Category Archives: Intentionality

#Intentionality for Christ at Midlife

Midlife, for most of us, is a season of routine and endurance when retirement and ease seem more and more attractive. We will experience a noticeable decline in health and at least a slight increase in weight. By forty-five, the body’s metabolism slows down, causing weight gain. It is a great time to take aim and to get serious about diet and exercise. Our middle years are our best decades to make our greatest contributions in our callings, but it is a season marked by loss. There is a common loss of health, hope, parents on earth, children at home, friendships nearby, and more. Although this will vary according to the individual, these losses are a common part of life. Only an intentional approach to overcome these challenges will make this season transformational for the subsequent spiritual formation season of legacy.

Robert Davis Smart. Intentionality for Christ: What’s My Aim? (Kindle Locations 223-228). WestBow Press. Kindle Edition.

How Christianity Spreads?

An Ancient Letter explaining why Christianity spread so quickly

“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.

They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.” 

From a letter to Diognetus (Nn. 5-6; Funk, 397-401)

Getting Over Yourself? Ask Martin Luther

“We conclude, therefore, that a Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor. Otherwise he is not a Christian. He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbor. Yet he always remains in God & in His love.” Luther Works, vol. 31, p. 371.

500 years ago Martin Luther was born again by the Spirit and the Word of the Gospel; he was set free from his self-loathing and trying to establish a righteousness of his own (Romans 10:3). What he taught so often after October 1517 was how to get outside of yourself; namely, beyond yourself and caught up into God, then beneath yourself or by downward mobility towards your neighbors.

My Congolese friends in Kinshasa teach me by faith to get beyond myself and caught up into God, and underneath my neighbor in love. Here is another example of getting over or outside yourself as a Christian:

Luther’s Larger Commentary on Galatians,

“And this is the reason why our theology is certain: it snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves, so that we do not depend on our own strength, conscience, experience, person, or works but depend on that which is outside ourselves, that is, on the promise and truth of God, which cannot deceive.”

Four Seasons of Spiritual Formation

Our identity, besides being one of the most precious things to prevent from theft, crisis, or loss, is extremely important to God. The Father has given his children an identity in Christ that will shape us on our journey to heaven. If in the process of identity formation we ignore what God says concerning our identity, then we may expect confusion in other seasons of spiritual formation. four-seasons-chart_print

Just after birth, a child is given an identity. Identity formation, however, is a longer process. When Jesus Christ was approximately thirty years of age the Father spoke of his identity at his baptism just before entering fully into his calling. In the same way, identity in Christ ought to precede our calling to Christ. It is at this important season of identity that Satan challenges each of us, as he did our Lord. The devil’s first attacks on our Lord were aimed at his identity: “If you are the Son of God.”

The evil trinity—the world, the flesh, and the devil—is seeking to kill and destroy us in each season of spiritual formation. In the spring they confuse our identity, in the summer our calling, in the autumn our intentionality, and in the winter our legacy. The world escorts us to the pit; the flesh entices us to fall in; and the devil pushes us over the edge. “The pit,” as it were, represents a dark and slimy collection of lies, condemning thoughts, and foolish strategies designed to confuse and distort our identity formation.

Start a spiritual formation group on your campus or in your church this Fall by ordering a book designed for each season. See the following link

An Identity Group is the first of four spiritual formation groups designed to shape us into the likeness of Jesus Christ. It assumes that you have to begin here before asking the next three major questions of the Christian life: Where’s my place (calling)? How do I steward all my gifts, resources, and efforts with intentionality in the light of eternity (intentionality)? What inheritance, testament, and benediction do I leave behind as I prepare to cross the river of death in order to gain eternity (legacy)?

Rejoicing in the Lord

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

(Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Sometimes suffering surprises the Christian because God’s purposes are weightier for us than we imagined. God purposes to wean us off everything else until we realize that God is all we ever wanted. It is then that the Christian, unlike others, is empowered to rejoice in the Lord.

