Thursday, September 30, 2004

Bad Religion is Worse than No Religion at All – Is the Puritan Method of Intense Self- Examination Healthy

Bad Religion is Worse than No Religion at All – Is the Puritan Method of Intense Self- Examination Healthy

I have a saying and I have said it numerous times from the pulpit. It is that “Bad religion is worse than no religion at all”. As a pastor, I have found this to be totally true. When religion functions in a community as a social norming tool, this is bad religion. When religion creates a sense of social insecurity and fear, this is real bad religion. So what about the intense self-evaluation of Edwards? Can this make a person more self-conscious and less free?
I have taught probably thousands of bible studies and quite often the quest for the knowledge of God through prayer can become a guilt trip for some. The call to know God and pray can become another impossible hurdle and a law. This is a very bad thing. What should we do to maintain a balance of seeking God and learning spiritual disciplines and knowing and living in Grace?

1. I think you really have to know your theology to practice the self-examination of Edwards. I personally was not raised in the church and I never saw Christianity as legalistic but only as a path to liberation. To me the Gospel was always an arrow downward of God empowering me. If you are naturally self-loathing, then you must learn the gospel of forgiveness and grace very well to learn to joyfully be self-examining. Life and spirituality is best when it is an adventure. Are you all right with failure? Do you naturally spin things in your mind in such a way that you see yourself as an idiot? (a bad thing) I encourage memorizing scriptures on Justification by faith alone and really getting grace deep in your psyche.

2. We need mentors. If one is to dive into the transformation of the heart and seek to be deeply self-critical and honest, you need a mentor to help you avoid a legalistic psyche.

3. Let people pray for you. I find that when people lay hands on one another and pray that they say very gracious things to one another. Such a practice is really a great example of love and grace. Learn to receive love from God and let the holiness and beauty of God come to your person in the context of a loving community. I remember when I first learned to receive from God and receive gracious words from others. Such a place of humility was totally foreign to me BUT it changed for the better my understanding of God.

The goal of our seeking God is to love Him and be satisfied in Him alone. I remember a story I read in SPIN magazine. In it, Madonna the pop star was talking about why she is so messed up sexually. She said she used to watch her mother throw dry rice on the floor and then kneel on the rice in prayer. This was some form of self-mutilation. Madonna then says she got confused as to the relationship between pleasure, pain, her body and religion. This is bad religion. Madonna’s mother taught a warped form of self-hatred as religion. Oh my no wonder …

The bottom line is that only grace produces a healthy psyche and trains us in the ways of love and beauty. So if you are convicted by reading the stories of Edwards in the previous posts proceed with caution and always proceed in the ways of grace.
God Bless,

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Sanctification Practices of Jonathan Edwards

Edwards’s Method of Intense Self-Observation
In all my Christian counseling and pastoring, the greatest felt need of most Christians is the desire to more disciplined in the exercise of prayer and devotion. Could it be that we do not pray not out of lack of desire to pray but because we do not know how to pray. Our prayer life is devoid of method.
Let say a child is given a problem to solve, for example, ‘learn how to hit a baseball’ .The problem is very visible. The child swings and misses every time. So, as a parent, if we say, go learn how to hit a baseball, but the child is not coached as to how to hit the baseball, the result will be that the child will become easily discouraged and in fact practice baseball very little. The result will be a child who complains, “I stink at baseball”. This is I believe a good analogy of most of our prayer life. We a re told and we understand that prayer would be a good thing. In fact, we might even believe that prayer could open up the door to a more beautiful and God glorifying life. If we have a strong desire to pray but if we do not know how to pray and no one teaches us, we end up being Christians who simple lament, “I stink at prayer”.

Yesterday, I discussed prayer as contemplation and I introduced the role of music to help our minds contemplate an aspect of God or our relationship with God. Such extended contemplation forces us to examine as to whether our affections are in line with our actual intellectual assent. Edwards work “On religious Affections” makes the point that true works of grace enlighten the mind to the knowledge of the Gospel and the beauty of God to the extent to which they transform the affections. So that sanctified affections, heartfelt love for God, is the true sign of a legitimate work of Grace. Such affection, which grows in time, is much like the love of a mature and healthy marriage. Such love for God is the direct result of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in us through the knowledge of God in the Gospel. The means of attaining such transformed affections is contemplation of which music is a wonderful God ordained tool.

Today I would like to introduce a second practice of prayer which Edwards and the revivalists exercised: The first being contemplation; the second being Intense Self-Observation.

The Resolutions and Diary of Edwards;
Jonathan Edwards did not write much about himself but one important phase of his life is recorded. The Diary begins in December of 1722. At this time Edwards is nineteen at the time. Edwards had entered Yale at 12 and by the time of the resolutions, he had completed his masters of divinity and was at his first pastorate. It would be 11 years later that Edwards would preside over his first historic outpouring of the Spirit. A grace from God that just so happened to coincide with his preaching series on Justification By Faith.

So after schooling, Edwards begins a serious quest for Godliness and understanding. The journal begins after he is half-way through his soul searching “Resolutions” is finished.

The Diary begins as follows:
Dec. 18. This day made the 35th Resolution. The reason why I, in the least, question my interest in God’s love and favor, is, — 1. Because I cannot speak so fully to my experience of that preparatory work, of which divines speak: — 2. I do not remember that I experienced regeneration, exactly in those steps, in which divines say it is generally wrought: — 3. I do not feel the Christian graces sensibly enough, particularly faith. I fear they are only such hypocritical outside affections, which wicked men may feel, as well as others. They do not seem to be sufficiently inward, full, sincere, entire and hearty. They do not seem so substantial, and so wrought into my very nature, as I could wish. — 4. Because I am sometimes guilty of sins of omission and commission. Lately I have doubted, whether I do not transgress in evil speaking. This day, resolved, No.
I would like you to notice a few things. 1. “. I do not feel the Christian graces sensibly enough, particularly faith”. This word sensibly means consciously and aware in my senses as my experience. Edwards is saying that he is not assured that his faith is full of conviction. Do I really believe with all my person or am I full of doubts as well.
Is this a valid inquiry? Many would say that we are not to “feel” faith. Faith is an issue of our reason and we just know it, but Edwards was not satisfied that his experience was like the testimony (the story) of the great divines (i.e. the reformers before him). Edwards wanted to be sure that his actual life and soul, his story, was filled with the authentic experience of his heroes. WOW!!!

When I was a young Christian, I was blessed to be introduced to Edwards and Whitfield long before I was lulled to sleep by the pop milk toast of the 20th century. All I can say is that to seek to have these experiences of the soul and to be satisfied only with a sensible faith makes one strong. Seek Him and He will be found.

It is right to seek God and to know Him and to not rest until He blesses us.

The second thing I would notice is Edwards extreme self examination. Some would think it being too hard on oneself. Edwards is not being hard on himself. Edwards is simply being honest. This is the key. Edwards has keen sight of his own soul. He is honestly confessing his state. He is looking at his soul obbectively and simply describing what he sees. All else is denial. This deep view of self in the sight of God and in the illuminating presence of God is the path to blessing and sanctification.

Look at the 35th resolution:
35. Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved.
Edwards is saying if I ever feel so much as a hint of guilt I will right down exactly why I feel this way, what the offense is and I will solve the problem.

This brings us to the heart of Edwards’ method. Edwards is resolving himself to be a problem solver. This is why he starts his diary. He is saying here are my goals, my resolutions and I must think deeply and write out my shortcomings if I am to improve.
We in the 20th century expect change to happen ad hoc. But if we are not methodical about solving our problems even the problems of our soul we cannot expect to change.

When I disciple, this is how I start.
Write a personal constitution. Define the ideal. Use the Sermon on the mount and the biblical lists of virtues like in 1 Tim 3. define the goals and ideals of character and behavior.
Journal every violation.
Choose the area with the most urgent problem.
Work on it with a mentor every day until it is solve.
repeat 2-4
We need first a keen ability to observe our own soul. We need a clear vision of moral beauty and the perfections of Christ, and then we need to be transparent before a mentor. This is biblical, and may I say the Edwardsian, path to sanctification.

The Prayer Life of Bloggers and Where 21st Century Reformation is Going

The current series I am writing is intended to help all of us understand some of the prayer practices of a by-gone era. To look at these practices I have chosen the life of Jonathan Edwards. Why should we care about the prayer life of some Christian preacher from the 1740s?
My answer is that:
First, my personal experience is that prayer as a contemplation of God is sanctifying.

Second, I place my hope in what Jesus said when He said "You are the light of the world; a city set on a hill cannot be hidden". Here, Jesus was saying that the moral distinction of the church is its greatest apologetic for the truth of its message. He later says, "If salt loses its saltiness it is good for nothing.." Salt has a distinctive taste and if salt loses its distinctive taste, it is worthless. So too, if the church loses its moral integrity and distinction from the world, how are we to bear witness that Jesus brings the abundant life of joy and freedom.

Therefore, we must rebuild the age-old foundation not of theology only but of practice. That is the point of where we are going.

So how does blogging affect your prayer life? And how does blogging relate to your prayer life? Do you intend to blog from a prayerful place? Does that kind of blogging seem appealing to you?

My method or so I try to convince myself is to pray and get inspired from my prayer life and then write. It was said of A.W. Tozer that he lived in heaven six days a week and came down on Sunday to tell people what he saw. If I imitate this type of practice, then I will be fulfilling my calling.


Worship, Music and the Reformed Experience

One of the greatest things about being a Christian is the experience of Worship through Music.

My own personal experience with music is very profound, and the role of music in my personal sanctification process is quite significant. Music and sanctification, "I have never heard these two things put together in the same sentence" one might say. Well, I contend that seeing the sanctifying role of the experience of music and worship is important to understanding the reformed understanding of sanctification, especially the Edwardsian view of sanctification.

Jonathan Edwards has been called the greatest mind America ever produced by such men as the good doctor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and by one of the reformed world's favorite modern teacher-preacher, John Piper. To understand the theology of this great American thinker, it is important to understand his experience, his story.

