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A Symbiotic Spirituality

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"My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you," (Galatians 4:19, NIV)[1]

1.   The Experience of Becoming

I remember a few years ago now when Brian Scott began to run again.  He did some running a few years ago and then it sort of fell by the wayside with him.  But he picked it up again and has been training for something ever since, it seems.  He has become an excellent runner who desires to use this talent somehow to make an impact for Christ.  Some of that impact is influence – to sow seeds of faith in the hearts and minds of people that may one day take root and ultimately blossom into a personal relationship with Christ.  Also it means that he desires to have the privilege at some point of being the person who is right there when the spiritual baby is born.  Perhaps even to be the one who delivers the baby.  There’s nothing quite like it.  By now there are many fathers in this room who have been privileged to see their own children born.  They have been there to see their eyes open for the first time, to see the chest convulse as their first breath is drawn into brand new lungs and to watch the mouth come open and to hear that first cry which never sounds that good again.

There are so many parallels to the spiritual birth.  There is nothing quite like that experience of watching a person being born of faith.  And when you see that happen, especially in the life of a person in whom you have invested, you carry special concern that they persevere.  That spiritual life is nurtured and developed and that they are protected from danger, even as our own flesh and blood children.

But back to Brian.  One day we were talking and he verbally framed a metamorphosis, a change in him.  He said to me, “Before I was someone who ran, now I am a runner.”

The difference between what we do, what occupies our interests and our time and our resources and what we are, what we become.

And there are people who do good things for many different reasons but at some point they become.  And when that happens that changes forever the way that they do what they do and it provides passion in the “doing” that they have never known before.

You can read the Bible for years and take it in.  You can know it to a degree, but until you know the heart of the author you’ll never know the book  as it is meant to be known.  And once you know His heart, you’ll find it on every page,

" We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”— but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ." (1 Corinthians 2:6-16, NIV)[2]

Do you have the “mind of Christ” today?  If He lives in you, if you have received Him as your personal Savior then you have that mind within you, but perhaps untapped, unexplored within you but not “formed in you”.

2.   The Effects of Becoming

·        Changes the way that you see the world

Once it is “formed in you” it is impossible to see the world as you once saw it. 

·        Faith becomes more than “escapism”.  

No wonder so many Christians have so little impact in the world in which they live.  They just want to escape negative influence for fear that it will somehow spoil their experience.  Victorious Christian living for them has nothing to do with being used by God as a change agent, a catalyst for spiritual revolution.  They define successful spiritual experience by the things that they don’t do.  And they refuse to embark on the adventure of faith – of following Christ wherever He might lead.  They are reductionist in their living, wanting to define their future by their past.  Past experience tells then that there is nothing else for them, that there are no new realms of faith to explore and so they live without passion and become sterile saints, incapable of birthing anything new. The only thing left is that which will transpire in the next life.  People like this are unsalty dim and dull.

" “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden." (Matthew 5:13-14, NIV)[3]

I don’t know of anyone in this room today who aspires to spiritual impotence.  But I do know this, if your definition of spirituality does not include the adventure of faith in the here and now then you are missing something vital.

·        Involves addressing what has been neglected.

"Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised." (Hebrews 6:7-12, NIV)[4]

Do you know what kind of land produces thorns and thistles – land that is neglected and not worked.  For some here today there are vast tracts of neglected acreage in your life.  It is an unused, untapped resource.  What might it become?  What glorious things might God do with the areas of your life that you are ignoring today?

I have always loved this portion of scripture in Hosea.

"Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers righteousness on you." (Hosea 10:12, NIV)[5]

One of these Sundays – it only takes one Sunday to make a lifetime of difference – I am going to have an invitation at the end of the service for you to come forward and trade your watches in for a week.  I am going to ask you to give us your timepiece in exchange for a hospital bracelet with this scripture reference on it.  And then to live for one week without a ready reference on your wrist.  Reflexively you will look at the wristband throughout the week and be reminded that the time that you have been given is short and each moment is a gift of God that can be invested or squandered for eternity.

Way back to Paul now.

