Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Community and Confession

When I was a pastor, I taught a path of discipleship that involves daily confession with our mentors-student-friends. The walk of a disciple in discipleship relationships requires a level of honesty that is essentially total exposure.

One night after a council meeting at the church I was pasturing, a council member said to me, in reference to the practice of daily confessing relationships, “Brad, no one is going to do that”. I have thought about this statement many times. To me it is one of the most discouraging things I have ever heard. Being rigorously honest is a difficult path but to simply say as a matter of fact “we aren’t going to be honest and open” is certain death along the spiritual journey. I picture a man on a quest to climb Everest and finally just quits and says, “I am going to just sit here. I am not going to move. I quit.” Such a decision is certain death as the 3nvironmental effects will overtake the lethargic body and the man will die - so too the disciple who ceases the practice of daily honesty and confession.

All the teacher can do is try to model this level of openness in his own relationships or he could take the real leap to make it happen.

The Leap into Community
For some of us this total honesty is too much work. We lead busy lives and have trouble bracketing time to pray and confess with our mentor-student-friends. We can confess and be open with our spouses but we find it hard to be consistent with partners outside the home. How do we really let people into our lives? The answer is really pretty obvious. We let people live with us in our homes. Our culture’s way of life places walls between families and fellow men or women with whom we desperately need to be open with. The answer is to simply go around the walls and live within the same walls.

The multi-family living situation is I believe necessary to effective discipleship. The few men I attempt to maintain confessing relationships with are busy and lead separate lives with their families. Why?? Do we live this way? As we attempt to confess and walk out our spiritual lives together, we lose contact for most of the week. The whole process is undermined by the structure of our living situations. The answer is to force the change by living in community.

Community and Exposure
Most Christians I know have pretty well manicured homes and gardens. The outside looks very orderly and well managed. This I believe is often a sign of our spiritual poverty. I often find that the more together someone looks on the outside the more sick they are on the inside. Of course the mentally ill provide exceptions to this rule but I am not talking about mental illness but spiritual illness. The well-manicured lawn, so to speak, is often an attempt maintain a wall of protection against judgments. Community has the opposite effect. When we live in community, our friends now see how we raise our kids, how we treat our wives and every tension that exists in our significant relationships. Community is confession without words. So if you are having trouble living a life of open confession, take the leap. Sell your house and move in with another family or two in your church. In doing so, we just might find that our sins are washed away and our sickness cured by the daily walk of confession and exposure that such a new way of life imposes upon us due to our new living arraignment.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Meekness – If I Stop Being “the Man”, I will be Like the Hole in the Donut

For my entire Christian life, I have been the man. Within a week or so of coming to know Christ, I began teaching a small group. Within a year, I was teaching bible studies 2-5 times a week and I never stopped until recently. Being the man, the teacher, has been my whole gig. There is some good to this constant ministry. By being constantly in ministry and in leadership, we are always aware that we might quench the Spirit in our lives. This “fear of the Lord” keeps one holy and always confessing to our discipleship partners. My whole life as a Christian has been one inspired idea after another. Pastors learn the word but for what motive. We seek the power of the Holy Spirit and most often this is for good reasons. We desire to see the kingdom expand. But, if we dig deeper we may find a less altruistic motive.

As I step aside from ministry for the first time in my life, I find myself less motivated and less spiritual and less intimate with God. If this is true what was my motive in the first place? This question can only really be answered from experience. For a pastor to know his real motives, an involuntary season out of ministry can be an eye opening experience. For me, I feel completely like a fish out of water. Ministry is my whole gig. Without ministry, I am like the hole in the donut. Being the man, leading others in knowing and understanding God, is my whole life. But ministry isn’t life and service cannot be our motive. When we are left without a religious motive to be spiritual, do we have enough fear of God and love for God to walk in holiness. Is the real reason we live in the fear of the Lord, because we want to be seen as spiritual or to actually be spiritual so as to be successful. Jesus said, “the Pharisees love praying long prayers and to be seen by other men”. Without leadership and the hope of status in the religious community, there is no real love for God.

We all have a role we play in life and we play it before others. There is the alpha male who is looked up to and followed. There is the pretty girl, the smart guy, the nice person, the tough guy. Some play the simpleton and as a simple person they feel comfortable. Some are victims. Some play weak. Some play strong. Being a pastor can be very insidious because the role seems to be focused on living before God but in reality it is a role played on the stage before men. When that stage is pulled away and the drama is over, do we feel like the whole in the donut, a fish out of water? Does the season of inactivity lead to adoration or addiction?