Edward's Story of Personal Sanctification - His Method
It is said that Edwards would spend up to 17 hours in his study every day. if one were to read his journal he constantly says things like, "my being was filled with the knowledge of His excellencies today. I was brought low by my own sin but His grace was shown all the more bright in my eyes".

Here is a quote from Edward's journal(I will find more later):
"Tuesday, Jan. 8.
In the morning, had higher thoughts than usual of the excellency of Christ, and felt an unusual repentance of sin therefrom.
Wednesday, Jan. 9.
At night. Decayed. I am sometimes apt to think, that I have a great deal more of holiness than I really have. I find now and then that abominable corruption, which is directly contrary to what I read of eminent Christians. I do not seem to be half so careful to improve time, to do every thing quick, and in as short a time as I possibly can, nor to be perpetually engaged to think about religion, as I was yesterday and the day before, nor indeed as I have been at certain times, perhaps a twelvemonth ago. If my resolutions of that nature, from that time, had always been kept alive and awake, how much better might I have been than I now am! How deceitful is my heart! I take up a strong resolution, but how soon doth it weaken!

From the Journal of David Brainerd, compiled by Edwards:
”Saturday, Nov. 27.
Committed my soul to God with some degree of comfort; left New York about nine in the morning; came away with a distressing sense still of my unspeakable unworthiness. Surely I may well love all my brethren; for none of them all is so vile as I; whatever they do outwardly, yet it seems to me none is conscious of so much guilt before God. Oh my leanness, my barrenness, my carnality, and past bitterness, and want of a gospel-temper! These things oppress my soul. Rode from New York, thirty miles, to White Plains, and most of the way continued lifting up my heart to God for mercy and purifying grace: and spent the evening much dejected in spirit.”The three next days he continued in this frame, in a great sense of his own vileness, with an evident mixture of melancholy, in no small degree; but had some intervals of comfort, and God’s sensible presence with him.
“Wednesday, Dec. 1.
My soul breathed after God, in sweet spiritual and longing desires of conformity to him; my soul was brought to rest itself and all on his rich grace, and felt strength and encouragement to do or suffer any thing that Divine Providence should allot me. Rode about twenty miles from Stratfield to Newton.”

Notice the continued contemplation and the focus of the mind on a single thought for a number of days. Edwards says he made a resolution but over the last few days he has not been able to keep it. He is accutely aware of his heart and his behaviors. This life of abiding contemplation on the relationship between an idea and one's behavior and sense of peace etc is how good theology is made. Good practical experimental theology of the soul that is.

It is said that it takes 30 minutes to preach a sermon and 30 years to prepare one. The deep contemplation of the state of one's soul and the clarity of one's affections as it relates to the truth of the gospel is the contemplation of the practical theologian. Edwards was not concerned with whether something was logically true only, but whether his soul was sanctified by the reality of his beliefs and understanding. If the scripture says, all things work together for good, and yet I am anxious. Then, the good pastor waits on the Lord to make the truth of the scriptural claim to God's sovereignty a cleansing word TO HIS OWN SOULS. If we are not at peace, how are we to truly understand the peace-making work of the prince of peace. No, first the good theologian must have his theology do a sanctifying work in himself. Then, he can preach to others.

This is the reformed revivalists method of which Edwards is the chief.

How does this contemplative life relate to music?
Music is intended to do two things: 1) Focus the mind on a given truth and draw the mind into that truth through a music form which parallels the idea to be contemplated. Can you say music is a spiritual discipline. 2) Music is often used in the church to accomplish #1 above in the corporate setting. So this morning I sang,

"My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name. On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand..."

"His oath His covenant His blood supports me in the whelming flood. When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay. On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand..."

"When He shall come with trumpet sound, O may my soul in Him be found, dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand...faultless to stand .. faultless to stand .. before the throne. On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand..."

Here through music, the contemplation of "all things working together for good" is focused on and the mind and all the affections can be centered on the reality of our security in our relationship with God.

To do this well takes a long time. In fact, Edwards and Brainerd would have thought long and hard on these ideas. I use music, and, often, I find myslef for hours on end playing one song over and over and over again until my affections are at perfect alignment with the reality of God and His Word.

Here in lies the path to Good Reformed Theology.
Tomorrow's post: A Look at Jonathan Edwards 70 Resolutions and His method of Sanctification

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Endless Line of Splender - Reformed Revival

There was an old book I read called "The Endless Line of Splendor". The theme of this book is that when justification by faith is truly understood by the people of God revival breaks out. Maybe a more God-centered way to say this would be that when revival breaks out the people of God come to a deeper understanding of justification by faith. The experience of the believer in Christ becomes focused and transfixed on the scriptural truth that we are freely accepted through the finished work of Jesus on the cross for us. Because of the forgiveness offered freely in the name of Jesus, I and all who believe, are justified or declared righteous in the sight of God. This experience Luther described as the experience of being "simultaneously saint and sinner". In one moment, we see that we are unholy in ourselves and are simultaneously perfectly loved and holy and healed in Jesus Christ. We, as our minds are opened to the truth of this one true Gospel, are both laid low and lifted up. The believer in Jesus does not know whether to sit still or to jump for joy. Truly, holiness and mercy meet at the foot of the cross as the lover of God comes to see the grace of God.

This knowledge of God makes us holy, humble and happy all at the same time.

The revivalists of history (excluding Finney) therefore were vigilant and passionate for the doctrines of Sovereign Grace. For only through a proper display of God's grace could people have "the love of God shed abroad in their hearts". It was this display of Sovereign Grace through the Gospel, where a person sees in all their being that God has called them completely unconditionally, I say that again completely unconditionally, that leads a person to have pure affections for God. Love for God is poured out in the heart of the person who by the Holy Spirit comes to know the Gospel of free justification or justification by Grace alone through faith alone through Christ alone through the foolishness of preaching. This is why Reformed doctrine or bible doctrine was so important to the revivalists of the past.

The desire of the pastoral preacher is to create, in the being, in the person of the listener, a passion for God that is stronger than the grave. The faith and practice of the Christian pastor and preacher is that Christianity is the answer to our "psychological" torment and pain. It is the knowledge of God's sovereign grace and love that brings a person into peace and joy. We are secure in the love of God like a well-parented child. This was the passion of Richard Baxter and the Puritans who were called experimental theologians in their day. By experimental, they mean theology that deals directly with the experience of the soul and the nurture of what we would call today healthy psychology. I know this sounds self-centered but it is the opposite. As preachers of Grace, we are saying the only way to be holy, humble and happy is to be God-centered. Piper explains it by saying this, "God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him alone". Being satisfied, like a lover on his honeymoon, is what Piper is talking about. It is this passion and love for God that is "to the glory of His marvelous grace".

God Bless,

Monday, September 27, 2004

Reformed: Does it Matter?

The League of Reformed Bloggers is going to start up some discussion points and I thought I would start a little discussion here.

I am and have always been since my conversion very reformed at heart. When I first was converted at the age of 23, I was introduced to Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. I still remember reading "God Glorified in Man's Dependence" just a few months after I came to Christ. I still remember 1 Cor. 1:30 becoming a very important verse to me. I then read Lloyd-Jones' Revival. Lloyd-Jones uses the text of Isaac re-digging the wells of Abraham as a call to the church to return to Expository preaching that is God-Centered and enlightens the mind of Christians with respect to the doctrines of Sovereign Grace.

So I was blessed that early on in my walk and in the process of discipleship my God was very big and majestic. Being reformed for me was always an issue of worship. Reformed theology and reformed sermons displayed God as so big and beautiful that these contemplations nurtured my worship of God. Reformed theology, I believe produces a heart of worship.

I was also blessed to be mentored by a man who let me minister a great deal in the church. I basically took over his ministry to the homeless when he was promoted to Children's Ministry director. What this did is it made my theology very practical and pastoral. I have always asked this question about a given theology or belief or even practice, I ask, "Does it disciple well?" For example, if we teach people a great deal about spiritual warfare, how does this effect their soul and their well-being. In this example, I found that the emphasis on Spiritual Warfare discipled very poorly. People will say, "I am under attack". When in reality they are reaping the consequences of poor character or poor decisions. In this case, the theology (having a big devil) undermines the disciples problem solving journey and even undermines the development of wisdom in their life. I use this example because good Reformed theology is a great anecdote for hyper-spiritual warfare obsessions that many people can develop.

So my challenge is "How does being Reformed positively and negatively effect sanctification?"
This is what we as Reformed pastors and reformed Christians need to consider deeply.

Another question is: "How does our theology effect our good works, especially evangelism?" In the emerging church movement, they talk about entering the Kingdom story of the bible. In other words, if our understanding of the bible is correct then our life should look in many if not all aspects like the story of the bible. Both our relationship with God and the forming of God in us should be assisted by our theology.

Both of these questions: How does being reformed effect discipleship? And How does it effect our evangelism? are questions regarding FRUIT. The most important thing to validate our theology is not if the ideas are self-consistent and systematically logical and reasonable, but whether or not they produce fruit. The answer is inevitably going to be a both/and in that the truth should produce fruit that truly remains. In such issues of theology and practice it is vital that we are precise. Small errors have large negative consequences as movements develop.

So I ask how does your theology relate to your practice. This is the bottom line.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

A Practical Way to Be Generous

I preached on True Generosity a few weeks back (see this post). Here is a practical way to celebrate our freedom from the world. Strange, I thought I posted more on the prep for that sermon. Hmm?

In that sermon, I said that the hurricanes were going to create a crisis and one way to be generous is to meet the needs of people in crisis. Well, the application of the sermon is on us.
Go donate.

If you use the email button right over there to the right of this post, you can email this post to a friend and really help the suffering in Haiti.

Note: The MSM isn't covering the story but the church is. Hugh talks about it here.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Seek Wisdom - More from the Life of Steven

I have been pacing a preaching in my office here and just feel compelled to share.

