Monday, May 30, 2005

The Path to True Happiness and a Heavenly Quality of Life - Step 1

Below is a link to this sunday's sermon on the first two beatitudes of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Understanding these words of Jesus can help us begin down the simple path to true happiness and a heavenly quality of life.

Admitting our Spiritual Poverty and Powerlessness (stream) (download)

I am personnaly experiencing a deep season of spiritual renewal, a renewal that is leading me to work almost constantly with others to find victory!! Come along for a walk into the kingdom.

The sermon also exposites Phil 3:1-9, Matt 5:20, and John 15:3-7.

I prayfully hope this sermon helps you find the Kingdom!!
God Bless,

Friday, May 27, 2005

I'm Still Here!!

Sorry for the light posts. I have posts in my head, but I have not had the time to focus on writing them out. I am finding that sermons are more inspired lately than blog posts. I will attempt to post last Sunday's sermon which discusses:
- The 20th Century Two-Step. In this sermon, preached last weekend, I discuss the relationship between our own spiritual program (what seminaries are calling spiritual formation) and our ability to offer help to the world. This sermon is from Matt 4:23-Matt 5:3. "Jesus seeing the multitudes, (filled with compassion for He saw them as harrassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd-Matt9:35ff) turned to his discipels and began to teach them saying , 'Blessed...'"

I am working on a few observations about the need to have a leadership model based on "attraction" and not position. Coupled with this idea is what does the church attender really expect from his or her church. If leadership is based on attraction, the attractiveness of our life, then the expectation will likewise be to obtain a new life from the church. Instead, it is often that the congregant expects religious instruction or information about religion from the church. Our leadership development model and our system is not really founded on being discipled into a spiritual formation program that brings a level of "righteousness, peace and joy" that is transferable when pursued. Instead, the church raises up leaders through a system based on the communication of information. In reality, the ability to communicate information has very little to do with one's effectiveness in making disciples and the attractiveness of one's quality of life. Effective discipleship is so much more whether one has spiritual experience through the implementation of certain practices. These experiences and the ability to teach certain workable practices is the foundation of effective ministry. Only a person with such a spiritual life can possess a truly attractive life in God.

Well, I am working on just such a post...

I am taking a few vacation days next week. I hope to write some during these vacation days.

God Bless,

Friday, May 20, 2005

Further Discussion on the 20th Century Two-step and The Urgent Need of the Church

I will certainly attempt to elaborate on this phenomenon of the twentieth century two-step over the weekend as I prepare for my sermon this Sunday on the Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount, BUT, in response to a few comments, I would like to say the following:

I am not, for a second, blaming dispensationalism. I use this as an extreme example of actually making theology that justifies a lack of liberation. Paul in Romans 7 discusses the same problem of a person thinking simple knowing and presenting (Romans 6) works to find liberation from sin. But Paul says the reality is that if we just know and present without learning the basic principles of Romans 8, on-going confession and serious maintenance of our intimacy with God, then we end up back in the old misery. If I am stuck in Romans 7 then I need to realize my need for a Spirit-led program of some simple practices of relationship and community based discipleship. Instead, many Christians actually think Romans 7 is our inheritance. The need is not for a new theology BUT instead we who are liberated and walking in a program that liberates out of Romans 7 into the kingdom life, we need to go find other beggars and teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded. The need is for a discipleship program that leads people into every aspect of the life of Christ. This current need is the point of thesis #5 and the preceding theses 1-4. We do not need better theology but simple practical discipleship.

The second issue is that "but we are not all alcoholics". I use a lot of AA but that is just again to make examples that illustrate a simple path to liberation. The biblical example I am using is Paul in Romans 7 and Paul's habitual sin wasn't some life debilitating addiction. Paul's problem was covetousness. Paul found himself resenting other people possessions and power. Paul found that that old Pharisee could come back if he didn't stay in the solution of Romans 8. Therefore, Paul left the legalistic path of his religious training and found a righteousness that came straight from heaven through faith and the power of the Spirit. But the key is that this extreme make-over that Paul teaches isn't just believe and preach. Paul finds that those who believe need again to learn the basics of Romans 8, which I am elaborating as a Spirit empowered community based discipleship program as opposed to the two-stepping methods we have in the 20th century. The two stepping program is to understand Romans 4-7 and totally get lost as to what Romans 8 is about. The reason for this confusion is because the 20th Century taught us about decisions and the autonomous individual to such a great extent that we only really have a grid for Romans 6 (knowing and presenting) but just knowing and presenting doesn't work.

