Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Best Apologetic – The Spiritual Way

This post is part of a dialogue at Jollyblogger which began at Glenn Lucke of Common Grounds and continues at Bolgblog.
Update: more on the subject here
Here is my take on this important topic:

How to show other poor beggars how to find bread?
When we think of apologetics, as Christians, we often think of the academic and intellectual method of making convincing arguments for the reality of Jesus and the existence of God. I find that this method is not very effective at least it is not effective for me.

In fact, I believe this method gets the proverbial cart before the horse. The intellectual method tries to have a person be able to explain a faith that they have no experience of. It is like trying to get a person to explain the physics of a double back flip when they don’t know how to do a summersault. Being able to explain the physics of a double back flip is nice and all but it has very little to do with actual gymnastics. So too understanding a philosophical or evidential argument for the existence of God and the validity of a belief in miracles like the resurrection is pretty advanced explanation for someone who probably doesn’t even understand how to be nice to his children or how to nurture and love his spouse or control his sexuality or whatever the case.

There is in fact a much better way to lead someone into the kingdom of God. Imagine you are talking to someone. It could be anyone. When speaking to this person, attempt to discern his spiritual health. We are like doctors. Ask a few questions that could diagnose his spiritual health? “Are you married?” “Are you happily married?” People complain a lot. When they complain, it is easy to say. “What do you think is the best response to this problem?” Or “Are you stressed?” If at this point I can share that I too used to have this same problem, then we might just have an opportunity.

Personally, my favorite topic is marriage. Jesus has taught me how to do marriage really well. I cannot imagine anyone being happier than I am in marriage. In the world around us, sixty percent of all marriages fail. We, therefore, look for opportunities to help heal a marriage by addressing spiritual problems!! If I apply simple spiritual principles like forgiveness or meekness and help heal a man's marriage, I will have far more authority in that person’s life than if I know the cosmological argument.

Jesus Heals Anonymously
Here is a great key!! The blind man in John 5 had to go back to Jesus and ask Him His name after the healing. We can heal a persons body or soul through the power of Jesus and the person's relationship with Jesus can grow as a result. A clear mind with respect to seeing and knowing God is often the result of having our soul cleansed along spiritual lines. By spiritual lines I mean with respect to love and forgiveness and mercy. As a person learns the ways of Christ, this purity leads to seeing and knowing God. A sick spirit will be confused theologically. Attempts to argue theology with a person who is spiritually sick is crazy making. First get the person to take the log out of their eye and then they will see clearly.

The Pure in Heart shall see God
Often a person may have a very marginal and nominal faith, but as he or she becomes more spiritually healthy and begins to fall in love with the word of God, forgiveness and love, he will begin to get more sober minded with respect to his worldview. This method is looking to minister to a person’s spirit and to nurse them to spiritual health as the means to changing their minds. It is rather simple for a person who is finding restoration of their lives to see that the source of their healing is the Savior of the world. Isn’t this what Jesus did? He healed and then he revealed.

In my own life a few years back, I was driven out of my work in an ambulance. I was complaining of chest pains. It turns out that this was the result of stress. At the time, I had one job and five kids but I had put myself under a lot of pressure. Today my life is totally different. My circumstances aren’t any different. I still work at the same job. In fact, I have since then began to also pastor a church. I now have six kids. In many ways, my life is far more busy, but in all this I am far less stressful. In fact my testimony now is that I have found the path to peace. I have a testimony.

Peace for a Stressed Out World
If anything characterizes our world, it is busy and stressed out. If we are walking in the kingdom, then we possess in our daily lives “righteousness, peace and joy in the holy spirit”. Of course, we must learn the principles of Jesus to learn how to enter the kingdom in such a way as to have an authentic testimony. But the point is we, if we know how to do it, can lead people into a life of victory over stress. No one on the planet can do this better than a follower of Jesus Christ. Each one of us has a different calling. Jesus has given us victory over different difficulties. Some can share the path to victory over anger with the guy next door. Some can share about how to control the tongue or how to control our thought life or how to find victory over depression. Find someone who has a common problem and share with them the path to victory. We are all just beggars showing beggars where to find bread. Feed them and they will come to know the one who is the bread of life.

God Bless,

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Importance of Taking Action

Often when I begin teaching, I begin with the following questions:
Who is discipling you?
Who are you discipling?
What method of discipleship do you use?
How do you pray? (what method of prayer do you practice and teach others?)

But, lately, I am learning that the most important question of these four, for me and I think for all of us, is the first. "Who is discipling us?

Who is discpling me is of first importancce because it is far easier to know and understand our spiritual program and what steps a person needs to take to grow in their relationship with God than it is to actually do it ourselves. The biggest hinderance to spiritual growth is the difficulty of taking action. Our lethergy has inertia, and we often need a coach to encourage us to take even the simplest actions. Just like any coaching relationship, the program is coaching by assignment, and it is vital, life or death, that we do certain assignments if we are to overcome our lethargy and in turn spiritually grow.

For example, Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount the following:

Matt 7:7"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 12"So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Follow the logic of this passage. Jesus says God is a generous giver. The father knows what you need, and he provides. Even evil people provide for their kids, therefore…..therefore what???