The Requirements to Wait on Tables for the Lord
In the passage, Acts 6:1-7, the Apostles are looking for men to wait on tables. This is a pretty mundane calling. Many of us certainly feeling like our calling is pretty ordinary. Steven was called to such an ordinary occupation or vocation in the church. So what were the requirements to be given this mundane "leadership role" in God's economy? The passage says, "chose from among yourselves men known to be "full of the Spirit and wisdom". The requirement is to have Godly character and Godly wisdom. This seems like a high standard for such an ordinary calling, and, indeed, it is. Such a high requirement for responsibility in the kingdom is because we are all sometime or another going to be given some opportunity to shine. All of us are given some ordinary leadership role and the preparation for this role is quite large.
In order to realize the difficulty of even distributing food well, we must see this as a Spiritual calling from God.

Examples of ordinary callings:
A mother of two youngsters is a calling from God that requires being "full of the Spirit and Wisdom". Teaching a small group in children’s church or church school requires being "full of the Spirit and Wisdom". These responsibilities may appear ordinary but they nonetheless require a lifelong pursuit of Godliness and Wisdom. We are all called to exercise some level of leadership in God's kingdom.
Being Christ's Ambassador at your work is a calling from God. We are all missionaries and all witnesses and we do not know when the opportunity to shine will arrive. This ordinary calling requires that we be "full of the Spirit and Wisdom". I have an opportunity starting this week. I am starting a bible study at my work this Tuesday. The door is being opened and the opportunity to shine might be approaching. This requires being "full of the Spirit and Wisdom"
Having teenage children is a calling from God which requires a great deal of being "full of the Spirit and Wisdom".

Being Full of the Spirit and Wisdom requires a constant pursuit of God and His Wisdom
Proverbs tells us if we neglect to pursue wisdom, we will call for her and she will not be there. But if we seek wisdom in our daily lives, then, in our time of need, she will rescue us.
Today is the first day of the rest of your life. SEEK WISDOM.
The role of leader that all of us are called to always calls us to help others to internalize and own a love for biblical values. Our desire as parents is that our children from the heart see and love compassion and honesty and sacrifice and love. For us to be able to help them or to help our peers to love Wisdom, we too must know wisdom and love wisdom. This heart for truth and biblical values does not come over night but comes through a lifelong pursuit of God and His wisdom. we must be lifelong learners of Biblical theology (knowledge of God) and biblical practice (wisdom).

This sermon is an attempt to get each of us to step up to the plate and accept our leadership role as from God and to see that to be faithful in the little but precious calling we have been given we must be "full of the Spirit and Wisdom".

God Bless,brad

Some Points on Wisdom

In this study of Steven, I certainly have some good talking points about Steven 'as the every man' and 'the lifelong quest for wisdom'. One of my main points will be yesterday mornings post and also the idea:

How do you invest inyourself today for potential use of the Lord in the distant future?

BUT before I get into that (probably tonight). I want to post some links to my reading list for today. Can you say John Piper:
Sermon - Ministry of the Word , Sermon - preaching the Word and Winning Priests , Sermon - Steven's Crime (I probably won't use this one), Sermon - The Story of a Stiff-Necked People, and what looks promising for my purposes - Sermon - The Death of a Spirit Filled Man.

Next I go to Here is a great sermon. This is what I have been preaching on for months in a nutshell. I probably won't be able to use this tomorrow, but it is a great sermon anyway.

I am going to post this for now and then get back to other reading options for this study. I will need to read up on Proverbs chapters 1-5 as I am going to alk about setting long term goals in the quest for wisdom.

Also, don't let blogging interrupt your prayer life.
God Bless,

Friday, September 24, 2004

Becoming a Trustworthy Leader - The Life of Steven

Trustworthy Leadership
I am beginning a study on "Becoming a Trustworhty Leader from the Life of Steven in Acts 6 and Acts 7.

Why use Steven as a launching pad for a study in leadership?
Often, when I encourage people to live a life of holiness or to set their sights high for power and influence in the Kingdom, if i say "we are to love our enemies!! We are to forgive like Jesus!! We are to pray for the sick!! We are called to be shining lights in a dark world!!", people will say, "I am not Jesus Christ. I am just a sinner saved by grace". There is, in many of us, little faith for a life of distinctive power and holiness for the ordinary Christian. So maybe, in such a case, I would turn to the example of Peter or Paul as the example of an exemplary life. "Look at the courage of Peter in the face of opposition. We too should be bold in our workplace". Or "Look at Paul who suffered and rejoiced in his affliction, we too should find joy in our affliction". In response these types of "exhortations" to ministry or faith, I often hear, "But I am no Apostle Paul". Sometimes this "I am no Apostle Paul excuse" is turned on me. Often I will say, "I believe God has called us to pray and become 'wise master builders' like Paul. We are to find the tools to use for our community and our generation". To this people have said to me, "Brad, you ain't no Apostle Paul." Well sure that is true. BUT I can be a Steven.

You see no one ever uses Steven to buttress this excuse of neglecting a high and holy call. People may maintain that wall between clergy and layperson or between biblical calling and us ordinary folk by referring to Jesus Christ or the Apostles, BUT no one ever points to Steven to protect themselves from the responsibility to live a life of stunning courage and beauty.
Why is this true? Because Steven was so obviously given to us to be an example of an "ordinary man" who lived an "extraordinary life". Steven had his moment to shine and he made the most of it. Steven is the working man's hero if there ever was one.

Steven was Chosen from Among the People by the People - A Representative
Here is the passage again.
Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. 2 So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. 3 "Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4 "But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." 5 The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. 7 The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

So we can see that Steven was a representative of the people chosen by the people. Steven was the ordinary man of the ordinary folk. Steven is one of us. This series is going to encourage all of us to set our sights high that we might be used by God to be a person like Steven who is an asset in the hand of the Lord. Of course, I believe that Peter too was just an ordinary person and so too the other apostles, but Steven is a special case given to us specifically to help us see that one from among us can become a Trustworthy Leader with all the qualities necessary to be used by God to do something beautiful and noteworthy.

God Bless,

Thursday, September 23, 2004

The Importance of Being Practical

Evangelical Outpost is posting on Rick Warren. I think Warren is a very practical and biblical practitioner of effective evangelism.

More on the discussion later.

blogging and the 21st century reformation

Before I start i would like to say a bit about blogging. Blogging is in the media due to Rathergate and the fact that the bloggers broke this story four hours after the '60 Minutes' documents piece of work. The bloggers are now saying that old media is dead or dying and new media is here. Well, time will tell but one thing is for sure and that is that the power of the internet allow people to get their voices heard and thereby change things at a much faster pace. It is a communication revolution. If you think how the first communications revolution was the printing press and that was immediately followed by the Reformation. Erasmus had his own printer friend and so did the reformers as they fought it out on the printer page. Then came radio and TV and this effected how war was perceived and how propaganda was used for the hearts and minds of nations.
Now we have the bloggers and the internet. Many voices being heard.
I believe this is an opportunity for fresh thinkers to bring change to the church. There are rumblings of young voices who need to be heard. The idea of authenticity and transparency as virtues in the life of Modern Worship in the 21st century church. The return to spiritual disciplines and the life of prayer. The role of recovery and community in the restoration of he soul.
I think that we need to think fast how we take back the hearts and minds of the west. Can we bring the message of a better life and true community through the Gospel.
Is the new media the answer. It is part of it. That much needs to be accepted

The Distinuishing Characteristics of Being "Full of the Holy Spirit and Wisdom"

This study is from Acts 6: 1-6 and the subsequent story of Steven. The text is as follows:

Acts 6
1 Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. 2 So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. 3 "Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4 "But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." 5 The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. 7 The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

The key to understanding how to distinguish a person as being 'full of the Spirit and wisdom" is to know whose Spirit it is we are looking for. It is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Therefore, to see His life in someone and be able to know it when we see it, we must understand the character of Christ.

It is important to know and be able to put into words these characteristics if we are to be able to have precision in our discernment. If there is anything the church lacks today it is precision in it's discernment.

I just read an Edwards Sermon called, "Christ the Example of Ministers". What catches me most is how Edwards understands so deeply the character of Christ.
Look at this list of the excellencies of Christ:
The ministers of Christ should be persons of the same spirit that their Lord was of: the same spirit of humility and lowliness of heart; for the servant is not greater than his Lord. They should be of the same spirit of heavenly-mindedness, and contempt of the glory, wealth, and pleasures of this world: they should be of the same spirit of devotion and fervent love to God: they should follow the example of his prayerfulness; of whom we read from time to time of his retiring from the world, away from the noise and applauses of the multitudes, into mountains and solitary places, for secret prayer, and holy converse with his Father; and once of his rising up in the morning a great while before day, and going and departing into a solitary place to pray, Mark i. 35. and another time, of his going out into a mountain to pray, and continuing all night in prayer to God, Luke vi. 12. Ministers should follow Christ's example, in his strict, constant, and inflexible observance of the commands which God had given him, touching what he should do and what he should say; he spake nothing of himself, but those things which the Father had commanded him, those he spake, and always did those things that pleased him, and continued in thorough obedience in the greatest trials, and through the greatest opposition that ever there was any instance of. Ministers should be persons of the same quiet, lamb-like spirit that Christ was of, the same spirit of submission to God's will, and patience under afflictions, and meekness towards men; of the same calmness and composure of spirit under reproaches and sufferings from the malignity of evil men; of the same spirit of forgiveness of injuries; of the same spirit of charity, of fervent love and extensive benevolence; the same disposition to pity the miserable, to weep with those that weep, to help men under their calamities of both soul and body, to hear and grant the requests of the needy, and relieve the afflicted; the same spirit of condescension to the poor and mean, tenderness and gentleness towards the weak, and great and effectual love to enemies. They should also be of the same spirit of zeal, diligence, and self-denial for the glory of God, and advancement of his kingdom, and for the good of mankind; for which things' sake Christ went through the greatest labours, and endured the most extreme sufferings.

In answering our question, What are the distinguishing marks of a person "full of the Spirit and Wisdom" (Acts 6:3), remember that the apostles knew Jesus. They could spot His spirit in His true followers. Steven was seen as one that looked like Christ. Edwards gives us a good picture and a good list of these characteristics.
The lists of qualifications for deacons and elders in 1 Tim 3 is another good place to look to see the characteristics of one full of the spirit and wisdom.

