In chapter eight of the children’s classic, Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin assembles the childlike animals for an adventure. He announces that they are off to discover the North Pole. They set out in all seriousness with each character contributing something essential to the quest. Christopher Robin has heard about the North Pole but he has no idea what or where the North Pole is. Along the way little Roo falls into a stream and needs rescuing. Everyone pitches in to rescue him. Pooh picks up a pole and fishes him out.

The emergency over, the animals talk it over while Pooh stands there with the pole in his hands. Christopher Robin then says,

“Pooh…where did you find that pole?”

Pooh looked at the pole in his hands.

“I just found it,” he said, “I thought it ought to be useful. I just picked it up.”

“Pooh,” said Christopher Robin solemnly, “the Expedition is over. You have found the North Pole!”

“Oh!” said Pooh.

They stuck the pole in the ground, and Christopher Robin tied a message on to it,

North Pole

Discovered by Pooh

Pooh Found It.

Then they all went home again…

Eugene Peterson uses this little tale to illustrate how many people approach spirituality. They are out searching for a vaguely defined spirituality (the “North Pole”). “Every once in a while one of them picks up something and someone says, `That’s it!’ Sure enough, it does look like “it.” And someone, usually a “spiritual authority” (Christopher Robin), hangs a sign on it: “Spirituality.” And then everyone goes home again, until the next expedition is proposed.” (Peterson, CT, 7/13/98, p.51).

Spirituality based on personal feelings is not Christian spirituality anymore than Pooh bear’s pole was the North Pole. The human spirit may produce a feeling of spirituality, but true spirituality is centered in Jesus, his life, death and resurrection. The old hymn goes:

I love to tell the story / Of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, Of Jesus and His love;
I love to tell the story / Because I know ‘tis true,
It satisfies my longings / As nothing else can do.
I love to tell the story! ‘Twill be my theme in glory–
To tell the old, old story / Of Jesus and His love.
“I love to tell the story / Because I know ‘tis true,
It satisfies my longings / As nothing else can do.

It is the truth that satisfies my longings, not my longings that I mistake as truth.


According to the Gallup Poll on religious life in America, more than 40 million profess to be born again and one in five say they attend a Bible study weekly.

Nevertheless what seems to be an “evangelical awakening” in America is having no appreciable influence on morals and ethics.

One explanation for this impotence is the separation of the gospel from the kingdom – as if they were two separate and distinct matters. They are often referred to as the gospel and the kingdom.

In the New Testament it is the gospel of the kingdom.  In the New Testament they are connected – inseparable.

For many today the gospel is for now and the kingdom is future; which makes it possible to believe the gospel and ignore kingdom principles. In other words, enjoy the gospel without obeying the King!

So church people live like citizens of this world – not citizens of the kingdom but as children of this secular world rather than children of the kingdom.

Many are in the church who have never seen the kingdom:. Jesus said, “. . . unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  John 3:3 (RSV)

Many are in the church but are not in the kingdom. Jesus said, “,..unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”  John 3:5 (RSV).

And many are in the church and in the kingdom –  but they treat the kingdom as future in its coming and have no kingdom allegiance now.

In the New Testament the kingdom is both present and future . . . it is here and coming. It came with Christ’s first coming and it will be consummated when He comes again;  when He re-enters history in His final triumph!


I get to visit many different churches and hear a lot of good preaching. One of the commonalities in messages is how they begin. Most of us tell some kind of human interest story or share a common concern. This generates curiosity and identifies with the audience.

I begin many messages that way but I’m conscious that doing so often directs listeners attention to themselves, allowing their minds to focus on some personal concern or longing. As pastors, we must address topics like facing change, going through hard times, self-esteem, success, marriage, parenting, time management and stress. Issues such as guilt and forgiveness, emptiness and meaninglessness are important and should be talked about. But we face the challenge of doing so in a way that doesn’t emphasize the individual self, the Self principle.

The Lord God seeks to save and transform each one of us personally – salvation is individual but that transformation makes individuals members of a family, a household of faith. If we’re not careful, what begins as a personal decision to follow Christ can subtly become a selfish, individual orientation to spirituality.

Instead of asking. “how do we fit into God’s Salvation History story,” we have a great tendency to ask, “how does God fit into our individual personal stories?” If we’re not careful, the starting point of a message, the human interest story or our own personal experience, becomes the whole point, not only of the sermon, but spirituality. The truth is, God relates to me for my sake. I don’t relate to God for his sake. We can’t let spirituality become personal – about me instead of God.

When we allow this to happen the Bible becomes a collection of stories, principles, and steps that can be used by a creative speaker to inspire listeners. And the listeners come to hear such a speaker and feel comforted, challenged, up-lifted, and even, at times, to feel a little guilty. All the while the listener is in control of his or her spirituality. They measure out the dosage of how much they want to take in. Spirituality becomes a personal project; a quest full of deception which produces confusion and impotence.

Sermons and Bible studies oriented around the Self principle obscure the meaning of the Bible
by drawing out what meets immediate felt needs and disregarding the rest. Falling prey to this temptation ends up diluting the biblical influence in many believers’ lives. The result is an ever expanding influence of non-Biblical thinking, greed driven materialism, and individualistic morals. People end up doing whatever seems right to them at the time; a philosophy of, “if it feels good, do it” and “as long as no one else gets hurt, it must be OK.”

The church has contributed to this Self principle by our silence when people use the Bible for their individual spirituality. We are far too silent when good church people turn to the Bible to inspire their souls and to the world to inspire their success. They turn to the Bible to deal with guilt and look to the world for entertainment. They look to the Bible for comfort and to the world for excitement. Many like what 1 Corinthians 13 has to say about love, and then turn to the world to learn about sex. They quote the Bible passages on peace and then look to the world for political solutions. They want to know what the Bible says about forgiveness and then look to the world for freedom. It’s all to easy to quote Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. . . “ but then demand that our churches be run according to democratic procedure.

Instead of the Word of God shaping the totality of life, the Self principle results in a spirituality that shapes one’s private world and a secularization that shapes one’s public world. This approach to the Bible accounts for seemingly spiritually minded believers being habitually self-centered rather than God-honoring in their daily lives. The evidence of this is easily seen in people’s business practices, sexual behavior, consumer lifestyle, pursuit of pleasure, and intellectual outlook.

I’m not suggesting we eliminate personal anecdotes and human interest stories – we need some of them to draw people into the truth. But let’s be careful to recognize the dangers of self-centered spirituality. Maybe this is a good reminder to make sure our own lives are committed to obeying God in everything, not just what seems convenient. We reject the Self principle and embrace the Body Life of the New Testament. We desperately practice the “living sacrifice” principle of Romans 12.