Therefore, “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also for them”. But, I thought Jesus was teaching on prayer. Shouldn’t it say..therefore, keep asking and keep seeking, like so many people preach. Focus on your needs and pray for what you need, and God will give it to you. No!!!! That is not the message. The message is, "therefore, know that your needs are taken care of and instead turn your eyes to the needs of others." DO TO OTHERS what you need, and God will provide.

Because God is a good Father and fathers look after the needs of their kids, you are now free to simply ask for your needs to be met and then FOCUS ON THE NEEDS OF OTHERS.

Another possible way to say it is because God is focused on your needs, you can focus on the needs of others. This principle is completely liberating IF IT IS ACTED UPON!!!!

This otherly focus is a total revolution and a totally new orientation toward life. The results are unexpected. We focus on the needs of others and actually experience the freedom of knowing our needs are cared for. Hmmm??? That makes no logical sense. Yes, I don't really care to explain how it works. All that matters is that it does work.

Lets say we are down and feeling a little needy. What is the answer?? Call someone in need and serve them. Do unto others as you would like done unto you!! This fool has tried it thousands of times, and I have never found Jesus’ teaching to fail me.

Taking action is the key to our spiritual growth. It is not important to really understand how it works. The kingdom is like a farmer who sows seed and whether it is day or night somehow the seed sprouts. How it works he does not know. It seems the soil produces fruit of its own, but when the harvest comes he reaps the harvest.

That is exactly what I have found to be true. We must take action whether it makes sense or not and just trust the commandments of Jesus. He who practices and teaches other these commands will be great in the kingdom.

So find someone and ask them to help you out of your spiritual lethargy. Spritual change comes from taking action. Find a friend to coach you and push you, like a coach, to take action. Find someone in need. Go to the highways and byways if need be and begin to take action. You will find that before you are half way through the process, you will be amazed at the results. So, get a coach, and reap a harvest of peace and joy.

God Bless,

Friday, August 12, 2005

Discipleship 101 – A Practical Guide to Entering a Truly Heavenly Quality of Life

NOTE: This is the first big post I have written in awhile. This post I think is the first good post I have written in awhile as well. It is very long, but I encourage people to read the whole thing and even print it out. I will possibly not post again for a while as this post says everything I have been trying to say for the last few months. To hear the sermons that preceded this post and that make up this post please see our church's sermon page.
God Bless, brad

Discipleship 101 – A Practical Guide to Entering a Truly Heavenly Quality of Life
How it Works
The Sermon on the Mount maps out Jesus’ spiritual principles for entering a truly heavenly quality of life. Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection makes access to spiritual power possible for all who believe. Discipleship is the path to abide in that power. This power comes in the form of a relationship with God and an awareness of His care for us. This relationship with the God of perfect love drives out all fear and all the evil that comes as a result of our fear-based living.

Without conscious relationship with God, we are constantly anxious relatively speaking. This natural alienation from God leads to such a spiritual poverty that we can’t live morally beautiful lives. Therefore, the entire end of Jesus’ spiritual program is to learn how to remain in conscious contact with God. The discipleship program gets us back into experiencing the Fatherhood of God. The fruit of this relationship is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control, etc.

For example, Jesus asks us to turn the other cheek. Maybe we can do this for awhile, but we just can’t take the pressure of life and, eventually, we gossip or slander somebody. The source of the slander or gossip is a lack of peace. Intimacy with God brings the peace that really makes the turning the other cheek process rather simple and not at all impossible. Apart from God though, it is totally impossible, and anyone who has actually tried to be holy and miserable at the same time knows it is completely futile. This tendency to lose our emotional sobriety is what we are really powerless over.

Before you begin find a person who can be for you a faithful set of eyes. It is best to find a person who has himself implemented this spiritual program. If this process is somewhat new to you and your faith community, have no fear. Find a friend anyway and may the Lord bless you.

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit and Blessed are those who Mourn – Powerlessness and Faith
Jesus begins His introduction to the “how to enter the kingdom sermon” by saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. The doorway into the kingdom, or a heavenly quality of life, is to come face to face with your spiritual poverty. The one whose life has become really unmanageable and who is miserable to the point of mourning has a huge advantage. The poor miserable mourner, who realizes that he or she will never change and feels totally hopeless, has a great advantage when it comes to spirituality. For those of us who are “stuck in a moment and we can’t get out of it” have two options: 1) die miserable or 2) seek the kingdom for a solution to our powerlessness. This is what poor in spirit means. Someone who realizes that spiritually or morally they are totally bankrupt and that there is no way out is called “poor in spirit” or one who “mourns”.

But what about us who aren’t quite that messed up? What do we do? The answer is raise your standard and your expectation. Paul says "not that I have reached my goal but I press onto the goal (perfection) to which I was called". Paul was a pretty together guy and very spiritually mature when he wrote those words, but his goal was so high he still said "therefore, I put no confidence in the flesh but seek a righteousness that comes through faith". In other words, he sought a righteousness that was so high it could only be attained through the power of an abiding awareness of God and His power. So he says he seeks "to know God and to have fellowship with His sufferings and to know the power of His resurrection". Through our spiritual program of discipleship, we passionately pursue a perfection that only intimacy with God and fellowship with the cross of Christ can give us.

