Thursday, July 12, 2007

Good News - Fewer teens are having sex

Fewer teens are having sex. This is really interesting and dramatic news statically speaking. The numbers really are significant. The question, I think, is what is the cause? It would only be speculation but I think contributors are:

1. A better economy: A good economy has a deep effect on peoples stress level and the need to medicate with irresponsible behavior. Kids see the system working and they plan for the future and therefore act more responsibly.

2. More open communication: Education is always good. We are more open and therefore kids are more prepared for the onslaught of sexual feelings and how to again act responsibly when faced with a sudden decision.

Any ideas as to the cause of this blessed upturn in responsible behavior.

God Bless, brad

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Teachings of Jesus and the Nations First Hospital

Pennsylvania Hospital History: Stories - Nation's First Hospital

Christopher Hitchens has written a book with the sub title "How Religion Poisens Everything". This I think is the most ignorant thing I have ever heard.

The above story tells how a quaker named Dr. Thomas Bond came to Benjamin Franklin to start a the first hospital. The hospital was then given the theme from Luke 10, "Take care of hi and I will repay you". This quote is from the story of the good Samritan, a story where Jesus teaches that true goodness of character is not founded in our heritage but in whether or not we care for the physical needs of others.

The power of Jesus' teachings especially the story of the Good Samitan to inspire care for the poor cannot be underestimated. For exaple, there is the teaching in Matt. 25 that to the extent that we care for the poor to this extent we are caring for Jesus Himself.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Meekness and Turning it Over to God in Prayer

I am daily, well at least today, earning the surprising power of turning a problem over to God in prayer. For example, today I had a problem at work that I turned over to God in prayer and said, ‘God, I cannot fix this. Please fix it. I give this to you”. To my amazement, God again has done for me what I cannot do for myself. God honors when we let Him do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. This is meekness. Meekness is giving the management of what we cannot control over to the One who is the manager of the uncontrollable in our lives.

I cannot control whether a door is open in the gospel. God controls this. I cannot control other people’s attitudes and when I ask the Lord for help inthese things that I cannot control. He goes to work. This is meekness.

This is a discipline of turning over to God our anxieties and asking Him to control things that I cannot control anyway. My children’s attitudes. My friends brokenness. My wife’s happiness. I cannot control these things and this powerlessness with respect to circumstances outside my control lead me to either try to force my will on others which is evil or to give it over to God and rest or to just stress out about the problem. Only one option is righteous and there is only one path to peace in such situations. This is the path of meekness.

In business this is a big source of stress. We need to learn to spot these anxieties and what we cannot control and respond with joyful hopeful faith filled prayers to our God who loves to act for the sake of the meek.

God Bless,

Thursday, March 22, 2007

miles davis and john coltrane

I have tried to post this video a bunch of times. If this works , I am going to go on a musicology binge and preach the gospel of music for a bit.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

My Music: THELONIOUS MONK - Blue Monk

I know I haven't been posting much though a lot has been going on. I think I will post some of my favorite music as music is such a huge part of my experience and my loves. Here is the master of masters - Thelonious Monk playing "Blue Monk". Make sure you make it through the solo. It starts around 3:00. This is the best blues ever. UNREAL. We are truly wonderfully made. Pure mastery.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Christianity and the Problem of Existence

“This is life to know God” – John 17:3

Thesis: The problem that Christianity is mandated to solve is the problem of sin. Mankind falls desperately short of the glory of God’s moral perfections. The ultimate root cause of mankind’s sin problem is his alienation from God. Both of these points are agreed upon by all Christians. But where Christians differ is in their understanding of the Gospel’s role in solving the problem of our subjective experience of life, what I am calling "the problem of existence". In what follows, I will attempt to show that to solve the sin problem we must solve the “problem of existence” or the existential problem of fear, shame, guilt, alienation, powerlessness, and hopelessness. This problem of existence is only solved through conscious contact with God. In other words, the key to solving the sin problem is to solve the subjective experience of alienation from God and not just the objective reality of alienation from God.

