Sunday, October 30, 2005

Philippians 4:13 – The Most Misinterpreted Verse in America

Picture this scene. A man is being honored at work for making the most sales. He has set his mind at making a good living and he has succeeded. He cleared $20,000 this month and he wants to give the glory to God. So the zealous young man takes out his favorite verse and says, “I just want to give glory to God, for I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. The message of this man’s testimony is “You too can make 20,000 a month because Christ can give you the strength to do whatever you set your mind to.” Here, you have it, the not-so-great American gospel.

Again, picture the beauty queen all decked out in high heels and a bikini. The final choice for the winner is announced and the nice Texan girl wins. As she is interviewed she tries to give glory to God and says, “I just want to give glory to God, for I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. What is wrong with this picture other than the high heels and the bikini?

First, let’s look at what the verse actually means. Philippians 4:13 is better translated as follows:
In every type of thing, I am strong through Him who strengthens me” or amplified only slightly “In every type of circumstance, I am strong and stable through him who strengthens me.”
This verse is not speaking of how Christ strengthens me to have successful circumstances, but that Christ gives me His peace in adverse circumstances. Christ said, “My peace I give to you not as the world gives I give to you.”

What the American gospel says is that Christ, for His glory, will make you have nice circumstances and succeed. Set your mind to success. Never quit. Persevere and Christ will bless you. What a load of heresy and worldliness!!!

Is it no wonder that we have churches filled with successful people, giving testimonies of success, to lead others into this uniquely American form of Christianity?

But this is not the Gospel!!!! Christ did not call us to empower us to fight the good fight of perseverance in the American dream so that we could live a pain free life to the glory of God. This is just sanctified self will. Christ called us to learn to be strong and at peace in difficult circumstances so that we can forsake the world and follow Him into all the world for His name sake. “For we are called not only to believe in Him but to suffer for His name sake”. That is what this verse is about. Did we forget that Paul is writing this verse from a prison cell with shackles on his feet?

In this one most mis-quoted of all American verses, I think we have in a nutshell a definition of the disease that ails us. God help us.

God Bless,

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Sovereignty of God and Walking in Peace

I have a saying, “The joy of the Lord is your MORAL strength”

I contend that if you are delighting in God, then you will have power to walk in purity, and you will have a testimony of “righteousness, peace and joy” to share. Does not all gossip and sins of the tongue come from a lack of peace and joy? Therefore, in discipling people, the number one topic is how to remain undisturbed. For many, this skill is called anger management for some it is just living stress-free in order to be a powerful witness. In learning the skill of living stress free, I think one must be a biblically high view of the sovereignty of God.

Traditionally a lower view of God's sovereignty has been called Arminianism. As a pastor, I see the spiritual ramifications of such beliefs quite often, and, in discipleship, a high view of God's sovereignty is essential. Such a lower view of sovereignty might go as follows.
We are called to participate in the Kingdom by fighting against sin and satan. God has delegated the war to us, and we are to fight. If we are losing the fight, it is because we are not fighting or believing hard enough or consistent enough. Basically, the onus is on our commitment to or zeal in fighting. This worldview produces a certain response to adverse circumstances.

A believer with a deep sense of God's sovereignty will approach such a problem quite differently. We would agree that we participate in the kingdom and in the work of Christ on earth. We agree that there is a fight, but we fight by giving the outcomes of al our labors to God. We ceasing all fighting and peacefully and joyfully accept the results as from the hand of God through faith. The difference in the two worldviews is how we respond to adversity and unpleasant outcomes. The arminian fights; the Biblical faith accepts and continues to do the work leaving the outcomes to God.

An Example
The foundation of this peaceful labor is a high view of the sovereignty of God. For example, let’s say I am working hard at my job and I am not given that promotion. The more Arminian believer says this is warfare; I need to have faith. The outcome God wants is my good, and I need to fight for this good. The believer with a lower understanding of God's sovereignty fights against the daily outcomes of life.

In the same scenario, the biblical faith says, "God is good. I accept this set back with patience. All your works are wonderful. This circumstance too is perfect." Upon reflection, the biblical faith is far more prone to say, "In fact, Lord, You are teaching me that I have [such and such] character defect. Thank you for your pruning, and Your jealousy for my sanctification. I love you Lord".

Here is a great key to living the blessed life. We are all equally called to be zealous for the kingdom. We are all equally called to exercise means to build up the church and do the work of Christ on the earth but do you accept as from God’s hand those outcomes that you cannot control.

