The 9: Fruits of the Spirit

p16_Evelyn Underhill-1-I’ve been reading one of my favorite Christian thinkers, Evelyn Underhill. You can go to Amazon and download a ton of her books for .99 or free. They are public domain. She lived from 1875-1941 and was a great philosophical, theological, and mystical thinker for the Christian faith. The Anglican and Episcopal church celebrate her veneration on June 15th. So she’s legit. But I warn you in advance, you may want to start with her retreat material instead of her straight up theology material. It’s thick.

As I was reading her work on the fruit of the Spirit, she said something that got my gears rolling. She said, “I do not think that St. Paul arranged his list of the fruits of the Spirit in a casual order. They represent a progressive series from one point and that one point is Love, the living eternal seed from which all grow.” (Fruits of the Spirit page 14)

I have always thought of the list as a list of casual order, but I have been wrong, for Paul was too smart and intentional to write with such inattention. Paul has a specific task to take on in writing to the Galatian churches. He is approaching the issue of moralism and legalism within the church and how to correct it.

Moralism and Legalism is an attempt to earn the favor of God through good and correct behavior. We all fall into this trap, the trouble is when you start to lead others there and preach it as gospel, which Paul says that let that person be accursed, so look out fundies, don’t read Galatians because Paul is after you. The problem with moralism is that it is an aversion to the Gospel of grace and faith. It is easy to tell when someone takes a diversion from the Gospel into utter paganism, but it is harder to tell when someone has diverted from the Gospel through their own goodness.

Our problem is that we see the kind of life that the Bible is asking of us, and we compare this to our own life, and we see two options: 1. Give up 2. Fake it. Many Christians, as I have in my past, have taken option number two. I mean, who doesn’t want to measure up?! So here we are with a bare tree of faith with no moral fruit hanging on it, so we dress it up like a Christmas tree with ornamental morals precariously hung from our timid branches, and when someone bumps us or irritates us, our ornamental morals fall off and shatter on the ground. Then we take a double dose of guilt and shame and double our efforts to keep those ornaments hung.

There is a problem with ornamental morals. They are fake and contain no life within them to multiply themselves. They only are for the glory and use of the ornamented. This is why self-control comes last on the fruits list. We want to start with self-control, but there is a process that we have to walk in order to see self-control take place, eight other fruits precede it, and lead to it. This is the third way that Paul describes in Galatians, but it is a longer path that requires much patience. It is not giving up or faking it.

Our faith life is like a lathe_9_Patiencerge tree that starts from a seed, a seed of God’s love planted in our life, His full blown, all out, recklessly extravagant love. This love meets us in every place of our brokenness and loves us still, even though we are so broken. As we learn the depth of our brokenness and belovedness, we cultivate this seed of love, and eventually roots start to plant. These roots are the grounding of the plant and hold it firm: Joy and Peace.

Joy and Peace are refined through trial and storm and a stalk of patience emerges from the soil. Patience, we learn is refined and expanded love that has been tested. This stalk becomes firm and tough, able to withstand the winds of the storms of life. Eventually branches start to reach out to the world, branches of kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and meekness. These characteristics are how we reach the world.

On these branches are fruits of self-control, which is far more than the willpower to not sin, but it is the ability to control one’s self and operate in the manner in which God would have us to operate in order to bring his will to fruition in certain circumstances. Instead of an opportunity to sin, we have a transformed opportunity to do good and bring about God’s will.

And of course hidden within our self-control are seeds of God’s love that can be planted within the world to see more lives touched by God’s life.


What is Eternal Life pt 3

st-john-receiving-revelation-on-the-island-of-patmosI Once Cried During Lord I Lift Your Name on High…

God comes to us disguised as our life” as Paul D’Arcy states so poetically. We wish it were a little more dramatic than that. As a young Christian, I mostly thought that the experience of God happened in the emotional realm. It can, and it does, but I mistakenly thought that this was the whole of how God came to me. I would long for emotional highs of retreat, conference, missions, and worship experiences. This meant that God was divorced from the rest of my life: the boring aspects of going to work, doing schoolwork, relating to irritating people. I think that this is a natural beginning season with God where we find God only in the positive and easy places to see Him, mostly in emotional experiences.

But God refuses to leave us in this shallow puddle of faith and invites us into the deeper waters of faith. He shows us this by the life of the Incarnation. The Incarnation is the even we celebrate every December 25th, when God put on flesh and came as a baby in the manger. Yet I did not realize the extent of this celebration and it’s meaning as a young Christian, and I am still plumbing the depths today.

The Incarnation changed everything. God put flesh on and moved into our neighborhood, lived our experiences, overcame our temptations, died our death, and was raised in Resurrection into a glorified body. Resurrection is not to merely come back from the dead, but to come back transformed. Jesus was not like who he was before he died. His faithfulness to death transformed him. So the Father glorified Jesus, and we share in that glorification.

God did some important things with the incarnation. One, God illustrated a practice of our faith that is very applicable to our daily lives. The incarnation shows us that our faith and our life are to be married together and not seen as separate entities. We are living in a new creation within the old creation as its ambassadors. We are bringing heaven to earth with the way we practice our faith.

Eternal life is living fully into this new creation with all its joys and hardships.

It is the quality of life within this new creation. A way of living with God in the present that is so rich that it transcends death, transcends pain, transcends sorrow, embracing the reality of these fully, yet realizing that it is not the Great Reality, because a new Reality overrides this one, and will one day win.