Where Christians Agree – Our Problem is Spiritual
As Christians, our faith is that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. The good news, the salvation, that we preach is that the Kingdom of God is at hand and that the kingdom of God addresses the true root cause of the human dilemma. Our faith is that the true human problem is not a medical problem; it is not a political problem, BUT we preach that at the root cause of all of human misery is a spiritual problem. That spiritual problem is first and foremost that mankind is alienated and separated from God, our Father and our Creator. Upon being reconciled with God, the most basic and fundamental problem with human existence is addressed and the potential at least for a better existence is within reach. All Christians agree with this most basic gospel. Human beings are objectively alienated from God and Jesus Christ has provided the solution to this problem.

Where Christians begin to diverge in both theory and in practice is with respect to the extent to which the Gospel solves mankind's subjective experience of this alienation from God and the role that our subjective experiences of God play in overcoming the problem of sin.

The Conservative Evangelical Approach to the Human Problem
Before I begin this discussion, I would like to say that I do not think the labels conservative and charismatic are all that helpful. Nonetheless, I am going to use these terms to illustrate a distinction in approaches to the faith, and I think making this distinction is important to validate the role of experience in solving the problem of sin.
Speaking as a conservative evangelical, we might approach the human problem using the following line of reasoning.
Mankind's fundamental problem is the problem of guilt. The human being is guilty before God, and this guilt is an objective fact. Our subjective experience of guilt, if we are aware of it, is the consequence of a real objective guilt. We have within us an understanding of the will of God and the law of God. The law of God is written on our hearts as a consequence of being created in the image of God. This knowledge of the moral law of God is intuitive and essential to being human. In fact, it is this claim that our moral sense is a by-product of the metaphysical reality of God that new atheists, like Richard Dawkins, contend is not a metaphysical reality at all but is merely a by-product of evolution. In other words, morality is an evolutionary imperative not the imperative of our unseen and metaphysical nature.

The evangelical answer to how the gospel meets this fundamental problem is as follows. Faith is the acceptance that we are indeed objectively guilty and through faith alone in the biblical or apostolic understanding of the crucification of Jesus Christ reconciles us with God. The result of our faith is that we are positionally or objectively no longer guilty before God. Our status with God is objectively changed. What is key to this approach to the gospel is that the subjective problem of guilt is not the real problem and therefore the subjective problem of guilt is not the aim of the gospel. If one “feels” forgiven or not is not essential. If one “feels” forgiven is a secondary benefit but not essential to solving the human problem. This benefit is at best only partially experienced in this life but will be profoundly experienced only in the life to come. Here is the key difference between the charismatic/Pentecostal Christian and the conservative/non-charismatic Christian. The conservative believes that a profound change of character occurs through faith in the objective element of the gospel regardless of one's subjective experience of forgiveness and God's love. In fact to expect a profound subjective experience might lead one away from simple faith in the objective facts.

On the other hand, Charismatic/Pentecostal Christian agrees with the objective aspect of the Christian's salvation through faith alone but the more charismatic Christian adds that the Gospel fully intends the Christian to experience their reconciliation with God subjectively or in their conscious experience. In fact, in practice the Charimatic leaning Christian beleives that subjective experience through the Holy Spirit is necessary to have a profound change of character. (Note: I agree with the connection between experience and life transformation but I do not think the profound change of character lasts more than one day at a time. I find I only act truly beautifully when I am in that instance experiencing God's immediate presence.)

In this regard, and I hope I say this correctly, I side with more the Charismatic camp of the church. This distinction is absolutely vital, and is foundational with respect to our expectations of the Gospel and our methods in discipleship. Here is where I need to say this correctly.

The most basic difference between “charismatc/pentacostal” Christians and “conservative” Christians is the extent to which they directly address "the problem of existence”. By “the problem with existence”, I mean the problem of the “feeling” of fear, dread, insecurity, guilt, defeat, and shame, just to name a few. The real power of the gospel is it’s ability to directly address one’s subjective conscious experience of life. I am firmly find myself in this more spiritual or experiential approach to the Christian faith and I intend to argue and contend for this approach as the only path to a testimony of life transformation.

The "Conservative" and the “Charismatic” Approaches to the Faith
Let’s begin to look a little at the difference between these two approaches to the faith.

