Finding Spiritual Direction Through Service

I stood rigid looking into the bathroom of the men’s homeless shelter.  Behind me were five teenagers who had followed my crazy idea to give up their spring break to go on a mission trip.  I doubt any of the fixtures had seen a scrub brush or bleach in a few months.   I dare not try to describe the smell.

I knew what I had to do but my thoughts had to do with how I move, motivate or manipulate these young people to step forward!  I had only arrived at this church seven months ago!  What on earth had I been thinking?  So, I stepped forward, grabbed the hose and a scrub brush and found the far corner.  Ever so timidly, the youth moved forward, following my lead.

As I worked, I sensed Jesus’ words asking me, “Didn’t I do a little cleaning work too?”  With the nudge, I asked the youth, “Do you remember a time when Jesus did some washing and cleaning?”  One young man said, “Oh yeah!  He got down on his hands and washed the disciples’ feet!”  In a moment, the Spirit transformed the bathroom of this homeless shelter into sacred space.  Joy enveloped us as we began to imagine making this the cleanest bathroom these men would ever know.  

In a recent interview, professor, pastor and author, Eugene Peterson mentioned, “Everything in the Gospel is livable not just true.” (see below for the full interview on PBS)  One of our roles as spiritual directors is helping those who come to us, see a livable Gospel not merely teachable truths.  It is true Jesus washed the disciples feet but is this the point?  “And if your Lord and teacher has washed your feet, you should do the same for each other. (John 13:14)”  Missions and service take us to the dirty feet of our world, to places where truths taught become truths lived.

Watch Eugene Peterson on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Sin Bravely - Book In Review
The goal is to provide “a joyful alternative to a purpose-driven life,” so the subtitle declares. Is it an alternative that Sin Bravely gives the reader? Yes. Is it joyful? If you have a fairly good grasp of history and theology, you might find it so but alas, it is more ponderous than joyful.

Professor Ellingsen does a masterful job throughout of researching and presenting the width and shallowness of purpose-driven and prosperity thought. At the heart, Professor Ellingsen seeks to reintroduce the freedom of God’s grace and Martin Luther’s call for Christians to “sin bravely.” “...the concept, ‘sin bravely,’” writes Ellingsen, “is a word of permission to do God’s ‘thing’ joyously and with reckless abandon (64).” This idea is intended to contrast with Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven model and the prosperity gospel which Ellingsen argues, is an extension of a narcissistic world view.

It is worth noting that Professor Ellingsen also delves into modern scientific discoveries to make his case. Chapter 3 includes the subsection entitled, “Biochemistry, genetics, and original sin,” which any pastor, theologian or counselor ought to read. Documentation, footnotes and references to reformation theology, past and present, abound. A good deal of the work includes the history and influence of Puritan thought in the United States, which is worth the time to read.

There is no doubt Professor Ellingsen’s book is far better grounded than any of the purpose-driven and/or prosperity gospel materials. While he takes a weak shot at Wesleyan-Arminian thought, I found he does make the case for sinning bravely by using Wesley’s quadrilateral of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

The greatest weakness, however, is Professor Ellingsen writes as a professor not a pastor. Sin Bravely is not near as easy to grasp as Rick Warren’s or Joel Osteen’s works or words. It maybe a joyful alternative and it most certainly is better theology but the book falls short in being accessible to those who have found their guidance from Warren and Osteen.

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