Jesus took the disciples to the Mount for an explanation of the discipleship program that would equip them to enter every aspect of His life. The wonderful truth, the great liberating truth, is that Jesus actually made these men look like Him. These guys entered into every aspect of the life of Jesus, and this simple kingdom walk is available to all of us. All we need to learn is a Spirituality founded on our powerlessness and helplessness (the beatitudes), a simple but ruthless grid to take constant inventory of our hearts (Matt 5) and a radical orientation toward God and the world which guarantees our abiding renewal and maintains our intimacy with God (Matt 6). Having been equipped with these extreme but simple measures, the church will find again the keys to the kingdom and will become again a light that cannot be hidden. If we again return to the basics of community and relationship-based discipleship, the church will be rebuilt and restored to its former glory.

God Bless,

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The 20th Century Two-Step

In the introduction to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' master work on the Sermon on the Mount, Lloyd-Jones says nothing is so glaring of a problem in the 20th century church than its superficiality. Specifically, the church takes an embarrassingly superficial approach to sanctification. Lloyd-Jones places the blame with dispensational theology which certainly played a role in creating this lack of an emphasis on the transforming power of the Gospel, but it seems to me that the 20th Century was the perfect storm of superficial spirituality.

I call this tendency to “skip to the end” or skip the process of sanctification altogether the 20th Century 2-step. In the 20th Century, Christianity became two basic steps: 1) Make a decision for Christ or “get saved” 2) Tell others about Jesus.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, this immediate two step process is called 2-steppin’ and it is a perfect explanation of the superficial Christianity most of us were raised in.

The AA – Two-step
AA is known as a 12-step program. The steps involve the first three steps of conversion:
1. Admit you are powerless
2. Believe there is a power greater than yourself that can save you

To do the two-step is to do these initial steps and then jump straight to step 12 which is “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to others”. But AA isn’t a two-step program. So to 2-step it is a total bastardization of the power of the program. The meat of the 12 steps is in steps 3-11. In this process, the sinner or addict or believer learns how to work a daily program to find all the keys to living a life of serenity. The “poor beggar/sinner” learns all the steps that are vital to long term sanity. The missing steps in the program of the 2-stepper include surrender and acceptance, taking a fearless moral inventory, confessing to a mentor, being willing to let God remove our character defects, asking God to remove these defects, making amends, continuing to take moral inventory, seeking to improve our conscious contact with God, and then seeking to take this program to others. Furthermore, all these practices are performed in the context of a mentoring relationship. Basically, the process is a structured discipleship process. The “two-step program” skips all the difficult steps of discipleship.
HELLO!! Sound familiar. The church has been two-steppin’ it for decades if not centuries. The bottom line is that the two-step discipleship program of Get Saved and tell others about Jesus just doesn’t work.
The Dispensational Two-Step
Whether or not we hold to a dispensational theology, we are all effected by some form of its teaching and influence. Now I am not saying dispensationalism is the only cause to the church’s problems but the dispensational theology represents the most glaring example of a two-stepper’s theology.

Dispensationalism, in a nutshell, taught that the kingdom era was not for today. Jesus presented the offer of the Kingdom to Israel but Israel rejected the kingdom. Therefore, God went to plan B – the church age. During the church age, the gospel (not the Gospel of the Kingdom) is to be preached to the ends of the earth and then Jesus will return and set-up the kingdom. In this church age dispensation, the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are not applicable as the pattern of life because those teachings are for the kingdom. The church cannot expect a “heavenly pattern of life” or the kingdom until the end. Basically Dispensationalism teaches a theology that promotes the two-step. In this age, we get saved and preach the message of forgiveness to others. I am not saying that this is the silver bullet of why we two-step it in the church but this example simply help us understand what two-steppin’ might look like.

