Monday, June 27, 2005

My Personal Journey into the Heart of Meekness and Mercy

Recently, I have been quite busy with discipleship and have not been blogging these experiences. Basically, I really believe I am in a wonderful place in ministry. Before I share on the fruit of our recent discipleship efforts in our church (which you can get a taste of by listening to sermons - especially these on meekness (download) and mercy (download)), I would like to share some personal testimony.

About a month or so ago, I began teaching on the Sermon on the Mount. We decided as a congregation to use Celebrate Recovery and other 12 step material in small groups to supplement the Sunday teaching. The results have been wonderful for me.

A little background.
I have been around AA and NA for about 15 years. More recently a friend of mine in SA has been using me as a sponsor or mentor for about the last three years. This relationship has helped me get more intimate exposure to the methods of the 12 steps over the last few years. Then about two years ago a member of our congregation went into recovery and I began to meet regularly with this man. This relationship began to effect my preaching as I began to use some Big Book language from our times together of discipleship. Next, about 18 months ago another man, with 28 years in AA began attending our church. I began a regular discussion of the 12 steps with this man as well. All this led to a recent sermon and small group studies from the Sermon on the Mount which I am preaching which uses AA tools and 12 step language to give applications to the sermons. We are using these tools, basically doing the 12 steps through journaling, in our sermon based small groups.

Well this all brings me to how this is affecting me personally.

My Personal Testimony
When I was a young believer, 1986-1993, I led a truly monastic and missionary lifestyle. It is only after I lost this level of intimacy with God and effectiveness in ministry did I actually realize the value of what I had. In those years many people were being converted and our small groups were growing consistently. I led a discipleship home with some friends and ha a great deal of time for daily prayer and worship. I worked at the church but only worked about 20 hours a week. I believe that if I had understood what we really had in those days and learned to transfer this lifestyle to others, we could have had a far greater and lasting influence for good. But our church got into some hyper-Pentecostalism and I eventually found that I didn’t fit in.

As the church changed and my children got older, I found I was unwilling to raise my children in this church community. My wife and I decided to leave. I found through this process that I was quite injured emotionally. In fact, the way I dressed changed. Looking back at the process, I realize now that for years before I left that church I had begun to gossip or at least speak negatively about some of the church leadership. I was filled with negativity about the entire path the church had taken BUT I was too immature and undiscipled myself to know how to process these resentments about how leadership was directing the church. In short, my response to the process was a compromise of the life of unconditional love that I a been walking in. My heart became bitter and resentful and, now I realize, that it was this compromise with the ways of love and forgiveness that quenched my intimacy with God, my personal life of worship and devotion and ultimately led to a spiritual place that though unobservable to most was far less than I had experienced earlier.

What Actually Happened
When I was a new believer I took the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount very seriously. We are to forgive every one always. We are to turn the other cheek. We are to rejoice when we are wronged. We are to never say “what an idiot” in our hearts. Anger is sin and must be dealt with ruthlessly. To maintain this standard of heart purity, I worshipped and prayed very regularly and if I felt I had quenched the spirit in any way I would mourn deeply. In many instances, I could not sleep unless I know my heart was totally surrendered. I remember when I was in seminary that if I felt I was somehow unrepentant or lacked conscious contact with God, I would leave class at break and go pray in my room. Little did I know at the time that this life of extreme sensitivity to the orientation of my heart toward love was a good thing.

As I went through the normal experiences of life, for example my disappointment with the leadership of our church, I compromised. I allowed an unresolved resentment into my heart. I openly criticized others in my home with my wife. I became arrogant.

Recently, as I have returned to the Sermon on the Mount and studied it deeply and as I have used the tools of journaling my character faults and my resentments and began to practice unconditional forgiveness and love toward all who have ever wronged me, I have found release. I feel like I am back from a long journey like the prodigal. To outsiders, I was always the most spiritual in the bunch. Never did I stop praying and teaching and preaching. Never was I lacking inspiration or “anointing”. During the last many years, I have preached many great sermons and inspired others to go deeper with God..BUT …my character was not becoming more and more winsome. Instead, I came to a realization that in fact my usefulness to God was being undermine by my arrogance and growing frustration with others.

