Friday, October 29, 2004

Part 3 –The Four Types of Parent-Child Relationships- Our Immutable Relationship with God.

I have had a few questions about these posts so before I go onto the next type of relationship, I would like to answer one of these questions.

Is Perfectionism really so bad? Are we not called to seek to be perfect?
In Philippians 3, Paul exhorts us to press on to the upward call in Christ. This calling is essentially to be fully mature and a pure reflection of Christ. In Ephesians, Paul says gifts will continue to be given and people with gifts gievn to the church until… “we attain to unity of the faith and the full stature that is the man, Christ.” Well, he says something like that (Eph 4). So are we not to continue to exhort one another onto perfection or at least “the goal”?

YES but...
These posts are about our static orientation toward God when we first come to him in a given instant. By static, I mean that there are aspects of our relationship with God, our Father, which by Grace through faith in Christ, are immutable.

In “Five Views of Sanctification”, the Lutheran position on sanctification is summarized as follows: “Sanctification is the process of getting used to our justification”. Now, I do not think that this is a good complete view of sanctification by any means, but it is the right place to start. This ‘getting used to our justification’ is what these posts are about. Our justification is unconditional and therefore immutable. Our access to our Father is the unchanging foundation of our life. We are filled with a sincere interest in the things of God on account of our regeneration; we are filled with love for Him for this love has been poured out in our hearts through the Gospel, and, therefore, we are forever secure in the presence of His immutable love toward us.

In the twelve and twelve, an important book in the AA program, the author says there is a circle. God is in the circle. The circle is all that is – the universe. It is the insanity, which we often allow to control us, that tells us that we are not in the circle. It is precisely the insanity of our thoughts which convinces us that we are not in the circle with God. (I know this is pretty universalist but that is not the point).

I use this to counsel Christian people all the time. I say, “You are in the boat, and God is in the boat with you”. The boat is the universe and you can neither get out of the boat nor can you get out of God’s presence. Therefore, know this truth, and enter into your right to conscious contact with God.” Our justification and total acceptance with God is immutable. It is from this immutable FOUNDATION OF GRACE AND LOVE that we begin and end our relationship with God. Christ and His righteousness is our alpha and omega.

From this place of God’s empowering presence, we begin to contemplate the preferred future of the kingdom. We will discuss this longing for perfection when we discuss the cry of the believers heart in the prayer “Your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.
God Bless,

Some Practical Links for Parenting that Models the Gospel

I want to give a big thank you to Tulip Girl and this wonderful post and comments on Parenting. In our home, we have some coalescing ideas about parenting.
1. Our kids learn what it means to be a human being from us.
2. Two our kids learn what it means to be male and female from us.
3. Always ask, "Is this how I want God the Father to treat me?". If it isn't how we want our heavenly Father to treat us, then don't treat our kids that way.
4. We are modeling God to our kids.

We only really ask one question at the dinner table: "Who did something loving today?"

Anyway, that is not the point of the below posts which are about our view of the Father and how we approach Him, but parenting and being a child is a metaphor of our spirituality.
God Bless,

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Part Two - Four Types of Parent-Child Relationships

Part 2-Four Types of Parent-Child Relationships

This post continues the series within a series on Experiencing the Fatherhood of God. As I have noted earlier, these posts are part of a larger series on how to approach God with a Gospel orientation and make up a section of an even larger endeavor to make our way through the Lord’s model prayer. These posts on orientation fall under the heading of “Our Father in heaven hallowed be Your name.”

This morning I posted on:

1. A Relationship of Neglect

Today, I am going to post on:
2. A Relationship of Perfectionism.
All parents want what is good for their children and even might want the perfect good for their child. Perfection ism is not the desire for good things for our children. Perfectionism is withholding of our pleasure in the child unless they behave “just right”. I want to focus on perfectionism because so many people have a perfectionist relationship before God. Perfectionism is withholding joy and celebration because the behavior or effort is not up to our standard. In such a relationship, it is not the child’s desire to do good that matters but the actual results. Life in a perfectionistic relationship is rarely enjoyable. The perfectionist rarely expresses total satisfaction in the other person. Perfectionism undermines the child’s freedom and willingness to take risks. Is their freedom to fail in our relationships? Are we critical as parents and spouses? Of course we are. All of us are. Does this critical attitude undermine the pleasure of the relationship and the joy of the home? Of course it does. All of us are to some degree perfectionistic.

But God is not like this AT ALL.

In the story of the Prodigal Son, the returning son felt unworthy because of his behavior but the father would have none of it. The father simply was happy to see the child. The father’s pleasure in the presence of the child totally over shadowed His desire for the child’s perfect behavior.

The older son was the one that was perfectionistic and judgmental. The difference is that the Father’s sole desire is for our well-being. Our God is not co-dependent. He gains nothing from us being obedient to Him. God has no controlling reasons to motivate us to obedience. His only motive is love for us and a perfect understanding of our good.

The story of martin Luther is a wonderful reminder of how God the Father is NOT a perfectionist. Luther spent many years doing penance and trying to find a way to obtain grace. Some work of Luther’s was to be the means of grace. But Luther found that nothing he could do was acceptable. His works were all filthy. Luther went so far as to find ways to punish himself. And then, Luther discovered GRACE.

In the reading of scripture alone, Luther discovered that there are no works necessary to be absolutely acceptable before God. The Father accepts us through Faith alone. This doctrine heals the soul and drives out all perfectionistic tendencies that put behavior prior to joy and acceptance.

Luther defined the true experience before God as one of being simultaneously saint and sinner. I am a sinner and God accepts me fully. He is not a perfectionist after all!!!

Two antidotes for perfectionism are the constant communication of love and acceptance as the foundation of all relationship between the parent and the child. “I love you and enjoy you no matter what. I may not take pleasure in what you do but I do enjoy you”. The placing of total acceptance prior to the inauguration of any mentoring and teaching relationship is why Protestants place justification firmly before sanctification.

“There is now no condemnation in Christ”.

Paul, in Galatians, is angry at anyone who tries to place law as a means to qualify for the Father’s acceptance. No!!! It is through faith alone that Abraham was declared righteous. We are righteous and have been clothed in Christ unconditionally. The Father simply enjoys us as we are.

Song of Solomon says, “One glance of her eye ravishes my heart”. This verse is a picture of Christ’s love for the church. Just one movement toward Him fans the fire of His love for the believer.

Therefore, when we come before God is vital that we know His total acceptance of us in Christ. He is perfect and has a perfect will for us but that is not perfectionism. As a Christian, our heart is already filled with a “panting after God”. The Calvinist doctrine is that those who are saved are filled with an interest in the things of God. We love righteousness.

When you come before God is your first expectation is that He is upset with you because of your lack of perfect obedience. If so, I say that this expectation of a smack in the back of the head is toxic and does not lead to an orientation of faith in the promises of God.

God Bless,

Four Types of Parent-Child Relationships - Part One

This is how I see this series of blogs developing. I have already written about 75 pages in this recent series on orientation. I see this series developing into a "book" of sorts. All that we have up to this point is under the Section: "Our Father in Heaven. Hallowed be Your name". The section is about how to properly orient one's heart toward God in light of the Biblical revelation of God as Father, Lord and Savior. The key to this orientation is what I call a Gospel orientation as opposed to a legal orientation or an orientation toward to flesh. The essential difference is seeing God as provider of all and allowing the Gospel to be grace and power toward us. The gospel is an arrow downward.

The latest post, prior to this one, dealt with our understanding of both God's infinite thoughts toward us and His inherent affection toward us based on Christ in us. All this propels us toward a proper view of God as Father as a person moves toward a biblical relationship with God.

Today, I am going to look at some basic types of Parent-child relationships to help all of us better understand how we approach our heavenly Father.

Just a reminder, all of this is based on Paul's exhortations to the Galatians to avoid legal religion like the plague. If you think a little self-loathing will better leaven your lump and whip you into righteousness, I suggest looking at Galatians 3-4. Anyway…

Four Types of Parent-Child Relationships

The first type of parent child relationship is
1. A Relationship of Neglect
In this type of relationship the parent is generally obsessed with something other than the child. My wife and I have a saying: "people over things". This means family over the newspaper. Kids are more important than blogging. So often the pressures of life distract us. We can become workaholics or worse. In today's world, socio-economic norms drive people toward a relationship of neglect towards their kids. Some parents do not know how to connect with their children in order to have intimate communication. Ultimately, the child gets the sense or comes to the revelation that they just don't matter to mom and dad. This leads to the very real cry of, "You were never there for me". Or "My parents just don't give a rip about me". This relationship of neglect and its by-product is not God's plan for parenthood and the nurture of the human psyche. Kids in this place often act out to get attention. See the kid with the multiple piercings. Who is raising that child? I think it is often their peers and not their parents.