We live in this new creation incarnationally, just as Christ did. Christ was a full citizen of the new creation, and lived its rules in the present old creation, initiating it into existence and passing the torch of this ambassadorship to the church, who he empowered with His Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead.

So now all of life can come under the influence of this new creation, this rule and reign of God. We are not just in a waiting mode for a spiritual heaven dedicated to a moralistic faith in the meantime so we don’t “lose” our status with God. We are full citizens of God’s kingdom, the new creation, and its influence permeates all of life.

Slide11A Jesuit priest’s presentation at a retreat helped me realize the implications of the incarnation. He divided up the world into four categories that we interact with relationship. We have relationship with Self, Others, Communities, and Creation. Every relationship we have can be summed up into one of these four categories. The quality of life that we experience within these categories is eternal life, because we are still experiencing God incarnationally through our life. I came up with this illustration based on his ideas.

As we stated earlier, God comes to us disguised as our life. The quality of life in these categories will be distorted by sin, ours and others against us. This is the concept of Shalom in our earlier post on Spiritual Formation IS Salvation. We will never fully realize a sinless existence while the old creation still remains. But the theology of eternal life says that we can get a foretaste of heaven in the present through the Holy Spirit. The more we foster this new creation life over the old creation life determines the quality of eternal life.

How we foster this “new creation” life is by taking on the ethics and economy of the new creation in preference to the old, specifically within these four categories. This is the topic of our next post where we will close out this series.

Slow Church Review Pt 1

slow church A Game Changer for the Western Church

I had the wonderful privilege of reviewing the book Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, (buy it here) written by Christopher Smith and John Pattison. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and give it a full five star rating! This is the best modern book on practical ecclesiology that remains faithful to the way of Jesus that I have read. If you are a pastor, this is a must read. But be warned, if you are looking for the five keys to grow your church, this is not your book. But if you are looking for a patient way of cultivating community in the patient way of Jesus so that your community and congregation is transformed, pick it up. Come to think of it, if you are looking for five keys to grow your church, maybe you should read this book too.

Chris and John were inspired by the antithesis of fast food, the slow food movement, which invites people into an experience with great food in a great environment with great people. Fast food on the other hand is a franchised get in, get your goods and get out experience all based on an individualist consumer mindset. We have embraced some of these means in our churches as well and do fast church for the same reasons that there is fast food offered. This book is an invitation into a different, less chaotic and anxiety based way of approaching church: Slow Church, a more sustainable and rooted way of approaching church.

Chris and John have tapped into something deep with this book. This is the theological and philosophical underpinnings of how a thriving church community will look like and function in the post Christian era of the West. This is truly a liminal leadership must read because this is where God is leading his church.

Often times we Westerners have blended our Western values, American ideals, and the Gospel principles together to the point where we cannot see the lines separating them anymore, nor where they compete with one another. Slow Church is one of those counter-cultural books that, when you read it you say, “Oh, but of course!” because it is so deeply Gospel based and deeply rooted in scripture. And yet it seem so revolutionary at the same time because it paints very clear lines around Western values and American ideals that are opposed to the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

In my Masters Degree in Spiritual Formation and Leadership, the debate was “how do you “do” spiritual formation in church?” The answer was, “We are not sure.” Why? Because the way that we have embraced “doing” church in the west is a very consumerist, franchised way of scratching the itch of constituents in the name of “being all things to all people to save some.” If our response to this concept is, “But isn’t it better to have more saved unformed people than a few saved formed people?” than it shows how deeply entrenched the Western values of “the means justify the ends” and “bigger is better” have really entrenched themselves into our understanding of salvation. (See our series on Spiritual Formation IS Salvation for more on that thought)

What is wonderful about this book, is that Chris and John do not leave this concept in theory of theology and philosophy, but give concrete pictures of what this spirituality looks like lived out in church life. You will get a clear vision of what slow church is to look like, yet it will not give you a franchised slow church program to plug into your church. Instead Chris and John give you all the tools and blueprints necessary to implement the theology and philosophy in the context of your local community.

So, go buy the book (buy it here) and then brace yourself to get your ecclesial world rocked. I did, and I loved every page of the rocking.

Stay tuned into next week’s mid-week post on the practicality of Slow Church where we address the question: is this really a sustainable way to do and build the church?

What is Eternal Life Pt 2

God’s Justice and Love, and a cart and horse analogy….

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. –1 John 5:20 (NRSV)

pharisien-et-publicainNo you can’t get to heaven… no you can’t get to heaven. In a rocking chair… in a rocking chair….

You all know the song right? If not, don’t sweat it. I learned this song in Sunday school as a child. It is a light hearted song about placing our faith in Jesus and not in rocking chairs, beat up Ford’s and such. There is nothing really wrong with the song, it’s cute and communicates the primacy of Jesus in our faith, but the heart behind the song and the practical outlets of the song handed to me is where things erred a bit.

Eternal life was all about getting my doctrine straight so that I would not be punished in the afterlife. Placing faith in Christ merely meant mentally agreeing with a doctrinal statement and praying a prayer of agreement to “ask Jesus into my heart.” I did that like eight times as a kid, just in case it didn’t work the first seven, or I didn’t mean it, or he didn’t hear me, or I was bad enough to lose it… and on and on it goes.