A Challenge to Pastors and Church Leaders
Meekness is to cease managing the perceptions and behaviors of others in order to maintain one’s status in one’s social community. Meekness is to cease all controlling and manipulative behavior and to abandon oneself to the permissive will of God. Pastors are perceived as being controlling. I have heard many stories of pastors being “hard to work with”. The meek are not hard to work with. Many pastors are very “my way or the highway”. Many churches have very authoritarian management cultures. It must not be like this. If it is, it is because the leaders are managing their status and are not abandoned to the will of God. What is the real motive? We are holy because we do not want to offend the Lord. We do not want to offend the Lord because we desire His blessing. We desire His blessing because we want to extend the kingdom. We desire to extend the kingdom because ministry success is our whole life. Ministry success is our life because we are self-centered and narcissistic. If we are controlling or fearful, is it not because the real root of our motives is not the love of God but the love of honor from men. This is a hard confession to make but God is good and trials come for our good.

If without ministry, we feel like the hole in the donut, then we must realize the our inner person is not truly motivated by the love of God but the love of religious promotion before and by others. If we appear controlling to others, it is probably because we are. If we are tired and nervous it is fear of men not fear of the Lord. If this heart is our heart, the deep death of meekness must come to us by any means necessary. We need to ask God to purge us of our carnal motives if we are to be truly effective in doing spiritual work.

For me a time off is bringing all my brokenness to the surface. It is a deep work and a good work for God will not share His glory with another. My the Lord heal His church and cleanse us of our sin.

God Bless

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Politics and Christian Values

I have said on numerous occasions that I cannot stand politics. I think the reality of it is that I so disagree with the values of both parties that I must simply avoid the subject.
The iMonk says it great here as does Garrison Keilor
And I certainly look forward to reading Tempting Faith

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Purpose of the Torah

When Jesus spoke of the Old Testament, He spoke of "the Law and the Prophets". For example, Jesus said "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. This is the law and the prophets". Here Jesus is saying that if you want to understand in one phrase biblical ethics it is this "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". So in Jesus day the sacred text was called the law and the prophets. The books of Moses, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers, were called "the Law".

Paul explains to us what the purpose of this portion of scripture is. The purpose of the Law is to "reveal to us the sinfulness of sin". In Galatians, Paul says the purpose of the law is to shut up everyone under sin". The purpose of the Law is to convict us of sin. Then, we who were held in bondage to the elemental principles of the world were set free from the law and from sin through Jesus Christ. The law Paul is saying was not ever created for the purpose of making anyone holy or righteous. The law was not made to make a holy society like the Muslims believe. And if someone uses the Law for something it was never made to do, Paul says that this use of the Law is destructive. We are to use the Law for its limited function. The purpose of the Torah is to tell the story of the sinfulness of sin. In the life of the people of God, the practice of Law was not to make the society healthy or whole or righteous but to convict of sin. When a person was stoned for adultery, we were not to say "this is making our society holy by getting rid of evil doers". Instead, this was to convict us of our own sinfulness and guilt for have not all of us contemplated the same act but were without opportunity. Oh God...I am guilty. So this is the sole purpose of Torah, of the Law, to convict us of our sin.

This conviction being the purpose of the Law, then the purpose of the "prophets" was to present the promise, the promise of deliverance from our sin in the Messiah. When we understand the purpose of the Law, we then see the promise in the prophets. The prophets’ foundational and primary role was to encourage the sinful people of the hope of deliverance from sin. This deliverance was to come to the sinner by grace and through faith, and indeed this deliverance has come in Jesus Christ.

So this is the purpose of the Law to convict of sin. The Torah tells a story to explain to the people of God why there is such oppression and injustice in the world. Why is there this insanity of Pharaoh? Why would a king seek to be worshipped as a God? Why do we need a nation built on law and not on the authority of a despot? Because of the sinfulness of sin.

The story of the sinfulness of man starts with man's most primitive desire. The desire to be God. So the first sin, the foundational sin, was the direct attempt to be the independent sovereign ruler of one's dominion. Satan told the first man, "if you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God able to discern good from evil and make your own choices. You will have your own absolute personal sovereignty". You will need no Father for you will be your own father. You will have total existential authority over your own universe. This is the foundational sin that defines the spiritual DNA of natural man. Oh man, this is what you are by nature and all mankind is taken from the same pool.

From this spiritual gene pool came Cain and Able. This story was followed by the story of the violence in Noah's time and then the story of the tower of Babel. Then there is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Then the story of Jacob and Esau and the story of Joseph and his brothers. Then the story of Pharaoh...This is all the story of the sinfulness of mankind. The purpose of all of this is to reiterate one theme - the sinfulness of sin. Be convinced, we are all sinners.