Jesus says it this way, "Your righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees", and, if that doesn’t get us, He says "be perfect (in unconditional love) as your heavenly Father is perfect". This passionate pursuit of perfection what it means to "hunger and thirst for righteousness". All this is intended to drive us into a need for a quality of life that only God can give us. So no matter where we are, we all are poor in spirit if we set our standard high enough.

The Big Principle – Meekness
If we are seeking a new quality of life, we must totally change our approach to life. If we are truly spiritually poor, it should not be hard to realize that our approach to life wasn’t working. It is time to change our mind about how life works and how happiness works. Here is the big principle that Jesus’ program rests on "it is the meek that inherit the earth”. Meekness, meekness, meekness, meekness, meekness. That is what Jesus discipleship program is all about. Total death to self is the path upon which He leads us. The meekness step is a killer!!! The meekness step is a step we will take every day if we are to remain in conscious contact with God. Meekness as the key to Godliness is Jesus’ ethic of death and the cross.

Here is a huge key. You are not meek. Meekness is to cease fighting for self and to completely cease all manipulation and control. Cease trying to change the world around you to conform to your plan. Human nature, as it is lived out in the real world, is driven by two principles: pride and fear. Pride is the foolish belief that your way is right. "I know what is best and every body else ought to listen to me". Another more humble type of pride is called self-pity. Self pity says "the world has wronged me and it just isn’t fair. Please treat me better or I will get depressed". This is just a passive way to tell the world to change. Whatever your form of pride is it isn’t meekness. The human condition is simply such that sooner or later, we come to realize that we are self-centered. Meekness is the opposite of being self-centered. Meekness is allowing the world to be the way it is and not playing all the games we play to try and change people. We must learn to be absolutely tolerant before we can learn to love. Just an aside. Love isn’t passive like meekness, but any true love most first learn to be meek. Meekness is death to self; love is the positive life of God. If we mere mortals are to be filled with God’s love, we must first die to all the selfish and self-protecting impulses of our ego. This total death and this ceasing to fight all people and all things is meekness.

So we take this step. Having come to realize that we need spiritual power, we change our mind with respect to how we are going to approach life. We place before us a vision to be meek. But meekness is not just death to self. True Kingdom meekness is to exchange our self-centeredness for God-centeredness. So instead of having no will at all, we do two things, we lay aside all self-will and we turn our lives and wills over to the care of God. True, we will no longer constantly fight for ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we will live our lives uncared for. Someone has to care for me, and that someone is God the Father. The meek person isn’t needy and clingy. The meek person is the person who can say, "even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." Hmm how do you do that?? "For thou art with me!!!". God has my back. That is the power that enables us to be meek.

Now here is the problem…I am not meek. This step is not becoming meek. This step is accepting meekness as the new principle that will guide our lives. We do not make a decision and all of a sudden become meek. We are completely powerless to become meek, for we are not naturally meek. What we are doing is changing our mind about meekness. I make a decision to change my whole approach to life. I will cease fighting, and I will trust in God to fight all my battles. Now the entire rest of the life of the disciple and our spiritual program is to become, through the grace of God, more consciously aware that “thou art with me” so I can fear no evil and live in peace and meekness.

So how does Jesus teach us to become filled with this peace that surpasses understanding? How does Jesus empowers us to face the lions and to take up our cross and live a life no longer seeking our will but God’s will? How can we become God-centered and servants of the Love of God? Well, the first answer is "mercy".

Blessed are the Merciful for they shall receive mercy. – Moral Inventory
The real meat of the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is about being merciful. Do not injure other people!! Do not say “you fool”. Do not say return evil for evil. Do not resist an evil person. Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Forgive, forgive, forgive. “How often?”, we all ask. Well, how about this option. Set a 490 person cushion. Begin your day by giving 490 people the permission to sin against you, and you will show then mercy. Then, when they sin against you, you just say, “Oh yeah, I gave him permission to do that”. But, to actually be able to do this, we first must have God must work on us.

To become merciful, we must let God remove all the anger in our whole being that is stored up in our heads from our whole life.

If we are to live in God’s love, we have to get rid of all anger that is in us. This residual anger is called resentments. To do this step, I suggest taking action. We must be very intentional about getting rid of our anger. Jesus is pretty clear on this matter of forgiveness. In the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus gives an example of a man who after having been forgiven remembers that other people owe him. So, he goes out and demands justice. In this case, it is some money. The point is that back in this man’s past there were people who had debts to him. To this fact which is part of human life, Jesus says, “Forgive all your debtors”. PERIOD. This step is discipleship 101. In other words, go through every resentment in your life and forgive them. Forgive them and in fact bless them. Bless them that hurt you and then you will be called sons and daughters of God.

The only way to be filled with the love of God is to rid our lives of all anger, resentments and unforgiveness of any kind. It is best to be very thorough about this step. In fact, as you go through this process practice de-escalating the conflict by finding where in this relationship you might have had some wrong. For example, I have a resentment because that guy broke my lawn mower and never paid me back. I forgive him and I bless him. In fact, I realize the only reason I have a resentment is because of greed. If I had no greed at all, then I would never have been upset about the lawn mower.