Both approaches, conservative and Charismatic, see the ultimate root cause of the problem as mankind’s objective alienation from God, but the extent to which the gospel directly meets and solves a person’s existential problem or the problem of existence is quite different in the two camps. For the conservative, and again I do not like these labels, the existential problem or subjective problem is not seen as within the chain of causes and problems that the gospel is directly addressing, or, stated even stronger, the subjective conscious problems are only solved when they are ignored. In conservatiev thinking, to confess and seek a better subjective sense of well-being can sometimes be seen as selfish. Furthermore, in some conservatiev Christian worldviews, the solution to the problem of temporal happiness is only expected to be experienced in the next life. On the contrary, in more experience focused approaches to the faith, it is the subjective problem of fear and guilt and shame that the gospel is meeting very directly. If we view the gospel as directly meeting the subjective or existential problem of fear and guilt and shame and hopelessness, then our ministry and our Christian practices are greatly influenced by an approach which places such a high value on experiences of God.

The Problem of Sin
The differences between these two perspectives on the gospel become very apparent as we begin to approach the problem of sin. Christian discipleship seeks as its fruit victory over sin. (Note, I think focusing on sin is very very appropriate and helpful.) The problem that the bible commands us to address is the problem of sin. I contend that the problem of sin is only solved when we solve, day by day, the subjective problem of fear, guilt, shame, anger and all the innumerable inner problems that we encounter as living, conscious, moral beings. Fear and shame and anger and hopelessness, the dread of existence, is only met by the immediate conscious knowledge of God. To know God in our experience is life.

When we discuss as a community what we are attempting to give to the thirsty sinner, my answer is always the presence of God or “the worship experience”. For example, a person is lonely. They feel helpless and hopeless. They seek to medicate this problem through innumerable dysfunctional means. We all desperately need to feel good about ourselves and our place in life. Most human beings simply ignore these problems and medicate to some degree. This intentional ignorance is called denial. This denial works well until we decide in earnest to tackle the problem of sin.

Focusing on sin and our character flaws and shortcomings surfaces our need for a change of our inner person and profound changes to our inner motivations. Over time as we continue to battle, if we are honest, we come to the conclusion that at the root of our problems is the problem of subjective alienation from God. We live out of a deep impulse toward self-preservation. Self-preservation leads to anger and resentments and a million other fors of self-centered fear. The call to live the cross becomes to us an impossible quest. Our carnal attempts to solve the problem of sin makes us aware of our inner motivations of fear and anger. we thirst for a better more holy existence where we can say we truly live in love and freedom instead of fear and resentment. We sin because we thirst and we thirst for God. The solution to the problem of sin finds its power in the conscious experience of peace and safety that come only from God. The solution to sin is in overcoming the subjective problem of alienation from God.

If this is our approach and our understanding of the disolution to the problem of sin, then we do all we can to help people experience God directly. Our worship practices are acts of seeking God. Our confession practices are not a duty but a means to obtaining eyes to see God. Our acts of service are a means to find God in doing good work with God. All of these disciplines are means to finding true freedom from the self-centeredness that characterizes all life apart from conscious contact with God.

My experience in my personal life and in ministry is that people, myself included, only act truly lovingly and selflessly when they are immediately aware of God. I only understand grace and mercy when I experience grace and mercy from God.

Picture a broken sinner and all his dysfunction. Is there any way for this person to have a profound change of character without a direct experience of God Himself? If he is alone and fearful and shattered by trauma and shame, how can we help? We cannot. We can only help to the extent to which God is present with us. It is only God’s voice that can tell this person that they have dignity. Only God can speak to the spirit of a person.

The Woman At The Well
Jesus’ ministry to the woman at the well is a wonderful text to understand how real salvation in this life works. The woman at the well was a religious sinner. Jesus cut through all this smokescreen of religion and asked her to "go get her husband". This question was intended to surface the SIN PROBLEM. Jesus went straight to the point and surfaced the sin problem. Then, what did Jesus offer the woman to solve this need for real salvation, salvation from the practice of sin. He said… “You come here because you thirst, I give a water that if you drink it you will no longer thirst”. Thirst is a subjective sense of pain. This thirst is the subjective problem of our existence. Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit meets us at the point of the problem of our existence. The holy spirit meets us in our fear and our dread and our hopelessness and purposelessness and He fills us with a joy unspeakable. Only a subjective experience of God that meets directly our "problem of existence" that solves the root cause of our natural life. It is only this blessed inner knowledge of God that leads to victory over sin.

Therefore, how are we to minister? We must understand that in order to meet the real spiritual need of people, we must offer them God Himself. We give to people the subjective existential experience of conscious contact with God as the only solution to their problem. We must focus our eyes on our sin to constantly place ourselves in a place of utter dependence and need for God. We must understand that the only power that we have over sin is the power of a conscious relationship with Jesus Christ.

