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Going Deeper - #1 A new spiritual reality

Maurits Stevens, March 5, 2017

Today Maurits kicked off a new series called Going Deeper about the practice of spiritual disciplines. As a Christian you are 'married' even when you are single? How do you keep that relationship with God aliving and thriving? How do you survive a season of spiritual dryness? Today we lay a foundation on how you can develop activities that will help you to enjoy more fully the act of love of God & to remain in that constant fellowship and relationship with God.


Intro: Keeping up a healthy Relationship

This year, in September, Margot and I celebrate our 14th Anniversary. As we prepared our marriage the books told us that after three years you probably would have your first crisis, then after 7 years another one and so on... So the first two years I could just sit back, relax and enjoy our marriage. And then, as the third year started, it was time to get nervous for this would be the year of crisis J! Will our marriage survive? Although there might be some truth in this statistics, the crisis never came. I worried for nothing…Being 14 years down the road and I am of course very grateful. First of all to the Lord, because it’s all by his grace that He brought our lives together. And second to Margot – she is the best I ever could have in life.

And of course, crisis passed by in those 14 years and definitely will show up in the following years. A big one was the birth of our daughter Therese, with all the complications and challenges we faced and still do. But what is the secret to a sustainable marriage? I am not sure if there is a ‘secret’ – I guess it is purely God’s grace and Him being the foundation of our lives and marriage. But God’s grace alone is not enough, you need to work hard and do your best to keep your marriage alive, thriving and passionate.

You need to constantly invest in your relationship, there is the constant practice of patience, forgiveness, grace and mercy – especially with a guy like me J! But it’s in this constant practice in the small things that you are able to go through times that you’re really tested! You need do stuff together, create romance. Funny story: last week our kids stayed at my sisters place. And thus Margot and I took advantage of it and went out for dinner. Last year I got this dinner card and we decided to use that card that particular night, so that we could take a bit more luxury dinner. And we really felt like a VIP that evening. Until I had to pay the bill…the dinner card turned out to be expired J! At first I was in shock, but later we thought it was quite hilarious. You see, humour is another important ingredient to keep your marriage healthy and fun.

Now, why tell this story? Because there is a parallel with the Christian faith. At the core of your faith is your relationship with God. And the relationship between you and God in the Bible is seen as a marital-covenant relationship [Ex. 19-20].

And how do you keep that relationship with God alive and thriving? How do you survive spiritual crisis or dryness? How do you keep your love and passion for Jesus on fire?

Today I start with a series called ‘Going Deeper’. It’s a series about the practice of spiritual disciplines. Activities that will help you to enjoy more fully the active love of God and remain in that constant fellowship with God.

I begin today with laying a foundation and speak about ‘spirituality’ first. And for this I would like to turn to 1 John 1. This letter is written by the apostle John, one of Jesus original 12 disciples. John had a special relationship with Jesus. He was probably the one ‘whom Jesus loved’ [John 21:20]. And really, if you want to learn more about God’s love and how to dwell into a deep loving and intimate relationship with God, read his gospel and his letters. Maybe it’s something that you can do during this season of Lent?

Reading: 1 John 1:1-4

A new Spiritual Reality

John starts this letter as he is playing darts and immediately throws an 180. Bam – got ya! He totally skips any formal introduction and jumps right into what’s on his heart. ‘I have something to say…I have something to proclaim’, and it is great, and it is wonderful and it is ‘to make God first again!’ Really, that’s the bottom line of his message and I will say a little more about that later.

But I would like to start somewhere else. With the sort of life that John proclaims. A new spiritual reality. It is the spiritual life in fellowship with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ [1 J. 1:3]!

You might say, of course, I know that as I Christian I am called into a relationship with God and that I’ve received a new life. But do you truly know that? I mean, are you truly aware of what this new spiritual reality is? And how does that affect your everyday life? Speaking for myself – I am not always aware of it, and because of that might begin to live as everybody else does, completely missing out on the power, the fullness and richness of the sort of life that God offers!

What is this new spiritual reality? What is this sort of life that God offers? It is ‘life eternal’, in Greek; ‘zoe ten aionion’. Bear with me for a second, because I really want you to grasp the depth of this.

What do think what ‘eternal life is about and when does it start?’ […think about it for a second…] Does eternal life mean that I go to heaven when I die? For sure, it’s part of it. But it is not so much the part that John emphasises in his letter [except from 3:2-3]. Rather, John speaks about the ‘eternal life’ as a spiritual reality ‘here and now’ in your present life.