How foolish the church is today. I hear stories from my unbelieving friends all the time of men of poor character being representatives of our faith. We here the stories in the paper and certainly we are disgusted by what we see on TV which poses as Christianity.
What are young thinkers to call for in the church to restore her beauty. It all starts with leadership and leadership in the early church was distinguished by men whom the world was not worthy.

Steven shows the chief character trait of Christ. He was self-sacrificing and courageous. He was pure and holy. He loved not the world. He made the church proud to call him our brother and our leader. Oh, that that day would come again when all the leaders of Christ's church would men 'full of the Spirit and wisdom"'

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

What are the Distinguishing Characteristics of Being Filled with the Holy Spirit?

In Acts 6, Peter says find men "full of the Holy Spirit and Wisdom". So the question of this weeks sermon is "What are the distinguishing characteristics of a person who is filled with the Holy Spirit"?

This question has been asked by pastors and theologians for centuries. How could the church know who was "Full of the Holy Spirit"? Aren't all Christians, "Full of the Holy Spirit"?

What do you think?


P.S. Read below a bit on how to gain wisdom.

Looks like a good week of blogging is to be expected!!!

Becoming a Trustworthy Leader "Full of the Holy Spirit and Wisdom"

The book of proverbs says "Seek Wisdom more than gold or silver" The entire first six chapters of Proverbs is an analogy of a woman (wisdom) calling out to us. We are exhorted to seek her more than anything. We are given insight that wisdom comes from God and the knowledge of God is the foundation of wisdom. We are told that wisdom teaches us to do right and to have understanding. But what is wisdom?
Wisdom to the Hebrew is not being able to talk good or being able to write well. But is being able to live by God's moral order and being a good manager of people. All wisdom is known by experience and comes from the deep contemplation of our experiences.

Wisdom takes hard work. I find it quite discouraging that few people are willing to spend a great deal of time in prayer, where we contemplate our life with God's help and in scripture memory, which is a great way to internalize scripture.

One way to gain wisdom is to develop a daily well defined prayer process. I believe this takes more than one hour per day.
1. Spend time getting to a place of total surrender to God. This is worship. This is the beginning of the Lord's Prayer. Commit yourself to nothing but the kingdom (i.e. 'seek first the kingdom', 'Thy will be done'. This usually takes a good 30 minutes of settling oneself and worshipping God.
2. Begin to consider your day. Begin to trust the Lord by presenting Him with your day in detail.
3. Go trough a process of forgiveness for others and receiving forgiveness from God. Think about the Gospel and praise the Lord of the Gospel daily.
4. Consider the temptations of the day. Trust God for power to walk in purity and holiness.
5. End in praise.

Do you have a daily cycle. Do you know the pattern of prayer that cleanses your heart and teaches you wisdom? If not do not expect to grow into a trustworthy leader as a parent, at work, or in the church. The foundation is our connection with God who gives wisdom.
Let's seek Him in our generation and become shining lights that the world takes notice of to the glory of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

No Post This Morning - sick

I woke up pretty sick and decided not to blog until tonight. Maybe if I leave work early I can have a substantial post.
se ya later,

Monday, September 20, 2004

Fantastic Weekend - God is Faithful

I shared how I had an anxiety dream about being unperpared for preaching. I work a day job and it is really hard to focus on my sermon and do a good job at work, so I really start thnking about my sermon on Friday night. This week I had no idea what I was going to preach on by the end of friday night. I hadn't even settled on the passage. I am going through Acts but I could skip a paragraph. Anyway,

Saturday night our worship leader called me and said he was sick. I had to do worship too. Well, I worked pretty good on Saturday night and finished the Power Point presentation for the sermon.

I was totally in over my head for the weekend.

My power point to me seemed like a skeleton and very little real meat. I was still on Sunday morning praying, "Lord, what is the real point of this sermon".

Well, we made it through worship with no real problem. In fact, the set was pretty good. We have a good rythmn section. Our drummer, piano, and bass player can hold it down pretty good for the worship leader. The singers are good too.

So I went in the pulpit and I could not believe it. The sermon sounded like I had the whole thing memorized or something. Not that the content was so good but the style was the exact opposite of my expectation. It is a weird sensation when you literally feel like the Lord is taking over your preaching. It is improvisation but all the notes are the right ones. When you are not that good, it is so obviously a God thing. I am not encouraging a lack of preperation. I am just happy that God is so kind to us and helps us in our weaknesses.

The church has started praying and I had asked a few special people to pray for me on Saturday afternoon. Great is your faithfulness. That is all I can say.

be encouraged - prayer works. God is good!!

P.S. I will post more in the PM this week so I can focus on Prayer in the AM and not go online. I waste my time on-line in the AM and it undermines prayer. I am addicted to the campaign news and I need to stay off the internet in the AM.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Sermon on Acts 5:12ff - The Pattern of a Prevailing Church

It is Saturday afternoon and I think I have at least some of my sermon by now.

A few asides:
1. I had a dream last night. In the dream, George W. Bush was to give a speech in our town. He came and the setting was much smaller than I thought it would be. There was maybe 100 people. Well, he started to speak and I was amazed at how unprepared he was. He made a few jokes about his propensity to mumble words and then he was done. I was amazed. Then, in the dream, i was driving to work the next day and I heard Laura Ingram say, "He was just awful".

As I woke from the dream, I thought, "Man, been in a campaign where you have to speak and be on every day must be really hard." Yo, duh. " man that is me. I constantly feel under prepared. Just anxiety BUT...that's me.

2. Totally off topic point two: Get The Wallflowers, "Breach". This is such the great record of the decade. Man.

Anyway, the sermon.
In our study of Acts, we are emphasizing the characteristics of the early church as characteristics of the church when it is prevailing. The early church was so beautiful and filled with life and love.

What I plan on preaching on is ‘The triumph of the truth”.
The theme is to help people understand “why the truth triumphs?”
Quick the points are:
1. The truth triumphs because God vindicates His truth with Power
Great verse is Acts 14:3 – “The Lord confirmed the message of Paul and Barnabas with miracles…”

2. The truth triumphs because the church is functioning in obedience to God and not fear of man.
John 15:18-16:4 The message and the messenger will be persecuted when the church is functioning in obedience.
"There is an odd twist in this principle—it is not the Church’s function to be persecuted, but if the Church performs its function it will be persecuted. This reasoning, like all good logic, is reversible, for when the world does not persecute or abuse the Church, then it is not performing its function. This applies with equal force to the Church as a body or to individual believers. The only circumstance in which the Church and individual saints should expect to be free of persecution is when they find themselves functioning in an entirely regenerate society—and that will only happen in the hereafter!" – This is a quote I found on another site (M. S. Mills)

Also a Wesley story: John Wesley was riding along a road one day when it dawned on him that three whole days had passed in which he had suffered no persecution. Not a brick or an egg had been thrown at him for three days. Alarmed, he stopped his horse, and exclaimed, “Can it be that I have sinned, and am backslidden?”Slipping from his horse, Wesley went down on his knees and began interceding with God to show him where, if any, there had been a fault. A rough fellow, on the other side of the hedge, hearing the prayer, looked across and recognized the preacher. “I’ll fix that Methodist preacher,” he said, picking up a brick and tossing it over at him. It missed its mark, and fell harmlessly beside John. Whereupon Wesley leaped to his feet joyfully exclaiming, “Thank God, it’s all right. I still have His presence.

This is the big point: The church is at war whether it likes it or not. If we are not being persecuted (which we are not) then that is because we are not functioning in obedience to God. When you are functioning in obedience you engage the world and the world begins to fight back and persecute.
i. The church has been prosecuting a strategy of appeasement in the West for about 50 years. The world has been building up its arsenal and preparing for attack, and, now, we find ourselves seriously wounded. The analogy to WWII or Al Queda is quite appropriate. The church has thought it’s slow growth methods and compromise would hold the attacks at bay but lo and behold we are in decline in America. Appeasement has not worked!!!

3. The truth is triumphant because God provides opens doors This is the story of Peter’s jail break by the angel

4. The truth triumphs because of preaching and proclamation. There appears to be a pattern in the book of Acts that is the Story of a church functioning in obedience. Such a church preaches, the preaching is accompanied with power; the church is persecuted; the Lord opens up new doors to preach….This pattern is to be the Life of a church functioning in mission. When this is the pattern the truth is triumphant.

5. The truth triumphs because it is truth from God. This is a reference to the passage. In the passage Gamiliel makes his speech saying if this teaching is not from God it will die but if it finds its source in God it will triumph.

6. Lastly, the truth triumphs because the truth is Jesus Christ.

Here is the reformed point. The truth triumphs because of God’s commitment to it because the truth is the message that Jesus is the Christ. This is the rock that the gates of Hell cannot prevail against. Therefore, we know that if we take the fight to the street, we will win. The truth will be triumphant.

I hope this message hits you hard. Look at the persistence and the confidence in the triumph of the truth of the early church. Look at how it did actually triumph and realize that we are not living in obedience to the truth if we are not likewise experiencing such a victory.

I Was Wrong - Apologetics is Important

When I was in Seminary, I hated apologetics. For those who don't know apologetics is the "defense of the faith" discipline. Apologetics is where we defend the authority of the biblical documents and their authorship. Apologetics gets into usually gathering evidence to make a case for faith. Josh McDowell is an apologist.

I hated apologetics because I just never met people on the street who questioned my faith, they just did not want to become Christians because of either shame and guilt or because they wanted to keep partying. I ministered when I was in seminary in homeless shelters and the streets. The questions people were asking in seminary in the 80's just seemed so irrelevant. In the 80's the attacks on the bible were more intellectual. The revisionists, those who create history from speculation and myth, were still in the liberal seminaries and their speculations and grassy knoll theories had yet to reach the street. The Christian seminaries were fighting the battle against the Oxfords and the Yales of the world (the revisionists) and I thought who cares about the elites.

