Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Faith and Strenuous Work

I have a few blog posts in my head. I would like to write a post on faith in which I contrast the faith as believes and faith for daily power. I am finding that the need for a continual awareness of our need for daily power, we are not ever going to walk in the kingdom. I also would like to write a post on heroic effort and the need for a sense of duty. In our generation, the idea of doing something out of duty is frowned upon but it is exactly this sense of duty to our God which motivates the effort and perseverance necessary to solve the difficult problems that face the church in or generation. This idea of great effort and great work, a renewal of a Christian work ethic for the sake of Christ, is much needed in this unstructured and undisciplined era we find ourselves in.

So which to write on.

I think I will write today on the need for strenuous work in our spiritual life.

My Heroes
One of my heroes is Albert Einstein. It is said of Albert Einstein that he thought of the same question for ten years. His mind was completely taken with a problem that he understood was essential to solve if we are to understand the mechanics of the universe on the scales of the infinite and the infinitesimal. Einstein suffered from exhaustion and seasons of depression during this period from the strenuous work of problem solving he endured. The product of his effort is one of the greatest intellectual feats in human history.

Another example of strenuous work in problem solving is the founding fathers. The founding fathers all worked in the service of the nation until their health would demand that they take a leave of absence. The result is the creation of a government based on the rule of law and a system of checks and balances that is the envy of the world. These pinnacles of human achievement are generated in the crucible of strenuous work. Anyone who has labored in the creative process understands this experience of inspiration and confidence and discouragement and depression. Problems like those facing the church today will not be solved without the enduring of a similar process of creativity.

For me, I am awed by the talent and expertise of great musicians. For this reason, I have great affection for the music and the passion of the work of John Coltrane. Such strenuous work produces dignity and honors God.

In our generation, many seem to feel that hard work and spirituality are contradictory approaches to life, but nothing can be further from the truth. Paul the Apostle said, “I worked harder than anyone else, but not I but the grace of God working in me”. Paul knew the experience of laboring in contemplation and the grace of inspiration that is the product of this co-laboring with the Spirit of the Almighty.

Today we face a great challenge. We live in an era when we have lost our understanding of how to walk in the character of God and how to teach others to walk in this way. We are called to re-build these age old foundations. This re-discovery of the way of discipleship will not just come upon us as we live in relaxed, “organic” conversation. It is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of princes to seek it out. God does not share His secrets easily but instead we are to seek wisdom like the greedy seek for gold. Such seeking and problem solving will take strenuous work.

One of the reasons I have not been blogging as much lately is the result of the strenuous work of the past few years. Being a bi-vocational pastor for the past three years took a toll on my health. In the back of my mind, I have not been willing to pursue such strenuous work again. We pursue such work out of faith. True faith in the promises of God motivates strenuous work and lately I have not had much faith.

True faith motivates great achievement and strenuous work. This is a good barometer for our faith. If we are not working like Paul but spend our time in leisure, then we do not have kingdom faith for the building of the kingdom on earth in the power of Jesus Christ. Faith causes one to rise up and pursue the promised land by faith. This pursuit is strenuous work.

Some of the Question that Need the Strenuous Work of Problem Solving
The strenuous work I am speaking of for myself is primarily contemplation and reflection upon the work that are doing in our faith community. Some of the difficult questions we face include:
1. How do we find the power of the presence of God in our every day life over our inherent self-centeredness and character defects?
2. How do we make disciples that really know and practice the principles of Jesus?
3. How do we teach a life of worship and prayer in such a busy culture?
4. How do we mobilize the church for mission?
5. How can we build a community that socializes the new believer into the principles of the kingdom?

The answer to these questions is hidden from us in our present time BUT we are called to discover these answers. This is our labor and our life and to build communities that live in the solutions to these problems and challenges will take strenuous work..

The discoveries that we will make along the way, as we contemplate discipleship and the way to renewal for Christ’s church, will be our most valued possessions. We will think Christ’s thoughts after Him. We will be wise. This too will take strenuous work.

Such a view of the need for human effort and even strenuous exhausting effort in the search for truth informs the manner in which we raise our children. I find many parents who do not teach this level of discipline to their children. Instead, we coddle our children. We do not challenge them in the sciences to think deeply and to wrestle with difficult questions.

