Friday, July 22, 2011

Sermons and spiritual growth

From many sources we are told that the key to spiritual growth is more expository teaching and preaching.  Preachers that are faithful in continuing this practice are praised for their hard work and encouraged by their peers into believing that the lack of growth in the body is not their fault.  They press one another to continue in this work because it is the primary means for building up the body.  So pastors are trained how to interpret the scriptures and how to build a flawless outline complete with perfectly sound, reasonable arguments in order to have an effective sermon.
Is this God's design?

Here is how Paul addressed the Corinthians:

and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1Cor 2:4-5

Okay, okay so the preacher is going to say "the power of God works through the plausible words of wisdom so that God gets the glory and not man."  I get that but Paul says "my speech and my message WERE NOT IN plausible words..."  seems to me that not only did Paul recognize God's power to be the seed of faith but that he purposefully avoided cleverly devised arguments so that there was no question.  In fact just prior to this Paul describes how he proclaimed the gospel.
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 1Cor 2:1-3.

He then goes on to talk about wisdom revealed through the Spirit.  The wisdom revealed through the Spirit is contrasted with the plausible words of wisdom.  They are not the same.
It begs the question of our acceptable form of teaching to build up the body when that form is contrasted with the power of God through the Spirit.  One could conclude that expository preaching is not only ineffective for spiritual growth as evidenced by the lack of growth within the body but it greatly strengthens that argument to see Paul here saying that wisdom from God does not come from plausible arguments but directly from the Spirit of God through weakness and trembling.

A year ago I would have been up in arms over an argument like this.  Now, I have absolutely no desire to sit quietly and listen to some gifted speaker talk for an hour on a passage of scripture.  My how a lot has changed.  Does that mean I have left my primary means of growing spiritually?  No, spiritual growth does not come from that.  What comes from that is better knowledge of the scriptures, a firmer grasp on the doctrines taught, and a heightened ability to make our own plausible arguments when we go into the world.  An unregenerate person could do the very same thing.  That is not the same thing as spiritual growth.    
Spiritual growth comes from the Spirit and that will be the subject of my next post.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I walked out on institutional christianity for one main reason. I wanted a deeper knowledge and intimacy with Jesus Christ. Now I know that to many of you that sounds like an oxymoron because everyone knows that if you want a closer walk with Christ you have to read your Bible more and pray more and go to church more, right? Do, do, do...Well, not exactly. After years of bouncing from one church and denomination to another I noticed a pattern. Everyone seemed satisfied with their religion. I was not.
I continued reading scripture and praying.  I also began to study books and scripture to see if I could find the missing pieces.  What I found was that the church gatherings I had been a part of were nothing like the picture of the 1st Century church in the New Testament.  This led me to look for a church gathering in my area that looked more like those in the Bible.  I was focused on form and function so I sought out a simple church gathering with people that had the right pattern based on NT principles.  Again, this was not enough.  I am still not satisfied.   

So what is it I am looking for?  If I am not complete with the status quo of the Christian masses and I am also not satisfied with a simple/house church gathering that looks more like the New Testament Church, what more is there?  Where do I go from here?  Starbucks?  The golf course?   
I am convinced that what I am looking for will not be found in an institutional church and many simple/house churches are only focused on the proper form and pattern of church to bring out desired effects.  What we are looking for is people who are feasting on Christ and living by His life in the Spirit.  When we have that the forms and patterns will follow.   
As Paul wrote letters to the Churches he had planted he did not give them special instructions on how to "do church".  We do not have a prescriptive blueprint for what a gathering of saints should look like.  What we have is a constant effort to keep everyone focused on Christ.  It is this Christ-centered living that results in the church we have described for us in the NT.  I'm afraid that when we put forms and patterns first we have the cart before the horse.  Worse, we have abandoned Christ for our own schemes.   

If we want to go deeper into Christ we must do so by living by the Spirit of Life.  As we do this ourselves and we gather with others who are doing the same we can finally have the mind of Christ.  We become one with Him not as a reward for a biblically patterned church gathering but by faith in His completed and ongoing work in our lives.

I could search the world over looking for what draws me ever deeper and never find it because "it" is a He and He lives within me and you.  What draws me is Christ and his depths and riches are unfathomable for me but together we can plummet into His depths.  First we must give up all our efforts to build the right church and seek oneness with the Spirit within.  He will build His Church as we are One with Him.  May we consume and be consumed by our risen Lord and seek daily the bread that comes down from heaven.  Then and only then will we be satisfied.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stop trying and just be

We hear a lot of talk in Christian circles about holiness.  Most of that talk revolves around the call for Christians to be holy and very little is said about the holiness of Almighty God.  A lot of judgement gets thrown around regarding peoples actions and the Body of Christ is exhorted continuously to examine ourselves.  I say "STOP IT!"

Stop trying to be holy and just be in Christ.  Stop working to change your habits and striving to live a godly life.  Stop trying to do it all on your own and just giving lip service to the Spirit of God within you.  All too often we set out by our own strength to please God and tack on a spiritual phrase like "I know that the Spirit must do it in me."  God doesn't want credit for your work.  It's like a bloody tampon to Him, it's disgusting.  If you want to brag about your bloody tampon you go right ahead, but don't tell everyone that God gave it to you.