Perhaps you have done the same, or felt the same as a child, perhaps recently. It reveals a flawed doctrine about what we actually believe about the relationship between humans and God: We are misbehaving brats deserving of an eternal punishment for crossing an eternal being who is infinitely just.

The em PHAS’is is on the wrong syl LA’ble.

God is infinitely just, and we are misbehaving brats most of the time to be sure, but the Bible’s emphasis is on God’s love. When we reverse the emphasis on God’s character from love to Justice it looks like this: God is JUST who does LOVE. The nature of God is that He is just, and sometimes brings himself to do loving deeds for His minions. But the opposite is true, God is LOVE who does JUSTICE.

The first cheapens the dignity and original glory of human beings (read Psalm 8) creating in us a lifelong insecurity as we approach God, who must first do Justice before he can Love. I am still getting over this insecurity and learning that God is love first, who works through his creation to bring about his Justice and will one day interrupt human history to make things right and fully bring about his kingdom of Justice and dispelling all broken systems, and those that adhere to them, that oppose and withhold this justice.

When we place the emphasis on God IS Justice, then it also places a cheapening of what Justice is, and what our role is in bringing it about. If Justice is the emphasis and is all about an eternal afterlife, then we have no place in bringing that about other than to “save souls.” But if Justice is something that applies to God’s Shalom Salvation, and we are to pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven and work towards the bettering of society in preparation for the arrival of God the rule and reign here on earth.

You can test where you stand on the love and justice emphasis by asking yourself a question, “Do you look forward to the Coming Day of the Lord, or do you fear it?” If your emphasis is on God’s Justice before love, than you fear it because God may just find some chink in your Christian façade armor and send you off into eternal damnation. But the Psalmist and Prophets look forward to that day because they knew that God was FOR them, and that was the day in which God’s justice was done IN LOVE, FOR THEIR BENEFIT.

I fully believe in an eternal place of separation from God. I have to. God would not be either loving or just if universalism is true, and we would not be truly free to love God in return if there was no option to reject His love. How we live in the present does not matter if universalism is true. But perhaps we have put the cart before the horse and made it difficult for people to approach God in the first place to make an entreaty of his love.

Eternal life is “knowledge of God” according to Christ in John 17:3, and eternal Life is God himself in 1 John 5:20. But this knowledge in our culture has been highly influenced by the Modern age, where knowledge was merely mental apprehension of facts that was divorced from the heart and soul of a person. But the word “know” in this pre-modern culture was to intimately understand something in a way that the interaction with the “known” changes the “knower” deeply. It was a relational knowing that lead to understanding and realizations. It was even used of the intimate sexual union of husband and wife.

To know God means to enter into a relational understanding of Him in such a powerful way that it increased the quality of joy of the knower. This cannot happen if we are afraid to approach God out of fear that He is constantly looking for fault in us, poised and ready to BE Justice TO us instead of DO Justice FOR us. It forces us to put on facades and hide from God, as we did in the garden, and when we are hiding we cannot be in relationship, nor experience God’s perfect love that casts out all fear.

Eternal Life is a quality of life with God in the present that is so powerful that it transcends death later.

So put down your fig leaf Christian façade and walk out from behind that bush of fear of God’s judgment; for God has been calling, “my child… where are you?” Step out in faith and be found, and known, and loved. This is Eternal Life…

Next week we will talk about the incarnation and its implications for eternal life…

Tom Rundel Community: The Well Church, Ionia MI Passions: Family, writing, reading, farming, Tom is currently a Doctoral of Leadership and Formation student at George Fox University writing his dissertation on Liminal Leadership and Theology. He holds a Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership from Spring Arbor University, and has nearly 15 years experience in church ministry. He provides written resources and spiritual coaching for leaders enabling them to lead from a healthy heart.

Tom Rundel is currently a Doctoral of Leadership and Formation student at George Fox University writing his dissertation on Liminal Leadership and Theology. He holds a Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership from Spring Arbor University, and has nearly 15 years experience in church ministry. He provides written resources and spiritual coaching for leaders enabling them to lead from a healthy heart.

What is Eternal Life?


Of Tracts, Cuddly Worship Songs, and the Atonement…

Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Matthew 19:16 (NRSV)

I remember standing on the corner, tract in hand, passing them out to strangers. Inside of this tract was everything someone needed to know in order to deter themselves from a very uncomfortable afterlife. Kind people took the information and discarded it down the road, unkind individuals would poke fun at my desire to save souls. One of the verses in my arsenal was John 3:16. Whosoever believes would gain eternal life. I used this verse evangelistically, and totally out of context. Yeah, I was that guy.

I am not trying to discount the power of this verse, if anything I am trying with this post to show the extent of its power! If anything, my evangelistic use of this scripture was robbing it of its fullness and meaning. In this series we are taking on, not just John 3:16, but the concept of eternal life, and what it is and means.

Traditionally the term eternal life brings to mind an eternal heavenly home secured by Christ’s atonement and attained through faith. So of course we use this verse evangelistically. Thus John 3 is a text that tells us how to get to heaven after we die. I mean, whosoever believes… so come on let me see that hand!

But what if, like our series on Salvation, the term is much bigger than we thought? What if it is much more applicable to today than tomorrow? I think it is, and in this series I would like to take us on a journey through this concept in the Bible, its roots, and its implications.

First, where do we see the term eternal life in the Gospels? Well, Matthew, Mark, and Luke only use the term a few times, and it is a question posed to Jesus on how to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells the rich young ruler to sell all that he has and he will obtain it. So we have to conclude that was not merely talking about life after death issues here.