This ethic of strenuous work is a high value in our home and I believe needs to be embraced in the church if we are to discover the wisdom needed to change the church and the world around us.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Religion or Spirituality – “Do Not Be Called Leaders” – How Organized Religion Undermines the Spirituality of Its Leaders

Some commandments of our Lord we obey and others we, Christians, completely ignore. In Matthew 23, Jesus made a statement that the church, myself included, has decided to completely ignore.

Jesus Christ made a very clear statement in Matthew 23 verse 10, He said, "Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.”

The previous verse, verse 9, we protestants obey. It says “Do not call anyone on earth your father”. That one, we obey. But verse 10, which is a parallel verse, we completely ignore. We have small group leaders. We call men “our pastor”. We say “Joe is called to leadership”. We may not technically say, “Joe is my leader”, but, in all practicality, the structure of the organized church is one of a few men preaching and teaching and a whole group of men and women listening to them. It is this dichotomous structure of teachers and listeners that Jesus Christ, our Lord, commanded that we DO NOT develop!! It is OK to listen to teachers, but do not try to be like them. Do not make it your ambition to obtain a position of teacher or a title of teacher or leader or father within the community of faith.

Now just a little aside. I can hear the purist saying, “but what about Paul’s statements about elders in Timothy?” Paul is talking about elders and deacons. Let’s just say, I believe in limited government. In other words, we need over sight and government in the church, but the role of government is very limited. The elders exercise discipline in very rare circumstances, and the role of the deacons is to make sure the bills get paid and that the wealth is distributed to the poor. But, for the real work of the community, there is no leadership. Actual discipleship work is totally worked out in peer to peer relationships. In all spiritual relationship and discipleship relationships, there must be no leaders or teachers for we have one leader Christ. So, for all the spiritual gifts of teaching and prophecy and mercy and hospitality and the work of building the kingdom, call no one on earth leader and do not let anyone call you a leader.

Second aside: I am fully aware that Paul also said, "Some are called to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers". My position does not contradict the reality of giftedness. I realize the answer is a "both/and" of no hierarchy in terms of status in the community and also of a place given for people graced by God to exercise and develop spiritual gifts.

The reason Jesus prohibits titles and hierarchical structure in His church is because ambition within the social structure of religion will undermine our spirituality and deceive us. This subtle ambition to be something in the structure of religion will prevent us from entering the Kingdom life of poverty of spirit, meekness, mercy, and purity. Lately, I have found this principle to be true not just in theory but in practice.
Let’s read the whole passage in context.

Matt. 23:6-15, Jesus, speaking regarding the religious leaders of His day, says:
6"They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.
8"But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.
9"Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.
10"Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11"But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12"Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
13"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
14"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
15"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves."

How I found this to be true in practice
When I first became a Christian, I was immediately offered positions of teaching in the body. Within a month or two of accepting the truth of the gospel, I began teaching 2-3 bible studies every week. Fifteen months after my conversion, I entered seminary and, less than a year after entering seminary, I was on staff at a mega-church and leading a Christian discipleship home. The point is I have never known Christianity without the promise of a “calling to leadership”. Throughout my entire Christian life, I have been in a place where I teach and others listen. Here is the way it works. We are baptized into a culture that has a structure that calls men with speaking gifts, or who are educated, leaders. Someone with a talent for speaking is placed in a role that is intended to turn him into “the man”. This structure is completely contrary to what Jesus commands, and I am only now realizing that this structure does not allow men to enter the kingdom. As Jesus says in the context of the passage, a structure that calls men leaders, "prevents them from entering the kingdom". Oh God, help us!!!

Let me say this, the men who found me and made me "twice the son of hell as themsleves" are tender-hearted, prayerful, humble men. I love them for believing in me or at least believing in me to a point. These men were fathers to me and were great examples of integrity and simplicity. But, the system simply doesn’t make kingdom followers of Jesus Christ.

For me, I have for the first time completely stepped out of the system. I, now, have no ambition in the system because there is no system. I cannot hope to be a full time teacher and preacher because there are no full time teachers and preachers. I cannot hope to be a leader of a faith community because, we have no leaders but Christ. I am left with no ambition to be the man because there is no “man” position in the simple church. Without hierarchy, I can't seek promotion among men.

