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Deeper Roots + Wider Branches

Pursuing Sanctification, Community & Mission

Category Archives: Spiritual Vitality

“Come to Jesus, though your nature be dry, and your case hopeless.

Come, for there are rivers of grace in him.

Come, for they flow at your feet “in a dry place.”

Come, if you have come before, and are just now in a backsliding condition. The Lord Jesus is still the same; the rivers of mercy in him can never be dried up.”

-Charles Spurgeon

*For the rest of Spurgeon’s “Rivers in the Desert” sermon notes check out this post on The Resurgence:


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Thanks to The Resurgence Blog, I discovered the work of Isaac Wardell & Bifrost Arts, and what they have to say strikes me as very insightful. Wardell points out that “the church today generally takes its cues from the concert hall or the lecture hall” gravitating either toward a performance-driven mindset or an anti-emotional over-emphasis on “education and cognitive understanding” in an effort to become a “counter-cultural outpost”. He points out the need to rediscover the use of scriptures, the Psalms in particular as our framework for worship rather than “taking our cues from the larger media culture.” He also points out the strange phenomena that we listen to more music than ever before, yet we sing together much less then Christians did in the past. Perhaps we need to rediscover the simplicity of gathering together occasionally just to sing…no powerpoint, no microphones, no stage…just a few instruments (or none), a few brothers and sisters, and the beauty of voices raised to our creator and redeemer. I for one am longing to discover the hymns of our generation, and rediscover the hymns of generations past.

<p><a href=”″>Bifrost Arts</a> from <a href=””>josh franer</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Here’s the interview with Isaac Wardell at The Resurgence:

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1Blessed is the man
   who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
   nor stands in the way of sinners,
   nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
   and on his law he meditates day and night.

3He is like a tree
   planted by streams of water
   that yields its fruit in its season,
   and its leaf does not wither.
   In all that he does, he prospers. 4The wicked are not so,
   but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
   nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
   but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 1 presents a stark contrast between the life of a righteous person who is blessed and that of the wicked who will come under God’s judgement. Verses 1 and 2 are very straightforward: This is what a righteous person does; this is what they don’t do. If you’re anything like me though, these sorts of biblical contrasts can be a bit confusing or even frustrating. The psalmist makes it sound so easy and natural. I think most of us experience life a little more in the gray in the sense that while there are times that we are certainly “delighting in the law of the Lord” and meditating on his law “day and night”, there are a lot of times that we’re not! As Christians, we often find ourself committing these sins of omission- not doing thing we should be doing. But it gets worse. We also experience times in the course of any given day, week or month when we find ourselves thinking and maybe even acting a lot more like the “wicked” than the “righteous”, thus committing sins of comission- Doing those things which we should not do. We identify with Paul when he cries out in frustration in Romans 7:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. ForI delight in the law of God, in my inner being,  but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:21-24)

So what do we do with the apparent conflict between what we should be, and what we are? Is there any hope that we will ever be any different? Here is where some technical theological terms become helpful. The theology of our justification, santification, and glorification gives us 3 helpful lenses through which to view our identity and our everyday experience.

I’m sure I there are some great theological-dictionary-type definitions for these three terms, but for now let me simply use scripture to define/illustrate these concepts:

JUSTIFICATION. Let’s keep reading Paul at the end of Romans 7 and the beginning of chapter 8. Paul answers his own question (“Who will save me from this body of death?”): “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!…” He elaborates on this joyful declaration in the first verse of chapter 8: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” So here’s the idea: Though we continue to struggle with sin as Christians, we have been covered because of Christ’s work for us. When God looks at us (even on our worst days), he sees Christ. We are justified!

SANCTIFICATION. Let’s go back to Psalm 1. In the middle of the Psalm there is an image of a tree planted by streams of water. One of the characteristics of this tree is that it “yields its fruit in its season.” This little line seems obvious and is easy to miss. We might also find ourselves imagining this tree not as a process of growth, but as a finished product- strong, healthy and full of fruit. I think that’s the way we all want to be. We want to believe in Christ, and we want to instantaneously be super-Christians who no longer have deep struggles with sin. But notice the phrase “in its season.” This implies time. I don’t point this out to discourage you, but rather to encourage you. Bearing fruit is something that happens over a long period of time. Our job is to plant ourselves by the stream, to drink deeply of Christ and his word by faith, and to let our roots dig deeper and get stronger through prayer. We may not always bear the fruit we want on our time-table, but we most certainly will bear fruit. Hear the words of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and take heart: And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) This is sanctification.

GLORIFICATION. There will come a day where we are delivered from this “body of death”, this great burden that we carry throughout our lives. In one sense we are delivered already (positionally), i.e. justification. But one day this virus we call sin will be totally and completely eradicated. Romans 8:22-24 speaks to this future “glorification”:

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.