Eternal Life is a gift from God and the consequence of faith in Christ. Why did Jesus know that the rich young ruler needed to sell his belongings in order to gain eternal life? Because his faith was in his wealth, and this inhibited him from having faith in God, and thus the consequence was no eternal life. But this did not mean that the rich young ruler was not of the faith. He was. He obeyed the Jewish law from youth. Log that idea away for a minute. He was in the faith, yet did not have eternal life.

It is not until the Gospel of John that the term Eternal Life really comes out in full force, 17 times and more if you count the times that it is inferred with the term “life.” Of course our famous John 3:16 passage is one of these, and I have always assumed that Jesus was talking about life after death, but He is not. It is a gift of God and the consequence of faith in Christ. So do we have it now or later is the question, and if we do have it now what does that look like?

In John 17:3 Jesus gives us a definition of eternal life. “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” So there it is. Eternal life is knowledge of God. But one’s understanding of knowledge is going to really play out what this means.

As a younger person in the faith, I had a shallow relationship with God, but I knew a whole lot about Him, kind of like being friends with someone on Facebook as opposed to a relationship with a spouse or great friend that we hang with on a consistent basis. These are two different types of “knowing.” One way is “knowing about, but having no experience of”, and the other is “knowing about BECAUSE you have an experience of.” You can read all you want about snowboarding, but you never know how to snowboard until you take the plunge and gain some experience to teach your body how to do what your mind knows about.

So eternal life is an intimate knowledge of God through faith in Christ. This intimate knowledge causes us to see the world through his eyes. Have you ever brought an unchurched friend to church, and then realize, “man, are we weird! Our songs, our vocabulary, our tradition are so far outside of this person’s scope!” You are seeing the same experience through someone else’s eyes and it changes your perception.

Eternal life happens when we can learn to live in a different kingdom, by different laws, measuring success by different metrics. The old oppressive ways of behaving and believing lose their grip on us because they are not as important as they used to be since we are seeing the world through someone else’s eyes now. You gain a vision of heaven and work to make it reality in the now, and THAT is Eternal Life! Living the life of heaven in the present.

My running definition of eternal life that we will use for the rest of this series: A quality of life with God lived in the present so powerful that it transcends death later on. More to come…



Spiritual Formation IS Salvation Pt 4

ShalomWhat John of the Cross Taught me About Leadership

For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? -Matthew 16:26 (NRSV)

Have you ever been driving a car that badly needed an alignment? A car’s tires start to turn at slightly different paces pulling the car in unwanted directions. You can’t let go of the steering wheel or you will either hit oncoming traffic or dive of into the ditch on the side of the road. A car needs regular checks on the tires to make sure that the wheels are turning in sync with one another.

I remember when I read Celebration of Disciplines for the first time. I was so angry. Not at the book, it was a glorious book that opened the doorway into the contemplative life that I had been searching for. My anger was more towards the church. Why had no one ever told me about this type of spirituality? I had been searching for it, questioning leaders about it, knowing somewhere deep inside my soul that there was more to this life than a moralistic waiting for heaven. My soul, mind, and body were out of sync with each other and no one could tell me how to get an alignment on them. My anger has since subsided into a compassionate understanding that no one had ever taught these people either, but also into a passionate purpose in which I desire to lead people to the contemplative life.

Early in my pastoral ministry, I learned that I had to pretend to have this spiritual life all together. I was taught (inadvertently, not blatantly) that As long as your persona from the front was done well, and your behind-the-scenes life was free of any obvious sin, you could live with the same values and practices as the rest of society and have ministry “success.”

The resulting incongruence between who I was in my persona and who I actually was as a person was devastating. I preached a faith stronger than I had, I told of love that I was not experiencing, and I expected morality from others that I was not able to keep. My preaching was inauthentic, and it was void of any power of the Holy Spirit to transform lives. Its only power was to entertain the crowd long enough to inform them of facts about the Bible. The resulting fruit of my ministry “success” merely encouraged those whom I was leading to build the same persona in their lives as I had in mine. This is normal in leadership in the church. But it is not liminal leadership.

Thomas Merton says in his personal Biography that he once met a Protestant pastor who was, “all holy: that is, he posseJohn of the Crossssed a certain profound interior peace…” The church fathers and mothers would call this interior peace with God “union.” It seems, then, uncommon for one to find a Christian, even a “Christian leader” with an interior peace about them. Yet this is the goal of the very Gospel we preach: to unite us to God. I developed two illustrations of the human trichotomy of body, soul, and spirit during a meditative study on St. John of the Cross’ writings. One illustrates John’s concept of Union with God, or in our case, Shalom: a human fully alive and living as God intended. The other illustrates John’s concept of a soul not in union with God, out of sync with itself. It is a picture of the journey I have been on as a leader and pastor, and a picture of my goal in this life.

Disintegrated soulThe body does not need much definition. It is our physical body operating in the physical world. As a Christian we know that we are more than the physical body. It is the other two words, Soul and Spirit that get a bit harder to nail down.

The word for soul in the New Testament is psyche, and is translated into the English word life, soul, and heart. Jesus uses this word as one’s unique personal identity in Matthew 16:26 when he teams the Greek word psyche with autou which denotes self. Christ teaches that the costs of the comforts of this world would be one’s uniqueness in God. We get our word Psychology from this Greek word. The function of the soul can denote our personality, our perspective of the world, what we believe to be important. And all of these factors guide our decisions in life. Proverbs admonishes us to guard our soul (heart) because it is the spring of life.