Habakkuk, a godly prophet, moves from tested faith in God’s goodness to triumphant faith in God’s goodness in three chapters; from fretting to rejoicing and from wrestling to triumph. The amazing truth is this: it is possible to rejoice in the Lord on the heights, while facing the deepest levels of sorrow and affliction.

What is this rejoicing and when does it occur? Rejoicing in the Lord is a leap over our circumstances when there is no more money in the bank and one’s health is in decline. It is coming to the conclusion that no matter how difficult life is in a fallen world that God is good.

Alan Gardner, a missionary in 1851, was shipwrecked with others off the coast of South America. He was the last one still living. When his journal was found after his death, it quoted Psalm 34:10: “Young lions so lack and suffer hunger, but they that seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing.” Gardner wrote his last line: “I am overwhelmed with a sense of the goodness of God.”

All afflictions are designed to push the believer up to the heights above his circumstances, while still rejoicing in the Lord. Although some get bitter and angry, reintroducing God (whom they did not acknowledge before) into a philosophical debate over why He permits the righteous to suffer, the Christian abides in God’s steadfast love from the first signs of affliction to the end. You become like the object you worship. Jerry Bridges in his book Trusting God wrote: “We can be sure that the development of a beautiful, Christ-like character will not occur in our lives without adversity.”

How is this rejoicing obtained? It is realized by intentionality about one’s future. “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,” the man of God says two times. Just as the apostle Paul wrote from prison, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice!” Why? The best is yet to come.

You Really need to make up your Mind

 A debate with Jesus began when an Old Testament scholar brought an old chestnut; a repeated and tedious debate about the 613 commands of God in the scriptures at that time. Which one was the most important? Jesus cited two in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19. Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the scriptures” (Matthew 22:37-40).

The scholar was overwhelmed because he understood that every command was motivated and practiced by perfect love. He responded, therefore, saying that all the burnt offerings in the world would not be sufficient to make up for the human deficiencies in loving well, let alone perfectly.

Jesus, gladdened by the scholar’s response, said: “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). This man made progress because he saw he needed Christ’s righteousness and death to pardon his sins. We are half way to heaven when we admit we are not saved, but we are still not all the way until we receive the free gift of salvation by faith alone.

There once was a dear man in this condition. One Sunday night he went to church, and God spoke to him through the sermon. Christ was striving with him that night. The pastor invited people to meet with him in his office to receive the free gift of eternal life.

The Service finished, and out he went on his way back home. Sliding down the row, walking out the aisle, pushing open the doors, and marching along the sidewalk, he found himself unable to walk out the gates. He suddenly turned! He went marching back along the sidewalk, pushing open the doors, and walking up the aisle. As he was approaching the pastor’s office door, he was struck with the thought: “This is crazy.” So he went back out the church, walking out down the aisle, pushing open the doors, marching along the sidewalk, and finding himself unable to step through the gates. He suddenly turned back!

This went on for two or three times while a church officer was tending the gates, and was watching this guy. He looked, to him, like a man pursued by an unseen being. That is because he was. The officer said to him: “Listen, you really will need to make up your mind. Is it going to be in or out? I am shutting these doors and gates soon.” And the man, who was not far from the kingdom of God, replied: “By God’s grace it will be in!”

The man at the gate is Jesus, and you may be the one not far from His kingdom. Jesus says to you today: “Listen, you really will need to make up your mind. Is it going to be in or out? I am soon shutting these gates.” You better at least come to the point where you are prepared to say like the man, who was not far from the k, in reply: “By God’s grace it will be in!”

Don’t Waste Your Life – John Piper

Key Question: What does it mean to steward and aim all my resources, gifts, and efforts with Gospel intentionality?