The Decision-based Two-step
Lloyd-Jones also notes that one great example of glaring superficiality is in our evangelistic practices. Lloyd-Jones was a champion of Calvinism and wrote numerous sermons on the errors of decision-based evangelism (see his book the Cross). Decision-based evangelism is the by product of 19th and 20th century Western individualism and the worship of the phantom of individual freedom. In the decision-based worldview, God converts our will through conviction of the truth and the newly converted will now makes good decisions. The autonomous individual now goes to church gets inspired and makes good decisions. Here then is the decision-based 2-step. Gone is the role of the community in defining the identity of the believer. Gone is the role of mentoring. God is the Moral Beauty of the city on a hill. You are a light is now about the individual and not the church. Gone is the idea of the story of the community and the development of worldview in the context of being a people. Skip on that mentoring and discipleship stuff. Read a book in the privacy of your own home and make good decisions. Get saved and make better decisions. The decision-based two-step.

The bottom line is that the dance of the two-step of evangelism without discipleship is a miserable theology that leads to miserable Christians.

Which leads to my 5th thesis:

5. The discipleship program of the church must lead the believer into the quality of life spoken of in the New Testament as the Kingdom of heaven of the Kingdom of God. This discipleship must teach the believer to know, understand, and obey all the teachings of Jesus and ultimately leads the believer into conformity with the image of Christ.

Note: Having re-read this thesis, I realize the thesis sounds a little individualistic. In the context of thesis #4, (Relationship based discipleship) and in the context of the next thesis which will be on individual discipleship as a means to a greater end of Morally Beautiful Community, I ask the reader to not take this thesis out of context and criticize it for not addressing individualism. The problem of individualism is assumed.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Change and the Need for Transparent Relationships

This post will link a handful of assumed concepts.
One is that our worldview is molded in the context of our community story or our culture. This article referenced by echoes from home and also by Jason Clarke talks about the difficulty of change and the need for a supporting community or a frame if individuals are to find change. The article emphasizes that change doesn't happen, even in life and death situations, unless this corporate life is created upon which to frame the change or learn a new lifestyle. In other words, change only happens through community. Lately, we have been making our way through the fact that the church is in need of a 21st Century Reformation. In other words, we the people of God must find a doorway to change if we are to recover a powerful witness in the West.

That being the said, let me share my expereince strenght and hope.

My life is simply going through a euphoric season of growth. After 20 years of being a passionate spirit-filled Christian, I am entering into a Christian practice and joy that I simply have never experienced. What has changed you may ask?

Let me give you a little background. If you have been reading this blog for long, you know that I constantly emphasize the need for changes in our Christian practice. I really believe we know enough of the bible but we lack a discipleship culture that leads us into the experience of the kingdom and of freedom that is our inheritance. I have contemplated “How to make disciples?” and I have been discipling Christians young and old through bible study and small groups for 15 years non-stop. I have lived in intentional community. I have attended cutting edge worship focused churches for years. I have been in conservative circles, Pentecostal circles, third wave circles, reformed circles. You name it I have enjoyed and prayed with the whole body of Christ.

Over the past 5 years, I have been contemplating the life of the disciples and their relationship with Jesus. I have come to the conclusion that the key to learning is to observe the life of another and to imitate and therefore, I have attempted to implement what I call “observation based discipleship” but it wasn’t until just recently that I have discovered a few keys to making the mentoring process work.

My renewal started when I asked myself a few basic questions:
1. If the job description of the church and the Christian is to make disciples then, who am I discipling? And who is discipling me? The sad answer to this question is that I am not effectively and consistently discipling anyone and being a pastor I am not being discipled by anyone. If this fact is true, and it is, then I am not doing my job. I am not getting the job done.
2. If discipleship is based on observation what areas of my life do I need to expose to a discipler and to anyone I am willing to disciple. The reality for me is that I think the discipleship relationship can be a mutual relationship of mutual observation of one another’s lives. The true break through was contemplating the areas that I as a leader need to expose.

