Last week I introduced our year theme for Following Jesus: Being the Beloved – A Year of Spiritual Formation. We launched this theme with a week of fasting and prayer. Please feed back to our office or to me if you feel God is saying something to us – we want to hear and obey the Lord! Today I present the Big Picture, or the Overall Framework, of Being and Becoming God’s Beloved.
The Centrality and Heart of Love
“GOD is love, whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him/her” (1John 4:16). We dare not reverse it, “Love is God.” Then we make love (whatever we mean by it) god, as many do today in a popular postmodern “spirituality of love”. We love only because God first loved us (1John 4:19), enabling us to love as he loves. How so? God created us in his image in love for love. To love is godly. But our sin, our fallen nature, rejects the ultimate source of love, God. BUT God overcame sin in love. He came to save us in his Son Jesus, his enfleshed love, his sacrificial gift of Self. In Christ we receive and live in the Father’s love – which he knew so profoundly (John 17:23-26). Father confirmed Jesus’ identity as “Beloved” at his baptism, in the Spirit of Love: “You are my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). This is the center that centers us: God’s love, giving us our identity in Christ as “Beloved.” Paul says it so well: “Be imitators of God, as his beloved (born again) children: live a life of love, just as Jesus loved us” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Jesus went all over calling people into his Father’s Kingdom (rule and reign) of Love: “Come, follow me, and I will make (form) you into fishers of people” (Mark 1:17). This gives us three core values: Follow Jesus, Form (be formed in) Community, and Fish the World. We follow, form (are formed) and fish, as is fitting to our personal context – God does not do sausage-machine church – do what works in your particular situation.
The diagram shows the VISION of Being the Beloved with three core VALUES:
1) Following Jesus: we receive and return God’s love (vertical arrow) with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:29-30)
2) Forming Community: we receive and return love from fellow followers in Jesus’ community (oblique right arrow), as he loved us (John 13:34-35), and
3) Fishing World: loving our neighbor in the world (oblique left arrow), not only as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31), but as Jesus sacrificially loved people in need.
Then we add the two other values of Fitting Context with a view to Freeing Love.
The million-dollar question is: how does this work practically? What must I do, day in and day out, to Be-Loved? To learn to love as God loves? We have to see the HOW TO? in the overall Framework. Without specific PRIORITIES and PRACTICES vision and values fall flat. Vision inspires passion, showing us where we’re going. Values give us the reasons why we pursue our vision. And priorities and practices tell us what and how we must do in order to achieve our vision – they are the specific methods and disciplines that we must do regularly and consistently, for long enough, to grow us into Being the Beloved. Each of the first three core values has four disciplines/practices that will make the particular value a reality in our lives. Therefore, these values, and especially each of their four practices, will be the content of our journey throughout this year. We will take it slow, teaching and practicing them, week by week, day by day, till we are all doing them one way or another! This is deliberate disciplined spiritual formation! See the diagram.