HUGE KEY HERE!!! This process is not about figuring out why you are a depressed or angry person or why you have fears or why you are greedy and feel the compulsion to worry about finances. Saying to yourself,

What a great insight. I am fearful because I was raised poor and my parents never had any money, and, so, I fear poverty. For this reason, I am more prone than most to worrying about money. Therefore, I have a hard time forgiving people who don’t pay me back. I panic because such a threat triggers me”.

This type of thinking may be entirely true, but it is worthless to help you become more merciful. Avoid like the plague being too intellectual and trying to figure out why you are the way you are. The fact of the matter is we are self-centered, and each of us has a story of how our self-centeredness came to fruition. The story is interesting and is an important part of sharing our story, but knowing why we are the way we are is not the solution. Forgiving and blessing and confessing our faults is the actual solution. It is not what went into us that makes us unclean and in need of house-cleaning. It is what came out of us and out of our hearts that made us unclean. Our spiritual problem is never caused by what happened to us but is caused by our response to it. We responded bad because we lacked the tools to respond in a way that can keep us in a loving and peaceful state of mind. If we were kids and we were horribly hurt, this injustice created in us a warped view of life and a broken response to life. Forgiveness, blessing and confession will heal us. It seems like it shouldn’t work, but sow mercy and you will receive mercy. That is the key to this step.

Blessed are the Pure in Heart for they shall see God
Of all the sayings of Jesus, this one is one of the most precious. This saying of Jesus Christ’s has with it the greatest of all promises. This saying says that if I am cleansed by God of all my impurities, if through confession, my heart is pure before God, then I will come to know God. I will begin to see God in all areas of life. I will become daily and regularly conscious of the presence of God. It is this awareness that God is good all the time and that all the time God is good and that this GOOD GOD is with me that is the power to bear fruit to God’s glory. Jesus said “if you abide in me and my words abide in you, you will bear fruit”. Jesus is saying that if we obey His teachings (take certain steps of discipleship) and we, through these steps abide in relationship with Him, then we will have the fruit of the spirit or be salt and light that is morally distinct.

So far we have dealt with resentments and anger. Now we must deal with the impure lusts of our heart. Again all these lusts and impurities are the result of a self-centered and self-protecting way of life. We may think we are not this way, but relative to Jesus Christ, who lived the example of true authentic humanity, we lacked the God-centered life that can be truly called the kingdom of heaven. So, press onto purity and continue this fearless moral inventory that we began when we looked at our resentments.

After the paragraph in the Sermon on the Mount that deals directly with anger, Jesus brings up sexual lust. Sex is a great gift from God, but if we allow our sexuality to become a means of satisfying our self or our ego or if we use sex to gain some form of security, then our sexuality is just another form of self-centeredness. Sex is a powerful instinct, and, under the reign of Jesus, it is a doorway into lifelong relationship with a member of the opposite sex. But, under the influence of the self it is just lust.

In the same way that we made a list of all the people we had anger toward, it is important that we come clean in the area of our sexual relations. I suggest making a list of any person in which you used sex to meet a selfish desire. The sanctification of our sexuality is vital to any spiritual program in which we are going to become, in every area of life, an instrument of the Love of God. For men, how have you ever been inconsiderate? Think of this inventory in terms of each sexual act not just each person. Do we treat sex as an appetite to be met? Do we require our spouses to comply to meet our need? Sex is to be the celebration of our covenant love and our lifelong relationship. Is sex all too often divorced from real relationship? Journal and admit how sex has become impure in your life. Again, like all other steps this step is a changing of our minds or a changing of our perspective. Our understanding of sex must change. This sexual inventory step for some will be difficult, but we must be willing to allow God to be the center and the master of every area of our lives.

Of all the topics of the bible that gets the most ink, money ranks number one!!! How we relate to money and how we use money is a spiritual matter. The money issue is central to our spirituality because money is the primary means by which we attempt to find peace and happiness apart from God. Jesus’ teachings are extremely clear with respect to money. All of us compromise these teachings, and, again, we must realize that we seek spiritual progress and not spiritual perfection. We all sin and act selfishly at times. These acts of self-centeredness are not excusable nor should we rationalize our compromises away, but, at the same time, we cannot let our momentary lapses into our old ways overwhelm us with guilt.

Here is Jesus’ spiritual admonition with respect to money. He says, “Do not store up treasures on earth”. He also says “do not seek what you may eat and drink and how you clothe yourself for these things the pagans seek for”. What this means is simple. These sayings mean what they say. Do not store up treasures on earth nor seek after stuff. A simple definition of a treasure is a luxury item. The pursuit of luxury will completely undermine any spiritual program. We are seeking love and meekness. We are seeking to live a life totally dedicated to being helpful to God. What is more helpful to God another pair of spiffy shoes or providing funds for missions work and charity work around the world? If we paused for a minute, then we need to take a moral inventory and journal and ask ourselves a simple question: Is all our money dedicated to the kingdom of God? Do I possess anything that could be considered a luxury item?

Again, this step is a step of both a step of changing our mind and our perspective and a step of action. The aim of this step is to learn to live entirely without worry and fear and to live one day at a time in the service of God.