 "My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you," (Galatians 4:19, NIV)[6]

3.   The Epiphany of Becoming

There is a place where we “become” what we practice.  I remember that epiphany as a minister.  I was working with youth in Jamestown NY.  Nearly everyday I sat in McDonalds with a young person to try to input relationally into the process of Christ being “formed” in them.  Sometimes I was hesitant to speak everything that perhaps should have been spoken.  Then one day I experienced the joy of saying something that turned a light on for one of these kids.  I realized that God had spoken through me to bring revelation to this young person.  I remembered that I was a minister, called to do this sort of thing.  It was exhilarating.  I’ve never forgotten it.  It has been a benchmark for ministry ever since.  I was a minister.  It was more than just activity but Divine empowerment.

You, dear friends are sons and daughters of the Almighty God.  You have connections.  The Word birthed into your life is the most powerful influence that can be exercised in our society today.  The Spirit of Christ alive within you, morphed, formed in you can bring back the saltiness to your experience.  Your life can make others “thirsty” for God. 

Anyone thirsty?

·        A partnership is required between the Holy Spirit and the spirit of man if Christ is to be formed in us.

"And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother." (1 John 4:14-21, NIV)[7]

As good as a church is, and I want to tell you that we have a good one, a church cannot serve as the agent of spiritual formation.  It has to be the result of a tandem effort between God and yourself.  He moves His light and I walk in it.  I walk out of the darkness that comes into my life by my failure to move.  Sometimes spiritual darkness encroaches my heart simply because I fail to move ahead.  I think that this happens with regularity in the church.  We perpetuate programs that keep people busy.  They commit themselves to good things and neglect to give their spiritual welfare time and attention. 

Layton Ford is a perfectionist.  He cares for the things that he owns.  He takes his 4-wheeler apart many fall seasons and cleans and repaints and lubricates.  Consequently his vehicles are in a state of newness.

What would our experience of Christ be if we cared for our souls as we care for the things that we possess?

·        More than a priority.

Suppose Christianity is not a religion but a way of life, a falling in love with God, and, through Him, a falling in love with our fellows.  Of course, such a way is hard and costly, but it is also joyous and rewarding even in the here-and-now.  People who follow that Way know beyond all possible argument that they are in harmony with the purpose of God, that Christ is with them and in them as they set about His work in our disordered world.  If anyone thinks this is perilous and revolutionary teaching, so much the better.  That is exactly what they thought of the teaching of Jesus Christ.  The light He brought to bear upon human affairs is almost unbearably brilliant: but it is the light of Truth, and in that light human problems can be solved.

... J. B. Phillips (1906-1982), When God Was Man [1954]

I have struggled in this New Year with the idea of making Christ a priority in my life.  I have once again thought in terms of “doing” my faith rather than allowing God to rule in every activity, every experience, good and bad.  Asking Him to rule my reactions, to create an unnatural response to the negative stimuli of life.  To offer forgiveness when I am deliberately wronged, as Christ would do.

(Symbiotic - Biology. A close, prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may, but does not necessarily, benefit each member.  A relationship of mutual benefit or dependence. )

Let me close this morning with this contemporary prayer for the formation of Christ within us.  It’s called the “Psalm of Singlemendedness”

A Psalm of Singlemindedness

Lord of reality

make me real

not plastic


pretend phony

An actor playing out his part


I don't want

to keep a prayer list

but to pray

nor agonize to find your will

but obey

what I already know

to argue

theories of inspiration

but submit to your Word

I don't want

 to explain the difference

between eros and philos

and agape

but to love

I don't want to sing

as if I mean it.

I want to mean it.

I don't want to tell it life it is

but to be it

like you want it.

I don't want

to tell others how to do it

but to do it

to have to be always right but

to admit it when I'm wrong.

I don't want to be a census taker

but an obstetrician

not an involved person, a professional

but a friend

I don't want to be insensitive

but to hurt where other people hurt

nor to say, "I know how you feel."

but to say, "God knows."

and I'll try

if you'll be patient with me

and meanwhile I'll be quiet.

I don't want to scorn the cliches of others

but to mean everything I say

including this.

If we are to

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NIV)[8]


[1]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[4]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[5]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[6]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[7]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[8]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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