This type of parent-child relationship is an extremely common characteristic in our relationship with God the Father. American civil religion is based on a combination of deism, which says God doesn't interact in our world (He doesn't touch us), and grandma's sentimentality. Both of these influences undermine true biblical faith.

God doesn't live up on a throne on a cloud. Such images will never touch our real world. Life is filled with mean people scheming to do mean things. That is why we worship a crucified savior who knows all the realties that move our soul to distraction. Life is a very real blood-covered existence and our savior has given us the path to live a morally beautiful life in the midst of these realities. God has fully and absolutely identified with all of life. He knows life on earth. Jesus was fully "incarnated".

Jesus taught us that the Father knows every hair on our head and is aware of every hair that falls from our head.

How numerous are His thoughts of us; they are more numerous than the sands on the seashore.

Our Father's only obsession is being intimate with us. As much as it feels like He is neglecting us, nothing could be further from the truth.

God Bless,

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Experiencing the Fatherhood of God - The Foundation of Intimacy

Experiencing the Fatherhood of God

A few posts ago, I said the following :
Kierkegaard is describing an "instantaneous moment of inner attitude".

In these posts on the Fatherhood of God, my desire is to attempt to dissect the anatomy of this instantaneous moment of inner attitude or the experience of the Fatherhood of God.

My strong belief about Kierkegaard is that he greatly missed the mark in his description of the experience of faith. Though this post is not about Kierkegaard, I will make one mention of his description. Kierkegaard in a desire to make faith difficult described faith as irrational. His text was on Abraham and Isaac. Kierkegaard was saying that Abraham's faith in sacrificing Isaac was irrational and that therefore true faith is the leap against reason into blind trust. (What an jerk!!!) Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac was not the faith that was credited to Abraham as righteousness!!

The point of the Abraham story was to teach Abraham that God provides the sacrifice and that it is not man that provides the sacrifice to God.. The story was the method God used to teach Abraham that true religion was not like the Babylonian religion of human sacrifice. Therefore, the name of the hill where Abraham sacrificed the lamb, which God provided, is called, "God will provide." The whole lesson is to show that we do not need to appease God because God fulfills all righteousness and all judgment Himself. It is no coincidence that the place where Abraham sacrificed the lamb in the stead of his firstborn son was the same hill where Jesus Christ was sacrificed for the sins of the world.

So, needless to say, Kierkegaard missed the gospel in his reading of the story. Abraham's faith that was credited to him as righteousness was in Genesis 15, which was before Isaac was even born. This justifying faith was the faith that God would provide a miracle in giving Abraham an heir.

BUT...The reason I bring up Kierkegaard is that I believe he was onto something in trying to describe the anatomy of the subjective experience of faith. So too, I feel the key to bringing people into affection for God that in turn leads to a beautiful life is to help them experience God for themselves.

Yesterday, in my post, I talked about having an experience of being "the Father's favorite". This of course is not the proper language because to be someone's favorite, you would have to be able to say "God loves me more than He loves you". Which is obviously not correct. But nonetheless, even if the language isn't perfect the experience is a quite bibilcal one.

The experience of being a "favorite" is an experience of intimacy. The extent to which God is aware of us is infinite. He know all about us. When we experience the Fatherhood of God, we have the experience of a person knowing every detail of our life. He knows us perfectly and loves us perfectly. In human relations, such intimacy is reserved for only very revered and valued relationships like a best friend or a spouse or a favorite child.

The first attribute I would mention then that is embedded in the experience of the Fatherhood of God is the experience of His intimate knowledge of all our doing.

How Does God See You?
In preaching Galatians 3 this past weekend, I made the following point. The text is Galatians 3:26-27
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

The second greatest experience in life after knowing God is having a child. I remember the birth of my first child very clearly. I was in the delivery room and, after the nurse cleaned our baby girl and wrapped here in a blanket, she gave her to her father, me. I held my little girl in my arms. Immediately, as I looked down at this new creation, awe and wonder welled up in my heart. I was immediately filled with affection. This fire had a source in light. As I looked down, I couldn't believe it. In this little child, I could see me. She looked like my wife and I. My attributes are in the child. It is an awesome experience, and it produces a deep longing and love and affection. It is a stunning experience to the new parent.

Well, when God looks down on us, who have become part of the new creation, God sees Himself. For through faith, we have all been baptized and clothed with Christ. It is no longer us who live but Christ lives in us. God sees Jesus. God sees His moral attributes in us. In the same way that my experience of my child filled my heart with affection so too God is filled with deep love for His image in us through Christ. God's glory is in us. God's moral beauty is in us.

Do you experience this love from the Fatherhood of God? Do you know God's unconditional affection for you? This experience is not based on sentiment. This experience is founded on the Biblical faith. This experience finds its root in a conservative reading of scripture. Here is part one of the anatomy of experiencing the Fatherhood of God.

God Bless,

Monday, October 25, 2004

Experiencing the Fatherhood of God

This post never made it on the Aggregators so here goes(Experiencing the Fatherhood of God)

Experiencing the Fatherhood of God

Experiencing the Fatherhood of God
Half of our Christianity is our personal intimate knowledge of God and the other half is being a reflection of that knowledge. I am good at the former and pretty so-so at the latter. Some might even say I am just kinda "undistinctive". I feel the need to turn the corner a bit and begin talking again about the "living it out" part and learning skills in life for this week, I am still enamored with the orientation of my heart toward God in prayer.

So…This weeks posts I am going to talk about Fatherhood, specifically my experience (our experience) of the Fatherhood of God.

My wife reminds me of a saying I used to say often. When she says this phrase it is a touching reminiscence of the past. She will say, "You are His favorite". Even as I write this I am beginning to cry. Of course I do not believe I am God's favorite in relationship to others, but it just feels this way. Each one of us can be the Father's "favorite". In this context favorite just means that God the Father is intimate with us and intimate with all our ways.

When I was a young believer, and I had so much free time, I spent a great deal of time in prayer. I led what I realize now was essentially a monastery. My friends and I prayed most all day. We prayed together and we prayed alone. I worked at a church as what would now be called an intern. My mentor moved out of state at one time and it led to some pretty hard experiences in the church. Let's just say my gifting wasn't appreciated. During that time, I worked through many pains in my life and I experienced many pains. During these experiences, I could always see God providence in my life. I could see all my experiences in the context of being "my Father's favorite". Every experience of life good or bad, I saw as for my good and it made me know my Father was near. I do not know if it was because I have a good relationship with my earthly father or what BUT it was very easy for me to see a rebuke from God as God's loving way of molding my not so winsome character. God wants to make me holy so he would work ever so gently on my fleshly ego and self-centeredness. It didn't matter what happened in life, it was the work of a loving Father.

These experiences changed my whole life for the good. As a pastor, all I really want to do is let others in on this reality.

Jesus said, "Not one hair falls from your head without the Father knowing it".

As I write this post I realize that some people see God's providence in their life and it leads to all sorts of dysfunction. I have seen some people see God as punishing them in a special way. This can be extremely toxic. Some see God in their life in a special way and it leads them to leading an irresponsible life. These people see nothing as their fault because it is instead "the enemy" attacking their special calling. Oh, this is wcrazy in a weird kinda way.

So what is the anatomy of a healthy intimacy with God.

That is the question for the next post…

God Bless,

Friday, October 22, 2004

How to Walk in the Spirit - Finding the Right Words

Finding the Right Words to Describe the Experience of Victory or "walking by the Spirit"!!

Galatians 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh

Galatians 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

Romans 8:13 For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

What does walk by the Spirit mean?
What does, "if we by the Spirit", or as all unkept asked a few posts back, "put to death the deeds of the flesh", mean? At least the "by the Spirit part"??

A Story - Our Bible Study
We had another good bible study on Galatians at our house last night (or was it Wednesday). One of the discussions was on what does having a grace-based, as opposed to law-based, relationship with God look like? How do we put into practice what we are learning from Galatians?

One of the young men said, "It is all about your source of power", which is a very good answer. But the question remains, how do I put that "source of power is God" belief into practice? If learning to have our eyes set on the Spirit is the proverbial "double back flip with a double twist" of spirituality, how do you do that?

My wonderful wife said, "It is in our orientation!!". She learns well!! OK, is that really it? And If that is it, what does that mean?

Here is the dilemma. Walking by the spirit cannot mean, "be nice and don't be mean". In other words, walking by the spirit cannot be another rule or law. That would be circular reasoning or a tautology. It tells us nothing. Instead, walking by the Spirit and all that Paul is teaching us in Galatians and Romans 7-8 has to be something we can put into practice that will help us "be nice and not be mean". But what is it?

If getting our source from God in the moment is the key to Christianity, how come we do not know how to do it, and how come no one is teaching us how to do it?