The story has a thematic point, an overwhelming and overarching theme, to define clearly the problem of mankind's inherit sinfulness. This is the purpose of the Law. Whenever we use the Law for any other purpose, we are using the Law in ignorance. To use the Law or the Torah for any other purpose is like using a surgical tool to pound a nail. Would we use a CAT scan machine to hang drywall? Would we use a stethoscope to drive to work? No, we use a hammer to hang drywall and a car to drive to work. One of the lessons we constantly teach our children is that things are made for certain functions. Paper is not food. Don't use my guitar as a step ladder. So too, do not use the Torah as a science text or as a means to obtain righteousness. The Law is to be used as a spiritual tool to convince people of the sinfulness of man. It does this by showing man's desire to be God and man's propensity toward violence. The Torah shows the danger of anarchy due to the sinfulness of man and the need for Law and government to rule over us because we are all sinners.

God Bless, brad

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Anger and Being Critical

Let’s return to discipleship for a post or two. As always, we need to return to the sayings of Jesus Christ, our only Leader, our Teacher, our Head. In Matt 5:22, Jesus says that anyone who is angry is guilty before His throne of judgment or anyone who says “Raca” or “you fool” to his brother is guilty. We know from the Sermon on the Mount as a whole that what is done in the heart is just as real before God as the deed done in the body. Jesus teaches us to accept that when we criticize our brother or sister even in our heart, we are falling short of the glory of God. Saying “you fool” is the manifestation of a critical spirit. There is a place for going face to face with our friend and encouraging them to righteousness and, in this instance, we are helping them self evaluate. This is being critical as a helpful diagnostic tool in a discipleship relationship. There is a place for that. Here, I would like to call attention to the problem of a critical or fault finding heart.

If we are saying in our mind, “Bob (or Joe or whomever) just doesn’t get it”, we are in need of doing spiritual work on our critical heart. In the spiritual life, attitude is everything. We need to learn to be rigorously honest to discern our heart attitudes. The critical fault finding heart is not healthy for us who are sinners. Let us leave the criticism for people who can handle such deadly poison. A resentment is just like a toxic waste. If we are going to try and handle such volatile material, then we better take every precaution. Such hazardous material is known to cause cancer. Every sinner is in need of a thorough detox from criticism if we are to cure the problem of our fleshly impulses and sins. So it is best to be very thorough in our dealing with all anger, resentment, and critical attitudes. For some, we say “I don’t have any resentments. So, I ask, “Do you have a critical attitude toward any person or institution.” Discernment of this critical attitude will help clear the heart for the filling of the Spirit.

In fact, Jesus makes this principle very clear when he says. “Do not judge. Instead take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” This most practical saying tells us that we should work on our own faults and our own heart before we start criticizing others. In fact, to take a speck out of someone’s eye, THEY HAVE TO POINT IT OUT TO YOU AND ASK FOR YOUR ASSISTANCE. We have no business looking at another person’s character unless they reveal their character to us voluntarily. In all, there is really no positive reason to criticize others, but the fact is us sinners are very critical creatures.

Let me give an example or two. I find it almost impossible to participate in political dialogue with Christians. So many Christians are critical of the other party. We are so often in a battle and a conflict with the other party that we have developed resentments and judgments that are very unhealthy spiritually. If someone who is partisan hears a person from another party speak on a subject there is virtually no ability to hear the other side as a result of the critical spirit. This attitude quenches the power of God in the Christian’s life.

Another example can be with respect to churches. One party is critical of another party. One is for home church another for mega-church. It is hard for one to feel at home with the other. This unease is a critical spirit. Whether in pretense or truth, if the gospel is preached, we ought to rejoice.

So what do we do? We take thorough stock of our critical heart. We list every person we are angry at or could harbor some resentment or are critical of. We are going to learn to turn our eyes from focusing on the speck in our brother’s eye to the log in our own and to do this we need to do this in every individual instance. So we begin by brainstorming a list.

Let me say that in every instance where people have taken this step and been thorough, they have found a shocking amount of resentment in their hearts. But if they turn that resentment into confession of sin and blessing of the other, they also have found a wonderful freedom and filling of love from the Holy Spirit. We must trust Jesus’ words that any insult in our heart or being the least bit critical is a spiritual disease that places us in spiritual danger. Do not turn away sad without following Jesus in this first real example of spiritual direction that Jesus gives us. He is our leader; we need to learn to take spiritual direction from Him. If we take this direction and allow ourselves to be alarmed and moved by the words of Christ and if we respond with zeal and urgency, then we will find the power we so desperately need.

