Religious Seduction

Several years ago I was talking to a friend about ministry. He was a seminary graduate with a Masters of Divinity degree. He had been out of the pastorate for several years and desirous of returning to ‘full time ministry’. As we talked I became increasingly aware of his focus on preaching and his desire to return to teaching. Then out of the blue these words jumped into my mind: “seduced by the pulpit”. I spoke those words to him and we talked about the seduction of preaching and how it sometimes was at odds with caring for for the flock. James 3:1 says this:
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
It is interesting that the role of teacher is addressed and not other ministry gifts. There is something about public speaking that is seducing. As I am sitting here thinking about this I am not sure that I want to go where I need to go ... here goes anyway.

For about 15 years I spoke regularly at a very large charismatic church ... I spoke in an extemporaneous ‘prophetic’ fashion ... more times than not I would leave the platform hearing wild applause and cheering ... looking back it was a very surreal experience. When I left that church in 1995 I went through years of what I would call public speaking withdrawal. So much of my identity and my life was wrapped up in speaking publicly on Sunday morning (and other times). The notoriety and the power of public ministry was intoxicating ... it was like a drug ... and I was an addict.

In Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible he says this about James 3:1 ...
“Be not many of you teachers.” The evil referred to is that where many desired to be teachers ... the evil reprehended is that of seeking the office of public instructor ... It would seem that this was a prevailing fault among those to whom the apostle wrote. This desire was common among the Jewish people, who coveted the name and the office of “Rabbi,” ... This fondness for the office of teachers they naturally carried with them into the Christian church when they were converted, and it is this which the apostle here rebukes."
In light of this I find myself challenged every day to watch over my heart ... to place in check my desire to be known ... to be in a place where I can be used in ministry without being addicted to the intoxication of it. I preached on Tuesday at the city jail to about 15 men ... I found it to be somewhat underwhelming ... a good experience of sharing my heart ... felt like I was serving. Jesus said it best:
"If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." -Mk 9:35
Lord Jesus help us to be servants in whatever we do ... give us hearts to be 'the very last'.

Are You Spiritual?

I had a conversation last week and found myself asking these questions: “Can you be spiritual and not pray?” and “Can you be spiritual and not read the bible?” The recipient of the questions seemed stunned and didn’t answer quickly ... pretty thought provoking questions. Of course the answer to each question is YES! We pray and read the scripture because we are spiritual and not because we want to be spiritual.

According to this scripture ...
”This new plan I'm making with Israel isn't going to be written on paper, isn't going to be chiseled in stone; This time I'm writing out the plan in them, carving it on the lining of their hearts. I'll be their God, they'll be my people. (Hebrews 8:10 MSG)”
... we, who are in Christ, are already spiritual ... we have a heart to know Him ... to know His will ... we are drawn into a life of knowing God. We begin at a place of spirituality ... we are already spiritual ... seeking God is the natural outcome of a new regenerated heart.

Of course not everyone is spiritual ... not everyone has a new heart ... not everyone has embraced the ‘new plan’ that the scripture talks about ... not everyone embraces the Messiah Jesus. Think about Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well:
But the time is coming--it has, in fact, come--when what you're called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. "It's who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That's the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself--Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration." The woman said, "I don't know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we'll get the whole story." "I am he," said Jesus. "You don't have to wait any longer or look any further." (John 4:23-27 MSG)
Here we see a conversation where Jesus addresses true spirituality. One where spirituality involves true heartfelt worship of the Messiah Jesus. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus says that it is not the 'where' of worship but the 'Who' of worship. True spirituality always is about the 'Who' and the 'who' ... 'Who' He is and 'who' we are ... if either is off then our spirituality is askew ... if both are on then we are truly spiritual. We are spiritual when we, by virtue of His grace, received a new heart as we embraced Jesus as our Messiah. How about you, are you spiritual?

Quiet Time

Broken Pilgrim gives the most succinct discourse on quiet time that I have ever heard. Here is an excerpt:
"Nowhere is this "slice of pie" approach more pervasive than in the teachings about having a daily Quiet Time. Make your "appointment with God" and you're good to go (as long as you keep all your appointments). Too often this leads to a works-righteousness approach to faith and life and relationship with God, a neo-pharasaical approach to sanctification. I mean, grace is alright for my justification, but now it's my turn and I just gotta do it!