Biblical scholar Ernest W. Burton tells us that spirit is the Greek word pneuma which means wind/breath, life, and spirit. It is the seat of our religious capacity and experience and the place where the Spirit of God indwells us. It is the intrinsic value we have as human beings without all of our roles, titles, accomplishments and failures.

Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov sums these parts all up saying, the soul animates and drives the body and God’s Spirit through our spirit, gives life and meaning to this animation. The first picture illustrates a human person in our default state of dis-integration. Body, soul, and spirit are not in harmony, or Shalom, as we live in the world. Like the car with four wheels turning at different paces pulling the car in different directions, we too are out of sync with ourselves and God.

St. John of the Cross in his classic Dark Night of the Soul tells us that the seven capital sins are the weaponry the world uses to bribe us to trade our souls for comforts. Yet these physical vices can go into hiding and have spiritual facades upon them as we attempt to become more “moral.” We can become very good at hiding these vices in the form of self-righteous morality or spirituality. Greed for money can become greed for more of a budget in your church. Lust for the sensual pleasures can become a lust for spiritual experiences. Sloth can manifest itself as prayer without action. Anger can manifest itself as Self-righteousness. Envy can manifest itself as comparison games. Gluttony for food can manifest itself as taking in spiritually but never serving. Pride in wanting to be the best can manifest itself as pride in being more doctrinally correct than someone else. This battle for our identity can keep us disconnected from our true identity as a child of God. Yet this battle is essential for Shalom.

Then at our core there are the four passions that John says, “The less strongly the will is fixed on God, and the more dependent it is on creatures, the more these four passions combat the soul and reign in it.” Like a hook in the nose of a bull we are led around by these “inordinate passions” instead of the Spirit of God. Fear may drive us to run from something that God is inviting us into. A desire for deliverance from a situation that is transforming us may drive us, in hope, away from transformation and maturity. John asks the believer to have “calmed passions.”

integrated soul1The final inner circle illustrates the indwelling Holy Spirit of God that is given to all who believe and who desires to transform us from the inside out, to reshape our soul, which reforms our bodily actions, and redeems the world. To wake up to the inner life of the Spirit in our spirit requires one to “let the Christ within burst from his tomb.” That is to let the power of the resurrection wake us from our anesthetized sleep which keeps us dependent upon the faculties and passions, and to become more aware of God in the world, in other people, and in our self.

Living resurrection asks us to let the love of Christ seep into the deepest parts of our being, healing where we feel unlovable, where we feel pain, reframing our history in such a way that gives us confidence, freedom, and power in the lives of people. We become co-laborers and ambassadors with Christ in bringing about Shalom.

This next picture illustrates an integrated soul whose spirit has been touched by God, whose soul has been reshaped by God, whose actions are reformed by God. God’s Holy Spirit has access to the world through us as the ongoing incarnation of God, through the avenues of the fruit of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, all practiced as the collective body of Christ. The integrated soul practices incarnation for the redemption of the world back to God.

This is Shalom practiced, it is everything working in harmony as God intended it to be for His glory and pleasure. Shalom practiced is also for our glory in Him and our pleasure as we acquire the taste of heaven in the present life. Our spirit, soul, and body are all aligned in the purpose of bringing the life of heaven into the present.

Liminal leadership then, is one who has acquired the tastes of heaven in the present, casts vision of what it looks like in other’s lives, and accompanies others on the journey toward that life for themselves.

Spiritual Formation IS Salvation Pt 3

Salvation is a Marathon…

david 1 Samuel 8:6-7 (NRSV)
But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the LORD, and the LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.

1 Samuel 9:1-2 (NRSV)
There was a man of Benjamin whose name was … He had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.

1 Samuel 13:8-14 (NRSV)
He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people began to slip away from Saul. So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the offerings of well-being.” And he offered the burnt offering.  As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, Samuel arrived; and Saul went out to meet him and salute him. Samuel said, “What have you done?… You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which he commanded you. The LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever, but now your kingdom will not continue; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart; and the LORD has appointed him to be ruler over his people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.”

1 Samuel 16:1, 7 (NRSV)
The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”


runners highI have experienced a runner’s high once. I was a sprinter when I ran track, so running long distances always killed me, even when I was at my best. Once, After running a long period until everything hurt, cramps tearing me apart, lungs ready to collapse, it happened. It all ceased. Nothing in my outer circumstances changed: the same scenery, same shoes, same running mates, the same hatred for running long distances. Something inside changed and I was able to run, and all the pain went away. I finished the race and kept running. I felt like I could go on forever.

Salvation is much the same way. When we first come to Jesus, it is very common to hear a testimony like: “Everything in life was awful, and then Jesus made it all better.” No problems here, it is a great place to start. But the focus early on in our faith walk is outward circumstances. We spend much time in prayer asking God to make us comfortable. At first it may seem like He is, but as we progress in our faith walk, things get hard. We have been approaching our faith walk like a sprinter. We see short term goals of comfort and ease, pray for them, and work hard to get to the goal.