The Initial De-tox
What I initially found was that my first response to this freedom from religion was to cease being spiritual. Now that there was no religion to drive me to be spiritual, I found I was not motivated at all. In other words, my motivation to please people was what was driving my daily spiritual disciplines. Certainly while in the religious system, God honored my prayers and I had many wonderful experiences and learnings from all these years of study and preparation for teachings, but I could not help but have mixed motives. This process is very humbling but, obviously, very spiritually necessary.

Here is my definition of religion or organized religion.
Religion is the social structure that motivates certain religious practices.

This structure will motivate even the most pure man or woman. If the structure exists then religion will be part of our cultural identity and therefore part of our character. There is no avoiding the influence of religion on us if we are “baptized’ into a religion structure with leaders and teachers and hierarchy.

Spirituality is a life driven by Holy Spirit fueled affections of the heart and which results in morally beautiful spiritual practices.

Maybe we could say, spirituality is an affection driven relationship with God that motivates spiritual practices of love for God and man. I am finding that without losing my religion, I was never able to separate my religion from my spirituality and, therefore, was never able to work solely on becoming a spirit led follower of Jesus Christ. I was working too hard on being a pastor to follow Jesus with all my heart.

I am contending that all pastors are placed in this quagmire.

Now everyone has a mixture of both religious and spiritual motivations this side of the final consummation of the kingdom. But, until a teacher-type steps outside the structure of religion, I have found it is impossible to discern and be cleansed of our religious and pharisaical motivations. The culture of religion makes us hypocrites.

So where do we go from here?
The answer is to pursue the kingdom and the teachings of Jesus and refuse to be a leader in any structural way (at least for a good long season). What we will find is a change of motives. Today, I find that I need the power of the Holy Spirit not in order to stay inspired so that I can preach a good sermon but in order to have any real relationship with Jesus at all. If I do not pray and seek the kingdom, I end up without God in my life. So now the primary motive for spiritual disciplines is actual love for God. Do not fear the loss of false motives, if we are His, then our hearts naturally long for God. This grace-given affection is now necessary to have any Christianity at all. Christendom is gone and now all we have is the kingdom. We are placed at the crossroads. Will we enter the kingdom or simply fade away and spiritually die?

My second motivation is moral survival. Now that I have no social fears to protect me from my sinfulness, I find that, without God, I am just like every other sinful pig. All our sin comes to the surface. Our external shell of religion can no longer protect us from the world. Now and only now do I feel I am desperate for authentic power from God without which I am morally doomed to mediocrity and nominal Christianity.

Thirdly, I am motivated to live in the world but not be of it. It is a total paradigm from religious obligation to actual compassion and otherliness. When the obligation to religious practice is gone, all that is left is the creativity to find ways to love people in practical ways. There is no religions service left to justify that we are building the kingdom. If we are to build the kingdom, we are forced to do it through organic and authentic relationships. There is no show to assist us in doing the kingdom work. There is no show to maintain. There are no more events to plan or meetings to attend. All we have at our disposal is our ability to make relationships with people and love them.

If we lack real kingdom affections and real love of God and people, we will be like the whole in the donut. We are left with no spiritual life at all. The process of stripping ourselves of all religion is pretty revealing. It has revealed in me that so much spiritual discipline was motivated by social ambition and not love for God at all. But the great benefit is that now, I am forced to only develop true spirituality. There is no more cloak of religion to hide beneath.

The conclusion is that Jesus’ sayings are again the true path to life. So my fellow travelers, “let no one on earth call you leader or teacher”. As we obey this liberating command of our Lord, in no time, if we continue to seek the kingdom and His righteousness, we will find God will do for us immeasurably beyond anything we could ask or even imagine. Glory to God!!

God Bless,

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Adrian's Blog: BLOGDOM TODAY - The Effects of Preaching and Religious Experience

Adrian's Blog: BLOGDOM TODAY - The Effects of Preaching and Religious Experience

This is an important post on how preaching works. I believe preaching is an important part of church life and needs to be revived in the home church networks.

Adrian quotes Edwards saying what is important in preaching is the experience in the moment not what you remember the next day. What Edwards is saying is that spiritual disciplines like prayer and worship and listening to inspired preaching transform the affections. We hear something beautiful and are sanctified by the experience of loving the beautiful. The memory of the content is not the main way we are sanctified by spiritual discipines.