I have come to realize again that resentments even the most subtle, even the slightest slander of others, even the slightest gossip or lack of unconditional love can rob us of the fullness of the kingdom.

I tell you the truth..if you love only those who agree with you and support you what is that. Do not the worst idolaters do the same. I tell you pray blessing on your enemies. Make peace with your adversaries. Love and bless unconditionally. When you pray and seek forgiveness from God, first forgive all who have wronged you. Turn the other check. Go the extra mile. For your Father sends His rain on the just and the unjust, the wise and the ignorant, the good and the bad. So you too…love your enemies and then you will be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Here is the only path to intimacy with God. Here is the beginning of wisdom and the filling of the Spirit. Here only, in this place of no compromise with the perfect law of love, is the place that Jesus calls the Kingdom of Heaven.

God Bless,

Friday, June 24, 2005

Book Meme

I have been asked by Brother Maynard, the old book meme questions:

So here are my answers.
1. Total number of books I own or have owned:
I love books and like to go to my mother’s house and look at all the books, rare books etc she has. BUT I do not personally own many books. I only have a few dozen maybe 50 books that are mine in my house where I live. I own another home and in the attic there are say 250 books or so. I do like to go to book stores and look at books but I might buy only a few books a year. I went many years without reading much of anything as I found reading to interfere with actual ministry and prayer. For me at least.

2. Last book I bought:
Sermon on the Mount by Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.

I am preaching through the Sermon on the Mount and thought I should have some inspiration. I like the Lloyd-Jones far more than the Dallas Willard. I also bought all the Celebrate Recovery Stuff too that I use to make worksheets of questions for sermon based small groups.

3. Last book I read:
The 12 Steps and the 12 Traditions and the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Big Book is both a great discipleship manual and a great biography. Before that I really enjoyed “Proper Confidence” by Leslie Newbiggen. Just a note: I read some of the 12 and 12 this morning and tend to read Big Book pretty regularly. If you know how to decipher the Big Book, I think it is a fantasitc application of the Sermon on the Mount.

4. Five books that mean a lot to me:
The Little Flowers of Saint Francis- Brother Leo
I am a bit of a Francis devotee. I love the rules and the mirror of perfection and the Little Flowers and any biography that emphasizes Francis as a Reformer and evangelist.

Romans – Lloyd-Jones
Lloyd-Jones has had a big influence on me. I have read a great deal of his sermons. He led me to expository preaching, a love for biography, and reformed theology. I recommend especially the book on Romans 8 especially verses 14-16. Great use of biography

Stride Toward Freedom – Martin Luther King
This is the autobiographical story of the Montgomery bus boycott. My wife and I read this during our engagement and it filled our hearts with prayers and tears. It is a great story of courage and faith by a beautiful people.

On Religious Affections – Jonathan Edwards
I read this when I was really in a low point of my ministry. For me, these great reformed works help me understand the true goals of discipleship. Here is a great theologian and a great pastor asking hard questions about how to discern a genuine work of grace. I have seen destructive enthusiasm in my life and have been blessed by reading the wisdom of the great reformed minds of the past. These books challenge all of us to think deeply about the authenticity of our spiritual experience and relationship with God.
Alcoholics Anonymous (also known as "The Big Book")
Simply the greatest discipleship program I have ever read. Also, ranks as one of the greatest interpretations of the Sermon on the Mount. Filled with a heart of total surrender from cover to cover. The Oxford Groups from which the 12 Steps came were extreme Methodists and the program was developed during the height of modernism. I love it. Bill W. was a great evangelist to the poorest of the poor.

Total Surrender – Mother Teresa
Another life of contemplation worked out amongst the poorest of the poor.

5. Two major books when I was a kid:
The Autobiography of Malcolm X - This work culminated my youthful worldview in college (as a pagan). Prior to this book I would say my biggest influences would have been Grapes of Wrath and the music of Bob Marley. Big influences as a youth.

Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man – Joyce. I think my early readings of Joyce (I read Ulysses in high school too) got me into this awareness of my inner world. Just walking down the street reveals an infinite world of experience. Describing inner experience is key to good preaching and helping others enter into the honesty necessary for an authentic spiritual life. Joyce turned me onto the idea of describing and letting flow the inner life onto the page or into a sermon or out any creative process.

People I want to tag:


Ben Witherington

Steven Shields

mar13 at I12know

David Opderbeck

Joel Haas

Tim Theule

God bless,


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Heart of the Gospel - Mercy

Sermon on Mercy and Resentments Inventory (stream) (download)

A little more info on the sermon above. The discipleship program of Jesus is actually rather simple. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states a few root causes and heart sources of sin that are the source of all our problems.
Anger: We harbor resentments and find that we say "what a knucklehead" etc to others and our anger causes harm. The answer to this problem is rather simple. We must forgive and bless these people. Forgiving and blessing is the lifestyle of the disciple.
Pride: The fact is in many of the instances in which we have conflict with people we are to blame. So if we know our brother has something against us we need to go and "make peace". In other words, we have to confess our wrongs and humble our selves. The answer is to make apology, amends and humble oursleves.
Lust: Jesus says sexual lust is a problem that also must be dealt with ruthlessly.

In chapter 6, Jesus begins to deal with two problems fear and its offspring, greed. The love of money is the root of all kinds of problems. Pagans seek after money sex and power and well, Christians simply must confess these problems and ask for deliverance. Sex, anger and money: these are the ways of the world of which Jesus simply asks us to be honest about and ask the kingdom to come and rid our hearts of these vices.

The above sermon deals with this first problem and gives some practical ways to overcome resentments and to practice forgiveness and blessing on a daily basis.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Heart of Mercy - The Quest for More of God

The Way of the kingdom is completely contrary to everything we see with our eyes around us and everything we have ever experienced in life. The kingdom of heaven is a way of compassion and mercy in the midst of a world of enemies. The way of the kingdom is not understood apart from real injury and suffering. It is in the midst of being injured or having been injured that our hearts are revealed and unless we are filled with God, our sickness and our self is revealed. But some may say, "I am not sick. I am not lacking mercy."

To all of us Jesus says,
"You have heard it said, "Do not murder". But I say, "Anyone who is angry with his brother is subject to judgment. Again, if you say to your brother, "knucklehead" or if you say in your heart, "You fool". You are in danger."

Jesus is making it clear to us that some people manage their anger quite well. These people are wise, but that does not mean they are innocent. They know that to fight openly is not wise, but, inside, the anger and the sense of injustice is there. The heart of murder is just being managed not removed. So, if us religious folk find ourselves in a less guarded moment saying, "Yeah, whatever" or "that guys is an idiot", then know you have a resentment and such anger is not the heart of God. The way of the kingdom is not learning to manage and conceal our anger and resentments. The way of the kingdom is a positive compassion and mercy toward all. Jesus says there is no difference between a hidden resentment and murder from a spiritual perspective. The hidden resentment is simply the murder of the more sophisticated and refined among us. Hidden resentment is just managed murder. It is murder in the heart nonetheless. Do not think that such a heart is any less dangerous spiritually than crimal behavior is legally.

Our small quips of "what a knucklehead" or "what an idiot" reveal that our hearts are yet to be filled with the compassion of God to the fullest. We need to clease our hearts to be filled with God.
Resentments, even concealed resentments, cannot reside with the mercy and compassion of God. If we seek more of God, we must find a path to total elimination of our anger. The goal is to completely cease fighting for our selfish will. The goal is perfect meekness before the will of God, but so long as resentments remain, we will fail to find the capacity to cease fighting. We will continue to protect self.

How can we be saved from a heart filled with the propensity to be so easily disturbed? Why do we pick up our weapons and defend ourselves? The first step is to reveal to ourselves that the resentments are there and that unless we can replace these resentments with mercy we shall be of little use to Christ and His kingdom. Here is the beginning movements of our hearts toward finding more of God and a heart of mercy.

This path to freedom from the service of self is not an impossible road. Christ has laid out a plan and an example that we can follow to become filled with His life in our experience. In the posts ahead, we will find this path, and, if we follow it, we will find the kingdom.
God Bless,

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

I lost My Poverty - But I found it again...