The word ‘zoe’ means ‘life’. Life in general – as everybody has and lives. But whenever you read ‘zoe’ in the Bible it refers to another kind of life. Or rather another ‘quality’ of life. ‘Zoe’ refers to the life that find its origin and source in God! It is a ‘supernatural’ way of life – released to you by the holy Spirit [e.g. Acts 2:38]! It is the life given to you by God – and because of that carries the quality and character of ‘eternity’. And yes, eternity means ‘eternity’; it continues after you die physically. John proclaims a sort of life in which ‘the power of the future age’ – which is the eternal kingdom of God – infuses you right here, right now!

This is the spiritual life in God’s kingdom, people! A new spiritual reality by which your life receives the quality, character and power of eternity! This is the sort of life that Jesus Christ came about to bring – ‘zoe ten aionion’! But how does such a life look like? How does the power of the future age affect your everyday life in 2017?

If we limit ourselves to this first letter of John you will find that eternal life is in fellowship with God [1:3] by which you share in God’s light [1:5-7] and in the forgiveness, victory and power over sin and the devil [1:7-2:14, 3:8, 5:4-5]]. Zoe ten ainion is a life filled with ‘God’s Word’ and ‘God’s Love’ [2:14-15].  It’s the everlasting life, in the Son and in the Father, under the anointing of the holy Spirit [2:20-27]. It’s a life given to you through a new spiritual birth, by which you’ve become a child of God [2:228-3:1]. It carries the quality of ‘divine love’ by which you learn to love your brothers, sisters and mankind [3:14]. In fact, John even says that without Jesus you not even have life. You might breath, but your spiritually dead and thus you’re not alive at all [1 J. 5:12]!

The life that is revealed by God in his Son Jesus Christ, God offers now to us. Study the life of Jesus! The life of Jesus himself carries that quality, character and power of the future age, with the powerful climax  of his resurrection from the dead. And now, this sort of life [of resurrection power, Phil. 3:10] is offered to you…Quite something, isn’t it?

 

Now, this may all sound a bit theological, but I really want you to become aware of the spiritual richness that you and I are called to. And I do hope that somehow you grasp the power of this new spiritual reality. I become a bit more practical in the following and see how this new spiritual reality relates to your relationship [or: spirituality] with God.

True Spirituality

I remember years ago, when I wasn’t a Christian and studied Physical Education here in Groningen, I joined a climbing camp. At that time I really was searching for purpose in life and exploring spirituality was part of that. A friend of mine was into transcendental meditation – and somehow it seemed to work with him. In those days, may soul was really restless and at times desperate and anxious. As I went on this camp, I was the only one of my year and kind of felt alone. Now, feeling alone with such ‘heart condition’ is not a good mixture: I began to feel depressed. There was this nice river near to our campsite and I thought; why not try to meditate as well? Maybe it will work and will I feel more at ease and peace! So I went to that river side, found myself a nice and private spot and sat down in a position for meditation. I actually didn’t know what to do – I didn’t had a mantra to meditate on as my friend – and thus I thought it would be a good idea to concentrate on the sound of a small waterfall. And there I go…’hmmmm ;)’….at first the sound was nice, then after 20 seconds the sound became annoying and after one minute it made me so restless that I gave up. This way of meditation wasn’t quite helpful to me…

True spiritual life is not possible apart from true belief in Jesus as the Son of God! This is the radical announcement and proclamation of John [1:1, 2, 5:13]. As he says in 5:13 ‘I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life’.

John proclaims not a theory, not a thesis, nor a grand idea. John proclaims a person: Jesus Christ – the Word of life! Jesus Christ not only preached ‘the Word’ – He is the Word that became flesh [John 1:14]! His coming on earth was a historic event; this makes the Christian faith so utterly different than the many mystic philosophies and religions across this world.

And because of that it is Jesus Christ who stands at the core of your [or Christian] spirituality [and thus of the disciplines]! You don’t have to concentrate on the sound of a waterfall – but on the living and real Jesus, the Word of life! He is the centre! Jesus is the goal!

And the fruit of putting Jesus at the very centre of your spirituality is that you will more fully experience the spiritual life in God’s kingdom and begin to live a fruitful life [John 15:1-8]!

Practicing Spiritual Disciplines

Our vision for Vineyard Groningen is focused on discipleship. Following Jesus, learning from Him and adopting his overall lifestyle. It’s key to spiritual life. And we explain discipleship as living out a three-dimensional life in terms of UP with God, IN with the community of believers and OUT with the hurting world around us. This series deals in particular with your UP relationship with God. It is our dream that everyone who is part of us is drawn into a lifestyle of worship and intimacy with God.

This is exactly John’s desire: for you to share in the fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ [1:3]. But how do you do that? How do you remain in Jesus? What does a lifestyle of worship and intimacy with God look like? Is that the constant singing of worship songs at your job? I give you three minutes tomorrow….before you get fired J!

