Friday, July 29, 2005

Our Discileship Program - Principle 1 - Being Poor in Spirit

Thus far we have seen that the quality of life which the church in general presents to the world is not exactly heavenly. Our salt is less than salty. Therefore, the church in the west, generally speaking, is really good for nothing but to be the world’s punching bag.

I contend that it is not supposed to be this way but that the Gospel promises a quality of life that is stunningly morally beautiful.

If this is true which it is, then why does the church in general and very very few in particular lack this stunningly morally beautiful life. The answer is simple. No one has taught most of us how to get this quality of life. Most churches lack a discipleship process that is tried, tested and true.

The need for a discipleship process that is tried tested and true is self evident to anyone who has attended a variety of churches in North America. Certainly there are exception but they are few and far between. Would you describe the quality of life which your church community displays to the community around you stunningly morally beautiful? How about your personal life? Do we possess a truly happy and heavenly quality of life?

These facts beg the question, why. The answer is simple. We lack a method or a process that if followed and worked with rigorous honesty and sincerity will deliver the intended outcomes of the gospel.

In these posts, I have attempted to convince the reader that we must accept that in order to attain this stunningly morally beautiful life, to attain true happiness and a heavenly quality of life that bears witness to the reality of the power of the Gospel of the Kingdom, we must learn how to practice the discipleship principles that Jesus taught us. We must embrace method and the need for method.

So, without further ado, let’s get with the program:

1. Poverty of Spirit: Any spiritual progress begins with an abiding confession and awareness of our spiritual poverty. The disciple of Jesus must learn an abiding confession and awareness of his or her spiritual poverty if they are to be a witness to the power of the Gospel of the Kingdom.

When Jesus begins his discipleship program to equip His disciples for ministry, He opens by saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.

Being poor in spirit is the “double back flip” of Christian discipleship. There are certain skills that every gymnastics routine must have. One of these basic skills for the Olympic gymnast is the double back flip. It is like triple jumps in figure skating. There are certain basic skills that are requirements in a figure skating routine at the Olympic level. So too, practicing poverty of spirit must be basic to the daily routine of the life of the follower of Jesus.

What is Poverty of Spirit?
When I ask most people what is poverty of spirit, they answer humility. But poverty of spirit is humility. Poverty of spirit is a very specific attitude that we have before God. Poverty of spirit is the abiding awareness that spiritually speaking we are poor. As human beings, we are made in such a way that we do not have the spiritual resources in ourselves to attain holiness. No matter how much will power we muster, no matter how much self knowledge we gain, we remain powerless to change our fundamental spiritual qualities. We cannot no matter how hard we try remove our defects of character. We are powerless. We are, even as Christians, powerless in ourselves. We lack the resources to have a stunningly morally beautiful life. We are sick. We have a disease of fear and self unless Christ daily by His power and presence gives us a daily reprieve.

Jesus said to the Christian, to His disciples, “Abide in Me and let My words abide in you, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Jesus was speaking of the need to remain daily dependent on Him and the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was teaching the disciples of their need to practice His teachings every day and maintain an abiding awareness and confession of their spiritual poverty if they are to bear fruit that brings glory to God. Fruit is the external evidence of the inward reality of Christ power in our lives. We are utterly powerless to bear fruit that reveals moral attributes that the natural man simply does not possess. Only through a rigorous spiritual program and the power of the Holy Spirit can we display the character of God. This abiding awareness is what it means to be “poor in spirit”.

So how do we practice being poor in spirit in our daily lives?
God has made us in such a way that we live a daily cycle. This cycle repeats itself 365 times a year. Therefore, we have many opportunities to develop spiritual disciples if we develop certain daily habits. One daily habit I am working on is “the first though of the day”. I desire my first though of the day to be a confession of the first beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. So when I wake I begin the day by saying, “Lord, I am sick but Your Gospel promises me that You can make me well”. My sickness is the propensity to defend self, to boast of self, to fear the injury of myself. This self-centeredness and selfishness is our natural tendency as human beings. It is this human nature that is at the root of all our problems, and through the Gospel we have daily deliverance from our self obsessive lives if we learn how to ask and how to exercise a few simple principles.

Another way to learn and practice poverty of spirit is in our morning devotions. The gospel is the message of what God has provided for the spiritual beggars of the world. Practicing thanksgiving for the gospel and awareness of our need for forgiveness and power is a practice of being poor in spirit. Worship that proclaims to the heavens and to our soul the greatness of God’s moral excellencies is a practice that orients our hearts before God as the creation before the creator. Such worship is a practice of being poor in spirit.