Now, I want to qualify what I'm saying here. Am I knocking regular reading of the Bible? No. Am I slamming the idea of regular prayer? No. What I AM saying is that they don't belong on a "to do" list. If anything, they belong on a "to be" list, that they become part of the relational rhythms of how we "be" with God. The actual activity might look the same on the outside...but it's the place of the heart that is different."
The journey of our beautiful hearts is not about doing ... it is about being ... actually it is about doing out of our being.

Heart of Forgiveness

Codepoke over at The Familyhood Church considers the question "In order for someone to be forgiven why must there be punishment at all?". He has some good thoughts on the question.

I thought I would look at forgiveness from the perspective of the heart. Isn't it interesting how some people view God as impersonal, unfeeling and distant. How easy it is to expect such an impersonal deity to overlook and forgive sin. It is analogous to a stranger visiting a funeral and wondering what the big deal was ... they don't hurt and don't understand why people are crying. We make a similar case against God if we relegate Him as a stranger to the human race. The book of Hebrews gives us a different picture ... speaking of Jesus it says:
We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all--all but the sin.
How different a picture of God that we see in Jesus. He was the most alive and most feeling person to ever walk the planet. He hurt with people - when He saw the hurting He was visibly moved with compassion. He laughed with people and enjoyed meals with friends. He was fully alive. He gave us an example of one who was fully connected with His heart.

Consider this passage where we see Jesus' beautiful forgiving heart:
"When they got to the place called Skull Hill, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them; they don't know what they're doing.""
I am in awe of Jesus and His concern for those who nailed His hands and feet to the cross. When we say 'love like Jesus' we must also say 'forgive like Jesus'.

Sin is as personal and as hurtful as it gets ... it takes God to forgive sin ... either directly or through us. When we struggle forgiving we must realize that the struggle is a divinely personal one ... we need help to forgive ... in a sense we often need Jesus to forgive through us. Here as an excerpt from "The Hiding Place", Corrie Ten Boom's book that relates her experiences with the Nazi's in World War II:
It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, a former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie's pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein.” He said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggles to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I prayed, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.
If you struggle forgiving today take a cue from Corrie and ask Jesus to give you His Heart of Forgiveness.

Spiritual Orphanages

My friend and neighbor John Gilman produces a regular email letter (that kind of resembles a blog) ... his latest message is entitled "The New Commandment and Spiritual Families". Below is an excerpt from John's message ... I think that it is one of the most insightful writings that I have read lately ... enjoy.



The New Commandment, also called Christ’s Law and also called The Lord’s Commandment:
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
I will maintain in future letters that the apostles and the early church considered this commandment the key concept of their new life in Christ, and the supreme good of their life on earth.

The difference this makes is like the difference between a family and an orphanage. Happy is the baby born into a good family—much happier than one born into a good orphanage. Institutionalized care is not God’s intention. Families are. This is true spiritually. Converts are supposed to be the result of family life and to be born into spiritual families; instead, they are often born into spiritual orphanages. Orphanages run by good people with good programs, but still orphanages[1]. In these institutions, spiritual babies are not getting in-depth loving personal attention; rather, they are getting some classes, recruited to work, and left to make it on their own. Since this is all they see, when they wither they think it is their fault, or that Christianity doesn’t work, or that they should pretend they’ve “found it” and help make the orphanage bigger by making as many babies as possible.

This is a generalization; there are degrees of exceptions. I had a good church experience growing up, and there was a sense of the congregation being a family. We met three times a week plus parties and other events. The congregation was large enough to offer good programs and small enough that everybody knew everybody. On the other hand, there was not a place for in-depth, personal attention, and so these noble God-fearers lived a life of ethical stoicism and closet loneliness. Of course, there are a lot of physical families that don’t experience in-depth, personal attention either.