Life is amazing. We can learn things even so late in the game. Well, I have been learning a wonderful practical truth, and the fruits are just wonderful.

I am coming into a greater awareness of how important an abiding sense of spiritual poverty is. What follows is my attempt to show, as feeble as it is, how freeing this awareness is and how this is the foundation of kingdom living.

Jesus taught us, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. I have attempted to define this many times, so I will not elaborate too much on the meaning of the text. Instead, I will give a few definitions and then tell my story of how this truth is so practical and revolutionary to our spiritual walk.

A Few Definitions:
1. Blessed are those who are aware of their spiritual poverty.
2. Blessed are those who abide in an orientation of dependence on God.
3. The truly happy or blessed life is to those who are beggars, spiritually speaking.
4. Blessed are those who know that they are spiritually sick and in need of constant grace to live by a power other than themselves.
5. I am the vine; you are the branches. Abide in Me for apart from me you can do nothing.
6. I am the vine; you are the branches. Abide in Me for apart from me you cannot live the life I am calling you to live to glorify the Father.
7. True happiness and a heavenly quality of life is to those who put no confidence in the flesh, as sick as the flesh is, but are continually looking for a righteousness which comes through faith.

So taking this principle, here is how I put it into a practical step:
We admit our spiritual poverty and powerlessness and accept that only on a foundation of this abiding admission can Jesus build in us a truly happy and heavenly quality of life.

My Story of Implementing this Principle
I do not feel free in this context to get into specifics so lets say my sin is I like to walk in front of moving cars.

Well, today was one of my less than perfect days. I have been walking under an open heaven for the last two weeks and just living a life that is happy. I feel completely free of jaywalking. But today, I forgot this principle that I am a sick man. I am sick. Oh!!! the liberty of knowing that I am sick. You see when I know I am sick and powerless over my weakness of character. I know I cannot just nonchalantly walk in front of cars like others. If I start this activity, for me, it becomes very dangerous.

Well, my sickness is not actually jay-walking. My issue is control of my tongue. I say things I shouldn’t. But it is as much a sickness and as insane as being tempted to jump in front of moving cars. When I see the sickness of my character defects and its fruit and I see that I am powerless, I am forced to live life from an orientation of spiritual poverty. From this awareness and openness to my sickness, I find I can see the sickness all around me. I fin seeing the sickness frees me greatly to the core of my real problem. The real problem is the self and the ego. When I see this sickness clearly, I simply do not play this ego game.

For a moment today, when I lost my poverty, I thought I could talk like a normal person ,but I cannot. You see - I am spiritually poor and sick and this lack of self-control is my sickness. Oh, the power that comes to us who realize that we have no power over such a simple thing as one’s tongue. In fact, when I see my own sickness, it is so easy to see that the whole world is insane. So many people walk in this sickness, just like I am prone to, but I have a secret. I believe that Jesus can free me and lead me, through His teachings, into a truly happy and heavenly quality of life that is totally free from this sickness.

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is a heavenly quality of life. This new life is not like the life that the world lives. No, it is altogether different. This life does not play the insane games of the world. This good life is filled with an abiding awareness of one’s sickness and mourns over it. This heavenly life is filled with meekness, for it knows that the root of sin is selfishness and ego-mania.

When I lose an awareness of my sickness that is when I find myself back in the spiritual sickness of the world and the games of self preservation and fear that all the world plays. Oh, the blessed life is not like that at all. The blessed life is a life of awareness of the insanity of the flesh and the sickness of the self. The fruit of this self is clear if we come out of our pride and are willing to see it. The evidence may be hidden, but we all know what it is. So, we confess our sickness and the insanity that comes with it. We abide in this awareness and from this abiding awareness of our spiritual poverty, we turn to a righteousness which comes from God. This awareness of our spiritual poverty alone is not the totality of the way, but it is the first step.

God Bless,

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Sermon on the Mount - Sermon Series - Sermon #3 Meekness

I have been preaching a practical series on the discipleship method of Jesus and the narrow path to true happiness and a heavenly quality of life.