Next...accepting people and living in peace.

God Bless,


Friday, October 21, 2005

Tune in Turn on and Drop Out - The Challenge to Live Different

Dan Edelen made a great post yesterday on a vital issue. "How do we find time to do our kingdom life: church, devotion, discipleship, real authentic relationships, real parenting etc?"

The trick to Dan's post is that he starts with Doug Groothuis's post on multi-tasking and Dan rightly takes the big G to task. I like that!!!! Then, he goes a little deeper to ask "how is the church addressing the problem and teaching people how to live the life in the midst of the insanity?" (or something like that)

To this I would like to say a few bits:
1. I think the goal for me personally is community and meetings every day. I know this sounds crazy, but it is true. I meet drunks every day and I have to send them to AA because our chuch at least doesn't meet every day and sinner s need meetings. I for one am a sinner and I need a lot more meetings or I lose my conscious contact with God and an abiding awareness that nothing matters but the kingdom. So, how in the world can we get there?? Point, if we paint a totally new idea of what "true north" is we will begin to change everything to get there. So I paint the true north, the direction I want to go to a community that is encouraging one another every day.

2. Isn't part of the answer to this qustion: food. The answer, in part, is to take meals together as a family and as a church. Every day. As a family, worship at meals. Yes, that means sing songs. Do some study and have a share time during meals. What a novel idea, eh?

3. The other answer is the cell phone. I love the cell phone. I live in LA and I spent yesterday four yes four hours in the car. So what is a pastor to do with four hours in the car. Call your fellow co-conspirators on the phone. If I need to do the disciplship time and I am super busy, the answer is the cell phone. Of course, this isn't as good as eating together but it ain't bad.

4. Practice the presence of God while you are in meetings. I spend 2-3 hours every day in meetings...even if I am leading them they are pretty worthless...It is very easy to multi-task in meetings. It is pretty easy to follow along and pray or meditate at the same time. This last one is a bit of a joke but you get the point. I hope.

Well, that's it for today. answer to modern life.

God Bless,

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Mentoring and Sanctification

I have explained in previous posts that I think it is helpful to see our Christian life as unfolding on three levels like a three story house. We have the story of our inner life. This level is the activity of our person. Included in this level is our devotional life, our intimacy with God, the practicing of the presence of God, and management of our heart. Discipleship as I teach it from the Sermon on the Mount addresses this level of our life.
Meekness, mercy, and purity of devotion to the Lord all really are activities of our spiritual life.

The second level is the level of our discipleship relationships. There are the few people who see our lives and that we expose ourselves to and who teach us the path to peace and help us manage the level one of our life.

The third level is the level of the community and the level in which we together live out our Missional vocation in the church. We are part of a unified community that is taking the “kerygma” to the world. We take the message of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom to the world around us. This is our life as a people, as a Morally Beautiful people.

So of these three level which is the primary and most vital. Which level if you miss it means you really are going to be extremely hindered in doing the others?

Well, here is my experience. Level two is the most important. Here are the facts as I see it. You will never have the quality of life you desire without meeting with people and discussing your inner life with people and reminding one another about the meaning of the teachings of Jesus every day.

I have tried to disciple and teach people, but unless we apply the principles together EVERYDAY nothing really changes. I need meetings everyday. That is just the way it works. These meetings are the 2-3 gathered meetings. These daily meetings and open dialogues about your day and how we are implementing the Kingdom teachings of Jesus are the backbone of all sanctification. We are simply too forgetful and too dull to do it alone. There is simply no other way.

Daily we must worship together and share the teachings of the Lord if we to effectively be a witnessing people to others and walk in the kingdom. This is just the way it is.

You may not know what you are doing and you may not know a mentor. Do not worry!! The spirit will help you. Learn the teachings of Jesus. Talk to your friends and your pastors. Meet and call people up every day. I am mentored by people who may not actually have done this stuff as long as I have or who are as far down the road but that is not the real point of discipleship. The point is to keep it real and have a relationship where someone else encourages you into meekness, mercy, purity and worship. Discipleship relationships - there is just no other way to practice the presence of God on a daily basis. Discipleship relationships are the path to sanctification.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Meekness and Jesus

When I bring up the question "so, what is meekness?", I tend to get a lot of blank stares.
Most respond, "I don’t know, I never really thought about it". Or "Meekness, hmm?? A lot like weakness isn’t it?". Basically, we are not too sure we understand meekness.