Jesus tells a parable about how a worldly and unsanctified use of money can undermine the disciple’s saltiness or moral distinction. He says the Kingdom is like a sower that went out to sow seed. He sowed seed on four types of soil. The seed is the message of the kingdom and the availability of a heavenly quality of life that brings glory to the Father. The soil is the heart of those who here the message. Sometimes the seed is sown and the person’s heart is so hard they don’t hear the message at all. Other times the seed is sown in soil that is a mixture of rock hardness under the surface and a thin layer of acceptance. In such cases, the hearer rejoices for a while, but then the call to discipleship becomes too difficult and they fall away. Other times the soil is sown amongst thorns and weeds that choke out the seed, and, though the hearer sticks to the program, the plant that grows never bears any fruit. This is the person who is dedicated to love God BUT this person is deceived by the deceitfulness of money and the worries of this world. This is the person who can surrender to every spiritual principle except he or she cannot let go of their money. Because money is so central to the life of the unbeliever this person’s life has NO MORAL DISTINCTIVENESS and they bear NO FRUIT TO THE GLORY OF GOD.

I suggest that we journal and take moral inventory on this issue of money. If you doubt the power of this step and the role of money in our spiritual walk, I suggest trying something. Jesus gives a direct example of something to do to learn how to get delivered from the deceptiveness of money. He tells us to practice giving charity in secret. Try this! Regularly do the following. Take a significant portion of your financial savings and give it to the poor without letting anyone know about it (except maybe your spouse). Do this on a regular basis, and see if this helps you learn a new perspective on the role of money in your walk with God. I guarantee you that as you begin this practice that you will begin to worry less about money, and you will come to know less fear in your life. Consider the lilies of the field. They toil not nor do they worry, yet God cares for them. How much more valuable than lilies are you. So, you, seek first the kingdom and God will care for you.

Now that you have completed your moral inventory, it is time to experience one of the great blessings of life. The greatest blessing in life is relationship. God is a trinity, and His very nature is that of loving relationship. We, having been made in the image of God, are likewise made for loving relationship. This next step is the sowing of honesty, and it reaps the reward of being able to have intimate relationships. This step is simple. Share all your moral inventory with yourself, God, and another human being.

This step can be said to be a sacramental step. In this step, we have another human being, in total confidence, listen to our confession of all our defects of character. Then, this person accepts us and forgives us and rejoices with us in our spiritual progress. This step is sacramental because this person is giving flesh and blood to how God is responding to our spiritual progress in following Jesus Christ. The kingdom has truly come for us, and we are entering a quality of life that we never thought possible. The world to the natural person seems harsh and violent, and prior to our spiritual awakening we too felt alienated and alone in the world. The world is threatening, and life is difficult. But, now, we enter into a new city whose architect and builder is God, and the glory of the Lord seems to shine all around us. We no longer feel threatened by people nor does life seem to present baffling problems. Instead, we have found shalom or peace. It is in this confession that many of us feel the presence of God for the first time.

So, set a date and a time to get together with your discipler, your spiritual helper, and confess all the darkness that has been in your soul.

Making Amends
At this point, we may find that we have harmed people in our self-centeredness and our discipler or program helper should council us as to whether we need to make amends. Making amends is again an act of kingdom work that can relieve us of the burdens of our past. In time, we will find it easy to live without worries and fears and to, in fact, live in conscious contact with God. In quite a short time we will find that we can truly say we have a heavenly quality of life. Making amends, if needed, is intended to empower us to be completely free from our past and to be empowered to “not worry about tomorrow”. Such freedom is the inheritance of the Christian and we hope you find it. Jesus teaches us to live one day at a time, and making amends can be an important part of that especially if we left behind us a lot of wreckage before we came into the kingdom.

Daily Maintenance

Now, we are to the daily maintenance steps of our discipleship process or program. What we have essentially done is learned, in a thorough manner, the principles of powerlessness, faith, meekness, mercy, and purity of heart. In this process, we have found a quality of life that can only be described as an abiding relationship with the Father. This relationship with God, through the Gospel and the forgiveness and power of Jesus, bears fruit that reveals to those around us that something has changed for the better in our lives. We are seeing that God has begun to grant us power over all the things that used to control us. We have not addressed the problems of our life directly. We have not learned how to say no to specific sins, and yet, we find the overwhelming power of sin is greatly dissipated in our lives. We have not learned how to earn more money or how to be successful in life, and yet, we have an abiding sense of security. Now that we have had an extreme makeover of our live, we must learn how to live in this new realm day by day.

The Lord’s Prayer – The Greatest Tool We Have

Right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches how we ought to pray. This prayer is for me the greatest tool to daily maintain our new approach to life. In my own life, I have had seasons where I completely compromised my principles and let either resentments, the deceitfulness of riches, or other forms of selfishness block the power of God in my life. I say this to help us remember that we must learn a daily maintenance program, or, in time, the ground we have gained can be lost. Praise God there is grace to come back, and we can go through the whole eye-opening, liberating process again. In fact, we may need to do a thorough inventory and confession and make amends every year, BUT it is best to do this on a daily basis.

The purpose of prayer is twofold. First, we learn or practice how to orient ourselves properly toward God and life, and secondly, we consciously ask and receive power so that we can live the vision God has placed before us.