Then the current questions that we have been asking about life are too small to take on the size of life we are now faced with and we learn new questions. We may be asking how to feel accepted in this life, and we learn that Jesus loves us unconditionally, so we learn the answer to this question and feel satisfied. But as we journey we learn a new question, why don’t I feel accepted in this life? The answer to this question is also Jesus, and we learn that we are called into the desert to learn to let go of the old habits and values that keep us enslaved and keep us from full freedom in God. Then we learn a new question, why do I need to feel accepted? And so on it goes… new questions and new answers that expand our frame of the world. Nothing on the outside is necessarily changing. Something on the inside is changing and this changes how we approach the same people, job, circumstances, joys, and problems of life.

We have all heard the pop songs about getting out of town and running away from life’s problems, particularly with a lover who will make the journey better. But if reality would set into these songs we would see a few years down the road, in this new town with said lover, the same problems arise. Why? The popular saying, “wherever you go, there you are.” We cannot run from our self and our problems, and there comes a time in our faith walk when we have to face up to these realities, and it is a painful face up, much like running long distances makes you want to die, until you break through the wall, and running becomes a joy, almost effortless.

Paul talks of this when he uses the term salvation. He uses the term salvation in a past tense form to describe a spiritual salvation from sin, as well as a present tense deliverance from the slavery of sin, and a future tense completion of this salvation when Christ returns: past, present, and future salvation. Paul goes on in other passages to speak of his own personal hand in bringing about salvation in the lives of those he leads. So here we see that we can again trace the concept of Hebrew shalom into the New Testament concept of salvation. This expands the theology of salvation from merely an eschatological expectation of heaven to include within that concept a practical present reality; a quality of life with God so powerful that it transcends death. This is salvation, this is Shalom, a marathon run.

For shalom, or salvation, to be realized in this world, for God to rescue us, there needs to be a change on two different fronts. We need liberation from the slavery we have to sin, which Christ provides for us on the cross. We also need liberation from the slavery mindset that we have lived all our life which continues to create the systems of violence and oppression that hinders God’s Shalom in the present. Thus we need an act of God’s Justice on our part to liberate us from a power we cannot overcome, and we need the transforming power of the Spirit to change the way we see the world so that we can become Shalom makers with God. We partner with God in bringing about his salvation for this world by letting go of our sin, AND by letting the Spirit of God transform the way we see the world. If we only have the first one, we will continue to be the problem which prevents heaven from becoming reality on earth.

Power tie  mixed media and neonThomas Merton captures the liminal leadership mantra perfectly when he says of Spiritual Directors, “His first duty is to see to his own interior life…he will never be able to give away to others what he does not possess himself.” If I don’t have $25 in my wallet, I cannot buy you dinner, let alone buy myself dinner. Yet in the church leadership world all around us we see so many leaders encouraged to act as though they are rich spiritually, yet they have never made the tough inner journey through the desert, the dark night, the wall… whatever we have called it in our history and tradition… we are severely lacking these deep spiritual people and replaced them with the CEO power-tie type who can “successfully” build a church on their own leadership skills.

We have replaced Samuel, the prophetic visionary who hears God’s voice, with Saul, the strong, handsome, gifted and capable person who acts in their own logic and strength. Perhaps leadership and success in the kingdom of God will be more like salt, yeast, or a mustard seed: small, quiet, subtle; and a bit insecure about their ability to lead because they do not fit the power-tie models that our culture glorifies as good leaders. Perhaps a liminal leader may have a harder time pointing to “success” because they refuse to release their long term vision of seeing the kingdom of God come to life in this world. We refuse to replace the prophetic vision of Samuel with the Saul-like man-made successes that sap the future generations of a real kingdom come. We reject the McDonaldization and Walmartization sprints of the church and hold fast to the slow and patient marathon running leadership that keeps enriches our present and future.

What does Shalom practically look like in a leader’s life? What purpose does going through a dark night or desert experience serve in leadership? In our final post we will look at the theology of Shalom and its inner workings in the leader’s life by looking at what the saints of old called “union with God.”

Spiritual Formation IS Salvation Pt 2

coffee shalomO taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him. Psalm 34:8 (NRSV)

I recently (ok, it was last year) went on a date with my wife to a coffee cupping seminar. We are both avid lovers of coffee, so we wanted to learn more about the nuances of different types of coffee in order to better enjoy the experience. We smelled and tasted three different coffee roasts from three different parts of the world. Our teacher, Rodney, taught us to smell and taste the differences between each type of coffee. Our capacity for loving coffee increased through this experience.

As a child I did not enjoy coffee. At all. My pallet was not mature nor developed enough to enjoy something so bitter and complex. Even as an adult I would “doctor” the coffee with sugars, creamers, and flavorings to the point in which it was no longer recognizable as coffee. Now, after “tuning” my pallet to the nuances of good, freshly roasted coffee, I use less cream, and totally leave out sugars. The additions to the coffee had been masking the natural flavors which I have now learned to appreciate. I can no longer enjoy a cheap substitute for coffee.

Coffee is much like heaven, (Can I get an Amen!) it is an acquired taste. Only a mature pallet can enjoy the beauty, and appreciate the nuances. Only through experience can we discover that additions are unnecessary. A sensitive palate is no longer able to accept cheap substitutes.

As C.S. Lewis states, “…the joys of Heaven are for most of us, in our present condition, ‘an acquired taste’—and certain ways of life may render the taste impossible of acquisition.” In this way a liminal leader is one who is tuning his or her “palate” or life, to taste and see that the LORD is good, and then teaching others to do the same.