A Confession
I had a rather embarrassing encounter with a philosopher yesterday. I confess I do not know my philosophy very well. I can't tell my rationalists from my empiricists, but I do know my experience. I know this wonderful experience of victory and power and holiness. When I am in this place of "putting to death by the Spirit the deed s of the flesh", I know it. The problem is finding the right words to describe it. Then, having described it properly, this codification of the practice will empower us to repeat the experience.

This very practical teaching is the spiritual person's job!

But how do we find words to explain something so subtle?

Let me tell a story!!
Two things happened to me over the last 24 hours which I think make up this little story. First, I was speaking with someone (who will be un-named), and they were saying that, if they had to choose between God and their family, they would choose their family. Secondly, I had this above mentioned embarrassing moment where I tried to talk philosophy with a philosopher.
I was trying to explain this point I made in (post) about the liberating experience of the choice for radical obedience. And then it struck me.
Kierkegaard's, "Fear and trembling"

Now before I talk about Kierkegaard, don't somebody tell me Kierkegaard was a heretic or a subjectivist that denied this that and the other thing. That is not the point the point is the story.
Way back in 1843, a guy named Soren Kierkegaard published a book titled "Fear and Trembling". The book is about the story of Abraham and Isaac. Kierkegaard says, "There once was this man named Abraham…", and, as Kierkegaard explains, Abraham's story is often told as a sentimental children's story. But oh the dread and the fear of this story. Kierkegaard then goes on to describe the experience of faith that Abraham went through. Faith is a crisis. Faith is a step into an uncertain future. Faith is counter intuitive and counter at least worldly reason. Faith makes no worldly sense. Abraham had to choose between God and his family.

The point is this Kierkegaard is describing an instantaneous moment of inner attitude.

To Kierkegaard, truth is not the description of things (i.e. objects) but the description of the relationship between the subject and the objects. (i.e. subjective truth). The whole point is that this "subjective truth", in this case the reality of faith, is what life is about.

Now, this idea of subjective truth as the only truth is bogus and Kierkegaard went off the cliff (I think) with respect to his description of faith as irrational. But again that is not the point.

The point is and I do believe it is important is that faith (and in my example "walking by the Spirit") is a subjective experience which needs to be described and wrestled with in great detail. Kierkegaard attempted described the elements of the experience. True, I do believed he missed it in his definition (from my limited knowledge of philosophy).

You see Kierkegaard was onto something by attempting to describe the anatomy of this instantaneous experince of faith and we need to likewise learn to map out and disect the elements of the experience of "walking by the Spirit". At least part of "walking by the spirit is an instantaneous orientation of faith in God as our source of power.

I believe there are two part both the focused time of prayer where we cry out for power for the future and the experience of the life as the power enables us in the instantaneous moment.
When I approach the coming moment or the coming day, it is vital to practice in a focused time and then to learn daily to learn the skill of orienting one's attitude toward faith in God as our source of power.

Kurt Schilling as the example
In our home church on Wednesday night, the study began and ended with a discussion of Kurt Schilling. When asked what is the difference between his performance in Game 1 (or 2 or whatever) and his performance in game 6, he said it was a God thing. In game six, Schilling trusted in God to give him strength. The christian has a focused time of prayer and trust and then experinces, getting in the zone, during the performance. While in the performance of life, the chistian experiences some private momnets where one realizes the reality of God's power and pressence. Often, I find this experience is accompanied by a realization that this moment is an answered prayer. I am often brought to tears by these experiences and am always at least brought to a place of joy.

Is this not the heart of our relationship with God. Is this not a subjective experience? But how do we find the right words to describe it so to help others enter into this life with moe and more frequency and consistency. Here is the pastor's job description!! And here is the content of my next few posts!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Christian Carnival

The Christian Carnival is up at Proverbial Wife.

Teams - Why Church Governemnt Matters

There is a discussion going on out in the Reformed Blogs about church government and ministers who shame the church through a lack of integrity. Go here, Jolly Blogger and I imagine you can follow the links around and get in on this discussion.

Anyway, a bit of my story. 1. Our church is elder or council led and it is great!! 2. Many people in our church come from pastor as king churches that had all kinds of problems. All too often the problems are about money. 3. The structure itself can bring about the attitudes that lead to the problems.

Now, #1 is actually the reason I decided to post on church government. As a pastor, I can tend to say. This elder led church government needs some changes. I feel like this when I am being impatient with the implementation of change process. Basically, I want more power. That is a pretty bad sign that my heart is not in the right place. As a leader, I need to work with the team and communicate and get buy in on ideas etc. etc.

The big point is this process in and of itself is great. Friendships build. It keeps us focused on people and not success. It forced the pastor to pray and trust in the Lord. It creates team and actually keeps a workaholic like me from doing all the work. The experience of team work itself can be the kingdom. In other words, meetings in church settings if done prayerfully are a joyful and kingdom thing. God shows up at the meetings themselves.

Last night, I had a worship planning meeting. If you don't know what this is, this is when a group plans the service. The meeting was just a total God thing. When it goes well and you know that the team is in sink with the Lord, this is the way to go!!

I come from a "pastor" led type church background (third wave churches). I was a worship leader, and I never had to ask anybody for any input on anything. As an artist, this is great, but as a Christian, I am not so sure. Did I have to build team? No. Did I have to listen to the gifts of others? No. Was I free to do as I was "led"? Yes. You see as a leader who just wants great music and artistic creativity, the gifted guy as king model works, but for all the qualities of the kingdom like love (hello) and honesty and communication (hello) and accountability (hello), the committee led church structure is the way to go.

A year ago, I was totally in the "give me all the power" camp. I saw churches running in this mode l were growing all around me, but the pric eto the soul is too high. The pastor of the church I really was looking up to has since had a moral falling.

The bottom line is that it is tempting for the gifted person be it in music or in preaching and teaching to want more control but the end of this system is far too risky. So my vote goes to the egalitarian and democratic model of the council led church.
Hallelujah, I am a convert.
God Bless,

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

My Blog Died - Looks Like a Long Night

My blog died. I couldn't figure out the problem and I lost all my links. I had to go to a new template and I think I lost all my RSS feeds. What a drag.

I will post all week but I think I am off the aggregators for a while. I need to forward new RSS feeds to them.

I am bummed. So aggegator webmaster folk. I will get new feeds soon.


Reformed Existentialism??? - Really!!

In recent posts, I have been discussing a Gospel posture toward the Lord and life. By a gospel posture, I mean approaching God as a beggar in need of power and help and NOT looking to give to God some acceptable sacrifice of works. A gospel approach, where the Gospel is an arrow downward and we are the beggars in need of His resources, is central to walking in new life and not in the oldness of the dead letter. A gospel orientation helps us see spirituality as an issue of God's grace and compassion on us. This posture is the glorious effect of having a BIG GOD. This gospel orientation removes all toxic burden and guilt from our religion and sets us free. This orientation toward God is good reformed theology in practice.

Also, this is what Jesus teaches us is a healthy approach to God which empowers us to rise up from prayer righteous.

Luke 18
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector 9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' 13"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' 14"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Taken in context, this parable is about our posture in prayer. Hallelujah!! Man, that is great stuff.
I am here to talk about the next vital heart orientation we need to have to live in total liberation.
Let's just say I am pumped this morning. I am so totally back!!

Our gospel orientation is the start of our spirituality and fuels our worship, but prayer, in the Lord's model, is also about seeking the kingdom in our approaching day.

"Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven and give us THIS DAY our daily bread."

"Lord, I am a beggar and if I am to live beautifully I need your bread!!"

So, we face life one day at a time with confidence and the expectation that God will participate and bring His kingdom purposes into our daily life.
This posture of living in the immediate present and expecting our walk with God to manifest substantive purpose as we encounter life is what I call AN EXISTENTIALIST POSTURE.
The existentialist posture toward life (and I mean that in a good way) has two elements:
1. First, it is living in the NOW. Nothing actually exists except the now. We do not worry about tommorrow and praise God, we are not condemned by our past.
2. We live on planet earth.

Francis as a Reformer!!
OK I know this sounds difficult but bear with me as I take you through the 13th century. One of my all-time heroes is Saint Francis.
Go here and see my favorite painting of all-time:
Francis in Extasy or a larger image here Francis in Extasy.

One day when I was a young believer, I had a big breakthrough. I went to a party for a family member. The party was all high society, and I felt very out of place. I was the proverbial 'Arab in the Synagogue'. I was the Christian evangelist at the Hollywood High Society party. I felt like 'Forest Gump at the Black Panther Party'.
Anyway, that night, as I reflected on the evening, a big "yo duh" struck me, "We as Americans believe we can be Christians and not live the story of Jesus. To be a Christian means entering the life of faith which Jesus lived. We are called to approach life one day at a time and step out in faith to bring the kingdom to our reality one step of faith at a time. An existentialist monk was born that night.