The same is true of prayer. We rarely remember what we pray about later in the day BUT wow without prayer our affections get quite dull and we find ourselves without sensitivity to the our sin and to others. Prayer changes the affections and keeps us sensitive by the effect on the affections not the intellect. The same is true of preaching.

Those who are critical of the role of preaching and worship in song need to understand this vital truth to grant to preaching and worship in song in its proper value.

God Bless, brad

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Alienation, Confession and Brokenness - Reflections on Ted Haggard's Confession

Many of us who love the church would like to simply chalk the Ted Haggard's moral failings up to an individual incident of sin that any of us could fall into and move along to other discussions, but such an approach simply once again ignores the root causes which allow such problems to arise. Fellow evangelicals, there is something deeply wrong with the way we do church and practice our faith and this public incident provides us with a symbol upon which to reflect and discuss what is not working in popular evangelicalism.

Certainly, such discussion is not based on mountains of data but on one point of data. Certainly, none of us are intimate enough with Ted Haggard to observe closely the nuances of his history and his discipleship process that allowed him to lead a double life. BUT the incident and the content of his confession reveal some general principles that provide insight into the tragedyof being a sinner and an evangelical at the same time.

The content of Haggard's confession that I would like to focus on is as follows:
"The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality. And I take responsibility for the entire problem. I am a deceiver and a liar. There's a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life," he said.

Alienation, Confession and Brokenness
As a pastor and a discipler, I have learned a very important phrase that I have to use with everyone at some time or another. In our discipleship method, we often say, “your problem is not unique”. Human beings have been covering up their nakedness for a long, long time. It is only in the safety of a gospel immersed people that a sinner can find the acceptance to tell his or her whole story. We do this in one on one relationships with some other totally broken idiot. I am sometimes privileged to be that broken idiot on the listening end.

The culture of Popular Evangelicalism is completely contrary to this level of open confession. In almost all instances people have to go outside the church to some special recovery program or to therapy to make a thorough and open confession. In other words, hearing good sermons, that happens in the church, but for discipleship, you need to go outside the church. For actual help with overcoming sin, we the church are almost totally lost. Something is desperately wrong here.

Magic or Method
The church offers two solutions that simply do not work. Both methods are more magic than method. In the Charismatic church, of which Haggard is a part, there is the Holy Spirit magic method. In these churches, you come forward for an alter call and a ministry worker lays hands on you and presto, problem solved. Of course, the problem is only solved until you go back to your seat when all your totally broken affections come rushing back in.
In the conservative churches, the method is exactly the same except you replace the Holy Spirit with the bible. Listen to a good message and have morning devotions and presto, problem solved. For total idiots like this sinner, that method led me to loneliness and debauchery not holiness and freedom.

We could discuss the entire system of beliefs and practices that maintain this magical approach. Let me just make a list
Individualism – the wrong headed belief that Christianity is the story of me and Jesus working out my salvation in fear and loathing. This American individualism only compounds the alienation and obsession that came to us in Adam. Individualism and its alienation and obsession is the problem so it cannot be the solution.
Celebrity and Spectator Church Services – The church as we practice in popular evangelicalism utilizes a system where one or two men climb up a social latter to success. The winner gets to be the face of the church. To be this face one better primp their entire life. Put your best foot forward. Don’t show anything other than controlled and calculated weakness. Polish you sermon. Polish your social skills. Polish your shoes. Don’t dress to up. Don’t dress too down. Play the part and study hard and you can be celebrated as a success. This works good unless of course you are an actual human being. In this system, there is no way to be totally honest with the people you are working out your faith with.
The Farce of Pastor to Pastor Accountability
In such situations, pastors go outside their immediate co-labors to make open confession. In other words, pastors cannot be honest with the people they are trying to disciple. Pastors have pastor to pastor accountability. Why?? Because it is too risky to be totally honest with the council and one’s co-workers. BUT IF DISCIPLESHIP IS BASED ON OPEN AND HONEST CONFESSION AND THE MODELING OF HONEST CONFESSION, THEN THE PASTOR, BY DEFINITION CANNOT MAKE DISCIPLES IN THE CHURCH IF HE GOES OUTSIDE HIS CORE STAFF TO MAKE OPEN DETAILED CONFESSION!!! My friends, the system is completely wrong headed. Unless pastors confess directly to the people the exact nature of their brokenness, they are discipling, there is no discipleship. Discipleship is modeling the process of over-coming sin through confession and repentance and the applying of the principles of death to self. My friend this is learned only when the student sees us do it before them. The foundation of this is rigorously honest confession. Detailed confession in gender specific discipleship relationships is step one to being a disciple-maker. If the pastors do not have these relationships with their staff they are not making disciples they are planning worship services and events.