To understand the theology of liminal leadership, we need to first catch a vision of what we are leading people into, and I believe that this is found in the Hebraic Scripture’s concept of “Shalom.” Shalom is translated “peace” in many places in the Hebrew Scriptures, but the English word peace, meaning absence of conflict, does not capture the nuance found in this beautiful word.

Of the two-hundred and thirty seven times Shalom is used in the Hebrew scriptures, it is translated into the English words: peace, well-being, wholeness, welfare, health, and harmony. It is that big! We can see that Shalom means so much more than absence of conflict. It is concerned with the whole person. In Hebrew culture today it is used as a welcome and a farewell still, it is to wish for someone’s overall well-being.

Perry Yoder, an Old Testament scholar, wrote extensively on the subject of Shalom and makes a strong argument that this is the primary Hebrew word for salvation, justice and peace. Shalom, he says, is how things (physical well-being, relationships, and morality) should be, how God envisions the world. Any presence of violence and oppression is an absence of Shalom. God’s justice is aimed at any person, structure, or action which withholds or inhibits His Shalom from coming to be reality. Therefore Shalom is God’s justice in action bringing about the world that God envisions. This is what Salvation is, a coming of God into our world with His Shalom, setting things right.

When the Hebrew culture was taken into foreign captivity, they lost their language, and with it, their ability to read their Hebrew scriptures. 70 scribes then translated the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language, this is called the Septuagint. Since the New Testament was written in Greek as well, a common practice to trace the evolution of Old Testament thought into New Testament language is following what words are used in the Greek Septuagint for Hebrew words. Let’s do this with Shalom:

A problem the 70 translators kept facing was which Greek word to use for the large concept of Hebrew Shalom. They resolved this issue by using multiple Greek words. Shalom is translated in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, by three Greek words: soteria, “salvation”; eirene, “peace”; and telos, “ mature end, intended goal.”

healing-of-the-woman-thumb-300x3861In the New Testament, the noun soteria meaning salvation and its verb form sozo meaning save, is used in the Mark 5 account of the woman healed of a bleeding disorder. She works her way through the crowd to touch Jesus and is healed because of it. Jesus says to her, “your faith has sozo-ed you.” Then Jesus commands her to “go in eirene,” meaning peace. In the Hebrew language, her faith made her Shalom so she could depart in Shalom. Salvation, Shalom. Peace, Shalom.

The third word, telos, or end, goal, is translated as perfection or maturity in many cases. A caterpillar reaches its telos, God’s matured intentions for it, when it morphs into a butterfly. Or in the Hebrew language, a caterpillar reaches Shalom when it morphs into a butterfly. Jesus commands us to be Shalom as our heavenly Father is shalom. Mt 5:46. Paul states that the point of those in ministry is to train others to do ministry until we are all Shalom. Eph 4:13. In Colossians 1:28, the proclamation of the Gospel is done so that we may present everyone Shalom in Christ!

This is what liminal leaders understand and are working towards. Liminal leaders have an experience of Shalom in their personal lives which then creates a vision of Shalom for their communities. Then they can cast this vision for others in order to bring about Shalom in their contexts.

What are we being saved from? This is the next question we will give thought to in the next post. Stay tuned in for Monday’s posting…

Spiritual Formation IS Salvation Pt 1

crucifixion iconPt 1 What is the Gospel for?

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NRSV)

What is the gospel for? I think this is a very important question that defines much of our practiced spirituality. I have seen that belief leads to actions, so it would be important to know that our theology is very important because it leads to spirituality.

The evangelical tradition has been steeped in the theology of the four spiritual laws. These laws state that the end of the gospel is to save a person from a fiery end: The Gospel is for getting us out of hell. When we reduce the gospel down to this it is like saying, “my car is for rushing people to the hospital.” Certainly it can be used for that end, but is that all?

N.T. Wright said, if the Gospel is all about getting people into heaven than we have this really awkward space between baptism and funeral. Isn’t that true? So many people grew up with the understanding that the Gospel is all about a disembodied afterlife, and it better be a good one, which leads to an awkward and seemingly purposeless intermediate time here on earth.

So what am I saying? The gospel is bigger than we ever could have imagined. Paul himself stands in awe of the plan of God in his opening statements in the letter to the Ephesians. This plan starts with a “me and Jesus” moment where we realize the depth of our sin AND its implications in this present world. My greed contributes to the system of this world that commodifies people to the point of slavery. My gluttony contributes to the system of this world that worships comfort and pleasure to the point of destroying our planet. My lust contributes to the system of this world that commodifies women to the point of sex trafficking young girls. And so on it goes. My little sins contribute to the brokenness of society.

So salvation starts with a “me and Jesus” moment, but it opens up into a world of redemption for God’s creation. We love to quote 2 Corinthians 5:17 saying, “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation!” True statement, but limited statement. When you look at the structure of this sentence in the original Greek, there is no pronoun after anyone. So in the Greek it reads: If anyone is in Christ: NEW CREATION! Did Paul forget proper grammar or is he trying to make a point of the extent of the gospel? The message of this verse tells us that if anyone is in Christ they become a part of God’s new creation that was initiated at the cross.

What happened on the cross? Christ became our substitute. He died for all. So this means that Christ took our sin to the cross and paid its penalty. But another thing happened. Christ took the evil of the system upon himself and exhausted evil. Evil threw everything it had at Christ, and it killed him. BUT CHRIST RESURRECTED! He conquered the evil of this world showing us that the powerful love of God is the greatest force in the universe.