“But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” —Genesis 19:26

“For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and [is] gone.” — 2 Timothy 4:10

“As the time drew near for his return to heaven, he moved steadily onward toward Jerusalem with an iron will . . . But Jesus told him, ‘Anyone who lets himself be distracted from the work I plan for him is not fit for the Kingdom of God.’ ” — Luke 9:51, 62

“I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” — Acts 20:24

“The way to do a great deal is to keep on doing a little. The way to do nothing at all is to be continually resolving that you will do everything.” Charles H. Spurgeon

To live with Gospel Intentionality for Christ in light of a final legacy from Christ, and an eternity with Christ

Spiritual Formation at Mid-life

Today we begin our third Gospel transformational, five-week course called Intentionality for Christ. It reviews our identity in Christ, reminds us of our callings to Christ, and addresses the middle-age struggles with regret, broken dreams, and busyness.

Intentionality, besides being a philosophical concept, is defined as a disposition of the will; as a noun, it is the state of being volitional in nature. The Latin etymology indicates the relevant idea of directedness or tension arising from aiming towards a particular target.
The evil trinity—the world, the flesh, and the devil—is seeking to destroy us in each season of our spiritual formation. In the Spring they mess with our identity, in the Summer our calling, in the
Autumn with our intentionality, and in the Winter with our preparation for heaven—our legacy. The world ushers Christians in this age-bracket near to yet another pit, the flesh persuades us to fall in, and the devil pushes us over the edge. “The pit,” as it were, represents an aimless waste-collection of unused gifts, time, and  resources that could have been invested more strategically for Christ’s honor and the Gospel’s advance.

Send questions, if you like. There will be further posts on this topic forthcoming. Bob

A Faithful Man, Who Can Find?

For one year I prayed for God to give me one faithful man I could invest my life into, one whom God would pour out His Spirit upon and use mightily for His glory. One year is all long time, especially since I intentionally moved my family next to a college campus of 20,000 students for this one purpose.

Zach didn’t particularly care for me, and his friends were coming to my home and bible discussions. Well, I was so pleasantly surprised to hear the next year that he was all in for discipleship – he was full on.

This picture 24ced7d8-40bc-4a73-b9cc-c0208eb4e226@2xreminds me of his story of us in Sensing Jesus, describing an early morning time of prayer on a Colorado mountain side some thirty years ago.

Zach invests in faithful men now, and two of my sons attend his church and meet man to man with him just like we did decades before. Zach is a popular author, husband, father, seminary teacher, and pastor in St. Louis, MO.

Here is a first step into his blog work and more:

Risk: There is a tide in the affairs of men

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures. Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

Brutus and Cassius are discussing the final phase of their civil war with the forces of Octavian and Marcus Antonius. Cassius has been urging that they group their forces at Sardis and take advantage of the secure location to catch their breath. Brutus, however, advocates heading off the enemy at Philippi before Octavian can recruit more men. Brutus’s main point is that, since “the enemy increaseth every day” and “We, at the height, are ready to decline” (lines 216–217), he and Cassius must act now while the ratio of forces is most advantageous. “There’s a tide in the affairs of men,” he insists; that is, power is a force that ebbs and flows in time, and one must “go with the flow.” img_2862

Waiting around only allows your power to pass its crest and begin to ebb; if the opportunity is “omitted” (missed), you’ll find yourself stranded in miserable shallows.

Ships usually need high tides to enter a port or leave it. We cannot control these tides. When these tides come or leave the coast, the ships in waiting must use this opportunity by making no delay. Brutus here says that it is the ripe time, and their army should tackle Octavious and Antony’s forces. However, if they wait further, then they would lose their soldiers and might face defeat. Are you trusting God when opportunities arise? Ecclesiastes 11 warns us about delaying: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.”

This is a metaphorical expression of ebbs and flows helps us to recognize whether the tide is an opportunity or an obstacle. This requires us to risk and interpret providence, and avail it as an opportunity or a warning sign.

Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest (June 8th) above offers discerning thoughts on the nature of risk.