Monday, May 30, 2011

The Extent of the Kingdom - What Quality of Life Ought We to Expect? Opening Paragraph

That the kingdom is at hand is not such a revolutionary idea. What is revolutionary is to find the means to actually enter into the kingdom in this life. When one person says the kingdom is immediately available, “the kingdom is at hand”, he means something quite different than someone else proclaiming the same message. One has a high expectation of a new and beautiful quality of life, while the other expects merely an assurance of heaven and only a future deliverance.  Yet, still another believes something in between these two options. The question is whether or not the coming of the kingdom in our life can have a truly revolutionary effect. Can we be free of all self interest and hoarding to such an extent that we live a simple and generous life, a life of daily faith in the provision of the Father? Is the life of communion with God, a life set free by grace and love, available? Is this the life of the few or is this blessed life available to all the followers of Jesus, the single, the married, the young and the old? Can our temperaments be tamed? Can we live without concern for the opinions of others, undisturbed by their judgments and slanders and threats? Can we love our enemies, our enemy-neighbors, even in the midst of the conflict? If we picture the highest ideal, a  life fully delivered from the human predicament, and then believe for something even greater, are we describing the kingdom that is available in heaven or the kingdom that is available on earth? To what extent is the kingdom available to us in this life? This is the question. How we answer this question defines the nature of our faith? How we understand the extent of the kingdom that is available in this life determines the trajectory of our life, our expectations, our approach to the faith. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Discipleship 101 - An Outline (Part 1)

Over the past month or so, I have been meditating on the theology and principles that make up a kingdom approach to discipleship. It is the church’s primary job to deliver a kingdom quality of life, a truly happy and heavenly quality of life, to those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, the path into the kingdom is rarely, if ever, mapped out in the church’s ministry program. As I wrote earlier, Dallas Willard says, “I know of no current denomination or local congregation that has a concrete plan and practice for teaching people to ‘do all that I commanded you’”. In other words, Willard knows of no church that has a discipleship program that leads people into the kingdom. This is a bold claim but it has been my experience as well. 
The quality of life which Jesus offers, as those who have tasted it know, is significantly distinct from the quality of life one can attain apart from the Gospel. When the power of the Kingdom comes upon us we have a significantly higher quality of life in terms of righteousness, peace and joy. I am not saying that the believer abides in this place continually or even consistently, but as one learns and grows, we can learn how to pull ourselves out of our forgetfulness and revive the presence and power of God in our lives. 
What follows is a very brief outline of, first, a kingdom theology and, subsequently, a kingdom approach to discipleship. My intension, though I rarely am able to follow through on my original intentions, is to write multiple posts on each postulate, hypothesis, and principle using this post as a basic outline. At some point, I will write a post with the remainder of the outline of the principles that give the believer a more complete understanding of the teachings of Jesus. So, in fact, what I hope to accomplish is a somewhat complete mapping of a discipleship process. These principles have been of great spiritual value to me and to others who I have had the privilege of walking with as friends and co-workers in the kingdom.
I will outline this path using terminology that works for me. The terminology may or may not be best, but, certainly, that is not the point. It is our practices that make any approach to the faith actually work especially when we define “working” as bringing to people the promised kingdom quality of life. So here we go: 
Postulate 1: Jesus is the Christ
In the Old Testament, God promises His failing people that He will send a Christ who will usher in a new covenant. This new covenant will not be like the old covenant which they could not follow. Instead, this new covenant will empower the people of God to obey his ways. The believer will be given a new heart, a tender heart. No longer will one person say to another “Do you know the Lord?” for every one will have an intimate and conscious awareness of God. This experiential knowledge of God will enable the people of God to obey God and, ultimately, this new covenant will enable the people of God to become the morally beautiful people that God has envisioned for His people. They will become a light on a hill and a city that cannot be hidden. Faith for the fulfillment of these promises, in our lives and in our churches, is what it means to believe that Jesus is the Christ. 
Postulate 2: Since Jesus is the Christ, by definition, the kingdom of heaven is within our reach. 
The kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven is best described as a truly happy and heavenly quality of life. This kingdom quality of life is the quality of life available in heaven. This heavenly quality of life is available today through faith in Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. This quality of life is available because the best part of heaven, God Himself, is available to us today. The kingdom is the answer to every evil that plagues humanity. The human plight, the dread of human existence, the existential angst of human experience, finds its resolution not in our death, but in the death of Jesus on our behalf. We have access to a significantly superior quality of life because Jesus, the Christ, has died and is alive, and His kingdom is immediately present to those who repent and believe this Good News. 
Hypothesis 1: We enter the kingdom quality of life by putting into practice the teachings of Jesus. 