Jesus and Meekness
Jesus said, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29"Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle/meek and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30"For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
Jesus describes Himself as meek and humble of heart. Meekness is a defining characteristic of Christ. The cross is a clear and glorious display of Christ’s character and certainly displays this attribute called “meekness”. To love God and to know Christ is to contemplate and meditate and know and glory in the attributes of God displayed in the face of Christ, namely in the cross event. So certainly, meekness is a central attribute that we as lovers of God and those who glory in Christ Jesus should be well acquainted with.
But such is not the case, and I contend, here in lies the problem. In fact it is precisely in taking meekness and lowliness upon ourselves and learning meekness that we “find rest for our souls”. It is the learning of meekness that we get excited about. Meekness is the double back flip of Christianity. Meekness is the part of every solid daily discipleship routine.

So what is meekness?
Death to Self

Meekness is death to self and surrender to God. Luke 9:23 says it this way, “If anyone wants to be my disciple, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. This process of learning how to die to our self and the impulses of self, learning to never defend self or stand up for self or protect the interests of self or fear the humiliation of self or the dishonor of self is daily central to our walking with Jesus, our Lord.

Taking Up our Cross
The flip side of death to self is not passivity but taking up our cross. Taking up our cross is taking up our daily task or obedience. Daily we serve not self but God in love. “Lord, what is my task today?” is the meditation and contemplation of the meek. The answer to this question I have found is always the same, “Love everyone everywhere unconditionally”.

This meekness is an abiding orientation of the heart. It is in the heart orientation of meekness that we say today I follow Jesus and learn to “share in His sufferings”. His cross of death to self and obedience to God is all I long to know and imitate. It is this cross life of Christ that dwells in me by the Holy Spirit. In business meetings, in discussions with friends, in the midst of injustice and personal offense and injury, in all things meekness. We learn to no longer defend self or be offended by any assault on ourselves but we learn self sacrifice and unconditional love. In raising our children, in discussions with our loved ones, in peace and in conflict, meekness and humility.

Here is the Problem
Such talk is not in vogue in the church. Such sweet savoring of the knowledge of Christ and His cross by learning and discussing meekness is not the DNA of the church. Yet, every disciple of Jesus should know and love this attribute of Christ. We should know this experience like we know French fries and a diet coke. Meekness and the contemplation of meekness is our daily bread, the staple of our spiritual diet. Here is the solution to all that ails us as a people. Here is our shalom our peace and our rest.

God Bless,

Saturday, October 15, 2005

GodBlogCon - Friday Afternoon - Influence

I went to a session of GodBogCon on Friday afternoon. The question to the floor and a panel or David Wayne, Andy Jackson, John Shroeder and Joe Carter was "can blogging have an influence on culture".

One thing is very encouraging. Everyone agrees this media is evolving and that we need to network outside of blogging. So the idea is to begin meeting people face to face or over the phone or however to develop some group blogs.

Also, I really think that most of the blogger do NOT feel their real calling is politics. My take on the role politics has taken so far in the blogosphere is that politics is an issue that is already in the culture so networking and blogstorming politics already has a great deal of momentum. The key for Christians is not to use the party mechanisms that already exist and jump in but to create new networks of other ideologies and causes other than politics. What again is encouraging is that I think most people want to do this.

So my job here as an individual blogger is to begin networking to create a type of magazine for people interested in missional and monastic lifestyle. Dan Edelen is into restoration of 1st century practice as are many many others. Tod Bosinger is bloging on the kingdom and kingdom theology and practice. Hello...The Spirit is speaking this message to our congregation and to pastors so how do we create some momentum? How do we get something moving that can have influence on the church and the culture?

So if you know some great bloggers or even non-bloggers who might be on the same page as what I tend to write please leave a note or send me an e-mail. Or just join the dialogue!!!

God Bless,

Monday, October 10, 2005

Principle 3 - Meekness

I intend to post a few entries on meekness. This first post is an introduction of this doorway into the experience of the kingdom. Of all the principles I love, meekness is at the top of the list. I encourage you to consider this principle deeply and to seek how to enter meekness. Truly, meekness is the doorway into the experience of a truly heavenly quality of life.

The purpose of this blog series is to put together about 20-30 questions that form the basis of a simple practical walk through the Sermon on the Mount. Theology behind these short posts is my personal experience and strong faith that coming under the Lordship of Jesus by putting into practice His words leads to a very blessed life.