Today's sermon:
Sermon #3 - Meekness - The Doorway into the Kingdom (stream) (download)

Jesus Christ brings to those who follow Him a path, a spiritual program of discipleship, that leads to a quality of life that is stunningly morally beautiful. I believe there is a method to teach others to enter into this life. The method is not just preaching but also mentoring and modeling and discussing the path together. The method involves teaching but also intimacy and openness.

Our church is developing discipleship relationships and following, as best as we know how, the teachings of Jesus. We are learning together how to be followers of Jesus.

Our series and our discipleship program of mentoring began with understanding our spiritual poverty. We build our spiritual life on a foundation of an awareness of our abiding need, but to know this we have made some helpful journaling tools (I will post these later) and go through these together in our smaller group meetings. I am finding that people are calling one another and meeting almost daily to work and confess their powerlessness. Today we moved onward into the idea of meekness and began to look at "Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth". Here is the closing prayer:

Father, I am through with the self-willed life. I cease playing God and director of my life and the lives of others. I turn my life and will over to the care of Jesus Christ, the shepherd of my soul. I embrace the path of meekness and submission. I embrace absolute tolerance, absolute love, and absolute forgiveness. Teach me and lead me. Protect me as I trust in You. I accept all of your will and believe that you will lead me into true happiness and a heavenly quality of life.

So here is the whole sermon series so far:
Sermon #1 - The Discipleship Program of Jesus and the Mission of the Church(stream) (download)
Sermon #2 - Admitting Our Spiritual Poverty and Powerlessness (stream) (download)
Sermon #3 Meekness (stream) (download)

God Bless,

Friday, June 03, 2005

Discipleship 101 - The Necessity of Discipleship

In our 95 theses project, I have been noting the need for a discipleship process in the church. The very DNA of the church needs to be one that is a discipleship making community.

Jesus gave us one job description to the disciples, “Go make disciples”. So who are you discipling? Is this one on one or one on two or three? How is it going? Is the person entering the kingdom of true happiness and a heavenly quality of life? How do you do it? What is the process? What life changing principles are you emphasizing? Does it work?

Who are you being discipled by? What is this person teaching you? Do you meet every day? Call each other? Does he or she know your life story and your limiting sins and shortcomings? Are you entering the kingdom or are you still stuck?

I ask these questions knowing that many of us can’t begin to answer these questions because we are not either discipling or being discipled.

The Need for Highly Intentional Discipleship
In Matt 4:23 – 5:2 Jesus sees the multitudes and (extracting from Matt 9) is filled with compassion and does what? Jesus seeing the multitudes as harassed and helpless (the way Jesus always sees the multitudes) begins to disciple the disciples in earnest. The passage says, “Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them saying: 3"Blessed are the poor in spirit”
Jesus’ life work (John 17) was to train the twelve. Why? Because it was specifically teaching the twelve how to enter the kingdom and find “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17) is the only way to give the kingdom to the harassed and helpless of the world. If we as believers do not possess victory over our own foolishness and sinfulness, how are we to lead the crowds into a heavenly quality of life?

So I ask you, “Have you walked down the narrow path into the life of the kingdom?” “Do you have a testimony of deliverance from our habits and limitations into true happiness?” If we do not possess a means, tried and found successful, to bring the harassed and helpless into holiness and happiness., then I dare say we are in need of learning how the teachings of Jesus work.

In the posts ahead, I will attempt to show this simple but narrow path into true happiness and a truly heavenly quality of life…

Theses #6: Those who preach and teach in the church must possess the kingdom and understand the teachings of Jesus by experience if they are to lead others into the kingdom life and if the church is to bring the Gospel of the Kingdom to the world.

God Bless,

For more listen to this sermon:
Sermon on the Mount - The Discipleship Program of Jesus and the Mission of the Church (stream) (download)

For the Love of God - Sudan

This post at Passionofthepresent is very current on the situation.

Why not give a couple hundred $$$ for peacekeepers at Save Darfur

I have only lost 5 lbs so far in my "pounds for peacekeepers" commitment to my kids.

I am looking to post tonight on all the great work the Lord is doing in our discipleship work at our church.