The Practice
1. Make a list of names:

So we begin with making a list. The first time I made a list I found that the list had over 100 names on it. It seemed I was critical of everyone. The whole world. Both political parties. All denominations. Most of my friends. My family. My extended family. My college roommates. Kids from grade school. Members of my small group. My kids. My parents. My parents old friends. My old friends. My old friend’s parents. My old friend’s brothers and sisters. The English. The French. The Germans. Pentecostals. Conservatives. Liberals. The elders of the church. The deacons. My mentor. My boss. My co-workers. My ex-co-workers. Old girlfriends. My brother. My sisters. My dad’s co-workers. My brother’s friends. Kids from the neighborhood. Musicians. Theologies. Men in general. Women in general. My circumstances. Basically, we are all mad at the world.

To have a large list does not mean that frustration with life is the main theme of our character. No one would look at me and say I am an angry person. But neither would a person dying from cyanide poisoning be made up mostly of cyanide. A little of this toxic stuff can make us spiritually sick. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. Therefore, we make sure that even the slightest remnant of frustration or criticalness be dealt with ruthlessly.

2. What specifically happened?
So after we make our list (which could take a few hours or a few days), we begin to list what they did that makes us angry or critical. For example, your brother….he didn’t defend me in front of the neighbor kids. Your mom….she divorced your dad. It is that simple. Do not write a lot of words. Some people greatly err on this point. When we write it all out, we are venting. Venting only teaches us to be angry. As a rule do not write more than 10 word on an instance. You may break down thinking about the injustice of it all. This is normal. But I warn against writing a lot about why you are angry on a certain point. Writing a long discertation is usually just rationalizing why you are angry as if we are trying to give reason to keep it. We are not trying to stay sore. Also, for some people say like a spouse, we may have many lines of things we are critical of or sore about.

A Sample List (A Portion)
My wife…she gets angry when I go out with my friends
My wife….she watches too much TV
My wife….she shows disrespect in front of the kids
My wife…she spends too much money. She bought this..
Bob Smith….he won’t return my call
Joe Jones…he criticized my preaching behind my back.
My boss…He threatened to fire me.
My co-worker…he told the boss I am not dependable.
My co-worker….he told the boss my department was a problem and didn’t speak to me first.

My co-worker….he said I have an ego problem
My friend…he won’t take my council.

The list can go on and on and it should. We must be very thorough.

3. List how did this incident hurt us?
What we are doing is accepting that an actual hurt occurred. The incident hurt us financially, emotionally. Our spouses spiritual immaturity hurts us sexually and socially. For this task, I have never taken a great deal of time. I just check off a list of boxes. Yes, that hurt emotionally, financially, socially. This process is simply to help us see that the stuff of life really does hurt us. We are getting real with our heart here. We are being honest that we are indeed quite sore about things.

4. Ask for Forgiveness for our Anger
At this point, we need to make sure we accept Jesus’ saying, “I say if you are angry, you are liable before the judgment” (Matt 5:22). This step is the most important. The word of God must be our standard. If we have anger, or words of judgment or a critical heart toward our brother or sister, we are liable to the judgment. Liable here means guilty of a civil violation. We have real guilt before God if we have anger. Therefore, we need to be convicted of this sin by the Word and the Spirit. This point cannot be over emphasized. Ask God to take away our anger and our hatred…we admit that we do not love and in fact do wish harm on some people. Hold the standard up high and get real!!!! This is the key!!!!

5. Finding our Fault (for next post)

Before coming to this step, we need to be thorough about the fourth step of confessing our sin of being angry and critical. It is best to take a day or so between steps four and five. Really we are now doing something different. First we were being ruthlessly honest with our sin of anger. We exposed to ourselves the reality that we are a pissed off sinful person. This confession of deep anger is a breakthrough in itself. I contend that everyone is “a pissed off sinful person”. Everyone!!! There are no exceptions.

I am actually a pretty happy go lucky positive person. This joviality is what is on the surface of my consciousness almost all the time. But inside, every sinner like me, is a pissed off angry murderous wretch. This anger and critical heart is the cyanide that is in our heart and kills our happiness. When we confess this sin, He is faithful to cleanse us and restore us to a new level of righteousness. This process is how we practically put into practice the teaching of Jesus Christ on anger in the Sermon on the Mount. This practice is following Jesus…Follow Him and find life….

God Bless, brad

Monday, October 09, 2006

Posts Coming

Sorry for the lack of posts. My daily routine has been a little off due to work commitments, and I have not had time to edit a few post that are already written. Posts coming.