Holiness is not defined by what we do, it is defined by who we are.  So who are we?  We are the elected and chosen bride and body of Christ.  The God of the universe dwells within us and we in Him.  We are kind of His own kind.  We are one with Him.  That means we ARE holy.  Holiness is who we are and it shows in what we do.  When we do unholy things it is because we forget who we are.  We do not need to try harder to become holy.  We need to trust and to rest in Christ.  We must let His righteousness be our righteousness.

The Christian life can be summed up as being followers of the Way, the Christ.  When Christ walked on earth He only did what His Father was doing.  He did the will of the Father.  He remained in steady communication with our Father while in the likeness of sinful flesh.  That is what He has come into us to bring about.  A race of mankind that are all living by the Spirit of God within us.  To be one in the Spirit with God is to be One corporate New Man.  This is known as living by Divine Life.

Please, stop performing all sorts of soulical acts by the power of your flesh and assuming that you are glorifying God.  Rest from your work and seek the Spirit of the Lord who resides in the temple within you.  You simply cannot work to be holy, you are already holy in Christ.  His identity is your identity.  Salvation is all God's work from start to finish.  It begins with faith and repentance and it ends with the full measure of Jesus Christ.  Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Two conferences, many differences

I've been to two conferences this year.  I was very excited about going to both.  I deeply appreciate good preaching and teaching and neither of the conferences disappointed in that regard.  Yet, there were some drastic differences between the two events.  What follows is an observation of those differences.

The first one I attended was the Ligonier conference in Orlando.  It was hosted by First Baptist Church of Orlando, a massive complex with ample seating and extensive facilities for eating, a bookstore, plenty of parking and a state of the art multimedia system.  The sheer size and capability of the place was impressive.  The speakers preached on the topic of Light and Heat.  It was mostly a tribute of sorts to the ministry of John Piper (Desiring God) and R.C. Sproul (Ligonier).  It was really cool to be able to sit and listen to these men.  Their teaching has had a profound impact on me over the years.  When I left that conference I had a deeper sense of the Holiness of God.  His marvelous "otherness" left me feeling wholly unworthy of Him.  This, I think is very true and a good thing.  What I realize now as I look back on it is that I also felt very distant from our great and Holy God.  It was as though I felt like He could not be defiled by my sinful, fallen, human hands.  So, while I praised Him for His grace in electing and saving me I was still left with a sense of great distance between He and I.

The conference I was at over this past weekend was entirely different.  It was the Threshold 2011 Missional Organic Church conference.  It was held in a quaint little conference room in a Holiday Inn hotel.  The hosts had to cut off registration months ago because they had filled to capacity.  This was a good and a bad thing.  Good because it kept costs down (this conference was completely free to attend) but bad because there were many who were left out and unable to come because of space imitations.  The room where we gathered was less than a quarter the size of the bookstore at the former conference.  The Threshold conference was unlike any I had ever been to.  The focus of the conference was obviously to build relationships.  The speakers would share what the Lord had led them to prepare and then they gave out an assignment of sorts that we would then share with those at our table.  Yes, we sat at tables of no more than eight people rather than in stadiun style seating in rows.  This gave us an opportunity to get to know the others at our table and see what Christ has been doing in their life.  This time led right into a six hour break.  This time was spent having luch together and spending the afternoon sharing more stories and hanging out with folks who were strangers only a few hours ago and were quickly becoming much more like family.  In contrast, at the Ligonier conference the only conversations I had were about the weather, our travel to Orlando, or the speakers at the conference.  Nothing any deeper than that.

If the relational aspect of the conference were not enough, the teaching was phenominally different and in my opinion much better.  It seemed as though all these speakers intended to do was display the magnifiscence of Christ and lead us to embrace our unity with Him.  To yearn for Him, search for Him and feast on Him as never before.  This reconciliation between myself and Christ was much more than just sensing a closeness to Him.  I realized the powerful truth that Christ is IN me and I am IN Him.  Words cannot express.

Another major difference between the two conference was the accessablility of the speakers.  At the first event the speakers would emerge out of a back door from some inaccessable part of the building, stride onto the stage and give their presentation and then disappear into the back again.  At the latter gathering, the speakers sat at the tables with the other brothers and sisters until they stood up to speak and then after each session they stayed in the room for hours answering questions and encouraging those who wanted to speak with them.  Their accessability was reflective of the relationship we have with our Lord.  They were not distant and fleeting but they stayed near and were ready to listen and share themselves with us.

There is so much more I want to share about the conference.  I'm sure the impact it had on me will spill forth into my writing in the future.  For the meantime I thought I would share these few observations on the two conferences.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The full effect

He learned obedience through suffering.

This verse is becoming more and more real for me. Like many great truths, my understanding and confession of this passage is becoming full and real through trial and endurance. The scriptures are sufficient for life and godliness but not as merely intellectual knowledge. The power of God's Word is in the experience of His truth. We become part of His story. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Now the Word made flesh dwells within us and the truth becomes Life for us. We live it, our minds are transformed by it, and we are conformed to it.