In every post, I like to review the most core principle of all. “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. This teaching reminds us that we are spiritually bankrupt and that everything we desire spiritually comes from the Grace and Power of the Gospel. This grace and power delivers us from our core problem of sin and self..So onward

So far we spoke of:
1. Powerlessness
2. Faith

Now let’s look at the next beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”

Nothing is more contrary to our natural tendencies than meekness, yet meekness is the doorway into a new life, the kingdom. Where an awareness of our powerlessness is a foundation principle, meekness is the actual doorway into a new experience and a new way of life.

So what is meekness?

Meekness is the absolute ceasing to fight for our agenda and believing that God will fight on our behalf for His agenda. Meekness is the abiding practice of death to self.

Most of us travel through life disappointed that things have not turned out as we planned. In life’s circumstances, we have attempted to manage situations to get certain ends to have people behave certain ways and for the outcomes of life to produce a certain level of blessing in our lives. We are all like actors with each of us trying to direct the play and have the scene come out the way we want it. We want people to like us. We want a promotion. We want recognition or respect so we begin to manage perceptions. We buy things and adorn ourselves. All of this directing and managing sets us up to be disappointed and hurt. All of this concern is self-centered. The answer is Go-centeredness. Meekness is the absolute acceptance of God’s care and managing of our lives. Our task in life changes. We are responsible for doing His will of love in every situation, and He is responsible for the outcomes. We are no longer in management. We are meek.

Every human relationship has power dynamics and politics. The meek do not manage power or play the games of politics and by so doing it is the meek that will inherit the earth for only the meek are truly free, trusting in God for outcomes, to live a moral life based not on power and results but on principles and love.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Simple Path - Assignment 3 - Faith

Lets get straight to the point. Assignment 3 is on faith.

I spoke to a man a few days back and I asked him a few questions. First, ‘Is Jesus Your Lord?”. To this he said, “yes”. So I continued, “Ok, if Jesus is your Lord how does His main teaching sermon start? I am referring to the Sermon on the Mount.”

Most often when I ask this line of questioning Christians do not know the most basic teachings of Our Lord. If we do not know His teachings, then isn’t our claim to call Him our Lord void of real content.

In this discipleship program, I am leading you, the reader, through a systematic approach to practicing the teachings of our Lord. I promise you that if you put these teachings into practice your whole life will be completely changed and in fact, we will find true freedom, happiness and holiness. It is that simple. Follow Jesus and you will experience the blessed life and probably a lot of suffering and persecution too.

So here we go:

We are look at the first few verses of the Sermon on the Mount.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”
“Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted” ….

In assignment 1, we looked at the word “Blessed”. Our assignment was to ask ourselves and to journal our answers to the follow ing questions:
Are you happy?
What constitutes true happiness?

Next, we looked at the phrase “poor in spirit”. These are the blessed ones remember. We asked ourselves to journal and discuss the following:
From your life story, convince yourself, God and a friend that you are a sinner and that your case apart from some miracle in your life is totally hopeless!!! A person who is poor in spirit is someone who is quite aware and lives in an abiding awareness of their spiritual poverty and powerlessness.

Today we look at the promises of the beatitudes. “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven” or “for they shall be comforted” The meek SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH. Etc…..

The Faith of Abraham
First a word about faith. The bible says ‘By faith Abraham left his country and set out for the promised land”. Abraham is described as the father of faith. He followed a path God set for Him and the path was promised to lead him to the promised land. In the same way, faith in Jesus is believing that He is the Messiah that saves us from sin and that by following Him we will enter the kingdom. By following Him, we primarily mean putting into practice all the principles of His teaching. By faith, we set out on a journey into a righteousness that we can only describe as heavenly.

It is vital as we start down this journey that we never forget our first principles, namely that we are spiritually bankrupt and in absolute need of power. The quality of life we are going to set out for is completely impossible in our natural abilities. We are again like Abraham whose body was dead and yet he believed that God could miraculously grant him an heir. So too we seek a life that until now we could only dream about but apart from really learning to follow Jesus and apart from the power of God is completely unattainable.
So today’s questions are as follows:

“What qualities of life do you understand you will experience when you ‘die and go to heaven’?

What does it mean when Jesus proclaims that the “kingdom of heaven is within reach, repent and believe”?

Do you believe that Jesus Christ has the power to completely deliver you from the miserable condition that you are in which the bible calls sin? If yes, what do you expect your life experience to be like as a result of putting this “faith like Abraham” into practice as you follow Jesus?

God Bless,