For example, I was given a text to translate from 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 where Paul is comparing the courage of the Thessalonians to the church in Judea because the Thessalonians suffered persecution from their peers just like the Judean Christians did. Paul at the end of the paragraph says, "And wrath has come upon them "fully" or "to the uttermost" or "finally" or "at last". The last phrase is hard to translate in context. The key here is the "has come" tense. The big argument is 1) Thessalonians is a very early writing of Paul written probably about 50AD. BUT 2) He appears, to the liberals, to be talking about the destruction of Jerusalem. So the scholars say, the book was edited and this portion added later. But that is total speculation. It seems far more likely that Paul is talking about what actually was happening in Judea in the 50s which is a famine and persecution of the Jews or maybe we don't really know what Paul was saying here. My point back in seminary was, "Who is ever going to ask me this question? So why should I learn this? Teach me how to disciple not how to argue with the elites!!" I don't minister to the elites. I thought the exercise was irrelevant.

Just an aside: This question that the critics ask about this passage in 1 Thessalonians is actually pretty good. It is a hard question. And I realize in retrospect that it is important to learn the answer. Or for someone to learn the answer and teach us working folks how to answer questions like this in a balanced and thoughtful way with all the facts in hand.

Well, lo and behold, the seminary grads from Yale and the like became high school Social Science teachers or journalists in the 90's and their myths are now part of the fabric of the American Civil religion. I was wrong. Apologetics is important.

For me it has been 15 years since I have asked these kinds of questions and now I am confronted with all sorts of revisionist speculations from folk "on the street" and you really have to know your stuff. I really don't that well. I always figured that answering the "Jesus seminar types" was someone else’s job. But then KCET got Bill Moyers and we now have very strange approaches like “the Da Vinci code” type speculations.
Now, I think this particular example that I was given in seminary is a very obscure one and hasn’t made its way into American Civil religion. Much more common attacks are:
Moses never existed or is a big myth.
The bible is full of contradiction.
The bible was written long after the early church as revisionist history itself.
Paul didn’t write the Pauline literature
John didn’t write John
etc etc etc

Here is the real problem. Guys like me don’t have real good answers. I was praying for the sick and worshiping God for the last 15 years and all the while the world was going to hell in a hand basket.

Answering attacks on the Bible and attacks on the church takes some research.

This reminds me of Rathergate. Rather makes a fraudulent attack on the President. He pulls the wool over the eyes of the ignorant. AND to the rescue come “researchers”. Otherwise known as Geeks. I need some geeks to come and do apologetics for our cause. I simply do not have the time. We know the truth: we live it everyday but people are being deceived and they don’t know any better. So the moral to the story is Geeks have a place in the church too.

We need apologists. I never thought we did. What a fool I have been in this regard.

Friday, September 17, 2004

The overall Theme of the Book of Acts - The Source of a Powerful Witness

Traditionally, the theme of the book of Acts is the story of the unfolding of Acts 1:8. "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and to the ends of the earth". When we read the book of Acts this way we see the fulfillment of God's promise to the church to be a witness and to fulfill the covenant of Abraham that the church would become a blessing to all the earth. This is the actual story line and so this is the obvious approach to take. The question we then ask is, "How do we too become part of this story of mission expansion in our generation."

What jumps out to me in reading Acts is the community that that early church had and how this enabled their witness. People were fearful of the church (in awe) of them because of the things that happened in their lives. People were being healed; various ethnic groups were getting along very well (chapter 6). They shared all their meals and possessions. They worshipped daily and devoted themselves to the apostles teaching.

I have read many sermons on the book of Acts and few commentaries link the Moral Beauty of the Church Community with the power of its witness. For some reason, we think that the power of their witness was simply the miracles. But we need to take a more Kingdom approach.

The kingdom of God was in full expression in the early church. The kingdom in the church age is heaven on earth + persecution and suffering. There will be a day when the kingdom will come in fullness and the kingdom will be heaven on earth -the suffering and persecution and tribulations of this age.

Romans 14:7 says "the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit". This "kingdom experience" is what the early church had in such power. The quality of life was filled with such a high degree of purpose and righteous relationships (community) that they had a great degree of moral distinction from the world around them. This connection of the "Kingdom quality of life" and the explosive expansion of the church is the key message of ACTS. In fact, this is the point Luke is making.

In the early historical setting, the church was being persecuted and the political people who were persecuting the church had spread amazing rumors about the church. The rumor was that they were cannibals because they "ate the body and drank the blood of Christ". They were blamed for political revolt because they refused to worship the emperor. (Much like Daniel). So Luke is saying, "No here is the real story of the inner life of the church". He shows us the utopian world of the early church. He shows us the incredible humility of Peter. Peter was a great delegater of power. Peter was courageous. Luke's overall theme is actually that the church was a beautiful people worthy of great honor. Do not believe the lies you have been hearing from those who weren't there.

The key to the book of Acts is to see the story of a Morally Beautiful Community and how these qualities which come from the Holy Spirit create the powerful witness that has turned the world on its head.


Thursday, September 16, 2004

Second thoughts

I decided I really didn't like this morning's post. I was in a hurry. Sorry about that.

I will post again tonight.

We've Been Hijacked

We started a Bible study last night. It is the fall kickoff to ministries at the church. Anyway, I decided to go through the books of Paul in Chronological order see( So we started through Galations. We read the section in Acts 13-14 that coincides with the story of Paul when he wrote Galatians. It fits together hand in glove. Gret little excercise. Anyway, paul's dilemma was that his version of the gospel, freedom and grace, was being hijacked by a gospel of law and social norming. This is the cosmic battle between good religion vs. bad religion. Good religion is filed with healing and grace and bad religion is about law and restriction. In Galations Paul says, "Where the spirit is there is freedom" and "For freedom Christ has set you free" and all these passages saying the legalists can "go to eternal condemnation". Paul is clearly saying these guys who don't get it are trying to hijack your freedom because they are jealous.

Well, I had a discussion with a friend just in passing and it went like this. He said, "so why are you starting up your band again". I said, "Because religion is all about freedom and art". to which he said, "No it isn't it is the exact opposite. religion is about social norming and control". That is the world's perception. Hmm.

Paul says, "All things are lawful but not all things are profitable". You see the world does not see Christianity as a group of free and happy people. Set free from the ball and chain of sin and self-destruction and self-loathing and ignorance and able to run with the eagles.

The story of Galatians is very relevant. How big a role does social norming pressure and duty and obligation play in our spirituality and how much does fredom and joy. Our spirituality has been hijacked.
more later

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

With a Coach

I am currently trying to implement a training program at my work. The basic idea is that it is more valuable to have your best worker not doing the actual work but instead training others to do the work better and helping them to solve problems. I work in a machine shop and the machines are very old and have lots of problems. A newer guy will struggle for a long time with a problem and often only really make the problem worse as he tries to do his job. If instead an experienced worker helps and teaches, the learning curve should be greatly accelerated. This mentor/coach can make many workers good and create a great deal of value for the company.

Sound familiar!!!

Lets take child rearing for example. How many families say, "If I knew then what i knew now I would raise my kids different." Well, guess what. There are many people in your church community who probably already know now what you will know later. What about ideas like the way of the cross as I spoke last post? Many older guys know the craziness of the quest for success or the damage hypocrisy causes. Somehow it is the American and European way to say, "He will learn by his own experience." But that is stupid. Why not say learn from your mentor's experience. It is much more painless.

The Hebrew method and the bible teaches that learning happens in the context of mentoring relationships. We could have different mentors for different issues. Are we struggling with the same things year after year. Are we taking risks by going it alone when we could be learning those lessons before the damage is done.

Learning happens: In the home (the place where life happens), with a coach, that's the biblical model.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The Cross - As a Way of Life

When I first became a Christian, I was introduced to George Whitfield (a 18th century reformed preacher) and St Francis. So my theology and perspective of the Life became worship (from the Reformed influence) and the practice of the cross (from Francis).

What do I mean by the practice of the cross. Let me give an example. When I was about 25, I was going to seminary and working a night job and working a little at church. I read the sayings of Jesus on "selling all your possessions and making treasures in heaven". Was I to take this seriously. I took the passages that said "you are saved by grace through faith' very seriously. So what was a poor boy to do? Well, I decided I should obey. So gave away most all I had and then took my car (which my parents owned) and brought it back to my parents. As I rode the bus home from La Crescenta to Anaheim, I had to go through Downtown L.A. For the next two or three years or more, I was a bus rider. I started a Christian discipleship home and I was never so happy in my life. I knew by name almost every homeless person in Orange County and for many years people would come up to me on the street and tell me how they have gotten their life together.

As I think of those years, I realize I have lost that practice of total surrender in my life. It is very hard, being married and having a career of sorts to live "out of control" trusting in the Lord for everything. This is the Cross: forgive always, love always and commend your spirit to the care of the Father. Live on nothing but the approval of the Father and intimacy with God. Lord, I desire to be able to say, "You are my portion in this life". In this life, I have nothing but the Lord. But I do not feel I can say that today and truly, honestly "KNOW" what I am talking about.

It may not mean exactly selling all our possessions per se, but it has to in love the same trust and the same faith. It is helpful to our intimacy to put our lives in a place where we actually depend on God. Then, we will know what it means to practice the cross.

Monday, September 13, 2004

The Things Only You and God Know

Luke 12: 1Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 3What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. 4"I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

This weekend I stumbled upon the story of Cornelius. Verse 4 of Acts 10 says, "Cornelius, your prayers and your giving to the poor has come up to God as a memorial". The story finishes with Cornelius hearing the Gospel and being filled with the Holy Spirit.

So much of our life is private. This includes both the good and the bad. If our heart is filled with prayer and praise and generosity, this is something that is seen by only ourselves and God. If we are filled with impulsiveness and bitterness and lust, this too only God knows, but, in fact, we know too.

BUT - The reality is that it eventually is revealed and almost certainly in this life. A crisis will come. A crossroads will come when faith and works are one. Our true faith and our true heart becomes our true works. It is all revealed.

For example, I often speak of being free from the love of money, but when I find that our bank account has far less money in it than I expected, or I have an accident that costs $1,000 is my heart disturbed. Do I yell at someone or loss my cool? Well, maybe we need to step out of our denial and admit that our money is more important to us than we are willing to admit. The reality is for me that possibly my disciplines of generosity have not been kept up and so my hand is not as open as it ought to be.