God Bless,

Monday, February 05, 2007

Organic Church and The Starfish and the Spider

I am a very slow yet thorough reader. So reading a book is a big investment for me. I am reluctant to invest time into reading when I could spend the time with a person.

That said for me to recommend books is a big deal.
So here are two book recommendations.


Organic Church, by Neil Cole. My recent posts on The Necessity of Cell Groups of Two or Three Interacting Daily and The Church or the Kingdom were reflections on this book. I will re-read this book periodically to keep myself focused on what I believe God is doing in our lives.

Second recommendation...

I opened this book this weekend and so much of what this book says explains how the early church functioned. I will definitely post on the ramifications of this book and the truth about leaderless organizations that Jesus commands when He said..."call no one on earth your leader".
God Bless, brad

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Necessity of Cell Groups of Two or Three Interacting Daily

All life consists of cells. The body is made up of living cells. If the body is not made up of cells, you cannot call it a body but a machine. Any organism that is not made up of cells is not actually alive. You can have a body that has dead cells, but it is necessary to remove the dead cells if the body is to live.

Jesus made disciples in small groups or in cells. Jesus never commanded us to make churches but only to make disciples. We make disciples in the smallest group level of 2-3 individuals walking with Jesus on a day by day basis. The best possible small group structure is 2-3. This structure of smallest groups is the foundation of all living bodies or living organisms. The foundational structure of the body is small groups of 2-3 that live together on a daily basis. Any other structure in the church is useful to maintain unity for greater city-wide purposes but only the cellular level is absolutely indispensable. It is disciple. We make disciples and equip the saints by teaching men and women to make disciples in the cell group level of the smallest groups.

How I think this works, at least in my experience, is that such intmate relationships that are focused on the teachings of Jesus and living them out surface our problems. We are broken people and our brokenness become apperant if we allow people to know us on a daily basis and if we allow them to speak into our lives. It is not that small groups work in themselves but that these relationships surface and make visible our weaknesses. Couple this surfacing of problems with the covenant to give and take spiritual direction and you are on your way to desperately needing the power of the Holy Spirit.

The training of leaders is training leaders to make disciples in the smallest groups of 2-3. many men and women are not called to provide spiritual direction in larger groups like house churches but all are called to provide leadership at the cellular level. Everyone is called to make disciples and this equipping is fueled when we develop a cellular structure of disciple-making relationships. By doing this we can release leaders like Jesus released leaders. Jesus recruited his church and ALL the members of His church were released into leadership. This is true for a few reasons. Most importantly Jesus only recruited fourth soil believers. Work only with people who are willing to be disciple-makers at the cellular level. Place all our effort at the cellular level where ALL the members are being equipped to be leaders of groups of two or three. This is the foundation of the church and the focus of almost all of our attention.

So principle #1 is that the primary group where all the actual work is being done is at the cellular level of groups of two or three that interact with each other daily.

This group of cellular discipleship interacts daily in one way or another. This discipleship is daily relationship of prayer, worship, confession, and contemplation of the teachings of Jesus.

Principle #2 is that leaders are released to lead intentional discipleship relationship that meet daily. Leaders are men or women who are capable of:
1. Meeting with one or two people daily.
2. Communicating the teachings of Jesus both the Sermon on the Mount and the parables from their own experience.
3. Have a practice of daily worship and prayer in private.
4. Are able to lay hands and pray for others.
5. Are equipped to teach others to make disciples.

Principle #3 – If your church is not made up of people in smaller groups of two or three, then you are not making disciples. The purpose of the church is to make disciples. The church exists to make disciples.
1. Everyone in the church is challenged to participate in daily smaller groups of two or three and to be equipped to lead these smaller groups.
2. If it is not a distinguishing mark of your church that everyone needs to be making disciples in daily covenant relationships, then your DNA is wrong. Somehow we haven’t set an example and articulated an example of a life transformation model that works. I am convinced that the only way to get victory over besetting character defects is to live in discipleship daily. I am not saying that daily discipleship works but that daily discipleship is necessary for human beings to live in faith. Such a faith is so aware of it’s weakness that daily confession has become the means of surfacing our weakness and abiding in Christ. If there are people in your church who think the weekly meeting is where discipleship happens, your DNA is wrong. Stop doing church and start over.