What about during the day?
Being poor in spirit is also essential to living the kingdom in our daily lives. Our world is full of sick people. We are all sick. I am sick. It is only a daily awareness of the Gospel and the exercise of simple spiritual principles that keeps us sane and sober minded. Those who do not know the gospel nor exercise spiritual principles are still living in the insanity of the world. This insanity is the tangled web of politicking and manipulations that people do to protect self and accomplish their agenda. Of course this insanity never gets us what we want but most of us do not know any other way of life. When I am aware that this sickness is the way the world works, I find myself being very compassionate. I do not judge someone for being sick. They are poor and they have inherited their poverty from their forefathers just like I inherited mine.

Our Father looked down from heaven and saw a world in desperate need. He sees the sickness of the world. Our sickness is deep in our psyche. Our sickness is a sickness of soul. Knowing our disease helps us take our medicine. When I am aware that I have this intense tendency to promote self, helps me to remain quite. I know that most of what I say is careless and is an attempt to garner respect or admiration. Men seek honor from men. This is our sickness. This abiding awareness and confession is a worldview that if we allow it to permeate our soul will lay a foundation for a life of dependence on God. Such an awareness leads to practicing God’s presence and waiting on Him. We are aware that our own will is somehow driven from fear and selfishness. So we find a greater peace in ceasing to participate in the ego games of our fellows. We begin to see another way of life based not on pride and self but on compassion and peace.

So being poor in spirit becomes for us the triple toe-loop of our spiritual walk. Being poor in spirit is central to our daily routine and the foundation of all our spiritual program. From this abiding confession or our spiritual poverty, we find that we are far more helpful in showing other harassed and helpless members of humanity where they too can find rest for their weary souls.

God Bless,

Thursday, July 21, 2005

More on Method

The Rule of Saint Francis starts as follows:
“In the name of the Lord, the life of the lesser brothers begins.
The rule and life of the lesser brothers is this: To observe the holy gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ

I have always loved this phrase. "Our rule of life is to observe the Gospel". Francis is saying “our way of life is an attempt to put into practice the teachings of Jesus”. Francis understands that to have at our disposal a way to blesseness is indeed Gospel. We do not normally think of the teaching of Jesus as “gospel” or good news, but the fact that there is a way to a heavenly quality of life and that way has been tried and tested and found to work is great news.

The Franciscans could simply say if you want to know true blessedness do what we do as we follow Jesus. Now, don't get lost in theology on this point. Certainly to put into practice the teachings of Jesus includes believing that His atonement made the life of God available for the soul of man and that this faith is a grace from God in itself. In fact, Jesus' first teaching is to be poor in Spirit and approach God like a tax collector and not a self-righteous Pharisee.

But observing the Gospel an entering a heavenly quality of life is more than just being reconciled to God but also allowing the rule and reign of Jesus to invade every aspect of our lives. How do we observe this good news of Jesus' rule and reign in heaven and on earth and is there a simple path to follow to at least have the priorties of the kingdom?

This simple path is what the Franciscans called "observign the gospel".

How would you describe what observing the gospel of Jesus Christ looks like? Surely, it is a life of forgiving our enemies, of caring for the poor and suffering, of prayer and worship, of material simplicity, of humility and servanthood. Surely, the observing the Gospel is a life of mission and disciple-making. Surely, observing the Gospel is a life filled with visiting the sick and dying. But it is still more. Observing the Gospel is a life of learning to accept trials without depression or anger. Observing the Gospel is a life of circumspect speech, of refraining from gossip and slander. Observing the gospel is a life without boasting. Observing the Gospel is a life of conscious contact and awareness of God.

In the 13th century, the Franciscans had a particular and, to many of us, a peculiar way of living out this obedience of faith. As followers of Jesus in the 21st Century, following Jesus, though similar in principle, may be quite different in practice than that of Francis and his brothers. These differences are a manner of method. Today we cook cookies or bread different than men and women did in the 13th century but the outcome is quite similar in flavor.

