the church’s nature.

We should begin by recognizing that the church is unique among human institutions. This is because it is not of human origin. The church is God’s idea. He created it, has sustained it, and dwells within it. This means that we cannot understand the church using human categories and definitions. Instead, we must understand the church as something divine.


Indeed, the church is the body of Christ. It serves as the visible manifestation of God’s presence in the world through His people. We who make up the church are members of that body because of His Spirit living in and working through us. This means that the church is also, by definition, a spiritual community.

As a spiritual community, it makes sense that the church would have a theological (spiritual) and a social (community) character. The church is God’s plan for us to know and grow in our understanding of Him, and it’s also His plan for revealing Himself to the rest of creation.

“The nature of the church is based on God’s presence through the Spirit. The ministry of the church flows out of the church’s nature. The organization of the church is designed to support the ministry of the church.” – Van Gelder

So, if God’s purpose for the church is to be His presence in the world alive and at work in His people through the Spirit, then our understanding of how to be the church and what we’re supposed to do as the church must always be informed by that reality.

Blessings,

James

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Updated: Jul 25

“You have searched me, Lord, and You know me.” Psalm 139:1


Many Christians today struggle with their awareness of God’s presence and activity in their lives. Likely, this is not because God’s presence and activity is absent but that they are not practiced in discerning it. This is where the Prayer of Examen can be an extremely valuable spiritual exercise for Christians. What follows is an adaptation of Richard Foster’s chapter on the subject from his book Prayer.


In the Prayer of Examen we ask God to come along side us, to guide us as we reflect on our day, week, or month. We do this so that God can give to us a sense of self-awareness but also so that He can show us where He has been present and active in our daily living.



Through the exercise, we reflect on the things we experienced and the people we interacted with, and we ask God to examine us. We ask Him to probe our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours and we invite Him to reveal to us the version of ourselves which He sees.


We may be tempted to resist this examination because we may be afraid of what His holy gaze will illuminate. As such, it is imperative that we invite the Holy Spirit into the exercise with us. The Spirit’s role is to comfort and to safeguard us as we face our unvarnished selves. Indeed, without the guidance of the Spirit we may be tempted towards the extremes of despair or pridefulness.


The Spirit’s role is also to remind us that God is for us, and He is therefore loving and gentle in His examination of us. While it may be uncomfortable at times to see ourselves through His eyes, it is also a productive experience through which God refines and empowers us for His service.


The Spirit's role is also to remind us that God is for us, and He is therefore loving and gentle in His examination of us.

This precious self-knowledge allows us to offer our whole selves to God, just as we are and not as we may believe ourselves to be. We become correctly positioned to give to Him our strengths, our weaknesses, our gifts, and our deficits.


The Prayer of Examen allows us to turn inward, so that we can see through ourselves and find Christ alive and at work in us, shaping us into His image.


The Prayer of Examen allows us to turn inward, so that we can see through ourselves and find Christ alive and at work in us, shaping us into His image.

The Prayer of Examen is also an opportunity for God to reveal Himself and His activity in our everyday living which we might otherwise overlook or fail to appreciate. This can be an incredibly uplifting and assuring experience for our faith. This spiritual activity can mean the difference between seeing God at work in the rear-view mirror versus being able to discern

His presence in every moment of our daily walk with him.


I would like to encourage you to begin praying the Prayer of Examen so that you can learn to discern God’s footprints next to yours as you walk in faith down life’s road together.


Blessings, James

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Updated: Jul 25

What then is the purpose of the desert experience? What is it that God is accomplishing in us?


Foster, drawing from the work of Saint John of the Cross, suggests that the purpose is our

purification and that we are being purified in two respects.



First, we are being purified externally as God uses the desert experience to wean us off our false expectations about religious activity. Through His perceived absence, God forces us to contend with the realization that no amount of ‘religion’ will elicit His presence. “After all, He’s not a tame lion.” (Lewis)


Likewise, we discover that our religious activity will not satisfy our deep longing for His

presence and the warmth of His gaze. Essentially, we learn that our relationship with Him is not conditional but is instead transcendent. It is a gift of His grace.


we discover that our religious activity will not satisfy our deep longing for His presence and the warmth of His gaze.

“God refused to jump when I said ‘Jump!’ Neither by theological acumen nor by religious

technique could I conquer God. God was, in fact, to conquer me.” (Foster)


Second, we are being purified internally as God uses the desert experience to wean us off our dependence upon interior results. In our experience of His silence, we are forced to wrestle with our doubts and probe the foundations of our belief.


“Our trust in all exterior and interior results is (being) shattered so that we can learn faith in God alone. Through our barrenness of soul God is producing detachment, humility, patience, (and) perseverance.” (Foster)


How should we faithfully respond in these times of God’s seeming absence? Foster suggests the following two-fold response.


Complain – This likely sounds strange. We’ve been conditioned not to complain but the Bible is full of the complaints and laments of God’s people. They testify to the appropriateness of raising our complaints to heaven.


Pursue – In the midst of our desert experiences we should doggedly pursue God. What we have learned to do in the light of God’s presence we ought to persevere in during the lonely barrenness of His perceived absence. Persistence in worship and prayer produces in us hearts bent towards God in all of life’s circumstances.


Through our desert experiences, we learn to love God because of who He is, in spite of who we are, and wholly apart from what He may do for us. We learn instead, to trust in His character and His promises. In this way, faith is produced in our seasons of waiting on Him.


I hope this will be a comfort to you when you face your own desert experience.


Blessings, James.

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