All of life is a gift of grace from God. He breathes life into us by his Son and hovers over us by his Spirit. He lavishes this one-way love on us at salvation, bringing new life and sending his Spirit to dwell within us. As St. Paul says, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The Christian life begins with grace and continues by grace. By grace we are saved, and through faith we are continually formed in Christ.
Formation is the growth of the soul in Christ. To quote Paul again, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into Christ’s likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This formation is not a result of our best efforts and personal discipline—it is an unearned gift of grace. And yet it paradoxically requires a great deal of effort and discipline: as our inner being is conformed to the person of Christ, we become more like him in his obedience, love, freedom, rest, joy, peace, humility and simplicity. The process of spiritual formation, begun with the soul’s introduction to Christ, continues into maturity when heaven and earth meet together in the New Creation.
Our formation coming completely by grace, we can finally embrace the realities of our weakness. The limitations set upon us as human beings first come in creation—we are purposefully created as finite beings. Our brokenness becomes wrecked by our own sin, but the limits and boundaries surrounding us in life are not purely a result of our own sin. Instead, we can join King David in celebrating our lot, our portion and our cup (Psalm 16). Our formation thrives as our weakness and limitations are embraced. Our weakness becomes our greatest strength; our flaw is our great advantage; our limits become our freedom; our sufferings become Christ’s glory.
By receiving God’s grace, being formed in Christ and embracing our weakness, we begin to live and be as we were intended to live and be. With the pressure off, we don’t have to follow the world’s pattern of striving, scheming and boasting. Instead, we’re invited to Christ-like fidelity: faithfulness in all of life. First, we become faithful to God: to his presence, his work in our lives and his slow way of forming us in Jesus. Second, we become faithful to others: in marriage, parenting, friendships and work, we demonstrate Christ-like humility and persistence. Finally, the Christian fully alive is faithful to place: she commits to her neighborhood, her church family, her work and her corner of the world—however big or small.
Our place is more than our piece of land or the space that we find ourselves in. Place is that which grounds us in our humanity and calls us to fidelity. Our place includes my life stage (for me: married with young children), our work (pastoring a fast-growing church) and our resources (a strong relational network but very limited finances). In our place, we can be who we are, where we are, with those God has surrounded us with—and we can be truly content here. Fidelity is about a real God, filling the hearts and lives of real people, who are committed to a real place.
Together, I believe these values also reflect the Biblical teachings on spiritual formation and leadership and reject the world’s pervasive dysfunction. Grace overwhelms the crooked doctrines of performance and entitlement. Formation invites the believer through the shallowness of self-help and moral improvement lies, and flips the prideful self-promotion and self-preservation of our youth-obsessed, perfectionist society on its head. Fidelity calls us out of isolation and individualism to the truly good life—a life of belonging and commitment. Fidelity invites us to finally return home to a place we’ve always longed to find and remain, a place where we know we are loved.
These three values best describe the essence of my life and ministry, and will be further developed on in a handful of essays here. I hope your life is made more full as a result of them.