This is the basis of all discipleship. Jesus’ call to His disciple in the bible and to His disciples today is “follow me”. To believe that Jesus is the Christ and that we are to enter the kingdom through faith in Jesus means that we are to follow Jesus and he will lead us into this kingdom quality of life. All the centuries of confusion regarding faith and works is solved when we begin with a theology of the kingdom and the promise of an altogether superior quality of life. Faith is to follow Jesus into the kingdom. Because the kingdom is the solution to our present living, to have faith in Jesus is to believe that through the grace of God we can behave and live differently today. To experience victory in life, we must follow Jesus’ program and teachings. This truly happy and heavenly quality of life is founded entirely on faith in Jesus’ teachings and His modeling of who God, the Father, is. Therefore, as we will see, following Jesus begins and is immersed in an understanding of the love and grace of God. We learn to immerse every aspect of our lives with this love as we learn to follow Jesus into a life of infinite forgiveness, fearless faith, and unconditionally love. 
Hypothesis 2: The source of power which enables the believe to walk in the kingdom quality of life, that is in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, is conscious contact with God. 
The bible teaches us that the joy of the lord is our strength. We are morally strong when we are joyful. We can only have a morally powerful joy when we are in living from the presence of God. The power to be meek when we are tempted to be angry is the real knowledge of God and ourselves as His child. We can trust Him because our affections and emotions have been transformed through our life in the presence of God. No other path gives us the moral strength to be generous and loving and gentle and calm. There is only one thing needful and that is a close walk with God. 
Hypothesis 3: Conscious contact with God is maintained through an orientation of absolute surrender with respect to the teachings of Jesus. This is the life of repentance.
The path to conscious contact with God is repentance. The key to maintaining the witness of the Spirit that we are children and therefore heirs is repentance from the heart. This absolute surrender is not merely an orientation in prayer but a commitment to follow through with obedience. This life of repentance requires a life of rigorous honesty and the cultivation of a tender heart. The life requires the work of the Holy Spirit, humility before the Word of God, and intimate, authentic community with other followers of this path of discipleship. Jesus taught us that the kingdom of God suffers violence and violent men take it by force. This zeal requires a life of rigorous honesty and confession. This life of rigorous honesty is the narrow road that, in reality, few are willing to follow in order to experience the kingdom life in this life. 
Principle 1: The first teaching of Jesus, a teaching which must remain an element of every Christian practice, is that without the provision of God’s power and grace  we are spiritually poor. All the resources we need to attain to this kingdom quality of life are a gift of His grace. This grace is needed moment by moment if we to experience righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 
Jesus taught and lived and told parables about the grace of a loving Father. Jesus began His teaching life by saying, “Blessed are the spiritually bankrupt, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. We are all without the ability to take one step toward God apart from His provision. He pardons, and He enables. All the theology of Paul is to be understood as an exposition of the teachings of Jesus. Jesus taught us through His words, His religious symbols, His life and ultimately in His death and resurrection that we need God’s grace and loving power toward us who believe. Baptism, the Lord’s supper, the parables, and the life and death of Jesus are all elements of the story of the Father’s provision for His children. Of all the teachings of Jesus, grace must remain front and center. Without being immersed in grace, we will fail to live a beautiful life. Of all the practices we need to learn receiving forgiveness and grace is first and foremost. As disciples, receiving grace from God needs to be a well worn path. 
This kingdom life is attainable and God intends for us to understand how to follow Jesus into a truly happy and heavenly quality of life. Principles and theology help us to develop a daily cycle and an approach to life and prayer that we can learn and live. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Israel and Covenants - Just Saying

Man...I need to write more. So many issues to clarify...For example, I think Obama is being gracious with Israel by saying peace should be based on the 1967 (pre-war) borders with land swaps. Yet, evangelicals sound like kooks thinking that this is a deal with the devil. This is a theological issue with implications to the role of the Kingdom and the OT law etc. Some smart guy needs to use this moment as a launching point for a big theological dissertation on covenants.....not that it would do any good!!! As for me I gotta go to work and then Lacrosse with James then a banquet with David, then a daddy date night with Mercy and Lily...I'm swamped.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Christ, Our Leader and Term Limits on Pastors

I have learned a great lesson in life that in organizations you have to provide practical value to the person in power. We can approach relationships this way in the church too. It works, in the church like the world, because in most churches a man is in power and it is not so hard to bless him. 
Wouldn’t it be nice if instead in the church, Jesus was in power, and these power games were not played. A great way to make this a reality is to have term limits on pastors. The goal is to have the word and the Lord rule the church. A person has gifting and input into the life of the church but not power and leadership. All leadership is in Jesus and all power and authority is in Jesus. A great way to assure this is to follow the model of how the United States does it. In the United States, we have a constitution and term limits on presidents. These term limits are in place to assure the rule of principle over the rule of man. So this being true, I think the best model for the church is shared leadership and no leader should remain in leadership for more than say about 8-10 years in the same church. 