Recently I had a brief open and honest chat with a Christian who said: ‘I guess that over the years, being here in Holland, my faith has been secularized…’ And this indeed is one of the big challenges we face as Christians in the West. The powers of secularization, consumerism, materialism, individualism – it all influences your life. The danger is that I slowly begin to live as everybody else does in which my Christian faith doesn’t make any difference [apart from going to church]. And exactly the same happened in those churches to whom John writes. Many of these Christians had compromised their faith and conformed to the way of life of the world. Jesus was no longer in the centre. And thus he takes up his pencil, to put these Christians back on track in order to fully enjoy this new spiritual life to which they once were called to by God!

How do you maintain that constant fellowship with the Father and the Son? How do you keep enjoying that active love of God in your everyday life and keep that passion Him burning? Just as in any other relationship – you need to put some effort into it!

This is where the ‘spiritual disciplines’ comes in and where I will be focusing on in the next coming weeks. The spiritual disciplines are simply activities that you practice in order to remain in that constant fellowship with God.

 

What activities are those disciplines? If you look into 1 John, you indirectly discover practices like: worship, prayer, celebration, confession, meditating on God’s Word, sacrifice, fellowship and submission. Likewise, if you take the life of Jesus as an example, you would find that he himself practiced these sort of activities. E.g. Jesus grew up in the seclusion of a simple family in lowly Nazareth. At the age of 12 he had developed astonishing understanding of Scripture [Luke 2:45-52]. After receiving baptism, Jesus was in solitude and fasted for a month and a half. During his ministry he was alone much of the time, often spending the entire night in solitude and prayer, before serving the needs of the people the following day, etc.

These sorts of activities are what is called ‘spiritual disciplines’. And really, I encourage you to begin to practice those activities, centred on Christ, and as you do so, it is my earnest prayer that you begin to experience more fully the new spiritual life in God’s kingdom!

Overflow of Joy [sharing in the full blessing]

Let me come to a closing. True spiritual life is not possible apart from true belief in Jesus as the Son of God [5:12]! As far as John is concerned [myself included], it is the only true, satisfying and joyful life available. Maybe you are here and you are desperately longing for purpose, fulfilment, or to go deeper with God. Maybe you want to see your Christian faith really making a difference in your life. If that’s true to you then you need to do 2 things: 1] turn to the one who is able to give you this new spiritual life: God himself. And 2] believe in Jesus as the Son of God, meaning: surrender yourself fully to Jesus, become His disciple, his apprentice.

John testifies from his own experience that as you do this and as you share in that true fellowship with the Father and the Son, you can’t be more happy. In fact, a joy will be released that fills you up until you’re completely full – until the lid – nothing more can be added, unless you explode…[Rom. 15:13].

 

Outline & Questions for the Home Group

Opening

  • Prayerfully read and meditate as a group on 1 John 1:1-4 [10-15 min’s.]
    • What word/verse is highlighted for you?
    • What do you think the Lord is saying to you through this passage?
    • Share briefly with one another what you believe God has been saying to you.

Group dialogue [30-45 min’s.]

  1. What does John say about Jesus Christ in this particular passage?
  2. What other passages in the Bible does verse 1-2 reminds you about?
  3. How do you understand ‘eternal life’? Is the insight that the ‘eternal life’ starts here and now new to you?
  4. What would you expect from such a life? What do you think the Bible says about the quality, character and power of eternal life? How could this affect your everyday life?
  5. In the message I talk about ‘spirituality’. How would you define ‘spirituality’?
  6. ‘True spiritual life is not possible apart from true belief in Jesus as the Son of God’ – Do you agree? If so, why? If not, why?
  7. It is our [Vineyard Groningen] dream that everyone who is part of us is drawn into a lifestyle of worship and intimacy with God. What is worship? How do you practice worship in your everyday life? Likewise, how do you seek intimacy with Jesus?
  8. What challenges do you face in your discipleship to Jesus in this particular part of the World? How do you deal with it?
  9. ‘Spiritual disciplines are simply activities that you practice in order to remain in that constant fellowship with God’. Are you familiar with the practice of Spiritual Disciplines? If so, in what way? If not, what would you expect spiritual disciplines to be?

Prayer / Ministry [10 min’s.]

  • Invite the Lord’s presence and take a few minutes to become aware of God’s presence
  • Ask the holy Spirit to fill you with His joy – take some time for this and allow the holy Spirit to gently touch your life and fill your heart with the overflow of His presence
  • Enjoy God’s presence [go a little deeper]
  • Maybe God has been speaking to you – share it with the group. If it is a word for someone else you can pray for that person. You can also share experiences.
  • Bless one another with the words: ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the holy Spirit’ [Rom. 15:13]

WHERE TO START

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