The Need to Embrace Method and Find Method as Communities
Jesus said “seek and you shall find”. Seek what? Seek answers to your prayers. Seek conscious contact with God. But can you seek answers in pray and the presence of God any which way you desire? If I seek God through drugs or alcohol will I find Him? If I don’t find Him can I say, the principle "seek and you shall find" is false? No!! May it never be!! The principle is this “seek God in the way I have taught you and you will find Him”. Seek the kingdom through these simple ways and you will find the kingdom. The difference between those who find what they are looking for and those who do not is entirely a manner of methods.

If I desire to teach my daughter how to bake cookies, I will go step by step through the process. If I am a good teacher and I personally know how to bake cookies, then the chances are very good that we will enjoy the fruit of our labors and eat nice moist cookies. Jesus is the best teacher of all, and, through the Holy Spirit, we can find the methods that can help us, together, find how to enter the desired outcomes of the teaching of Jesus. But, we cannot expect to attain to any level of true happiness and a heavenly quality of life if we do not seek effective methods.

If someone were to ask you, teach me to pray, how would you respond? If the person you were teaching followed your instructions would they find what they were looking for? Would they find conscious contact with God and pleasure in Him? Would they find the path to answered prayer?

Jesus answered this question and taught the orientations of the beatitudes in prayer. Begin with worship and lowliness, enter into a posture of meekness and surrender, begin petitioning for the kingdom like you seek for food and sustenance, practice forgiveness and mercy in your prayer life, and finally pray for purity and peace. This model prayer and its model attitudes in the beatitudes is method. In fact, the Lord’s model prayer is rather strict method which His early followers understood as a model for our approach to Go if our prayer life is to have the desired outcomes.

If a person asked you how to pray, would you use model prayers or a model of certain attitudes that are necessary to find God in our prayer life and to pray rightly? Would you teach boldness in prayer? Would you warn against rote prayers and vain prayers? Would you warn against selfish prayers like James does?

The basic assumption in this series which I am beginning is that if we follow the teachings of Jesus as outlined in the Sermon on the Mount, we will enter the Kingdom of heaven or a truly happy and heavenly quality of life. This is a big assumption. Do you believe it? If we follow the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, and all the teaching of Jesus for that matter, these teachings will lead us into the blessed life. The Sermon on the Mount gives to us clear instruction with respect to a Spiritual program which leads us into the kingdom. It is a spiritual program based on our utter poverty in ourselves and our utter dependence on the grace of God, but nonetheless, it is a program and a method. Though our method and our application may look different technically from the generations before us, we must like generations before us find a repeatable and clearly articulated method. Without a method, which is developed together as communities, we will in no way be able to find a repeatable path to the kingdom nor will we be able to lead others on the path when we find it.

God Bless,

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

In Defense of Method

When I was a young Christian, I loved Saint Francis of Assisi. One element of Francis' order that I thought was helpful was the idea of the "rule". Franciscans have a rule. A rule, in monastic life, is a simple booklet that explains their way of life. The rule of Saint Francis explains the simple rules that govern the life of the Franciscan. These simple rules give structure to the Franciscan spirituality. In today's "post-modern", relativistic, and individualistic world, we tend to feel quite uneasy around talk of such man-made rules and tend to shy away from attempting to develop methods to our spiritual practices. We do this much to our own peril.

Rules or methods are central to a community creating a corporate document, a living expression, of their spiritual journey and their spiritual life.

The Daily Cycle
It seems clear to me that any method should be based on the cycle of the day. How do we do morning prayers? How do we live our daily lives and how do we do evening prayers? How do we take our meals and pray together at meals, and how do we perform daily worship together?

A Method for Discipleship
Any discipleship method which is attempting to uncover the apostolic model which Christ gave His first followers must include these elements. How ought we to perform our morning prayers? What are the basic rules that govern our daily lives? How ought we to worship together? etc.

The Sermon on the Mount covers almost, if not all, of these areas and is the basis of the simple ways and rules that are to govern the daily lives of Christians. I think it is important for each Christian community that seeks to follow Jesus to develop a method of following the Gospel that makes sense and works for them. We need method. We need to be able to articulate our way of life when people come to us and ask to join us. Sure we must be living this life first and foremost, but we must also be capable of explaining our life to others in a simple and repeatable manner.
To do this we must embrace some form of method. The development of method is vital to significant progress in the spiritual transformation of an community. It is time for all of us, as disciples of Christ, to develop, for ourselves and those we help, methods that explain and can be used as tools to help others enter our quality of life.

God Bless,

Bob Dylan - Chronicles

I am reading Dylan's autobiography. I just have one question for anyone else who has read this book: Do you think Dylan is writing actual history or fiction?