Here is a huge point. The external exercise of a spiritual discipline like giving to the poor or prayer reveals to us the nature of our heart BEFORE the crisis comes. We often attempt to lie in denial that our heart is pure yet we do not actually FREELY exercise our spiritual disciplines like prayer and giving as our hearts and the Spirit is telling us we should. We let it slide for years and then a crisis comes, and we are not prepared.

This happens with men and sexuality so often. Our hearts are not pure and we let it slide but then temptation comes and we fall and all our pretending is over. Because it happens with sexuality so often we fear in this area, but the same is true in prayer and giving. Men and women lack prayer and giving and when the call comes to teach and lead the church, we do not have the spiritual experience necessary or the intimacy with God to bring renewal to the church. We have no one to blame but ourselves. Is there lack of power in our ministries? Are our children falling into ruin? Could it be that actually this is just "chicken's comin' home to roost". All that is hidden is revealed. That just the way life is.

Friday, September 10, 2004

God Sees - Who are we Living Before

When I first started to develop the ministry philosophy that I now have, the first question I asked was "who is the customer?". I was working at a manufacturing company, and I was being mentored by a man who learned his management system as a plant manager at a Toyota supplier. If you know anything about manufacturing, Toyota is it.

Well, the Toyota system is based on building and working "with the customer in mind". You only do work that is valued by the customer. All other work is seen as non-value adding or waste. I understood that this customer focus was the core of the Toyota Production System.

At this time, I was aware of a calling on my life and I was also aware that God was teaching me many things through my work. So, I said if the principle #1 is "customer" in what I am learning at my work, "Who is the customer in the church?" "Who are we trying to WOW?" "Who are we trying to satisfy and who are we trying to produce a product for??"

Is the customer, Artesia Arthur and Artesia Ann? If so we need to understand what Artesia Arthur and Artesia Ann want and do that? I knew this was not the correct answer. In the long run, the man on the street is not the customer in the church. The answer to this first question of who is the customer is GOD in the customer. The church is a disciple-making factory and God is the customer. The church builds disciples. Disciples grow in virtue and finally the disciple is offered to God for acceptance as a worker to be used as God pleases for His purposes. This is the product and process of church work.

So as I look to the Ananias and Sapphira story, we have two people in the passage: Barnabas and Ananias. They represent examples given to us by the Holy Spirit through the word which are examples of "good" and "bad" disciples. Barnabas was accepted and Ananias was rejected. Here are two stories of individuals in the early church one very good example and one very bad example. Barnabas was a humble, giving asset to the body of Christ, and Ananias was untrustworthy. Ananias had a motive to be seen by men. Ananias lied. Barnabas was a blessing to the heart of God and the heart of the apostle Peter.

Another issue in the story is that the defining characteristic was this issue of giving. One what we do with our money is important in discipleship. Barnabas made his money available to the poor through the church. Ananias used his money as a means of keeping up appearances. The gifts of these two men was not acceptable or unacceptable because of the size of the gift but the heart of the giver.

Peter says "Ananias the money is in your possession before and it still is. Do with it whatever is right, but don't try to lie to God!" Your gift is given to God not the church. The point is not what the church thinks but what God thinks. God is the customer. It is God before whom we are living. Ananias thought he could impress man with his generosity but God knew better. Ananias tried to live a double life and God saw the defect of his heart and Ananias was rejected.

God does not examine our works so much as he examines us. We are the product, the workmanship of God, and God is the inspector. We live before God. God sees. God is the one we are trying to WOW and satisfy. Barnabas satisfied God for his heart was pure. Ananias tried to impress the apostles and God rejected him.

Thursday, September 09, 2004


The Barnabas and Ananias and Sapphira Story

I have been avoiding even thinking about preaching this story. My thought is that this sermon is about “hypocrisy” and that the Lord will judge the hypocrite. Oh, great sounds like a joyful uplifting message, but as I read over it I do not think it is about that. I think the core of the story is about how wonderful it is to live in the kingdom of God. The story is utopian.

My dad has a saying, “In the church there is to be no broken fenses.” What this means is that the love in the church and the level of relationships means that if there is a problem (like Grandma Jones has a broken fence) everyone knows and goes over and fixes it for her. Isn’t that the church.

This weekend I made some pastoral visits. The woman said, “Oh, you don’t have to” I said I know but I really like doing this. Fixing someone’s fence is a lot more enjoyable than watching extreme makeover home addition, which is what I would have been doing.

So when God shows up the church becomes heaven on earth a place where people are really good people.

Do you really want to live in a better place? What would heaven on earth be?
Caring and Sharing: The story begins with telling about how righteous and compassion the church was. The church was “a city in which righteousness dwells”. There was no poverty!! There was no one who had need and get this the rich people shared and cared for the poorer people. Imagine. John Lennon was wrong religion was not the problem; religion is the solution to all man’s problems.

Except this one little problem!! Heaven has no tolerance for liars. The intolerance is not enforced by men. Ananias was not looking at ex-communication from the church. No, he was looking at death by lightening bolt.

So heaven is perfect and it is because the people in it are cleansed by the heartfelt faith in Jesus.

Do you want to live in the first century church? brad

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Driven to Prayer!!!

One of the age old questions in church history (especially American Reformed church history) is what is the difference between the revived members of a congregation and the apparently less than revived folk.

Christian doctrine and especially Calvinistic doctrine is such that we believe those who have had a work of grace in their lives are a different type of people than those who haven't. Revivalists like Edwards and Whitfield felt a calling to lead everyone into this higher grace filled life. There are huge benefits and huge problems with this perspective. The benefit is that by saying being born again really makes a difference we uphold the bible and are saying that the life transformation by grace that we see in the bible is for us today. But two big problems emerge. One if you define the answer as something people can observe like "people who are born again don't drink and chew and go with girls who do", then you end to make the faith about not drinkin' and chewin'. This is a bad thing. Our religion becomes legalistic and superficial and everything we do not like about 'religion'. In the church this has been the 'holiness' approach. Another problem is we say the change is internal like 'you just know', people get very introspective and filled with doubt. This perspective has been the revivalist approach. Calvinism actually has been plagued with this in times of revival. The coming of Grace is a conscious thing and people try to figure out if they have it. The huge problem with this is that people often have a really self-loathing psyche. Some folks will always spin things in their head to being lost and damned. So a poorly defined subjective answer is not good.

I think the answer is a very difficult but necessary one. And here is the point.

I have had a lot of pastoral visits lately with very good people who want to be all they can be for the Lord. Such wonderful sweet gracious humble children of God. The problem is so many of us do not see ourselves this way. Therefore, it is hard for us to accept that we are of the people being wonderfully effected by grace. So here is the hard answer:
1. The answer is the Gospel of Grace. People need to understand a Gospel that is completely free. God accepts those who believe in the death and resurrection of Christ as their only hope for salvation: justification and sanctification. The key is the finished work of Christ. None of my personal history is even part of the equation. These are important beliefs. There is no external effect that is the evidence one can look at to know they are saved. Pure grace. BUT you say there are so many who seem to take advantage of this and simply confess belief and seem to not be transformed. Does not this simple grace lead to compromise and low expectations in life for transformation. Don't we see a church that is just like the world? We believe a gospel but it isn’t changing us? Divorce? Immorality? Dishonesty? Anger? Isn't the church filled with these things just like the world? And don't so many of us confess the gospel but are not delivered? Simple grace is not enough!! The temptation is then to add to the gospel and require some evidence in our history that is necessary to our salvation. NO NO NO. This is a huge blunder. The gospel is free and cannot be added to. Salvation is a free gift of grace to all who believe. So what do we do

2. We foll0w the lead of Luther!! Luther said sanctification is the process of getting used to our justification. This involves first separating justification from sanctification. Nothing in you history is necessary to be justified (i.e. at peace with God and reconciled) and secondly we say and if you learn to rest in your knowledge of your justification (i.e. if you get used to your justification, your affections will be transformed). So how do I get used to my justification or how do I live in grace. The desire to live daily in this grace "Drives us to prayer"!!! American Calvinistic revivalist answer to the question of Grace and Sanctification. If you do not know the love of God in a transforming way, do not doubt but believe. The key to this truth being reformed and not fanatical is that we base the transformation of our being in Knowledge (biblical knowledge) of the Gospel. The desire to have a knowledge of God's love that transforms us will drive us to prayer and worship until we live in joyful place of grace.

Monday, September 06, 2004

The difficult task of Evangelism

I have been told by other pastor’s to NOT talk or reflect upon a service for 24 hours. But heck I am a rebel.

The last three services in my mind have not been as absolutely wonderful as previous. There are craft mistakes on my part as a preacher but I am more concerned with the focus of the message and passion.

But that is not really the point: Here is the point. There are different ways to grow a church.
1, There is the “you have a very good professional service” method. The preacher is good. The band or choir is really good. The service is pretty concise and the sermon about 25 minutes.
Well we can’t do this. First, I am not that good a preacher. Our band is passionate and wonderful but not professionally impressive. And this just isn’t my style.
These churches I think get a lot of transfer growth. I think that’s not really the point.

2. There is the “service is OK, but the people do evangelism really well” method. This is the Calvary chapel method. These churches grow because the people are universally evangelistic. The key to this is that the DNA ofthe church is very evangelistic. Not every church has this foundation. In these chuches, the services are catered toward the simple gospel every week with alter calls. This is very similar to Rick Warren in that the church has a strong evangelistic ministry or method that feeds the chuch service other than the church service itself.
I would love to do this but we have a long way to go. I am looking to do a hybrid of this. The strength of this method is that the church actually does the stuff. It is not a hope to grow method. This is so key. The issue is do we actually exercise the means to grow.

3. The third method is the method I came from which is just pray. The answer is power so pray.
This method is partially true but it is often an excuse for failure. There is some hidden spiritual reason that the kingdom is not advancing. BUT the reality is we are going to be judged at the throne on objective terms of whether the kingdom actually advanced in our generation.