This means that we are no longer enslaved to the systems of this world that continue to destroy and degrade it. We don’t have to make use of sin in order to gain life. We don’t have to pursue comfort at the expense of another in order to gain life. We don’t have to pursue pleasure at the expense of another in order to gain freedom, we don’t have to pursue control or power or manipulation in order to have security in this life, Why? because Christ was victorious over them and initiated a new creation, a new way of operating in the world that beings life and freedom to those who would enter into it. Christ exhausted evil and showed us that love is the most powerful force in the universe.

Liminal Leaders understand the implications of both sin and salvation and find a “new life,” a new way of operating in the present that makes the future kingdom of God a reality for themselves and those within their influence.

So now the implications of the Gospel are so much bigger than the “me and Jesus” moment that I started with. The Gospel is a way of being married. The Gospel is a way of raising children. The Gospel is a way of pursuing a career, the Gospel is a way of operating in such a way that makes heaven a reality in this world instead of hell. If it is true of the next life, we should be about making it true in this one. If it will be done away with in the next world, we should do away with it in this life.

This is why reductionism of the Gospel doesn’t work long term. We are living in the present at the expense of the future. We quickly build a small little empire in the name of Jesus and we do so at the expense of:

  1. other people
  2. spiritually formed lives
  3. future generations of Christians who will need the theologians, writers, thinkers, artists, and mystics that we failed to cultivate.

You see the means we use to communicate the Gospel IS our gospel. The means tells us what we believe the end is. If the end is merely a disembodied afterlife (i.e. some Gnostic heretical form of the Gospel) than how we live in the present does not matter and the reality of this present age is more “real” than the reality of the Kingdom of God. The Reality of the Kingdom of God was a Hebraic concept called Shalom, which is the Old Testament’s word for salvation, justice, and wholeness.

Next week we will dive into the evolution of the concept of Shalom and its evolution from Old Testament to New.

Tom Rundel Community: The Well Church, Ionia MI Passions: Family, writing, reading, farming, Tom is currently a Doctoral of Leadership and Formation student at George Fox University writing his dissertation on Liminal Leadership and Theology. He holds a Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership from Spring Arbor University, and has nearly 15 years experience in church ministry. He provides written resources and spiritual coaching for leaders enabling them to lead from a healthy heart.

Tom Rundel is currently a Doctoral of Leadership and Formation student at George Fox University writing his dissertation on Liminal Leadership and Theology. He holds a Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership from Spring Arbor University, and has nearly 15 years experience in church ministry. He provides written resources and spiritual coaching for leaders enabling them to lead from a healthy heart.

A New Song Pt 4

Wounded Hands-thumb-420x221-13617Becoming a “Wounded” Leader

“O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.” Psalm 98:1 (NRSV)

What is the essential aspect of this path that we will walk upon? Surely we do not walk blindly. Perhaps the path is not as clear as we would like to pretend it is, but there is a God who is leading us along a path and he has not commanded us to travel blind and alone.

As we build the bridge that we are currently crossing upon, there are a few foundations that we build upon. As we travel upon a road we are making we do not travel without the guidance of navigation tools or the wisdom of a seasoned traveler.

Moses knew the dangers of the wilderness well after shepherding in Midian for 40 years himself. The desert is fraught with creatures and traps of all kinds. Just as Moses guided his flocks of sheep through the desert keeping them safe, he now guided the people of Israel with the knowledge and experience of wandering himself.

Liminal Leaders take people on hard journeys that they are familiar with themselves, because they know that they can only take people where they have gone, and they can only give away something that they possess.

This means that we have to have the kind of faith built into us that only comes from our own desert wandering experiences. In the desert wandering we will be forced to deal with our own lack of trust in God. Trust, by its very nature, is earned. It cannot be given freely as love can. Trust only happens when something has been proven trustworthy.

We unquestioningly trust chairs because they hold us up, and we only become leery of chairs when they have fallen apart on us numerous times. But most of us do not question a chair’s trustworthiness before we fling ourselves toward the ground hoping the chair will catch and hold us before we hit the floor.

God has to earn our trust as well. And the only way to earn trust is to be shown trustworthy over time. A liminal leader is not one with unwavering faith, so much as one willing to place his faith on the line and step up to a task trusting in the God who has always proven Himself faithful, perhaps not in this way yet, but we know the character of God well enough to move.

Then we see God’s salvation in action and as a community we write a new song into our history which teaches future generations about how God moved and built up our trust in Him.

In order for us to hear God to sing a new song, we need to know more fully what Salvation is

stay tuned for the next series on Shalom: God’s word for salvation, justice, and peace.

Tom Rundel Community: The Well Church, Ionia MI Passions: Family, writing, reading, farming, Tom is currently a Doctoral of Leadership and Formation student at George Fox University writing his dissertation on Liminal Leadership and Theology. He holds a Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership from Spring Arbor University, and has nearly 15 years experience in church ministry. He provides written resources and spiritual coaching for leaders enabling them to lead from a healthy heart.

Tom Rundel is currently a Doctoral of Leadership and Formation student at George Fox University writing his dissertation on Liminal Leadership and Theology. He holds a Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership from Spring Arbor University, and has nearly 15 years experience in church ministry. He provides written resources and spiritual coaching for leaders enabling them to lead from a healthy heart.