Saint Francis relates to this breakthrough because Francis this is the story of Francis.

Francis' big idea was this.
Here are two stories:
1. Francis began his life of faith by saying one day, "Lord show me what to do and I will do it". That day, he went to church, and the priest spoke on "see all your possessions" and "store up treasures in heaven". So Francis did it. He stepped out in love for God and obeyed. His immediate experience was freedom. Francis fell in love with this experience of freedom and faith and the rest is history. This is existentialist heaven. We live in the NOW and the life of faith is stepped into in the existential present only. Today is the day of salvation!! Oh, this is so it!!
2. In a second story, Francis, after a day of prayer, asked his friends a question, "Should I spend my life in contemplation or should I preach also?" The answer came back 'preach also'. So he did. Francis was trapped in a Greek gnostic world of only ecstatic contemplation, but Francis found the balance of contemplation and compassionate action. And again, the rest is history!!
Francis revolutionized the church by bringing it back to its Hebrew, and yes existential, roots of living the life of faith one day at a time. Right here! Right now! On planet earth!!

It just doesn't get any better than that.
God Bless,

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Sola Scriptura and Human Dignity - 1 John 2:27

The times of the reformation were much like today. It was the beginning of the 16th century (1517 when Luther posted his thesis to be exact). This event, the posting of the thesis, was in many ways the "shot heard round the world" of human dignity. Luther, quite heroically and I imagine quite innocently, was history's great truthsayer. Luther simply began the discussion about the "pink elephant" sitting in the room that was Western Civilization..

Luther's thesis proclaimed, "This practice of indulgences is contrary to true repentance and undermines all true and authentic religion". It is as if Luther is innocently asking people, just for a minute, to think for themselves. In fact, this is exactly what Luther was asking people to do.

Luther, by calling people to seek the truth for themselves, using only their minds, the Holy Spirit, and THE BIBLE, was the first great proponent of individual human dignity.

Luther, it must be noted, preceeded Galileo by over 100 years. Galileo, a personal hero of mine, did not face the inquisition until 1624 and was not put under house arrest until 1632. Luther posted his thesis in 1517 and died in 1546.

The thesis of this post is that Sola Scriptura, if properly understood, promotes the dignity and freedom of the individual. I am trying to play Keirkegaard here and help all of us, especially us pastors, see the existential risk in truly preaching sola scriptura and encouraging people to seek truth for themselves. This is a risk Luther took and it is a risk all of us must take if people are to grow into truly moral people.

Sola Scriptura is the doctrine which states that our authority for faith and practice is scripture alone. Now let's look at a radical sola scriptura verse:

1 John 2:27
1 John 227 As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.

The apostle is saying, "you, believer in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, have the Holy Spirit in you. Search the truth out for yourself. You do not need a teacher. Wrestle with God, just you and the Lord, to discover truth".

BUT wait a minute!! The people are uneducated. This is 21st Century America!! We are scripturally illiterate. Well, think back to 16th century Germany. Luther translated the New Testament into German in 1522. His was the first German translation based on the original languages. Prior to Luther's translation all the former translations were based on the Latin Vulgate. So Luther was writing in 1517 to a people without any real access to the bible at all, and yet Luther was asking people to think for themselves!!!

So we ask our congregations, and this is key to any true renewal, seek the truth of scripture for yourselves. You do not need me, the pastor, to teach you. All true scholarship and all true intelligent inquiry goes straight to the source.

This morning, I preached to our congregation that each of us is personally responsible for knowing the scriptures ourselves. Wisdom has no grandchildren. If we are to be wise, we must not take as "gospel" what people tell us. We must ourselves, in the power of the Holy Spirit, seek out the truth in Scripture and know the scripture in our own heart and through our own convictions.

The individual's personal responsibility to know truth was the heart of the protestant revolution. If we are to support the principles of our faith, we must trust and dignify every individual's pursuit of truth. The transfer of responsibility for knowing truth through the scriptures from the educated clergy to the individual is what not only reformed the church but reformed our western civilization. The natural cousin of this transfer of responsibility to the individual is the granting of dignity to the individual. They are two sides of the same coin. Not long after this triumph of the individual came scientific and the republican revolutions.

The story of Luther became the legend, the heroic tale, of the individual standing firm on his convictions and his understanding of scripture against the false and artificial authority of formal education and formal titles. The western world as we know it was born.

So here we stand.
We believe and preach that the individual Christian has equal access to God and has Spiritual union with God. This uniquely protestant affirmation is the heart of human dignity and freedom. This affirmation of every regenerated individual's access to truth is also the foundation of human responsibility. Sola scriptura both dignifies every individual and holds every individual to account before God. Sola Scriptura launched the western world as we know it, a world where each individual is filled with dignity and also filled with the responsibility to know truth and the God of truth through scripture alone.

God Bless,

Friday, October 15, 2004

Obtaining a Gospel Orientation to God and Life

In this blog season, I am attempting two things. First, I am attempting to promote prayer, and secondly, which is a subset of prayer, I am attempting to promote prayer by first laying a gospel foundation.
1. In this post on deconstruction, I am looking the book of Galatians and challenging all of us to see if we do not need to deconstruct and then reconstruct our life toward God. Do we take a legal appraoch or a gospel approach to our God?
2. I encouraged the same new look at our posture toward the Lord in this post on Roamns 7:1-6
3. Last night I posted on the emergent church scene. These folks are attempting to look at their Christianity quite differently. I am not squarely in this camp by any means but I certainly feel their pain so to speak.
4. In the few minutes I have here this morning I would like to share a little bit from my expereince on obtaining a gospel oriention throughout the day.

Yesterday, I picked up my guitar in my personal prayer time for the first time in many years. For some reason , I convinced myself that there was too much ego in my music, and I stopped using music in my personal devotion. BIG MISTAKE. Anyway, yesterday after learning a new song, I found myself singing this song all day. This effect from morning prayer is the pattern of day and night meditation.

First, we have a time of focus then the day is filled with a reflection on that focus.

MEMORIZATION is key here!! I was trying to memorize the song, and, then, my brain went to work all day and turned the song over and over in my head.
This pattern is key to having a good day. A time of focus and memorization will effect the rest of the day in a positive way.

We often try to "pray as we go", but the pray as we go thing doesn't work unless there is a time of focus first.
So this is big point one.

Big point two is how to get a gospel orientation.
So many people rag on modern or contemporary worship songs because they are so self-centered. I say hogwash!! Self-centered worship is totally fine. "Lord, I want!! Lord I want!! Lord I want!" Is a great gospel orientation!! Here is what I mean. In the song I was learning, "Power of Your Love", it says:

"Lord, I come to you let my heart be changed renewed...
Hold me close, let your love surround me"

To some this is self-centered, feel good, worship. AMEN!!! The gospel is about God changing me so I can be a better person. If I don't beg a little and receive, how can God get the Glory? That is what grace is all about. Deconstruct a little. It is time we change our way of thinking!!

The moral to the story is that through this worship song and through a time of worship in general, my heart is moved to a Gospel, receiving, orientation towad God. I know this happens because it makes me "humble, holy and happy". When this happens, I always say in my heart. "Praise the Lord, I am back" Meaning back in a gospel orientation of hope and expectaion and joy and power.

God Bless,

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Emerging Church Blogs

Been working my way around the "emerging church" blogs trying to get an understanding of what this is all about. I personally have a lot of expereince in the Vineyard and I myself am trying to empasize some similar ideas like "entering the biblical story".

I do not want to go into what the emerging church movement is. I would rather let the blogs speak for themsleves. So To get a taste for emerging church maybe start with this post by Todd Hunter on Missional Church.

Here is another good taste and this person blogs regularly. Good post
Here is a great blog and a series on why people leave churches and choose the church they choose (why leave churches).
Here is another site I think deserves a good read. This site has great music. This guy is real good.

Winn Griffin has a few sites worth looking at WinnNotes and SBL Winn griffin is a scholar who used to work with John Wimber and the gang.

What is Emergent??
The question is always what does it mean to be a Christian? Or what does it mean to do church? The key word is often Deconstruction. Brian McClaren, his web page here, is the number one read (A Generous Orthodoxy)for the emerging ministers.

And of course, I am going to post a link to my blog and a recent little article about deconstruction.