True transparency, even in the context of a loving confidential friendship, was a fearful proposition. I am a pastor and are not pastors supposed to be “more mature” than most. But I know I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips. My heart is filled with dead mans bones. But then it again hit me, we learn even the Spiritual truths of grace through the tactile context of grace filled relationships in the community of the church. Not only are skills like prayer and devotion or evangelism learned in community but spiritual truth like the grace of God are learned through the flesh and blood relationship of a no condemnation community. The forgiveness and grace of God is to be proclaimed to one another in the context of transparent confidential relationships. Confession in the context of a confidential discipleship relationship becomes the place of healing. So long the church has tried to teach people the love and grace of God by teaching contemplation and worship alone BUT the key is to model this grace and forgiveness in our relationships and specifically in our discipleship relationships.

So I have personally pressed into discipleship relationships. Though all these relationships are fundamentally peer relationships for we are all one in Christ, nonetheless, I have begun to cultivate such transparency with some spiritually “younger” than I and some spiritually “older” than I.

I have come to understand that the flip side of the doctrine of justification through faith is the practice of confidential transparent relationships where acceptance is assured and fear is driven out by unconditional love and the proclamation of forgiveness. Not only is the church to believe that there is no condemnation in Christ but the church is to become a “no condemnation zone”. It is in there discipleship relationships that we come in a tactile way to learn the grace and forgiveness of God proclaimed and experienced in the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Therefore my fourth Thesis is;
Thesis #4:
Since the job description of the church is to make disciples, a central aspect of community life must be loving discipleship relationships based on transparent accountability and which constitute a primary means, if not the primary means, of modeling authentic grace-based relationship.

A core aspect of the discipleship relationship is that of knowing and being known in the context of the living Christ and His word. Such relationships abide in an awareness of the Gospel of abiding and eternal forgiveness and the grace of God.
God Bless,

Blog Swarm Update and Other Opportunities to Love the Least of These

Catez at Allthings2All is the hub of the Darfur blog swarm. Plese submit posts by Midnight EST this Sunday May 15th. More Info here.

Also, Tod Bolsinger is launching a long term development program in Malawi in cluding Child Sponsership with World Vision. Go to this link to support.

Both of these projects, the Blog Swarm for the crisis in Sudan and the long-term village/nation sponsership campaign at SCPC, are great examples of blogging for the world. Let's use the new media for the mobilization of the wealth of the West for the sake of the world.

Also, I am doing some discipleship with our kids. My children have decided they want to be "a missionary family". Also, my wife and I desire to disciple our children in the compassion of Christ. So I am doing a fun campaign called: "Pounds for Peacekeepers". I am going to give a sum of money for each pound I lose. So basically, "Daddy isn't eating dinner because he is losing weigh for the refugees in the Sudan" will become part of our dinner table ritual. Also, I weigh myself in the morning and then write a check if I lost any weight. The whole idea is to make compassion part of the culture of our home. Pretty cool lesson plan for this month in the on-going discipleship of our kids.
God Bless,

Monday, May 09, 2005

Darfur, Our Children, and Matt 25

I am just beginning to educate myself regarding the on-going refugee and genocide crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan.

As well as learning about the current crisis, I am helping lead a parenting class at our church. In our parenting class, we discussed how would you want your children to answer the question, "My parents taught me ___________________". My wife and I agreed, we desire our kids to answer that question, "My parents taught me to be compassionate toward the poor". Even deeper than that my desire would be that the care for the poor would be central to our family's worship of Jesus.

Jesus said to the righteous in His parable of the sheep and the goats, "When I was naked, you clothed Me. When I was hungry, you gave me food. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink."

So I have decided to take the following steps:
1. My wife and I are going to pre-screen, "Hotel Rwanda" tonight and see if it is a good video for my older children to watch.
2. I have ordered a copy of this video from "Human Rights Watch"
3. We will feed Jesus and clothe His nakeness by giving to World Vision here.
4. We will begin a new goal:

The Double Tithe Goal
I am going to challenge people to begin giving regularly above and beyond their normal giving to the church to give specifically to the poor and to development. As families, the goal is to live as simply as possible, before our children, and give all this extra savings to charity. What a beautiful way to make compassion a daily part of our worship life.

The situation in Darfur as far as I can tell is that the region is living under an often breached peace plan. The problem is that the region needs more African troops. To support the call by Human Rights Watch and others for more African troops in the Darfur region go here. Passion of the Present suggests that this is the best way to spend our dollars to help the stop the on-going genocide in Dafur. Students at Harvard in April had an Adopt a Peacekeeper Campaign using the above Genocide Intervetion Fund.