I wrote a song this week that relates to the cry of the heart to see the kingdom expand in our generation and the lyric goes:

This weight upon my chest
Its gonna kill me
The dreams I can’t lay rest
Will be the end of me
The enemy.

What I hear inside my head
A melody
If I ever let it rest
That will be the end of me
The enemy.

The point is that we need to be driven by our dreams but they need to be spirit led dreams. Our ego dreams will kill us,but our calling keeps us alive.

The chorus goes:
“Everybody else who dreams a dream is just pretending
Without you, without you.”

POINT: The pray and give it to God without exercising the proper means method, I cannot live with. The passion and the dream is too big to let years go by and the kingdom not advance.

The sermons lately are about first, the need to exercise means with courage like a militant evangelical (i.e. method 2) and to also pray because of the incredible obstacles like method 3.

The key though is leadership. Leaders are those who lead. It is terrible to ask people to do womething unless the "leader" is doing it and is at least a few steps ahead of the the congregation.

So here we stand with the existential present staring us in the face and the a faith that is spelled – R-I-S-K!!
Pray and go is the plan. Every Saturday until we get it right!!!

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Acts 4:23-31 - Becoming a Couragious Christian - Prayer for Boldness

This is the second big spirit filling prayer meeting in the book of Acts. The scene is that the Apostles have been commanded by authorities to stop preaching. Their response is a bold, "no"!! My points will be:
1. When expansion of the Gospel is threatened, the first response is Prayer. To support this I will quote 1 Timothy 2;1 - Pray for everyone everywhere. And I will quote John Wesley who said, "God does nothing but in answer to prayer".

2. Prayer is necessary when the obstacles are great. Here, I will begin to talk about the reality of the obstacles we face today. My text is verses 25-26 which says "why do the nations rage and plot a vain thing against the Lord and His Christ".
a. many people today have hateful bigotry against the church and Christianity.
i. Angry people are irrational.
- Irrational arguments against the bible.
- Irrational attacks on the role of the church in history.

We need to not be naive. People are not rational about religion. The answer is not to attempt a rational argument but to PRAY for power and preach boldly.
I will inevitably give the example of irrational views of America in the world and the need for a positive and triumphant view of the church's role in the world. This is the essence of our job to make Jesus' name praised.

3. Prayer is an act of support for the troops. In this passage, Peter turns to "his own" translated his friends for support. He finds this support in prayer. This week at our bible study, we ended the time of worship and I started to speak and one person interrupted the time and just asked to pray for me. This was a great act of support and love. Praise the Lord.

4. Effective Prayer utilizes Good Theology. "sovereign Lord, creator of heaven and earth..." We must think big thoughts of God if we are to pray with Holy Optimism!!!

5. Effective prayer makes its case to God using scripture. To this I will exhort people to biblical literacy and scripture memory. I will also speak of my experience with the Holy Spirit in prayer and how the Spirit helps us in prayer by bringing to our minds scripture. I have been in some very passionate prayer meetings in my life.

6. Prayer for the expansion of God's kingdom ends in Boldness. God's means will always be preaching.

7. Boldness is a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit.
- It is the filling of the Spirit as a conscious experience of God's participation in our life that explains Peter's new found boldness after his cowardice at the end of the Gospels.
This is one of the great beauties of the bible it speaks about us. This expereince of God's presence efecting our boldness and our natural cowardice is Peter's story and ours. So intimate and real!!! Just a big WOW!!

I will edit this later, as I have a visitor God Bless,

Friday, September 03, 2004


Just a few words on the Republican National Convention. Note: I don’t say this to be partisan BUT..
What were the republicans trying to do. The republican worldview is America is a positive influence on the world and two that America having this positive calling can do anything it puts its mind to. In a word, the republicans are eternal optimists. This is why the republican convention keeps saying Reagan is our defining figure. Reagan boldly said America is right and the Soviets are evil.

Point: So too in the church. Optimism is the only appropriate attitude toward the churches future. To a republican, if you say something bad about America, thems fightin' words!! AMEN If someone says something negative about the church, I will fight. This is not always a good response but we must love the church passionately. Nothing motivates a person better than a passion for the church, a passion for her favor in the world, a passion for the churches and beauty. The prophets of biblical times would paint wonderful metaphors of their view of the church community. She is a stunning bride and a beautiful vineyard filled with succulent fruit and produce. She is coming to life from her place of low esteem. Her husband has helped her to become a new person. He has given her a new name and redeemed her. Such loving thoughts and encouraging vision for the church is the heart of the prophet. Though your sins are like scarlet, you shall be washed white as the snow is a vision of the church.

The pastor's passion is to build the beauty of the church, to restore her and grow her influence. This work requires an optimistic view of the church like a republican's view of America. I am not necessarily a democrat or a republican because life is not about America, as great as America is, life is about Christ and His church.

I think the RNC gives a very good lesson for the Christian. 'Do we love the church like a republican loves America?" "Are we optimistic like a Republican is optimistic?" "Do we see the influence of the church like a republican sees the positive influence of America?"

Yes! Yes! Yes!!!!
God Bless,

Thursday, September 02, 2004

An Overview of "How We Got Here?" - Long

Today I am going to take a little step back from real practical observations and talk a little theory.

The theme of the last few posts has been that:
1. We are to look like the "story" of the book of Acts and Peter in specific in our evangelistic courage and our prayerful expectations of God to act.
2. Our prayer life should likewise look like the Reformed preachers of the past with its experience filled sense of God's reality and "assurance".

The point in these is to be able to "describe" our spiritual life to others in order to teach. My desire is to help us get a picture of what good looks like. Acts tells us and so does the history of effective leaders of revival. This emphasis on what it looks like is very intentional on my part because our Christian life is not what we can talk about and discuss, our ideas, but how our spiritual experience with Jesus effects our daily journey. For example, we would say, "I am going through a hard time, but I am at peace because I had a beautiful time of prayer this morning. I am assured that God is with me." The result is, though I should be stressed and kick the dog, I am still patient and kind even though I am suffering some injustice. Here it is our knowledge of God in our prayer life that is empowering morally beautiful behavior.

So too with evangelism, we sense God's power and presence, and we become bold. We pray and our expectations rise. We become enthusiastic and hopeful and persevere for success in accomplishing the mission as an individual and as a team. In discipleship relationships, we need to have enough experience of the effect of the state of our heart on our behavior to be able to "describe" this process to the person we are attempting to teach. This daily cycle of daily prayer effecting daily life effecting daily prayer ..., is the stuff of our relationship with the Lord.

Also, as we study History and biography, we become more encouraged and our sights are set higher as we read the relationship between prayer and success in the life of the men and women who were so successful on the stage of history. Again and again, we learn by seeing "what good looks like", first in the Bible, then in our life and also in stories from church history. We see "the life" described in story, and so we learn to look to story and not idea.

Well, I said I was going to go deep on theory on this one. So here goes. What follows is a bit of a look at why I believe the church tends toward ideas and not story. So often our faith is about what we think and not what good looks like. I believe this problem has historical roots. And here is root of "How We Got Here".

How Did We Get Here?

If we have become lost, certainly one of the best ways to find our way is to re-trace our steps until we find a place that we are familiar with. Then, having found a familiar place, we start the journey over again, and, hopefully this time, we have learned a lesson. We must admit we are far more hopelessly lost if we cannot re-trace our steps. For example, if our tracks are covered by falling snow this makes getting “un-lost” far more difficult. Even worse than this hopelessly lost condition would be to have no idea where we are, have no ability to re-trace our steps, and, then on top of it all, to be too proud to even admit we are lost. Such a hopelessly lost and hopelessly proud condition will lead us to keep journeying further and further down the same, wrong path. Such I feel is the state of many churches today.
Thankfully by God’s grace not all churches are in this dying state of being both hopelessly lost and dangerously proud. What I do find is that many bright young men and women are keenly aware that their churches are lost, and they are attempting to re-trace the historical roots of how the church arrived in this lost place. But beware, we can get lost, and even dangerously more lost, when we are attempting to re-trace our steps. Therefore, I would like to add some clarity to the question of historical theology and answer the question “How did we get here?”

Where we are?
Here are the facts which I believe we all agree upon:
1. The church is not reaching the next generation very effectively in America. We are said to be about 25 years behind Europe as we journey down the slope into secularism.
2. The central problem of the current church is that the church doesn’t disciple well. Say this anyway you want, but this is the glaring problem. The current way we do church doesn’t lead people to look much like the Christians of the first century or much like Jesus. This obvious and glaring problem has led many passionate men and women of God to ask the most central questions of Christian life, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” and “What does it mean to do church or be the church or be the people of God?” The new generation of ministry initiators is not trying to think outside the box. The new generation is looking to get rid of the box all together. In other words, we, the new generation of ministry initiators, are so deeply questioning the church that we are willing to start the whole experiment over from scratch. We are willing not just to think outside the box, but we are willing to get rid of the box altogether. Why? Because we realize in the current system, “you can’t get there from here!”, and the “there” we want to get to is the free and morally beautiful community that will win the next generation.
3. The church lacks the moral beauty that is necessary to empower our witness.
4. All observers are in agreement with respect to facts 1,2, and 3 all. This unity is actually a really important fact. All observers of the church agree with these basic facts, and they agree on where we need to go to become effective, namely to a winsome witness of what I call moral beauty. We all agree on these facts, and this agreement is a quite extraordinary and encouraging fact. In fact, this agreement on these issues makes this observer believe that God is up to something great.

Nonetheless, the question of concern is “How did we get here?” If we can uncover this question accurately, we have a far better chance of getting back on track.

I. Problem Definition:
The big problem is the church system, as it is today, does not disciple well. The result of our current discipleship method is that we are losing the battle for the next generation and that we are not morally beautiful. In other words, problems 1 and 3 above are caused by problem number 2. Therefore, as we ask why is the church so anemic in witness, we must conclude that the unacceptable results both in kingdom expansion and kingdom aesthetic are a result of our discipleship methods.