So visit this site and work your way around and maybe we can all learn a bit about some emergent church planters. My fav so far is Adam Feldman. Ok that's a little disorganized but a start. brad

Deconstructing our Understanding of Law and Gospel – Galatians Part 2

Deconstructing our Understanding of Law and Gospel – Galatians Part 2

Some Context
We are studying Galatians in a Wednesday Night Bible Study at our home. Our study began by looking at the book in context of the unfolding story in the book of Acts. In Acts 13 and 14, Paul goes on his first missionary journey to Galatia. Paul spends considerable time in this area, which is in modern day Turkey.
Paul, while on his missionary journey, experiences some persecution from the Jewish leaders who are very opposed to Paul’s teaching of free grace. When Paul returns from the missionary journey, he gets wind that the Jewish teachers have infiltrated the churches and spreading doctrines and practices which attempt to incorporate Jewish law into the Christian life. Paul is totally opposed to the new teachers in the Galatian church, and he writes a letter in response. So the context is one of conflict between Paul’s Gospel and the desire of certain teachers to integrate law into the Spirituality of the Christian.

More Context
Now let’s think for a second about Paul’s audience. The book of Galatians is contrasting:
1. A teaching that says righteousness is achieved through law and that spiritual growth comes through the law and
2. The gospel which says righteousness is a gift of Grace through Christ and spiritual transformation comes through the Holy Spirit.
One is a message of Grace the other the law. Paul, then, makes his point by referring to many minute details of the Old Testament. Paul mentions Abraham being declare righteous through faith and that “the righteous shall live by faith”. Paul mentions that the promise was to Abraham’s “seed” and not his “seeds”. His point here is that God’s covenant for salvation was from Abraham to Christ to the believer and not from Abraham to Israel (law) to the believer. Paul refers to the story of Hagar and Sarah. The question is, “How would the readers have understood all these references to the Old Testament?” Did they have scrolls in the churches or the house churches? No. Did the gentle majority have a rich history in the Jewish oral history? No. No, the fact is the stories had to be taught to the church by the Jewish members of the congregation.

Paul is asking people with a vested interest in the Jewishness with a similar history a Paul in zeal for his ancestral traditions to look a completely new way at the role of the law in the church culture and one’s relationship with the Lord. For the Jewish believers it would take a total deconstruction of their worldview to begin to look at religion without law. Furthermore, the introduction of Jewishness and law into the culture of the church increased the status of the Jewish believer. This fact is the reason Paul says those who are promoting law want to boast in the flesh. Religion and spirituality without law would cost the Jewish leaders a great deal. The need in the church leadership in Galatia is now for both deconstruction and self-sacrifice.

Look at How the Gospel Affected Paul
In the opening chapters of Galatians, Paul writes that he went to Arabia for a time to receive revelation from God directly. I picture Paul saying to himself, “I need to pray about this ‘forgiveness’ and ‘power in Jesus name’ religion.” Paul went to Arabia to deconstruct his legalistic tendencies and let God transform his mind.
The story of the Galatian church is very relevant to our churches for two reasons:
1. The message is necessary to us directly because it is human nature to approach religion from a stance of law and duty. Religion in many communities is used as a social norming mechanism. This is our natural tendency because the natural mind is set on the flesh and is contrary to the Spirit. The mind set on the flesh is death. The mind set on the spirit is life and peace. Paul says to the Galatians , “why are you returning to your misery? What has happened to your joy?” Law leads to duty and guilt and joyless religion. A radical deconstruction of our orientation away from law and toward the Lord is necessary if we are to learn the Gospel and renounce all legal approaches to our faith.
2. The meta-message of deconstruction in general is very important in these times as well. We need to totally re-evaluate how we do church. We need to re-evaluate our mission and the structures that exist which impede mission. The organization of church needs re-thinking. Our cultural biases need re-thinking and deconstruction. We need a time in Arabia to get a new wineskin from God even if it cost us our status.

I am convinced that as we talk of prayer and spirituality we must start by radically changing our posture before God. If our religion is dull and lifeless, the answer is always rooted in a religion of duty, obligation, and burden. We are part of an endless line of splendor that needs to continually rediscover the gospel of free grace. This post is our second look at the book of Galatians. In future posts in the days ahead, I will continue to go through each paragraph of Paul’s to help each one of us come to a radical deconstruction and reconstruction of how we approach our Lord.
God Bless,

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

REPUBLISHED: Sanctification and Freedom and Dignity

I must admit
I published this post this morning, and I think it was totally incomprehensible. So here is another try!! :)

A fellow blogger asked the question, "Help me Understand the Reformed View of Sanctification" (here) . I posted a response.

The question is a good one. If God is sovereign, how do I agree with Him, and do I need to excercise means?

The Biblical (and I believe the reformed view) affirms the moral agency of man. It is totally debilitating to lead someone to believe that they do not have moral agency. What I mean by this is we do have the obligation to both align our hearts and minds with God and to take decisive action in our quest for the Kingdom.
We believe Philipians 2:13: it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

I stand in prayer full of thanksgiving that God has put by grace a sincere interest in Christ in my person. I have in me, by grace, the will and the means to know His will and to do His will.
This is an affirmation of man as a moral agent. My will and affections desire to see God's will made real in my life and the world around me. This strong yearning and desire is THE GRACEOF GOD.

An Analogy:
Though analogies often fail us, here is an attempt. Eugene Peterson says, "God wants you to do whatever you want". What he means by this is that God desires us to grow in our affection for His will to such an extent that if we do whatever we want, then we will be doing His will. We are called to learn of Him and love Him so that we have internalized a commitment to God's character and God's will.

Is this not what we want for our children?
My desire for my children is to have them have a longing and a desire to become morally beautiful people. I want them to be convinced in their heart that Jesus' ways are the beautiful ways. I want my children to love humility and forgiveness. Then, I want them to learn to "do what they really want". I want them to live as moral agents with integrity, and I want all this freedom to line up with the moral laws of the universe.
So too, God desires this heartfelt moral freedom for us. This is the key to understanding how sanctification works. God wants us to become strong moral agents filled with freedom and dignity. He also has put in our hearts the affection (the will) to have our works be His works. He is at work in us so that we will to do His good work. God promotes the freedom and dignity of human beings.

So I affirm that it is the Reformed view that affirms human responsibility.

Moral Agency, God-Centered Affections and Human Responsibility
How does this theology work itself out in daily counseling?
Lets say a person says, "I have not surrendered my will completely so I am not "filled with the Spirit". This person is making an excuse for his or her inability to do good. They are saying somehow they are not equipped to do good. They are blaming their lack of ability to align their will.
I, as a believer in Sovereign Grace, can answer this and return that person to responsibility.
I say, "that is not true". You confess Jesus as Lord and have a sincere interest in His Kingdom. Therefore, you do have the will in you and the knowledge of His will to do the right thing!!

Do you believe the Word is true?
Then you do have affection for His will. Your will is OK!

Do you know God's will in this situation?
So, you have everything pertaining to life and godliness that you need to come into a life that pleases God. We are responsible. The reformed view is based on the believer's union with God by grace. Therefore, it is a proper exercise of our faith to acknowledge that God has given us both the will and the knowledge of His will to do His work on earth.

How does this view of our union with Christ affect us in prayer.
It leads to WORSHIP!! We are thankful that He has changed both our knowledge of Him and the desire to Know Him. He has changed us on all levels and we thank Him. Also, such theology draws us to Him. One of the areas we lack is that we are filled with unbelief. We are not always aware of our empoweed state. So we seek to Know Him. We seek to have the Spirit lead us into the awareness of all we are in Christ. This leads the believer to deeper and deeper prayer and worship so that we can come into a more perfect knowledge of God and His purpose in our life. brad

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Why I Personally Do Not Blog Politics

Why I Personally Do Not Blog Politics

Here we are in the most stormy political season in recent memory and yet not a word from this blogger on politics. This reality is quite intentional on my part. I have a “no political blogging” policy. Why do I personally refuse to blog politics?

First, it is not because I do not have political opinions. I do have political opinions and pretty strong ones. The reason I do not blog politics is because I do not see politics as the fundamental issue facing the church or the world today. What is the most urgent need in America in October 2004?

I find that in blogdom, very few bloggers address directly the real problems facing our communities, our homes, our churches and our lives. I respect all these people with valid, well informed, and well articulated opinions on politics, theology, church culture, music, and all the things people blog about. But what is most vital and indeed most urgent? What is the real need that the church and the pastor is called to provide solutions for?

Is not the church called to bring people into a purer life of worship and moral action? This process of teaching and learning is called discipleship. The church is called to bring to people of every culture and every language and every season in life the answers to the human desire to live a more morally beautiful and spiritually abundant life.