Think about it for a second. Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you 70x7 times a day forgive him.” This passage is speaking out of the context of living in community and how these relationships surface our brokenness. It is this process of surfacing our brokenness that leads to walking in weakness and grace.

Principle #4 – The purpose of larger groups is to equip the members in making disciples. This is accomplished primarily through teaching the teachings of Jesus and the scriptural commentary upon the teachings of Jesus.
1. Do not attempt to do the work of the group of two to three in the larger house church meetings of individual confession and prayer for one another.
2. The larger group is to teach the apostolic teaching and proclaim testimony of what is happening in the smaller groups (i.e. on the street).

God Bless,

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Church or the Kingdom

In our community, we are continually asking, “What can we give to people?”. The answer is often that we can give them a level of community that will teach them a new and healthy way of life. When community is the answer to how we help people, the mandate is to build community and to emphasize dialogue about real life problems and the principles that are foundational to functional living. Such an emphasis is a huge step forward compared to the come to church on Sunday and then you are on your own. With people like myself that are way to damaged to make it on my own, the Sunday and Wednesday routine just doesn’t work. For the sick, authentic community is an absolute necessity to a sane life. BUT!!!, this emphasis on COMMUNITY IS NOT THE ANSWER to the “What can we give to people?” question.

Conversion to the Church or Entrance into the Kingdom
The above scenario where a new believer enters a Christian community that meets daily and studies the teachings of Jesus is a good thing, obviously, but I have no interest in converting people to Christianized social work. We must be very self-critical and precise in what are we really offering people. What we are offering people is LIFE IN THE KINGDOM THROUGH THE IMMEDIATE POWER AND PRESSENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST. The answer to the question, “What can we give to people?” must be THE HOLY SPIRIT on a daily basis. We must beware of converting people to the church.

The Real Problem with American Evangelicalism
If you are reading this article, I am assuming you are looking for more than the mainstream church has to offer. When the mainstream church honestly answer the question, “What can we give to people?”, the answer is that we can offer good programs and clear bible teaching. We may say, “We offer relationship with Jesus Christ”, but if the by relationship with Jesus Christ we mean the immediate power and presence of the Holy Spirit then the mainstream church cannot honestly testify that we offer people a life of relationship with Jesus Christ. The daily power of the Holy Spirit has not been my experience of the life of the normal church-goer. No what the church offers is programs and teaching. In other words, the church offers people church. The real problem with the church in America is that we convert people to church and not the kingdom. BUT if we in the home church, simple church, organic church simply convert people to daily, authentic church as opposed to weekly superficial church, we are merely re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titantic. The problem with the mainstream church, and I believe the mainstream church is on its death bed in America, is that church life does not necessitate authentic spirituality and does not model the life in the kingdom. Life in the kingdom is living daily filled with the power of presence of Jesus Christ through the daily imitation of Jesus Christ in community.

The Emphasis of the Church Growth and Mega Church Approach
The church growth approach taught pastors to make sure that all the processes were in place to assure that people have a positive experience in church. The program of the church needs to be excellent to attract a crowd. The speaker must be entertaining. The music must be excellent. The programs must be fast paced and offer relationship with nice people and the parking must be sufficient. If we do this well, people will be attracted to the church and this will expose the masses to the word of God and the gospel. In this approach, we are really converting people to church attendance. The program takes most of the pastors time. He is the director of a presentation. This approach has led to the total carnality and impotence of the church. This is not how Jesus Christ made disciples. Only true spirituality and the offer of the power and presence of Jesus Christ in our daily lives demands everything from the baptized. We have made the gospel palatable in order to baptize people into the church. Such an approach caters to second and third soil hearts. Such an approach is total folly and bears no fruit that remains. If your pastor is concerned for even one instant about the flow of the service, I contend this is completely wrong headed. Jesus sent seekers who were not totally repentant away. Jesus said things that were totally offensive in order to separate the second and third soil people from the good and pure hearts. Our goal should be like Jesus’. We should try to offend people with the demands of the cross and the kingdom life. Only the call to live in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit daily demands everything from us.