To help refugees with immediate needs go to World Vision.

God Bless,

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Darfur - Starting a Blog Storm

I am going to begin focusing the blogosphere's attention on Darfur, Sudan by findng and linking to other's who are seeking to bring attention to this on-going tragedy.
AllThings2All writes a post on the crayon drawings of Darfur children that show the pathos of the pain in this region.

A good information site is here.
And Here

As I learn more, I will post more.
My goal is to both raise awareness and to raise money. We would like to have a second relief concert this summer. If you know any bands that would like to play. Let me know.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Sin, the People of God, and the Gospel of Liberation

The most climactic and ecstatic chapter of all the bible is Romans 8. In Romans 8, Paul ends by declaring that the children of God will reign over all creation, and all of creation itself will be renewed as the reign of the children of God is revealed. Revolutionary stuff.

The context of this passage is that it is written to a small band of believers who live at the height of the hyper-optimism of Caesar worship and the Pax Romana. A modern example would be to think if Hitler won the war and was about 50 years into the 1000 year reign of the Third Reich. The uber-people, the Romans, had won all the wars and their megalomanic leaders were proclaiming themselves gods that could bring an eternal peace and prosperity to the Roman people. To this power drunk and victorious people, Paul and the Christians simply announced that these fascist Romans are crazy, pagan nutballs.

The early Christians refused to exercise any physical force but simply stood up heroically and proclaimed that Jesus was the true Lord and that freedom and liberty FROM SIN only came from Jesus. For this boldness, the Christians were killed.

I want you to think about this for just a second. As Paul proclaims Jesus as the Lord and true king with a mandate from God to deliver all mankind, he gives us the very personal story of Romans 7 and his personal struggle with sin.

So often when we think of our corporate mission, we think of the mission to proclaim the gospel. We think about our war against the culture and its powers. We think about evangelism, but Paul isn't talking about our mission to bring Christ to others but our mission to defeat sin. Liberation is always liberation from the sinfulness of this fallen age. The entire strength of our proclamation is that Jesus liberates from sin and that we are the liberated people who have been given a new life that the world cannot give us.

This being true, how empty is the Gospel if we do not actually possess victory over the enemy. It would be like going to an AA meeting and the guy who is sharing his experience, strength, and hope is drunk. That is what the church is like today when we do not have victory.

So, how strange it is that the church is not working to develop a new model, a new discipleship program, that leads the church into her victorious inheritance. How strange it is that our corporate identity is not that of the people who are learning the way of victory together and who walk in this glorious liberation from sin?

How do we come together then and the church function as the place where we are "putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit"? The great eschatological reality is that by the Spirit's power we possess salvation from sin. This liberation does not come from the law but from the Spirit. Yet, do you know the details of how we by the Spirit find this liberation? Does your church teach you the steps of this liberation from sin? Are you corporately finding this liberation and proclaiming it to the world?

These steps and the how to is for next time..
God Bless,

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Discipleship 101 - Putting to Death the Deeds of the Body BY THE SPIRIT

WARNING:Listen to this sermon at your own risk!(stream)! (download)
We have been discussing lately the vital need in the church for a discipleship methodology, a learning community, that is effective in bringing Christians into the new life and the new story of deliverance from all that ails us.

It is a huge paraigm shift in the church to begin to see that the process takes place, not between the individual soul and the Lord, but in the context of community. The bible has a word for this deliverance process being worked out in the context of community. It is called confession of sin (1 John 1:9)

Do you have a confidant to whom you are accountable? Do you have someone who you have confessed all your shortcomings and who knows your private life? Have you confessed and are you continually confessing the exact nature of your shortcomings and sins to this person? If yes, I will bet you are experiencing new life and a new deliverance. The body of Christ makes real to us all the deliverance we have in "theory". The body lives out the "no condemnation" reality which is true in the Spirit. The body makes forgiveness and the kingdom real.

Watch that 5th step. Its a doosie!!

Here is a sermon on the Path to Victory over Sin!!!! (stream) (download)

This sermon is the proclamation of all we have been discussing here regarding the "New 95 Theses Project"

God Bless,