Our fundamental problem in life is that we lack power to live as God created us to live. God has created us to be His body and His instruments of love and peace on earth. We are to expand the rule and reign of Jesus Christ by making disciples of people from every nation. We are to bring God’s power in the gospel to everyone and we are to teach the discipleship program Jesus gave us to other powerless people. To even begin to do this mission, we have to know His saving power and His discipleship program ourselves. To be actually able to live the life, we have to orient ourselves properly before God and life and we need to learn to receive power form God to live out the life of Christ which we are attempting to imitate.

Jesus gave us one of the greatest gifts to our daily happiness in the Lord’s Prayer. Before we start, I would like to say a word about how long I think this prayer should take. Actually, I think it takes less time than I used to think.

My early years as a Christian were developed in a rather hyper-spiritual environment. A parade of “prayer warriors” and “prophets" were presented to the church, and I came to believe that prayer was this heroic feat to be performed by the few that were truly dedicated to God. I embarked on this journey, and, as a single man, I enjoyed a life of total surrender and intimacy with God. I was very fortunate in that I was graced with a love for the teachings of Jesus, and, so I learned great spiritual principles to base my life on. This life was indeed very fulfilling and contains for me some of the greatest memories of my life BUT then I got married.

For the next few years, I longed to get back to that kind of life of prayer. I thought I wasn’t spiritual because I couldn’t pray like I used to. Then I learned a simpler and actually far more effective life of prayer. Now, I would suggest that prayer is not intended to be a big heroic effort. Leave the heroics for the rest of the day. Prayer is actually rather simple. Certainly, at times a day of prayer or extended times of prayer and fasting are quite helpful, but, for our daily life, I think a private and intentional time of focused prayer based on the Lord’s prayer at the beginning and the end of the day of any length is great.

Father Hallowed Be Thy Name
The Lord ’s Prayer opens up with the death blow to self-centeredness. Father, let my life be centered on promoting Your and Your name and not my name. The Lord ’s Prayer then opens with a reminder of the principle of meekness and marries the idea of meekness with its faithful brother in virtue – worship. “Father, you alone are worthy of praise. May your name be hallowed and respected and honored” The flip side to this confession of our God-centered life is that we do not seek respect or honor for ourselves. I suggest not getting into specifics at this place in the prayer but, instead, simply centering our person Godward. Our supreme purpose in life is one - to bring Glory to God.

Your Kingdom Come Your Will Be Done On Earth as it is in Heaven

Here is where I would articulate God’s specific vision for our life. God’s vision for our life is to live the spiritual principles we have learned. So, I suggest praying four basic categories under Your kingdom come: meekness, mercy, purity, and peacemaking. Our purpose is to bring Glory to the name of the Father. Our vision or our tactic is to do this by living according to the principles of the kingdom. These principles represent a way of life entirely contrary to the way of the world and our natural tendencies. If we manifest the fruit of this orientation toward life and God, we will be salt and light that brings Him Glory.

Under the heading of purity, we might add sex, money, and motives. Next, we get to the most important part of the prayer. I say this because this portion addresses our real problem. Our problem is a lack of power.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
The vision we have just stated before God is not a vision of us. We are not naturally meek or merciful or pure. But, there is someone who is. This vision of life describes Jesus Christ. Father, give me Jesus in my heart. The life I long to live can only be found through the power of the Spirit of Jesus. Galations 2:20 is a great verse to pray at this time. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me and the life I live I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and delivered Himself us for me.”. “God provide for me the true bread that comes down from heaven - Jesus Christ - that He may do for me what I cannot do for myself”.

Under the peacemaking heading, I place any intercession and any relationships in which I am responsible to bring peace. I personally am the father in a large family, and my job is to create “shalom in the home”. “Lord make me a peace-maker in the home and at work and in the church…”.

Forgive us Our Sins as We forgive Those Who have Sinned Against Us
Here we have an opportunity to take a daily moral inventory. This portion is especially good for the evening prayer. Review the day. Ask yourself if you have caused any harm or injury to anyone. Do we need to make amends? If yes, write it down and tell a friend if necessary. Do I have any resentments? Do I need to forgive and bless anyone?

And Lead Us Not into Temptation But deliver Us from Evil
As we turn to face the day or the night as the case may be, we will approach life with confidence and without fear. God is with us. We are the most authentically human people on the planet. We are to be the most free and the most fearless, for God, our Father who is all good all the time, is with us. Nothing can over take us. Even if we wlk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, for He is our good Shepherd. So we pray asking humbly that we might be aware of His presence throughout the day. We pray that we might live through faith in His care and that we do not respond to life in fear as we used to.

So, we pray a simple but thorough God-centered prayer. Our prayers teach us to abide in Jesus' teaching. We are constantly reminded of His teachings to love our enemies and turn the other cheek. We are seeking to daily improve our spiritual life and our spiritual fruit. We know that it is relationship with our loving Father that keeps us from anger and fear and keeps us in perfect peace so that we can live a life of meekness and service to others.