The Necessity of Community
Even when the mainstream church offers, the power of the Holy Spirit, the mainstream church cannot deliver. When a seeker comes into the church and we offer them the kingdom life through the immediate power and presence of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, we cannot deliver on this offer without daily community meetings. Jesus Christ couldn’t deliver the kingdom without walking daily with the disciples. Are we so anointed that we can deliver bread that magically nourishes people for a week at a time? It is impossible to live by faith in the immediate reality of the kingdom without daily corporate prayer and worship and contemplation of the apostle’s teachings. The corporate life models for the new believer what it means to pursue God in prayer and worship. We teach how to confess and repent in the presence of God.

I once had a home churcher ask me sarcastically, “What we have to pray for it to be church?” My answer is “No, we have to pray passionately with true authentic repentance for it to be church!!”. Church is a group of people encountering God in spirit and truth. Church is not Christian potluck. In the book of Acts, the church met daily but they didn’t meet to have potluck. People are not afraid of potlucks. People were afraid to enter the early church and be double minded. God showed up at the meetings. People got healed at the meetings. The prayer and the teaching was 200 proof Holy Spirit. A new believer will not experience the life transformation that we call the kingdom without this type of community on a daily basis.

When we answer the “what can we give to people?”, we offer them a life in the power of God. In doing this, we must offer them to be immersed in the teachings of Jesus. We must offer them corporate meetings everyday BUT if we end with principles and community and do not lead people all the way into the presence of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, we still have merely converted them into the church. We do not baptize people into the Church, we baptize people into Christ. We are offering people a daily relationship with the living risen Jesus Christ. Jesus is alive. Jesus is powerful. Jesus delivers. Nothing short of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit will deliver those around us.

God Bless,

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Christianity by Total Immersion

Come and Walk with Us as We Follow Christ

In this post, I am going to attempt to answer the question, “What are we really trying to do in our faith community?”. The best answer to this question is that we want to be able to call people out of the world and into the kingdom way by saying “come and walk with us as we follow Christ”.

Last night, we had a meeting at our home. There was a nice sized group of people including a family who was visiting for the first time. I am sure the visitors went away thinking “that is a pretty nice group of people” BUT...that is no where near enough. As a community, we still lack the daily rhythm to call people out of the world and into the kingdom by simply saying “come walk with us as we follow Christ. Walk with us and you will come to know what it means to walk in the kingdom of God. You will come to know freedom from sin and true happiness….”

Baptism into a Daily Way of Life
As a good evangelical, I was taught that baptism really means immersion. The application of this etymological truth was that the proper mode of baptism was total immersion. It is true that baptism best symbolizes our life in Christ when we totally immerse new converts as opposed to sprinkle them, but we throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water if we miss the real point of baptism by total immersion. The application is that discipleship into the kingdom only comes through total immersion in the new language of the kingdom life. When we are baptized, this event is a symbol of our commitment to total immersion into the body of Christ. If the church is to honor the baptism of the new convert, we must be able to offer them Christianity by total immersion.

What’s Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander
To be able to offer the kingdom to those we meet obviously takes a very “all in” lifestyle. We often say in our community that we minister as much for us as for those we minister to. When we realize that discipleship is by total immersion it is we who must go through the change of lifestyle so we can call others to come walk with us. The every day discipleship immerses our community in the language of the teachings of Jesus. Daily encouragement makes the insecure confident. Daily immersion in discussion makes the biblically illiterate biblically literate pretty fast. The point is to be able to call others into the process, or so we are told. But the benefit we reap ourselves is so great it is hard to say what is greater the benefit we bring others or the benefit we receive ourselves.

We often ask ourselves, “should we wait until we are very consistent and strong in our meeting frequency before we start doing outreach to others?” I think the answer to this is no, not really. It is in the asking others to join us that we are forced to be more consistent. When we say, “Meet me at my house every night at 6:00pm”, we are pretty “all in”. Now we have to play the hand all the way out. We have to start being consistent because we have commitments to others that we need to honor. This boldness spurs us on to being more and more daily.

The end of it all is that total immersion is the biblical mandate. It is the meaning of our being immersed in the body of Christ in baptism. So many find they cannot find the kingdom and yet they have no total immersion model to follow and no total immersion community to join. If we find ourselves in this situation, risk is needed. Where ever two or three are gathered is church. Find one friend and challenge each other to live out discipleship by total immersion. Once we take this first step, we will find we are not far from the kingdom.