Socially, we emphasize making good families, and then let babies happen. Spiritually, we are supposed to do the same. Dallas Willard almost says it: “… intend to make disciples and let converts ‘happen,’ rather than intending to make converts and letting disciples ‘happen.’”[2] But since institutions measure success differently than families, our orphanages measure success with what pastor Randy Frazee calls the ABCs of church: attendance, buildings, and cash. I am not against attendance, buildings, and cash, per se. I am for strong spiritual families. The measure of success for a family is far different. (Pastor Frazee has written a book that is the best I’ve read so far on the problem, and he proposes innovative ideas. It is The Connecting Church and it is highly acclaimed by Larry Crabb, Dallas Willard, J.I. Packer, and others. He says many things better than I, and some I hadn’t thought of. Get it and be amazed.[3])

The apostles labored to build strong spiritual families where the members mature and flourish and the family builds itself up in love[4]. Their letters to the churches are mostly about making good spiritual families and only a little about making babies. You make good families, and babies will happen—and thrive. You make babies without families, and they will wither in institutionalized care. It can be argued that we are producing converts to Christian propositions, not love children.



Footnotes
[1] I do not blame the orphanage directors (the pastors); they’ve grown up in an orphanage culture. I just believe every generation of the church is influenced by the age it is in and has to find its particular corrective. Everything the orphanages do is good and biblical, but the most important, fully experiencing the New Commandment, is missing.

[2] “Almost every problem that we see afflicting, paralyzing, and even killing Christians and groups of Christians today would never even arise in a context where the primacy of apprenticeship to Jesus is accepted and developed through a corresponding course of training … the intention to make disciples is essential. It will not happen otherwise. We are, of course, not talking about eliminating nondisciple, consumer Christianity. It has its place. But we are talking about making it secondary, as far as our intentions are concerned. We would intend to make disciples and let converts ‘happen,’ rather than intending to make converts and letting disciples ‘happen.’” The Divine Conspiracy, p304

[3] John Engler reviews the book and makes important observations, pro and con, at: http://www.barnabasministry.com/review-connecting-frazee.html.

[4] Paul in Ephesians 4:1-16: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it…. It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Trust Bullets

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

  • Trust, like faith, is of the heart ... we cannot trust with our heads. Living a life of trust is living life from your inner man instead of your flesh - see my control blogging for more on the battle between the inner and outer man. This is problematic for many of us because we are conditioned from childhood to trust our heads and not our hearts.
  • Our understanding is something that gets in the way of trust. How many times have we said "I just don't understand" ... I said it this week when I heard the news that Dana Reeves died. Understanding encompasses thinking and experiencing ... it is like God is asking us to not rely on the way things have always been or the way that we think that things should be.
  • We acknowledge God when we trust Him even when we don't understand. Many believers are shipwrecked when life is hard. Life lets them down ... family lets them down ... friends let them down ... the church lets them down ... they rely on their own understanding and lose heart. We acknowledge God when we look crisis, hardship and the ugly of life in the face and trust anyway.

The outcome of trust is a straight path. Straight paths get you where you are going faster. We walk the long and winding road when we rely on our own understanding. Trust today ... it will get you where you are going faster.

Control

I find it interesting that so much of my life has been spent trying to control that which is not meant to be controlled – namely my life. As I have said before in other places life is about living from the heart and not managing with the head. Faith is of the heart.

Years ago a bible teacher told me to be careful about control because it is an agenda of the demonic to control and manipulate. This teacher also said that the Holy Spirit wants to lead us and not control us. In light of that I thought that I would look at a few scriptures about control and in specific ‘Self Control’ which is an aspect of the fruit of the Holy Spirit

First I’d like to say that this Self Control is not mind control ... actually it is the opposite of mind control. Self Control is the exercise of the inner man over the outer man. Another word for the outer man is the flesh which is comprised of the mind, the body and the emotions. The inner man encompasses the spirit or heart of a man. For purposes of this writing I’ll just use inner and outer man.

When we read ...
When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. (Romans 6:20)
... we understand that before Christ came in and gave us a new heart we were utterly powerless ... sin had control. From scripture we can also see that ...
the whole world is under the control of the evil one. (1 John 5:19)
... and that the unregenerate heart is at the devil’s mercy.

Thankfully, concerning the redeemed we read ...
So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh-- for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:12-13)
Here we find the secret of Self Control ... putting the fleshly deeds to death. The scripture calls this warfare ...
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
Did you catch the war between the inner and outer man ... how the mind is a part of the outer man and needs to be controlled by the inner man ... this is not only the heart of the control issue but it as at the heart of all spiritual life.