Personally, I do not believe very many of the stories are true at all. I do not think the characters are real. I think this method of Dylan's is the same it has always been. Dylan uses fantasy and dream pictures to unveil what is really happening in the culture. It is like he creates demons and angels to explain change and culture war.
Enough for now...

What is Dylan's real take on the late 20th century? That is the question this book is answering and a few times he does come right out and say it! But that is for next time.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Let Your Yes be Yes - Our Words and Our Discipleship

I really would like to begin a point by point outline of the Sermon on the Mount but what is really on my mind and heart is Jesus’ saying in Matthew 5 vs 32-37:

33"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' 34But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

This passage is stunning in its weight and has brought me low. Jesus is saying, ‘do not add value to your words by attaching them to something of value. Instead, let your words stand on their own. Know this, if you need to or even attempt to add value to your words by attaching them to something holy this is evil.” What a strange custom that we do this swearing ritual.

“I swear on a stack of bibles”
“As God is my witness, blah blah blah”

We do this as a negotiation tactic. We do this to make our words believable because we have so many words spoken in our day that are just, well how do we say, about as valuable as male cow dung. Instead, let’s take a different approach to our words. Let our words be few. Let our words though few be weighty and valuable.

“That man’s words are gold”
“If he says he will do something, you can take it to the bank.”
Our words are to be backed by the full power of our integrity.

“If a man does not bridle his tongue, his religion is worthless”
"But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment”

But this is not the story of the people of God in our day…
No one in all my years of Christianity has ever discipled me in the practice of quite. No man has taken me aside and said, “My son, you are new to the spiritual way of life. If you are to understand holiness, you must learn to let your words be few and let them always be weighty and true. A man’s words are to be careful and thoughtful. Learn to speak with words that are never angry or haughty or arrogant but instead always kind and wise.”

In the real world, men are constantly politicking and positioning themselves to protect themselves and increase their power within their social and economic worlds. To do this self promoting work, we use our words. To achieve our ends, we sacrifice our integrity and the honor of our words. To be followers of Jesus, we must not be like the world in how we build up self with our words and our boasts.

To be a follower of Jesus our entire perspective on how we speak and why we speak must experience a conversion. Our words are to reflect the truth and to be used to communicate the truth humbly. Never are our words to be used to deceive or to manipulate. Such a transformation of our speech is central to the life of a follower of Jesus.

God Bless,

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Sexulaity and the Kingdom of Heaven - The Sermon

The post below is a short blog reflection on this Sermon:
Sexuality and the Kingdom of Heaven - Matt 5:27-30 (stream) (download).
I plan on blogging this sermon series in more detail. I am personally experience deep and apperantly lasting renewal from the application of the teachings of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount and I will do my best to help others enter the a similar quality of life that I am currently experiencing.
God Bless, brad

Monday, July 11, 2005

Sexuality and the Kingdom of Heaven

Matt 5:27-30 "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; 28but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29"If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30"If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.

The Sermon on the Mount is filled with numerous radical ethical claims. Jesus instructs His followers to be meek. He commands His followers to “go the extra mile” for those who treat them unjustly. He says to turn the other cheek to those who injure us. He teaches us that to even say “what an idiot” reveals that our hearts that lacks His mercy and love. Jesus teaches His followers to love and bless their enemies.

Another radical ethical claim of Christianity is in the realm of sexuality. Jesus teaches that to look at a woman lustfully is to have already committed adultery in our hearts. To understand Jesus’ teaching on sexuality and lust, we must understand the difference between a secular and a spiritual view of sexuality.

Why Did God Create Sex?
In Genesis 3, the bible teaches that God looked at man and saw that it was not good for man to be alone. The story then says that God put man asleep and created woman. The teaching is that God created man male and female because it is not good for man to be alone. In other words, God created sex so to bind two people together in life long growing intimate relationship. The purpose of sex is not first and foremost reproduction but relationship. Here is the key to understanding sexuality. The beasts have sex to procreate. So God gave them an appetite and an instinct for sex. The sexual appetite is to be met in order to procreate. But this is not true with man who was created in God’s image. The purpose of sex for Christians and spiritual people is as a culmination and celebration of relationship. Here is the difference between a secular and a Spiritual view of sex.