I have been all around the church, and what I have found is that this “job description” of the church and church leadership is usually not the strong suit of most of the leadership of the church. Because of this weakness, the addict goes to AA instead of the church. The depressed and confused go to the psychologist. Why? Could it be because the church has not been providing the answers to meet life’s crisis and challenges for awhile now? Could it be that there is a credibility crisis in the relationship between the church and the world? What is the root of this gulf between the church’s calling and its actual practice? The real root causes of the problem, as I see it, is the following:

1. Many American and Western believers are stuck in a thinking instead of doing definition of what it means to be a Christian. Yoda, in the Empire Strikes Back, said, “Either do or do not do. There is no try”. For many reasons, including theological reasons, we, the modern Christian, does not seem to understand that the purpose of our Christian faith is not to change our worldview but to change our world. Every aspect of our private and public life needs to be seasoned with the moral attributes of our Lord. Thinking rightly is not enough. Thinking rightly is but the beginning of the journey. Intention is not enough. Intention is only the beginning of the journey. The goal is to live every aspect of the life of Christ as individuals and to become a morally beautiful community as congregations. Nothing else is acceptable, and we as churches and individuals need to sense the reality of the current crisis in the Christian witness.

2. The Root of the Problem is often in the area of prayer and prayerful affection for the Lord. The promotion of affection is John Piper’s point in his continual focus on "delighting” in God and being "satisfied" in Him. The idea is that a personal history of heartfelt delight and pleasure in God is the strength to live a holy life. Because I agree with this assessment and see the positive effects of affect in my own life, this blog likewise tries to 'illustrate the experience' of heartfelt prayer and worship. Our current look is at the difference between a legal and a gospel orientation toward God in prayer. For example, this gospel posture will be the topic of my sermon this week.

3. The last big discipleship need is the need for mentoring in the church. We not only learn from experience but we learn from other people’s experience. The rabbinic model of the New Testament is desperately needed in the church. I do not want to go into this mode in detail (see the post “How Did We Get Here”) but let’s just say that this course of study based on observation and imitation is a great means to promote authenticity and transparency in the church.

So the point is the great need, even in October of 2004, in the world is not for a new president or to avoid a new president. There are few political solutions in the world. Instead, we the chuch and the observers of the church need to promote the most basic answers to the most urgent problems facing our churches and our world. These are urgent times indeed, and the urgent need is for a new paradigm, and in fact a reformation, of the discipleship process in the church.


Romans 7:1-6 - Law or Life

Romans 7
Believers United to Christ
1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? 2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. 3 So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man. 4 Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

This passage is one that is very helpful to me, and it is so very rarely taught from.
The Exposition
The passage says a person is married so long as they or the other person lives. This is the nature of a binding covenant. The analogy is to our relationship to the law. If we have relationship with booth the law and Christ, then we would be adulterers. So how is this problem of law and grace resolved? “My brethren, you were made to die to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may be joined to Another, to Him who was raised from the dead.” We were made to die and if we died we are no longer bound to our former covenant. Therefore, we are free to be married to Christ. Now, we having been released from the law, we can bear fruit through the Spirit. When we attempted to do this under law we always bore fruit that was “for death”.

When I teach this principle, I use a little drama. I have people stand up on stage representing the different characters: sin and death, the believer, the law, and the Father. I play the believer and I start between sin and death and the law. If I attempt to get to the Father through the Law, I am defeated and end in sin and death. So in comes Christ. I hide in Christ and fulfill the law. Now, I pass through the law and make it over to the Father. What the observers sees is that the believer is with the Father and the Son but not with the law. The law is left behind. Now, the believer is free to serve the Father in the power of the Son and not the oldness of Law. It is therefore the type of spirituality we have that makes the difference.
Why does this matter so much?
Weakness is the Issue
Paul, later in Romans 8, says that our inability to bear fruit under the law is because the law is weak. The difference between the two types of Spirituality is that one is based on power and the other on law and will. This is so liberating. My problem, and I have a lot, is a weakness issue. I really do long to be a good or even great person in so many ways, but I am not even close to my goal. My failures could absolutely overwhelm me. The answer is in the relationship with Christ and my instant access to help and power. There is no condemnation, no guilt, only solutions. Shame and guilt are not constructive and neither is law. BUT now my relationship with God is entirely one of Grace and power and help.

We cannot have relationship with Law and Christ at the same time. Law will never assist us in becoming beautiful.

The emerging church people see the problems so much in worldview with respect to dogma and culture. I am convinced that the issue to help the church become relevant is to learn and disciple the churches into a proper understanding of the deadness of legalistic religion and the power of a living relationship with Christ. The issue is becoming beautiful through the Gospel. The crux of the matter is the orientation of our hearts not the orientation of the furniture.

Who are you having relationship with this morning? Law or Christ. How is your heart oriented? What is the posture of your soul?
God Bless,

Monday, October 11, 2004

Psalm 1 and Galatians 3 - More Practical Hints on Prayer and Power

This week, I am going to work us through building a prayer list. I am doing the same from the pulpit. From the pulpit, this weekend, I started getting folks to begin to align their intention toward prayer and meditation on the Word from Psalm 1. Here, this week my posts are going to be about approaching God with a Gospel orientation from Galatians 3 and Romans 7. I used these passages, especially Romans 7, for years in the pastorate. Romans 7:1-4 is one of my favorite passages in all of scripture. I will post on this passage tonight but first a review of Psalm 1.

My big point was on Exercising Means.
In the church, we often expect growth without exercising the means to grow namely making contacts and walking the neighborhood. I am sure there are hundreds of great churches out there who had a great service this weekend and experienced loving community BUT the neighborhood around them really doesn't know that such great God stuff is happening just down the street.
In the book of Acts, the whole community was a buzz about what was happening. We need to exercise the means to let people know the great things that God is doing in the Kingdom Community we are worshipping at.

So the same is true with our personal sanctification. We often expect things to happen and yet we do not exercise the basic means to see the process through. Psalm 1 starts the whole ball rolling with the most general overview of how spirituality works. So this weekend, we began the beginning of "How to be Blessed" basics 101. Psalm 1 says Blessed is the man who ... meditates on the word day and night". To make a long story short, we as a congregation (and a s individuals) made some commitments learn what this means together. It begins with a basic commitment. If the "blessed MAN" dwells in me by grace than I can co-labor with Him and learn how to "delight" in the word and meditate on His Word day and night. So together we started with a commitment of 30 minutes a day and my aim personally is to grow this time considerably.

Next week, I am teaching on Galatians 3. I need to go to work right now BUT I will blog on the following passages Galatians 3 and Romans 7-8. Later tonight.

I hope folks are working on starting a prayer list. These passages Galatians 3 and Romans 7-8 will help us start any prayer time oriented toward grace and power and are great tools to start to begin any prayer time.

Emerging Church - Good Blog Example

Well, the weekend, needless to say, is pretty busy for me BUT I found a good blog I would like to share. Emerging Minister

Check out the 52 songs section. That first song (I see a lot of You in Me). Pretty good.

I am going to look around all this sites links and see if I can learn my way around this side of the blogoshere (oh I mean church)

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Some Prayer List Hints - The Apostolic Prayers

Some Prayer List Hints - The Apostolic Prayers

When I began to pray as a young Christian, I was very fortunate because some of the pastors who taught our congregation were quite experienced in prayer. They taught the congregation to "pray the apostolic prayers". These men and women said to use the prayers of the bible to learn the language of prayer and to learn how to express yourself to God. This was a very helpful lesson that I hope you learn to put into practice as well.

So here goes:
Two of the greatest prayers of the bible are in the book of Ephesians.
Ephesians 1:15-23 says:
15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Consider the rich language of these prayers. Using such language, we might pray something like this:
"Lord, I pray that You might give me a spirit of wisdom and revelation that I might know you better". Or "Lord, I prayer that You might give my friend (or my child) a spirit of wisdom and revelation that they might know you better".
Paul prays that "the eyes of our heart would be enlightened so that we know the riches of the Glory of HIS inheritance in the saints" What does this mean? It must mean what it says. It means that Paul wants the church to see that God's greatest gift to Himself, for His glory, is us, the church. WOW that raises our expectations for our life under grace and that is exactly Paul's point. So he goes on and prays that we would start to realize the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. Paul is praying for the young church that they would see the Gospel as an arrow downward from God to us.

Getting this language deep into our minds and hearts changes our view of the Gospel and changes our expectations. We start to look up to God for the grace to live a life of stunning moral beauty.
But wait there's more

In Ephesians 3, Paul breaks forth into prayer again.
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. 20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

WOW. Did I mention that the gospel is an arrow downward?
Consider these prayers.
Paul prays that we be strengthened with power in our inner man so that Christ may dwell in our hearts. He prays for us to be rooted and grounded in love and to have deep understanding. He prays for the church to know the love of Christ and to be filled with all the fullness of God. Then, Paul ends his prayer with this grand statement that God is able to do exceedingly more than we can ask for or even imagine to ask for.