As We Face the Day – Sharing With Others
The bible teaches us that we need to be ready at all times to share with others along the path of life why we are so hopeful and peaceful. Now that we have found a new life and we are seeing God do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, we have a method that we can share with others. The teachings of Jesus come with many promises. The Kingdom of Heaven, a heavenly quality of life, is within reach. If we have laid hold of it, what a great gift to give this peace to other harassed and helpless folk. We were lost once and now we have found a way to live life with God and to abide in Him and His ways. The way is indeed narrow, but it is understandable and doable. It doesn’t take a great theological mind to figure it out. In fact, how Jesus communicates His power to our person is quite a mystery to us, but we do know, from experience, that a power greater than ourselves has come to us in the name of Jesus. God has removed our sins and short-coming and removed our defects of character. How He has done it may be a mystery but that He has done it is plain for all to see.

If we work these steps, they will work for us, and we can share with anyone from any walk of life that, if they believe Jesus and take Him at His word, they too can live a life that is both happy and heavenly. God is no respecter of persons. We do not have to have a certain lineage nor do we need education to find this way of life. All we must be is rigorously honest.

So if we are to be of ultimate use to God and to others, we take these simple spiritual principles in hand and in our heart. We practice them in our daily lives and we share them with anyone who desires to listen.

May God Bless You and May His Kingdom Come and His Will be Done in you and through you and to all your loved ones,

God Bless,

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Passionate Pursuit of Perfection

I receive calls every day, many calls actually, from people I am discipling. We are in a “discipleship relationship”. We also are working a discipleship process, which involves a highly specified discipleship method.

It is so great to have people start from a place of need and call and ask for help, but not every body "reaches their bottom" and calls for help. Nonetheless, every body actually does need help. This post is intended to get you really thinking about starting such a highly intentional discipleship program. After this post (I promise) I will begin to articulate the content of the program itself. Admittedly, I am having trouble getting the process down on paper. Patience...thanks.

A Simple Question
Should you get in a discipleship relationship with someone who can lead you through a process of spiritual transformation? Instead, you could keep doing the same thing and expect different results. That is an option. For me, I have real problems that are readily apparent from my perspective to require serious intervention.

What is Your Problem?
For some of us if we were to ask this question, our problems would be something like, “My problem is trying to get everything done that needs to get done. Because I work so hard I, yeah, am pretty burnt out”. Oh, I know how to solve that problem. That is a spiritual problem. Do these few simple rigorous spiritual steps, and, if you do them right, your problem will be solved. At least the “I feel burnt out” part will be solved.

For others the problem might be we struggle with anger or lust. Well, I know how to solve those problems too. Those are spiritual problems. Follow these few rigorous spiritual steps, and, if you do it right, your problem will virtually evaporate. You will wake up one day and realize the problem is gone.

Some of us are just not very happy. Well, I know how to solve that one too…

My Problem
For me the problem is something like this. I don’t turn the other cheek very well of if I do I still whine to the Mrs.. I also do not go the extra mile and I have a hard time being “perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect”. Control of the tongue so that only what is wholesome and profitable is a bit of a problem at times. These problem for a long time baffled me, but there is a spiritual answer for these problem as well.

The Point
We all need to learn the spiritual principles Jesus taught us, and we all need to learn them in the context of a mentor who is better at it than we are. it is vital to accept that the passionate pursuit of perfection is great motivation to drive all of us into getting help, figuring out a method that works, and thereby entering discipleship relationships. If our goals are high enough, our need will be apparent. Do you possess a heavenly quality of life??

Well, just such a life is within reach!!! It is vital that we all change our minds about our expectations for just how free from our shortcomings we can be. Yes, just like Jesus promised, the kingdom of heaven is within reach…believe the gospel.

God Bless,

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Spiritual Way - It Works (cont.)

The Spiritual Way – It Works!!

Jesus tells a great and very relevant parable in Mark 4. Jesus says;

"This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come."

I contend that there is a path to true happiness and a heavenly quality of life that surpasses anything you have ever experienced but I have a confession. I know what to do to get it BUT I really do not know how it works. I know that if we take the steps Jesus calls us to do we become overwhelmed with how free and happy we are. But as to how it works in my heart and how God communicates His power and life to me. I have no idea. All I know is it works.

Jesus basically gives us a path to be filled with a power that totally alluded us before we set upon this journey. As we progress, we find out that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. All we do know is that if we sow to the Spirit, we reap righteousness, peace and joy. How it works? That one is for the smart guys and the theologians.

How does it work that when I humbly ask for God to remove my anger and fear and to empower me to “turn the other cheek” and to “not resist an evil person” and to “go the extra mile” that He puts His life in me and sets me free? I do not know the answer to that question. Nor does the 1st century farmer know how the soil makes the plants grow, but that doesn’t stop him from sowing seed. Does the farmer have to be convinced about the theory of osmosis and capillary action and chemistry and fructose before he makes a leap of faith and sows seeds? No, the farmer saw his father do it and he saw the harvest that came so he just trusts the process regardless of whether he intellectually understands how it works. The farmer really doesn’t even care how it works but only what the results are.

Here is a key to spirituality and Christianity. We are simply to be able to supply the suggested means that people need to take to enter into the truly happy and heavenly life, the kingdom of God. All our pontificating is really not relevant. All that is relevant is can we show results. A tree is known by its fruit.