Looking at the Current Discipleship Methods
So why do we disciple so poorly? We must ask ourselves, “What is the primary method we use to disciple?” Again I will list some salient facts which will help us better define the current problem:
We disseminate information. Now I am not going to say here that we should not preach the Word. I am fundamentally a pulpit preacher, but I am going to say that this is not a very good discipleship method. The dissemination of information is a very small part of the discipleship method and certainly is not the primary method of Jesus. In fact, on this point all critical observers of the church agree. So I will simply accept consensus on this point. We somehow developed as the primary method of discipleship the dissemination of information as opposed to the learning method of Jesus, which at first glance appears to be more learning by doing.
We historically have defined the distinctive aspects of one’s form of Christianity along the lines of ones system of ideas. Therefore, to create “disciples” under our particular distinctive form of Christianity, we center our training around the articulation of ideas and their systematic relationships of these ideas to each other. Therefore, for our purposes the problem can further be defined by saying that the teaching of a system of ideas does not disciple well.
This discipleship based in the teaching of a system of ideas and there relationships to each other in a system is a method of learning which the church inherited from the “west”. This faulty way of learning is based on a “western” epistemology or understanding of how we come to know something. I am not being anti-western in some trendy or cliché kind of way, but it is important to accept that as the church moved North and West, the church’s discipleship methods changed. These new discipleship methods came from somewhere and they did not come from the Hebrews. In fact, these new methods of discipleship are distinctly “non-Jewish” and distinctly ineffective. Such facts are self-evident, and, again, all observers agree.

The Problem Defined: The method of teaching a system of ideas does not disciple well. This faulty discipleship method is founded in an ineffective concept of learning and has historical roots.

Here we have our problem definition, and I am convinced that no honest observer of the church disagrees with this definition of the problem. We may state the problem slightly differently, but we all agree that this problem defines the fundamental issue that has led the church to lose its way. As a result of this problem, the church finds itself very far from the compelling testimony of the New Testament community. Because of our adoption of poor discipleship methods, our salt has lost its saltiness.

II. What are the historical roots of this problem?
Having defined our problem, we begin to look to the historical roots of this problem or “how did we get here?”. Again, I think we all can agree on one basic point: This problem started a long time ago.
Church history can be seen as having three really big eras: 1) The early church, 2) The dark or middle ages, and 3) the Reformation and Post Reformation Church. These three big, macro eras had the following qualities.
1) The early church was morally beautiful and alive.
2) The church of the middle ages went from bad to worse and ended in total moral repugnance.
3) The church of the reformation reclaimed the doctrinal purity of the early church and the ideas of the early church, but the reformation never fully recovered the moral beauty and lifestyle of the early church.

Looking at this basic, and I mean basic overview, we see that the moral purity of the church that we, the new generation of church leaders, are attempting to recover was lost very early in church history. As soon as the primary leaders of the church were non-Hebrews, the moral beauty of the church was waning.
Therefore, it must be understood that the loss of the discipleship methods of Jesus occurred actually prior to Constantine. In other words, the core epistemological problem in the church finds its historical roots in the epistemology of the early Greek-minded leaders of the church. The evidence of this position is that the dark ages lost the moral beauty and agape lifestyle of the early church. The church of the middle-ages would be unrecognizable to the early Hebrew church leaders and their disciples. This argument must be accepted:
1. We are trying to recover the Beauty of the early church.
2. The Beauty of the Early church was lost prior to 1000AD.
3. Therefore, the root cause of the problem of moral compromise ion the church must be found prior to 1000AD.
4. Therefore the problem MUST be in the discipleship methods which entered the church prior to 1000AD. This conclusion is inescapable. We have never recovered the moral beauty of the church because we have never clearly corrected the root cause of the problem, and, therefore, having never changed the problem in the discipleship process, we have never recovered the discipleship methods of Jesus.

The church hasn’t discipled well for a really long time. We as church leaders are looking to recover the moral beauty of the early church and its “agape” lifestyle. This age-old foundation of the church has been crumbling since before the middle ages. Therefore, the change of trajectory which brought us to this lost state began very early. The root cause of this decline was the Greek epistemology of the church fathers. I believe this fact is actually self-evident.

I would like to make a plea for unity at this point. I highly respect the work of the Lord in our generation, specifically the courage many spirit-led leaders are showing in attempting to re-discover a biblical expression of Christianity which is also culturally relevant to the 21st century seeker. I, too, am absolutely seeking the same end. As stated above, all of us are all too aware that “we can’t get there from here”, and, therefore, we are looking to re-evaluate what it means to live as followers of Jesus Christ in the 21st century. Such is my passion as well. The passion of this book is to help us as ministry initiators come to a place of unified labor as we make the journey from knowing to doing. Nonetheless, I am convinced that there is a particular way of learning which brings dignity to our whole person. Therefore, I ask the reader to pray at this point. It is quite likely that your understanding of how to approach your spiritual life and maintain true worship is co-mingled with a perspective that has not yet been delivered from the long, but often misguided, journey of our heroes. I love the church with all my heart, but we are failing. The time for a significant re-evaluation of our approach to Christianity has come. A great amount of our thoughts and actions are in need of change. All of us must move forward in humility as we seek to find our way back home.

The Effect of the Greek Method of Education on the Church

Alfred North Whitehead, the 20th-century British philosopher, said, "The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato." As a result of this Greek domination in Western thought and the thought of the early theologians of the church especially Augustine, the western church developed a method of education based on, first, Platonic and, later, Aristotelian epistemological methods.

Plato and the Early Church
The Greeks are known for the method of education known as the academy. The academy was the place where promising students debated ideas. The method was based on the basic fact that the most absolute, and therefore knowable, of all disciplines is mathematics. In the Greek tradition, the building blocks of all knowledge are the ideas which we absolutely know in a similar way that we know mathematics. For example, we know that 2 + 2 =4. This proposition is known. There is not a need to observe this fact or prove that the proposition is true. It simply is true. The salient aspect of this truth that 2+2=4 is that this fact is known not with the senses or by experience, but this fact is ascertained by the mind. This “most pure form of knowledge” is ascertained by the mind, and, because the entire equation or the elements of the equation are all abstract, the conclusion is that pure knowledge can be ascertained by the mind alone. Plato called these abstract elements of pure fact that can be ascertained by the mind alone “forms”. The epistemology states that the purist form of knowledge is the ascertaining of “truths” directly by the mind or the mind encountering idea. The mind simply sees the truth. In Christian language, the heart encounters the mind of God and knows. This direct intuitive knowledge is the clearest form of knowledge in the Platonic epistemology. From these absolutes, which we know intuitively, we use the mind to reason and learn secondary truths through discursive knowledge or dialogue. Basically, there are some things which we absolutely know and then other “facts” which we can deduce through further thinking or reason. Finally, after much “education”, we create a robust system of ideas which answers, to our satisfaction, the fundamental questions we have. The method of learning then is the contemplation and debate or dialogue of ideas and the generation of a system of relationships between ideas. The method is essentially the learning method of mathematics. Mathematics is the study of the abstract concept of numbers and the relationship between these abstract ideas and propositions. In mathematics, the student, through years of study, can build a tremendous body of knowledge without ever leaving his or her mind. This Greek theory of how the mind learns is the foundation of the Western form of education – the academy.

This epistemological framework and educational method was brought into the church very early and found its distilled apex in scholasticism. But it cannot be denied that this is still the primary discipleship method of the church. Certainly this method is the means by which we train our ministers. The grave and glaring error is that this "life in the abstract" method of learning has been used in the church as a method of discipleship and sanctification. The root cause of our ineffective discipleship methods is the utilization of a Greek method of education. This method of education has very little, if any, correlation to the learning of virtuous living and has no direct causal link to spiritual growth and sanctification. In short, this discipleship method does not save, and therefore leads to very little evidence of the power of Jesus to save. All the lack of fruit we see today in the western church finds its cause in the reliance in the church on Greek methods of education and discipleship.

The Correlation between this Root Cause and The Current Problem
The Greek model of the relationship between a teacher and his disciple requires no examination of the life of either the teacher or the disciple, for the method of learning is entirely mental. Greek teachers are teaching their students how to think and manipulate abstract ideas. The Greek teacher or disciple-maker is not teaching the student how to live. Therefore, the place of learning is within the four walls of the academy. In contrast, the central method of Hebrew discipleship is the examination of the life of the teacher. The subject of study is the life of the teacher. The lesson to be learned by the student is how to live like the teacher. Therefore, while the Greek’s learn indoors, seated in chairs and talking about ideas, the Hebrews live life together and examine each others behaviors. To pass an examination in the Greek educational system is to articulate a certain system of ideas or to prove that one can manipulate ideas like the teacher. To pass an examination in Hebrew discipleship, the student must show he can do what the teacher does. Jesus examined the disciples by sending them out to do as He does.
Jesus said, “You know a tree by its fruit”. The clear meaning of this saying is that a teaching or educational method is evaluated by the moral beauty it produces. A good discipleship method will always create good character and moral results. Using Jesus’ barometer, we can only conclude that the decline of the church, in terms of transcendent moral beauty, was precipitated by the concurrent introduction of Greek educational methods based on Platonic epistemology. The relationship between the decline of the moral light of the church and the onset and growth of Greek thinking in the church is almost absolute.
My contention is that the early church fathers erroneously codified and institutionalized a method of learning and knowing which is not based on the Hebrew understanding of wisdom and learning. In later chapters, I will discuss how this Greek epistemology also led to the tendency toward dualistic spiritual practices in the church of the middle ages and today undermines more Hebrew-based and tactile methods of learning, i.e. learning by doing. I contend that the Greek epistemology and subsequent discipleship method are ineffective in producing virtue. I further contend that the reformers did not properly rid the church of this method of discipleship, which is based on the articulation of a system of ideas. The result is that the original glory of the early church has never been restored. This is because, though the reformers did recover the doctrine of the early church, the reformers did not recover the discipleship methods of Christ and the apostles.
Therefore, for the sake of clarity and the sake of effective leadership of Christ’s church I find it helpful for the 21st century church leader to learn to discern the difference between ineffectual Greek methods of discipleship and the path to true life revealed in the discipleship methods of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that this clear articulation of the source of our woes will empower the laborer for the Kingdom in our generation to labor effectively as we seek to teach others the ways of Life through living.