Contemplating these passages changes the orientation of our person in prayer. Let me show you what I mean from the book of Romans.
There is a passage in Romans that is one of my favorites. In chapter 8, Paul says "the eyes set on the flesh is death, but the eyes set on the Spirit is life and peace". Paul is saying that when we look to become righteous in our own strength, religion becomes a big burden and a guilt trip, BUT, when our eyes look up and see the source of our life as a free gift from God and we become poor in spirit, then we begin to live a life of vigor and strength and joy and peace. The Gospel becomes in our experience an arrow downward.

When we begin to live in this posture with our eyes focused on God, then we are wise. When the orientation of our person is one of faith in God's power through the Gospel, we are wise men and women. We begin to grow in our Spirituality. We become skilled in prayer and we begin growing in grace. Our life begins to be transformed by the power that comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

So I encourage you, get these and other bible prayers deep in your mind and heart. Put these on your list. Find a way to make these scriptures the language of your prayers for character or Christlikeness or a heart of worship. Mix this language into your worship and devotion, and then we will learn again as a church how to pray rightly.
God Bless,

How to Be Wise - Galatians 3:1-5

First, a great post on Mrs. Albert Einstein here.

But anyway, I taught a bible study or maybe our bible study went through Galatians 3 last night. The passage is just remarkable.
Paul makes a great point, yo duh eh. Anyway, first he calls the Galatians foolish. Why are they foolish? He says, "You foolish Galatians who has bewitched you. Having started in the Spirit are you now trying to be made perfect (mature) through the flesh".

The Galatians had through the preaching of Paul come to faith in the work of Jesus Christ. They had seen him publically crucified for them. They saw in this act of God their freedom and having believed they had recieved the Spirit of God as a gift of grace. They were empowered and being transformed. Then, after Paul left some false teachers came in and put some requirements between them and salvation, namely circumcision and other jewish customs of the Law. Paul gets furious and says, "No, this is foolish." The whole purpose of God's dealing with man is not to make you follow law but to get you filled with God's life by the Spirit.

Paul's entire religion is based on the Holy Spirit. Paul is a Jew and a zealous Jew for his people and their traditions, but he is far more zealous for the Holy Spririt. The Redemptive hope of all of us has to do centrally with "receiving" from God. This is a posture before God.

How much of our religion is based on power and how much is based on law? If we are to be wise, then we seek to become perfect not by law and the flesh (natural power) but by seeking to change our "doing", our observed life, by power from God.
Practically, what does this mean but a change of our paradigm with respect to our relationship with God. We are not lifting up a moral life to God, but God is sending down a morally beautiful life to us by the HOLY Spirit through faith in Jesus.

There is a lot of talk these days about "deconstructing" our approach to Christianity. Does not the root of our deconstruction need to focus on this simple truth: "Is our religion about receiving from God? Is our gospel an arrow downward?" If it is, we will be wise and develop the skills of receiving and staying in a receiving posture.

Our faith is that Jesus is the Living word. Jesus is the natural moral law of the universe distilled. His life in our souls is our path to moral beauty.

How To Be Wise - And Great in the Kingdom

I have a friend who reads this blog. Strangely, really strangely, he is not a Christian or even close for that matter. BUT he is a very astute observer of the church and of Christians. After reading yesterday's blog, which admittedly was a little rushed, he said, "Prayer doesn't make a person a good person". What he meant by this was that he knows many Christians who pray and are also totally untrustworthy. So indeed, I must agree prayer doesn't make a person good in and of itself. No, prayer doesn't make a person good, but I do contend that praying rightly is the only path to being great.

The world and the church do not need more good men and women. The church and the world need great men and women. Jesus made the following statements about being great in the kingdom:
Matthew 5:19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18:4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Desiring to be "great" in the kingdom is not a bad thing, but actually doing it is completely impossible for us apart from an effective method of becoming transformed from the inside out. In Edwards resolutions #64 Edwards says the following: "On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. Jan.14' and July '3' 1723. "
Edwards is saying, I desire to glorify God and be "great in the kingdom" (from God's perspective) like no other. This is a noble goal.

How to Become Great in the Kingdom
Taken in context, we can understand Jesus' saying in Matt. 5:19. The context of this statement is "The Sermon on the Mount". Jesus is saying if we put into practice these saying in the Sermon (the new standard of the new covenant) and having put them into practice, we teach others to do the same, then we will be great in the kingdom. The Sermon teaches us to have a morally beautiful heart: to forgive, to love, to bless our enemies, to be pure and faithful. The standard is one of moral perfection. This Paul teaches us is impossible for natural man. The requirement is total spiritual humility before God. We must also come to a place of utter helplessness in our quest for effectiveness in the kingdom. Yes, if we seek to be good men and women, this could be done naturally or in the flesh as Paul says, but to be great, this is another thing all together. To be great is a miracle. To be great is a Spiritual matter.

The second saying of Jesus makes this very clear. Jesus says, "Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. " Jesus is speaking of being dependent spiritually on our Father in Heaven. The Sermon on the Mount, the standard of greatness, opens with the saying, "Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven". To be poor in Spirit is to be a Spiritual beggar. To come to a place of realizing that in ourselves, we do not have the resources to become the Christlike person we see in our heart that God is calling us to be. The life we long to live eludes us. We are helpless. Of course, if we long to be merely good, then we could be proud and independent and maybe achieve this in our own strength, but if we long to be great, this changes everything. To be great is a miracle.

So we come to God in brokenness. We come to God with The Sermon on the Mount or some other picture of Christ's moral perfection and we are undone. We are beggars. We are drawn to the throne of God in fear and trembling and love and worship.
"O, God for You. Make me great like the Great King"
God Bless,

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Creating a Personal Prayer List - Part 1

We are now beginning the very difficult and practical part of this series.
So far, we have seen that:
1. We are all leaders and are called to some level of leadership in life. This is a reference to the life of Steven, a waiter for the church. He had his moment to shine for Jesus and he did. We too are put in situations where life requires wisdom.
2. We have seen that wisdom is grown. It doesn't come through some magical moment but through seeking and knocking.
3. We have seen the method of a leader of the past, Jonathan Edwards. His pattern was to seek his heart and to exercise a rigorous self-observation. Edwards documented his failings and set particular goals for himself. He paid great attention to the affections of his heart. His self0-examination and life of worship (contemplation of God/theology) was his and our forefathers method of sanctification.

Now, we come to the practical necessity for us to journal and pray with consistency.

So how do we start?
First, we must make prayer our intention. We must make a commitment. I say that all the leaders of the bible, Daniel, David, Paul, Jesus ..., had consistent lives of prayer. They had a secret history with God. So too we must make time and make a way for this practice. You cannot be a Christians and not Practice Christianity.
I suggest a minimum commitment of 30 minutes and i think a pastor should make a commitment of two 1 hour prayer times per day. For pastors, this is not sermon prep time. This is not bible study time. This is prayer through the issues of your life and the issues of our heart.

Second, make goals or a list. An example might be:
1. Worship: "Lord I want a heart of worship...I want to know and learn to contemplate and be filled with affection for You. Lord, I am immature in the contemplation of You. rarely in private am I moved to emotion and affection when considering You in and of Yourself. Yet, You are worthy of all my affections."
A great method of worship is to contemplate the Lord's Supper in private. You may even use the elements if you like. Contemplate Grace and forgiveness. Love God's grace and forgiveness until we too are people of love and forgiveness.
2. The tongue and speech. I think this is a great topic for all of us. 'Lord, let my words be always seasoned with Grace. Let no unwholesome word come out of my mouth. Lord, I like others often speak ill of others. Let me be a cut above in this regard. Lord, with my children give me consistency but grace.
In listing issues of the tongue make sub-categories. Words at work. Wisdom of my words. Words to my children. Words of encouragement to my wife. Quite.
3. Sexual purity. Need I say more..
4. Evangelism. For me this is a category as a pastor. I used to be very bold and evangelistic but I am not moving in this lifestyle as of late. Bathe this life-change and need in prayer.

Spend a great deal of time working this list and improving it. Some key scriptures: The Sermon on the Mount, The List of Virtues of a Leader in 1 Tim., For women Proverbs 31. ...
The future posts will go into great detail in how to develop a list. I also suggest reviewing your list with the scripture references weekly. Redo the outline etc. Look at your prayer list like the outline of an essay. It takes work. It should be totally memorized. It is your personal catechism.

More Later,

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

How to Be Wise!!

How to become Wise? – More on the Daily Cycle

This morning my study time was a contemplation of Acts 6:8-10. In the passage, Steven has been doing effective ministry but opposition has risen up against him. It says that men from the synagogues began to argue with him, but “they could not stand up against His wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke”.

I also read Psalm 1 which says, “Blessed is the man …who delights in the law of the Lord and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in due season”.

Wisdom is not just given to us. Wisdom is much more organic than a gift or a present. Wisdom requires lifelong cultivating so that when opposition rises, or temptation or crisis, we are able to respond to the difficulties of life with skill and wisdom.