Does your method deliver? Do people look at us and say ‘show me how to live because you have it down”. When we tell them the solution do we teach them how to sow in such a way that reaps the true reward of peace and righteousness.

The path is narrow and few take it but do not fool yourself and think it is intellectually challenging. The path to life does not require deep insight into the workings of the human psyche or an intricate scheme of self-knowledge and self-discovery. It does require a few things. The spiritual way requires rigorous honesty. In the course of this journey, we will come to realize that our approach to life is all wrong. Our minds are going to be changed every day and in every way. The spiritual way involves extensive house cleaning. But at the same time, we come to realize how simple the process is. The spiritual path takes courage but not strength. There are no heroes in the kingdom. No great heroic effort is required. We are far simpler than that. It doesn’t require great wisdom and intellectual prowess. We are far simpler than that. I hope you are willing to take this journey of simple daily steps toward a life you could have never dreamed is possible. But trust Jesus on this one, “ 7"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened”. This is the promise that indeed the spiritual way works!!!

God Bless,

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Spiritual Way - It Works!!! - Sermon

These two sermons are from Matt 6:1 - Beware of practicing your righteousness before men in order o be seen by them. The sermons get to the heart of how we naturally are prone to turn our religion into another form of worldiness. The first sermon - Cultivating a Spirtual Life of Worship (stream) (download) speaks of the need to cultivate a heart of worship and the second sermon - The Spiritual Way - It Works (stream) (download) - looks at the Lord's prayer as a prayer for a God Centered Life as a direct answer to the problem of self-promoting religion.

God Bless,

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Cultivating a Spiritual Life of Worship - Sermon

Cultivating a Spiritual Life of Worship (stream) (download)

The Second Principle of Discipleship - Faith

So far in our step by step discipleship program, we have look at being “poor in spirit”. In review, being poor in spirit is the abiding realization that we are sick and in constant need of grace from God to find true happiness and a heavenly quality of life. Every day and every instance, we find ourselves in situations that baffle us. We find our ego’s being bruised and we respond in ways that we know do not represent the person God wants us to be. We come to a place of hopelessness. Some respond by saying “well, I guess that is just the way it is. I am a sinner saved by grace and I always will be the limping sinful shmuck I am. Even Paul in Romans 7 was just like me”. Well, that response is simply a total distortion of the message of the Gospel of the kingdom. My hope is that those of us who refuse to live a life of mediocrity and bondage find instead a key in our sense of hopelessness. This key is to embrace our hopeless cause as “being poor in spirit”.

Add to being Poor in Spirit - Faith..
On my own, we are hopeless. We lack what it takes to find a morally beautiful life and to us hopeless cases there is a cure – “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. To us hopeless causes, there is the gospel of grace. God can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. God can remove our defects of character and restore our life to sanity. In fact, no matter where we are on the moral continuum, we can receive from God a quality of life that we could not ever attain apart from Him. My rut of sinfulness is not life controlling in the same way that some of my friends besetting sins are. Many of us can contain our selfishness so that we actually get a few things right in this life, but as for the kingdom, true happiness and a heavenly quality of life, this cannot be attained without the power of God in our life’s doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

I do not know about you but I want to know the power of His resurrection and to know how to share in His sufferings (respond to suffering like Jesus does) and I want to know Him better. I am not satisfied. Before I found the way of discipleship and faith in the whole Gospel, both the power and the powerful teachings of Jesus, I still hadn’t found what I was looking for.

Today’s post is on faith. Faith is simple, we believe that Jesus Christ can grant us quality of life that we could never attain apart from His power and His teaching in our lives. We believe that the habitual patterns in our life can be broken if we learn to place our faith in Him and are willing to follow His path into a new quality of life.

All human beings have one most fundamental problem, we lack the power to become the person God wants us to be. We have become alienated from the source of moral beauty. Our very person is corrupted and we have found ourselves sick and in slavery to our own character defects. Now, we need a way out and the way out is through a power outside ourselves. We are poor but God is great.

The gospel is an arrow downward. All the promises of the transformed life are in the Gospel of the kingdom.

A Prayer:
“Father, I am the poorest of the poor. Only You really know the truth of this statement. You know my heart and my life. You know the areas of my life that lack love and purity. My life is not a shining light that reflects You. These areas today I am coming to you specifically for help______________________________________________ _________________________________________________ _____________________________________ __________________________. I thank you for the realization of my own weakness and powerlessness. It is for the powerless that Jesus came to give a new quality of life. I believe that You alone through the name of Jesus Christ can deliver me daily from my sin and restore my life today to sanity. I believe the gospel that Jesus died and rose that I might have a truly happy and heavenly quality of life. I know that I do not know what this path looks like but I do know it looks like Jesus. Lord, I simply ask You to do for me what I could never do for myself as I pursue a new quality of life through faith in You.”

Now, prayers like this are NOT the path to new life but only a beginning step. The key is an entire spiritual program of discipleship which we will cover in the next few posts as we work through the Sermon on the Mount. Nonetheless, the principles are simple and so far we have suggested two which will if followed become a central steps toward a truly happy and heavenly quality of life. They are simply: being poor in spirit and placing our faith in Jesus Christ.

God Bless,