Read on at your own risk!!!

Ok here goes…If a pastor has a penis obsession, he needs to say to his staff, “I have a penis obsession”. Have we never dealt with homosexuality before??? If we haven’t, we know nothing about human sexuality. Everyone has sexual problems. Everyone. There is no exception to the rule. Discipleship must deal in total honesty about sex. Piper says if a pastor doesn’t speak at least twice a year about sex from the pulpit, he is not a pastor but a professional. We are not professionals my friends. We are sinners who cling to grace and the power of the Holy Spirit in total brokenness. We live one day at a time by grace alone. We learn what our triggers are and we call our mentors when we are finding that we are losing our balance. Often this requires calling out ten times a day until the obsession goes away. The key is that our mentors confess that they have been through the same thing and they share their solutions. There is no condemnation when our faith communities are honest enough that everyone realizes that no problem is unique. Total honesty. Popular evangelicalism is the exact opposite of what the sinner needs to find peace and the Kingdom.

Do you really think that the red-faced alcoholic at your work is going to get healed and healthy at your church? He was molested as a child and has a masturbation obsession. Church as it plays out today makes real sinners feel more alienated not less. If he does get “saved” what will happen is, he will play the game; find his act to play; become a deacon and still be just as much of an emotional basket case as he ever was. We have all seen it and the world can see it too. We haven’t dealt with the real self-centered fear that comes from our human condition. Fellow evangelicals, “we travel the world to make one convert and when we find him we make him twice the son of hell that we are.” The system is not working!!!

A Process That Does Work

What does work is a process of totally rigorous confession and anaylsis of the nature of our sinfulness in the context of confessing relationship. Folks, are you desperate enough to do what ever it takes to find the kingdom. It is a narrow road paved with confession and honesty. Find a mentor who has what you want. This mentor must have been through a serious transformation process and understand confession.

I have mapped out this inventory process many times here at 21st Century Reformation. Trust me!! It works!!. Here is what happens. In almost every situation, where a person makes a thorough inventory and tells his story in every detail to God ad to another fellow traveler, he or she feels a connectedness to God and to another human being that he has never felt before. It is this connectedness that breaks the power of the loneliness and alienation that is at the heart of all our obsessions.

My friends is this the first principle and practice of your local church program. If not, I know one thing is for certain, your faith community might be doing church but you are not making disciples.
God Bless,

Saturday, November 04, 2006

First Reactions to the Ted Haggard Moral Failing

I am contemplating writing extensively about Ted Haggard's moral fall, but I am leaning against it. I have come to realize that my initial reactions are too emotion-laden to have much objective value. My initial response is pure fury and anger. I feel betrayed. Here at 21st Century Reformation, I seek to counter the superficiality of popular evangelicalism with a message grounded in the ethics of the cross and self-sacrificial love. My initial, albeit emotion-laden, reaction sees Haggard as responsible for mainstreaming prosperity and financial provision teachings which are diametrically opposed to my understanding of the person of Jesus Christ and the moral beauty of God that has captured my affections.

I have personally experienced the desire of a church for a charismatic leader with a popular message, and I have seen this desire for a "pastor-as-celebrity" church undermine what I see as the message of the Holy Spirit to the church in our generation. Haggard is the poster child for such celebrity and feel-good preaching that I passionately see as the source of all that ails us. Needless to say, Haggard and his lack of confession, while being a pastor, surfaces many emotions in me.

For me, all I can say is that it will take time for me to discern what is my anger and what is God's word to the church. One thing I know for certain is that we evangelical Christians need to soberly seek wisdom from God. Today, I stand more than ever in opposition to any preaching which claims that Godliness is a means of financial gain as it is in opposition to the moral beauty of the cross.

May God have mercy on us and may we respond to His discipline with humility and repentance.