Friday, May 06, 2011

Matthew 5:43-48 - Pray for Those who Persecute You

The teachings of Jesus are so very practical. Matt 5:43-48 defines for us what spiritual maturity looks like. 

 Matt 5:43"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.'
 44"But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
 46"For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
 47"If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
 48"Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Jesus is calling us to love our enemies. This teaches us to give and serve and bless those who are not giving and serving and blessing us. The actions of these people, our adversaries, make us less secure and less at peace, and, yet, we are to assist and to help secure their peace and well-being. Secondly, we are to pray for those who persecute us. For me, this command has proven to be ultra-practical. This command tells us that if another person is harming our reputation, we are to act to bless their reputation. So if, for example, a person at work goes to our boss and maligns us, we, the Christian, are to resolve in our heart, through prayer, to only say positive things about this person. This act of surrender is the way of peace. We surrender to God’s will and resolve to speak highly of everyone. We are to never speak ill of anyone. This is our goal and here in lies the path to conscious contact with God. 
peace, brad

Monday, May 02, 2011

Discipleship 101: The Church as a Disciple-Making Community

“Who are you discipling?” “Who is discipling you?” “What method do you use?” and specifically “what method of prayer do you teach?”
How we and the members of our church community answer these four questions reveals quite succinctly the health of the discipleship program in our churches and the intentionality of our lives as followers of Jesus. Often when preaching in churches, when I ask these questions, my point is simply to reveal to the church that they do not have a discipleship process at all. People look bewildered. “Who am I discipling? Ahhh...?? one I guess. I have never looked at it that way.” “What method do I use? We don’t use methods. What is he talking about? And who does he think he is anyway?” “What method of prayer do we teach. What??? We aren’t buddhist. What is he talking about?” 
So I ask you, the reader, “Who are you discipling?” “Who is discipling you?” “What method do you use?” and “What method of prayer do you teach people?” 
The fact that most christians cannot answer these questions in detail nor carry on a discussion about what methods of discipleship work and do not work reveals to us that we have a crisis in discipleship in the church of the master discipler, Jesus Christ. Dallas Willard in the book “The Great Omission” speaking on the topic of the great commission concludes by saying, “I know of no current denomination or local congregation that has a concrete plan and practice for teaching people to ‘do all that I commanded you’” (72-73). Dallas Willard, after mentoring pastors and preaching in conferences around the world for his entire life, came to the conclusion that not one congregation has a definitive discipleship plan that attempts to fulfill the great commission to “make disciples of all people teaching them to obey everything I commanded you”. It has taken maybe centuries to get to this place of total abandonment of our calling. This maybe a harsh observation but I contend, and with Dallas Willard as my witness I am utterly convinced, that the church is in crisis with respect to the process of discipleship. 
Jesus often used economic analogies to make his point clearer. The economic system of the day was almost exclusively farming. For example, to bring clarity and urgency to His followers, Jesus told parables that depict His followers as farm workers working for a farm owner. The owner, Jesus taught us, expects a profit from his farm. When the farm owner returns, he will say to us “show me the money”. 
I have spent my career in the aerospace industry, so let me make a more modern economic analogy using airplanes. Picture a incredibly complex organization like an airplane manufacturer. The organization has literally 1000s of engineers and 100,000 employees. The process of designing and building an airplane takes years. When everything comes together the plane is sold to a customer and the plane does one thing very well: it flies. Imagine that this incredible endeavor produced a product that was perfect in every way except for one detail. The planes could not fly. Picture the first test flight. ABC manufacturer produces a plane, but it cannot fly. Imagine the press conference. The CEO steps up to the microphone and says, “ We do not consider this to be a problem. Our airplane is beautiful. It seating is state of the art. Every seat has its own private entertainment system. The interior sound levels are unrivaled. We have come to the conclusion that flight is not possible and therefore not to be a primary characteristic of airplanes nor a realistic goal for the airplane manufacturer.” This illustration describes the current state of the church. We are a disciple-making community and yet we do not know how to make disciples nor do we see this as a terribly urgent problem. 

Sunday, May 01, 2011

There's Gotta Be a Million

There’s gotta be a million. Maybe a few 100 thousand 
that are feeling like me
We are losing our jobs. 
Some ass hole thinks he knows how to make this shit float
we are the scape goats
About a few hundred thousand 
know the way I feel
There has gotta be a million
We read about the billions
Money makin money 
Usury's a crime
Some boy with a spread sheet and a fountain pen 
Just shipped my life to India
And his son is getting married and the party is in full swing
I wish I was married into money and I wish my parents were still alive
Maybe me and the kids could move in 
with them 
Cause there has gotta be a million