God Bless,

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Art of Holiness and Spiritual Progress

As many of you know, our family has moved out of the more institutional approaches to the Christian faith into what is often termed a more organic or simple approach. I personally prefer to speak of our move as from a more academic approach to the faith to a more monastic or intentional community approach. Our current goal is to find like minded families who are interested in living in community in such a way that meetings are available every night in homes and that in these meetings the primary focus is how to live out and practice the teachings of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. Though I would personally never attempt going to meetings every night, it is very helpful to have meetings available every night. Currently, we have families who are committed to opening their homes on Monday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday AM and Sunday PM. The primary learning technique is to allow the close proximity of our living to surface relational, emotional, and spiritual weakness in all of us. Let me begin by saying, this new simply approach to the faith has been quite fruitful with our children. Later in this post I will describe how we do church in our home.

Why Begin Outside the Church
The Benefits of Daily Community
The current misconceptions regarding how to approach Christianity and a lack of proper language in Christian circles to explain and train one another in the methods of sanctification and spiritual progress is so acute that I find it necessary to go outside of the majority Christian culture in order to develop what I understand to be a disciple making community. One element is the understanding of the need for community. Our approach as we are practicing it today sees community as a pre-requisite for spiritual progress. In the intentional community approach, the need for skills in conflict resolution, humble confession, giving and receiving spiritual direction, and forgiveness is absolutely crucial. Community surfaces our immaturity, and our weaknesses become opportunities to learn the teachings of Jesus. This progress only happens in the context of intentional community and in an all-in approach which embraces weakness and confession. In this context, mentoring and discipleship becomes an organic characteristic of our Christian life.
While our approach to the faith takes a daily practice of community as a prerequisite to spiritual progress, we also are developing a different model to our actual meetings which focuses on the learning of practices and spiritual disciplines more than the development of a worldview. In the institutional church, we are taught that Spiritual growth comes through the listening to and sometimes discussion of concepts when in fact spiritual progress is attained primarily through repetition of certain practices. Like any other activity, Spiritual progress comes through the development of certain talents and skills. Church meetings are modeled more after a sports practice than an academic classroom. Again, Christianity is learned more like gymnastics than geometry.

Ultimately, Christianity is not a body of truths to be intellectually known but a body of practices to be learned and skills and talents to develop. I think of the Martial Arts. In the Martial Arts, skills are learned, a certain type of kick or a certain type of stance. Or we could use the analogy of ballet. The result is a dance but the method of learning is repetitive practice of skills. Then the skills are put together like sentences in a story and the dance is developed. Church then is to be modeled after a ballet or Martial Arts lesson where we learn and practice skills as opposed to an academic exercise where we discuss and learn truths.

Our Family Church
In 2006, we began doing church differently. Though we have always led “small groups”, recently we began doing church in our home using a model where doing church was learning a skill and not a set of truths. To know Christianity is to know how to live a certain way in imitation of the life of Jesus Christ and not to develop a worldview or a theological system. It is difficult for me to explain how revolutionary this approach has been.

We began by asking ourselves what skills do we find essential to living a morally beautiful life. The conclusion we came to, my wife and I, was the practices of prayer and worship. Ultimately, it is affection and encounter with God Himself that is the foundation of all holiness and commitment to the ethical commands of Jesus Christ. If my children learn worship and pray, then I can trust the Holy Spirit to mold their affections.

So we are teaching our children not about prayer but actually how to pray. As a specific skill, we have been teaching our children how to use silence to adjust our attitudes and enter into worship and thanksgiving, reflection and confession, and preparation and petition. We begin in silence and thanksgiving. Next, we work together on some project like practicing music. In the course of the “band practice” there will inevitably be some conflict. After the band practice, we use the conflict as a teaching point to reflect on the teachings of Jesus. After discussion, we return to prayer and confess our weaknesses humble ourselves. This always ends in a wonderful time of worship and joy. We close by praying for the rest of the day and any people we are planning to meet that day.

The church time becomes a model of the daily cycle of morning prayer, daily work and evening reflection and worship. Our goal is to live this daily cycle every day and to teach this spirituality to our children.

So far, we are seeing spiritual growth both in ourselves and in the other folk who are taking this journey with us. We are hoping that as we learn this model through a few years of practice that we can bring our approach to the faith to those in the institutional church that are seeking to become and to make disciples of Jesus Christ.