Although the title of this post sounds like I’m accusing the psalmist, I actually don’t think he is telling us that we need to be perfect. We know from David’s own life and the testimony of his psalms that he struggled and failed at times. It seems to me that the heart of this psalm is the image of the tree planted by the streams of water (v. 3). The point is to be rooted by the life-giving stream. As we are sustained by this stream (Christ) we will progressively mature, bear fruit, and begin looking more and more like the person described in verses 1 and 2 (not to mention being delivered from God’s wrath against the wicked). If we do not drink from this stream, the logical conclusion follows: we will dry up, we will live lives that don’t matter (v. 4), and we will perish (v.6).

Let us drink deep from the stream of Christ, bear fruit, and live!

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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.  (1 John 5:20)

Last night at community group a discussion came up about the idea of knowing God vs. knowing about God, and whether or not this distinction is helpful or unhelpful. I’m hoping to explore this topic in several posts, this one being the first. While on the one hand it seems quite obvious that there are many in the world who know about God but clearly do not know God, scripture passages like this and many others point out the necessity of a Spirit-given understanding of God. The progression seems to be that God opens our eyes by his spirit and that this spiritual healing  leads to an intellectual ability to take in and comprehend information (knowlege) about God. We then respond to this information in faith (“faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”- Romans 10:17), entering into a relationship with “him who is true”.

This is just me trying to connect the theological dots (not 100% confident of my analysis here), but it would seem that sanctification then becomes much more than a process of behavior-modification (becoming more “Christ-like”), but rather a progressive process of cultivating an intimate relationship with Christ where we actually know him…and of course this will have implications for our behavior as well. This verse (the 2nd to last verse in 1 John) encourages us that Christ came not just to give us knowlege about him (although that is important), and not just to know him in the sort of way that acquaintances know eachother, but tells us that we are actually somehow “in him who is true.” I can’t say that I fully understand this phrase, but these words are clearly speaking of our relationship with Christ using the language of intimacy. To think of sinners not just being pardoned by the God of the universe but actually being in an intimate relationship with this God is truly an amazing thought!

So back to the initial “Knowing About God vs. Knowing God” question. I suppose my hypothesis is that creating a dichotomy between knowing about God and actually knowing God is unhealthy and unbiblical. To merely know about God is to divorce this knowledge from the work of the Holy Spirit. To minimize the importance of intellectual knowledge about God seems to me to be an unhealthy elevation of subjective emotional experience, and a rejection of the riches of God’s revelation to us in his word. Those are my hunches. But like anything, I need to go to scripture, and confirm or challenge these thoughts. That is what I hope to do in the coming posts.

Feel free to join the conversation.

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I need you more than anything else in the world. I need you more than a good night’s sleep. I need you more than the things I think I need to wake up: a hot shower, a good cup of coffee, food in my belly. I need you more than I need to be informed, creative, or successful. I need you more that I need to know the daily news. I need you more than I need the right music to make me feel ready to take on the day. I need you more than I need affirmation from my friends, coworkers and supervisors.I need you more than I need success in my vocation or praise for my art. I need you more than I need to have a career that “makes a difference.” I need you more than I need financial freedom: a paycheck, a savings account, less debt, and more spending money. I need you more than I need excitement, adventure, and the risks that make me feel brave. I need you more than exercise and being “in shape.” I need you more than I need a relationship, a girlfriend, a fiance, or a wife.I need you more than I need sex. I need you more than I need community. I need you more than I need plans tonight that will make me feel like I belong.I need you more than I need to feel needed by others. I need you more than I need to feel organized, focused, self-confident. I need you more than happiness. I need you more than I need to know about you.

I spend my days chasing after all these things I think I need when what I really need is you. Many of these things are good things that you want me to be engaged in. Yet if I gain them, but do not have you, I have nothing. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) Forgive me for all the things I pursue (even “spiritual” things) that are not truly a pursuit of you. Forgive me for desiring experiences and feelings and compliments and security and adventure and flexibility more than I desire you.

Lord, give me a desire for you that is stronger than my desire for food and coffee and sleep and sex and fun and art and success and all the other things that I think I need to survive and be happy. Be like oxygen to me. Redeem all of these other good things as I am sustained first and foremost by you. Transform my idols into works of art where your glory can be displayed. Show me what to surrender and abandon. Show me what to pursue. Change the way I view everything. Teach me to look to you as my greatest need and to live in normal everyday life more passionately than I ever thought possible because I am finding my strength, security and guidance in you.

In Jesus Name, Amen.

[1:1] Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;  [2] but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.  [3] He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3 ESV)

These verses lay out a simple contrast, yet in my mind you probably couldn’t find a better New Year’s Resolution. Plant yourself by the stream this year…come daily to the living water…the Word of God. Drink it in. Savor it. Swish it around. Swallow it. Let it become part of you. Fruit is sure to follow- and not only the kind of fruit that is delicious on great days and sustains you on normal days…but fruit that will help you to survive the worst days. The drought may come, but your “leaf [will] not wither.”

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