I am convinced that the war is often won and lost at the first skirmish. The Apostle James writes:
When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)
Here we see that there is a progression to sin and that it begins when evil (fleshly) desire is not controlled.

I believe the issue that most believers wrestle with in this area is quenching the Holy Spirit and thereby negating the influence of the inner man. When first confronted by fleshly desire the Holy Spirit will speak to the inner man - the inner man now knows what to do. The inner man will instruct the outer man and, depending on the strength of the inner man, the outer man will either submit or rebel. Did you catch that ... depending on which is stronger - inner or outer man. The issue of control now becomes one of strength. So the question is how do you get the inner man stronger? The book of Hebrews has an answer:
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:11-14)

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
(Heb 12:11)
Spiritual strength is the heart of Self Control. Strengthening the inner man requires diet and exercise. The Apostle James again speaks to us and says:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)
From this we see that feeding on the scripture is not enough ... we need to integrate it into our life by doing it ... this will strengthen our inner man one bite at a time. Each time you obey the Scripture and Holy Spirit (even in a very small way) you pump spiritual iron. Each time the inner man is exercised it becomes stronger and more able to exert Self Control over the outer man.

I began by saying that much of my life I have spent trying to control it instead of living it. In retrospect I guess life can only be truly lived when it is lived from the heart ... when control is yielded to our inner man.

Hearts broken by the Church

Codepoke poses the following at The Familyhood Church:
"I am here because I've had my heart broken by the church, and I know it doesn't have to be that way."

In light of Jesus' affirmation that His mission was to bind up broken hearts, I find this to be an amazing and outrageous thought. I feel inspired right now so here goes:

On behalf of church leaders everywhere I ask those hearts who were broken by church leaders for forgiveness.

  • I confess that we have been more concerned with the church's success than your success.
  • I confess that we have asked you to lay your life down for us rather than us laying our life for you.
  • I confess that we have been seduced by the pulpit and have rejected Jesus' call to bind up your broken heart.
  • I confess that we care more about our personal study of the scriptures than visiting you when you are sick or imprisoned.

I ask you to forgive us! I ask God to bless you with church leaders who will lay down their life for you.

Why do you want an easy life?

This question of ease and comfort haunts me at times. God often whispers this question to me in the midst of my angst ... when I get frustrated that life is not as I planned it ... harder than I want it to be ... more difficult ... more painful ... more complex ... gut wrenching and seemingly impossible. Life is often hard.

A few years ago I sat at breakfast, opposite a good friend ... he spoke to me, weeping, of how hard family life had been for him lately. He was experiencing marital problems as well as issues with his children. As he was speaking to me the Holy Spirit gave me something to say … which was good because I had nothing to say that could help him in any way. I began by asking him a question. I said "Do you know how much God loves your family"? I continued "Do you know how much God loves your wife"? "Do you know how much God loves your kids"? He sat there looking kind of perplexed. I told him that God loved his family so much that He sent them a husband and father who was a mature experienced believer ... He didn't send a rookie when a veteran was needed.

In the Apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthians he says
"So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall. No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."
This scripture tells us first to be on our guard … temptation or testing is something that is common to us all. It also tells us that when testing comes we can depend on one thing - God's faithfulness. It says that God will measure out the testing in proportion to what we can bear ... what we have been prepared to undertake. How many of us want things before we can handle them ... we all do. When we were young we wanted to drive a car … though we could hardly reach the pedals or see over the dashboard ... we believed that we were "ready for the road". Many of us have experienced lessons in humility by taking on roles and tasks that we were not prepared for. That is why I find these scriptures so comforting and encouraging. When a crisis comes, we can be sure that we have One who is faithful to not allow the crisis to be beyond what we can bear. Instead of getting depressed or running from our trouble we must embrace our testing.

In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians he writes of his trials:
"Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and day on the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have know hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Beside everything else, face the daily pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness."
He goes on later to say that the Lord said to him:
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness".
Paul concludes:
"Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
The Apostle James instructs us to:
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
I think that we all want to "not lack anything" but kind of get hung up along the way. We all want spiritual maturity but find it difficult when hard times come. Perhaps if we could get a glimpse of what Paul and James had … seeing the trials and testings that come our way as God's ways to strengthen us and make us like Jesus … we too would say when we are weak we are strong.