I know I've written a lot about suffering lately and it's probably a total drag to read about.  My apologies if I bore you or depress you by wearing my heart on my sleeve.  I'm writing these things so that I can have a record of the Spirit's work and so that you all can know that we are sharing in Christ's sufferings.  Since I find great comfort in knowing that these things are bringing about a more full measure of Christ in me, I want to comfort you with those same truths.  After all, we are all following the same Way.

I am reminded of James' exhortation to the saints to "count it all joy".  I can't help but think of how foolish it seems for the material to praise the blacksmith as it is repeatedly thrust into the fire till it glows from the heat, almost to the point of being melted.  Then pulled out just in time only to be pounded and pounded into shape.  It seems foolish but somehow that material knows that when the fires have done their work and the beatings are complete they will have become a useful tool, created for a purpose and given a new name.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Activate Blogger mobile format

I should have done this a while back for all my "Blogger" bloggers who don't keep up with the techy times.  Blogger announced at the beginning of the year that they would be implementing some new ways to view blogs and some new tools for bloggers.  One of the things I was most excited about was the new mobile format.  A while back they issued it in draft and now it is available for all 27 of the new templates right from your settings!  Even if you still use an older template it will automatically reformat your blog into a smartphone friendly format.

Here's the deal:  mobile formatting works with your present template, you do not have to change your template at all in order for it to work.  In fact, activating the mobile blogger template is simple.  From your dashboard click the settings tab and then click email and mobile.  At the top you will see the section to activate the mobile template and preview it.

Enabling the mobile template will allow easier access to readers who view your blog from a smartphone.  Like I said, no drastic steps necessary, just a few clicks of the mouse and Blogger does the rest.  Your mobile readers and commenters (like me) will thank you for it.  

If you usually use a feed reader to view Blogger blogs from your smartphone, you should take the time to bookmark those that you read and would like to comment on once they have activated the mobile template.  Clicking on the link in your reader is not going to have the same effect.  Usually it gives you a goodle-reformatted page that isn't as friendly as the blogger mobile template.  Plus, you can easily see the comments on the post that you normally miss in a reader.  No longer are you prevented from commenting by busy webpages that bog down your browser.  Congratulations!  Now you can get in on the conversation while you are on the go :) 

We now return you to your regularly scheduled (and hopefully more edifying) programming.

Contentious convictions

There regularly comes a time in the mind of a believer as we search for truth that we come to have different convictions than we once held. This must be true for every person who humbles him or herself to the word of God. There is so much uncharted territory in our corrupt minds that have not yet been affected by God's gracious transformation. So it is imparative that we show kindness and love both to those who have been convicted to change in a different way than we are and also to those who hold the same proir convictions that we once held.
I've been reading through the works of Jonathan Edwards lately. This morning I read a letter he wrote to a fellow pastor of a church amidst some division and members parting ways with the congregation. It was very refreshing to read his words regarding the matter. I wish I had the capability to copy some of the letter here, but since I can't, I'll just share the thoughts it brought to mind while reading it.

Picture it in your mind, a congregation is getting along very well, their affections for God and for one another are so high that mere words cannot express the love they share. Then something changes, people elevate certain truths over others and there comes a bit of arguing amongst themselves over the matter. Some decide to leave one congregation and join themselves to another or form another group entirely. We'd call that a church split. I'm sure many of us are familiar with the emotions and pitfalls associated with this kind of disturbance.

When people's convictions change and their conscience leads them to take a different path, all too often the differences receive the most thought and attention. This is a bad thing when those changes become an end in themselves. It is not pleasing to God for us to focus on our differences. It is pleasing to God to focus on how our particular views and differences bring us a deeper love for Christ, a greater desire for truth, a higher regard for the welfare or others, and a stronger affection for our God. Do you see the difference?

For example, take organic church and institutional church differences and ask yourself: does the constant discussion of "the Bible says this and the Bible says that" lead to higher affections for God and others? Is our desire in these discussions rooted in an effort to see others come to a fuller joy in Christ or to have them think the same way we do? Even if our new convictions have brought us more joy in Christ are the two really the same? I think not.

No doubt, it is to our benefit to have fellowship with likeminded believers. It is also to our benefit to see the Christ exalting pleasure in others who are not so likeminded and to appreciate how the Spirit stirs us up in different ways. We need to realize that He is so great that He will never fit into the boxes we make for Him and so it does us no good to put ourselves in a box either.

It is possible to follow our convictions and not be contentious. I don't think there is a fine line at all. It is as simple as putting others before ourselves by speaking words of grace instead of pride. Simple?  Yes, but impossible to do by our own strength and likewise impossible to do without some effort. Anyone who has been reading my blog for any amount of time knows that I fall into the sin of contention more often than any man would care to be judged for.  Yet, I boldly enter the throne of grace based on Christ's righteosness and hold firmly to the promise that I am being transformed.  This meditation is one facet of that transformation.