A Secular vs. A Spiritual View of Sex
To the natural mind, sex is an appetite. This appetite needs to be satisfied. This appetite was given to propagate the species. To suppress this appetite is unnatural. Therefore, the balanced sexual ethic is to satisfy one’s appetite so long as one does it responsibly. To harm one’s family or marriage, to get a girl pregnant when you really do not intend to get pregnant, to spread a disease, these things are irresponsible sex. One ought to enjoy the sexual experience and satisfy the sexual appetite so long as one does this responsibly. This approach is seen as sophisticated, modern and natural. But this view is not spiritual nor is it the teaching of Jesus.

A Spiritual Approach to Sex
The Spiritual approach to sex starts with the biblical truth that sexuality is first and foremost given to mankind to have a deepening covenant relationship. The man and the woman are to be co-workers in God’s vineyard together and to find union in the labors of life that God has given to them as a couple and a family. Any sex which is not first an expression of a co-laboring in the purposes of life is not a Spiritual approach to sex. This being true, I have always taught and followed the following rule to guide my sexuality.

When I was dating my wife, I told here that I believed that during our dating relationship there were a few basic questions that we need to answer. I wanted our relationship to center first and foremost on our unity with respect to our understanding of our calling from God. So the questions I asked myself are something like the following:
Do we have a similar love for God?
Do we express a similar affection for the excellencies of Jesus Christ? Do we similarly understand forgiveness and mercy? Do we similarly seek meekness and service? Do we approach worship the same and do we find unity as we worship and pray together? Do we interpret scriptures and the teachings of Jesus from the same overarching theological perspective?

My wife and I dated for about two years and during this time we spent most of our time ministering and praying together. Our spiritual DNA was developed from common experiences in worship and ministry. The answers to our ability to fellowship in the word and prayer and ministry was strongly answered in the affirmative.

After finding that we were a spiritual “match”, we were engaged. The engagement period is the time when the couple can feel freely to express their hearts toward one another. This period I think is when the two allow their affections and feelings to become filled with romantic feelings as they prepare for marriage and the consummation of their love.

I tell this story as an illustration of how the spiritual approach to sexuality is a celebration of a couples spiritual and emotional unity. Any sexual act which is merely the satisfaction of an appetite is violating this most basic principle.

What is vital is that after marriage it is vital that a couple continues to approach their sexual relationship according to the pattern that is best during the dating, engagement and honeymoon period. In other words, in marriage, sex must not be merely the satisfaction of sexual appetites. Instead, the couple must continue to make their spiritual fellowship the foundation of their relationship.

In 1 Cor. 7:5, Paul instructs couples to abstain from sex for an agreed upon period for a time of prayer. So if a couple realizes that the spiritual fellowship of praying and worship together is lacking and that they need to find unity in their vision for the kingdom in their home and their lives, then they ought to take a time out sexually and spend time praying and worshipping together.

I would bet that many couples have never laid such a foundation in their relationship. In such cases, the couple should seek a mentoring relationship or a discipleship relationship to learn these practices. To manage a home well and possess the wisdom to raise children in the grace of God, a couple must have their spiritual life be the center of their relationship.

Then from this renewed intimacy at the most authentic area of our lives, our spiritual lives. Our spiritual lives is the place of our loves and affections, our values and our dreams. As we together place our hearts before God, we find true relationship. From this intimacy we are to celebrate our life together through sexual relations.

May all Christian husbands and wives make this spiritual unity the foundation of their homes.

God Bless,

The Return of the Blog

Lately, as I have noted earlier, I have been experiencing personnal renewal or personal revival. But I have not been journaling these experiences through this blog very consistently. I have decided that it would be helpful to write more on the subject of my persoanl discipleship journey over the last 2 months.

I think part of the reason is that my experiences are very personal and hard to post to the whole world out there...On the other hand, I am finding that sermons are not as easy to prepare without more writing during the week. In other words, blogging helps me process and describe my experiences...
Therefore, I have decided to start blogging again. I will try to post daily for the remainder of the month.

If you are interested in discipleship. I cannot urge you strong enough to visit our church's sermons page and listen to our recent sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount. I believe that if you put these spiriutal priniciples into practice you and your community will find a truly happy and heavenly quality of life.
God Bless,

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

My Bliss

Am I weird or what?
Today is my birthday, and my wife asked me what I wanted. My answer: 5 hours of uninterrupted time in my office with my guitar and my Martyn Lloyd Jones sermons on the Sermon on the Mount.


God Bless,