Wisdom is Like Gymnastics
What does the bible mean by wisdom? The bible when speaking of wisdom is talking about skills. If you are good at basketball, you know the wisdom of basketball. You have a skill. If you are good at public speaking, then you have public speaking wisdom. If you know haw to work hard and make money for your family, then you are financially wise. In many areas, I am wise and in other areas I am not so wise, maybe even a fool. For example, I have studied scripture and theology for many many thousands of hours, therefore when asked to expound upon a bible passage, I am pretty good. That skill I have. But if I am asked to negotiate a contract for a company, I would probably sell the farm so to speak. I am na├»ve to say the least. In areas of compromise and politics, I am lucky if I can do a somersault while others can do double back flips. Steven in this case had two wisdoms which we see. First, he know the Bible, and he could construct an airtight argument with the religious leaders of the day. Steven had a deep understanding of the scripture. The second thing Steven should was that he spoke not from a spirit of anger and hatred but from a gracious and hopeful and profoundly insightful Spirit. When we speak from the Spirit of God, we have a heart of grace and love for our listeners even when they do not have such grace toward us. Such a Spirit is very hard to contend with and Steven’s adversaries could only defeat him with physical violence.

How Did Steven get this Wisdom?
Many Christians approach the attaining of wisdom like the lottery or like it is magic. Jesus said “the men of the world are wiser with respect to money than the sons of light are with respect to the things of God and the kingdom”. Men of the world invest and look out very long-term for their long-term financial good. Then, when the time comes for sickness and old-age, the men of the world have proven to be wise. But in the kingdom when our hour of need arrives, we often are not so fortunate. The reason for this is we have not sown to learn wisdom. Steven did not just wake up one day and have the Old Testament memorized as we see in chapter 7 of Acts. Steven was a faithful man in the word and it came to his aid when he had to argue and contend for the gospel. Gifts are given but fruit is grown. Wisdom is a fruit.

Evangelism and Discipleship
I have found in my own life that I am very good at speaking to the church. If the audience starts with an understanding of the authority of scripture, I am totally at home. But for the last 12 years or so, I have neglected to maintain my wisdom with respect to bible criticism. I am not wise on these issues. So now the hour has come to interact much more with people who give no authority to the bible and I cry out for wisdom and she is not there. OOPS. I have invested poorly. This is an example of wisdom or lack of wisdom.

So how do we gain wisdom?
To gain wisdom, you must be wise about it. This post is about the wisdom on gaining wisdom. The point is to approach spirituality like you would anything else in life. In areas of our Christian vocation and our spirituality we must be wise like a wise man seeking to have a few million dollars at his retirement.

In my work, we use the scientific method for everything. One example is what is called “six-sigma” It has a method called Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. This is a great method to use for any goal even spiritual ones.
1. Define: Make a prayer list. This process might take a month or a few weeks. Set goals for your self. For example, I need to learn evangelism. What do I need to do? First I need to map out my goals and look at learning this skill like a project plan. I need to start doing it so I can learn by doing. You cannot steer a anchored boat.

2. Measure: Determine how to measure your progress and improvement. Edwards was great at this. He wrote down all his problems. No matter what the goal whether it is character or evangelism or whatever, it can be measured.

3. Analyze. This is the actual prayer time. We believe that wisdom in issues of the soul and of the miraculous (evangelism) comes from God. So we pray with respect to knowing what is going on in our lives.

4. Improve. Propose some solution and then test it. In parenting this is great. Try something new and be objective. Test it for 30 days. The proof is in the pudding.

5. Control. When you find the answer that works, codify it. Write it down. Teach it to others. Memorize the method so that you do it that way every time.

This methodology is the key to life and the key to growth. It is the wisdom of how to be wise.
God Bless,

Monday, October 04, 2004

Are Christians called to a Higher Life?

Are Christians called to a Higher Life?

This weekend I was on a camping trip with a group of church families. During one lunch time, I was sitting with a friend of ours, and we sat and read our books. She was reading a book on parenting and I was reading Edwards’ Resolutions. As I read the resolutions, I would interrupt her reading and say, “Listen to this ….” and I would read a resolution. As I read the lofty resolutions of Edwards, I could tell that my friend was a bit dismayed. Is this Edwards guy for real? Did he have any children?
Yes Edwards had eleven children and an unwavering commitment to the ideal with respect to Godliness and character.

Developing a Personal Constitution
How Jonathan Edwards approached his spirituality is completely foreign to most of us in the 21st century. This is why we need a 21st century reformation. Somehow the Christianity of the churches has not acquainted the Christian with a life of spiritual disciplines that bring transformation to the soul. Unfortunately, the church continues to reproduce itself. Are we really doing God a service if we reproduce ourselves in kind?

Looking At Edwards’ resolutions, we see a totally different approach to spirituality than we are taught from today’s pulpit.
Take these resolutions for example on His life of Prayer:
#64 Resolved, when I find those “groanings which cannot be uttered” of which the apostle speaks, and those “breathings of the soul for the longings it has” Ps 119”20 that I will promote them to the utmost of my power; and that I will not be weary of earnestly endeavoring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness

I quote 64 to quote 65
#65 resolved Very much to exercise myself in this (#64 – Crying out to God for what my soul truly longs for [i.e. God and His Kingdom and Glory on Earth]), all my life long and with the greatest openness of which I am capable, to declare my ways to Go, and lay open my soul to him, all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and everything, and every circumstances, according to Dr. Manton’s sermon on the 119th Psalm..

Edwards is resolving to pray to God in such a way that every though of his heart is laid bear before the Lord in prayer. Edwards says he resolves to pray “with the greatest openness of which I am capable”. He is resolving to fan the flames of inspiration whenever they come in prayer. In every way every aspect of his life will be covered in prayer.

Now think of the church. How many men are incapable of intimacy and opening their soul to their wives and with other men? Such a disease of the soul, such inability to communicate must be solved if we are to be made spiritually well. Edwards knew and taught that such openness and skill in communication and understanding of ones ways is learned in the secret place of prayer. We are almost taught in the church today to ignor your feelings, but the Christianity of the past taught us to transform our feelings by being brutally honest. In fact, it is in the realm of our uncontrolled and un bridled feelings that life happens.

How long did such an prayer exercise take a man like Edwards. The answer is hours and not minutes and certainly not seconds. Think if we called ourselves to account before God for every anxious thought and we resolved to be absolutely open to the Lord. If we do not control our heart, we cannot control our lives.

Look at Edwards dedication to the transformation of his temperaments;
#47; #60:
#47 Resolved To endeavor, to my utmost, to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good and universally sweet and benevolent, quite, peaceable, contented and easy, compassionate and generous, humble and meek, submissive and obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable and even, patient, moderate, forgiving, and sincere, TEMPER; and to do at all times, what such a temper would lead me to; and to examine strictly, at the end of every week, whether I have so done.
#60 Resolved: Whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination.

Here Edwards is saying that if his temperament is moved the least bit away from peace and calm or if he becomes anxious or disturbed that he will examine himself strictly. We already know that he will declare all his difficulties and fears and sorrows to God. What this means then is that whenever his temperament is less than calm and loving that he will bring this to God.

Lastly I quote resolution #24
#24 Resolved, Whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then, both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

So here is his method. If his soul is moved he will lay this before God and examine if this movement is indeed unprofitable to God’s glory. He will do this daily and weekly and monthly to see if he is truly growing in grace. If he finds that the movement in his heart provoked some outward behavior, “any conspicuously evil action”, he will ask why until he comes to the original cause. Then, he will endeavor through prayer and all his might against this original cause. Edwards has a method. He writes out all the movements of his soul and treats them like a difficult scientific problem or theological inquiry. He studies his spirituality and his soul. He solves the problem.

Note the unwavering commitment to the ideal with respect to character. This unwavering commitment to the ideal of Godliness and a map of the ideal, I call a personal constitution. We map “true north” and commit to stay the course. True north is the person of Christ in every aspect of His life. This constitution is not some one-time writing but the rule of all our years written in our own words. Here is the start of a method we can teach our congregations.

So the conclusion is that in today’s church we do not endeavor to teach men and women to live in a way that is constantly measuring ourselves against perfection. I contend that we ought to.

Whenever I am in prayer and I come to my senses, I realize that I have been ripped off by allowing the standard to waver. I have wasted precious time because I was deceived by thinking some source of joy could come from a place other than total surrender and holiness.

I encourage you, therefore, to set a standard of perfection and strive with all your might to enter it by grace and prayer. This is foreign to the 21st century Christian, but so too is power and so too is the church as morally beautiful community. Let us reason together with the Lord and see if He does not call us to a higher life.