Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Daily Bread: John 14:12-13

"I assure you: The one who believes in Me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son."
John 14:12-13

I have to admit, I find these verses personally troubling. No doubt, they are true and good, yet I am personally challenged in reading them. Why? Because it would seem to me that as a follower of Jesus, I ought to be seeing myself (and other followers) doing the works Jesus did, and even greater works! All we should have to do after all is ask Jesus in his "name" - which I understand as being "in his will".

So how come I don't see this sort of thing happening? I wrestle with many possible answers. Here are some of the possibilities I tend to mull over.

1. I don't really know Jesus. Scary proposition! I do believe I know him though, and that's what makes these verses so troubling and hard to understand. I do seek Jesus, I do knock, ask, etc. If I don't know him, then there must some personal merit in addition to faith that is required to relate to God through Jesus. That would violate the very message of Jesus and the scriptures as a whole.

2. Perhaps what Jesus considers greater works are not works that we readily see or acknowledge in our personal lives, rather a collective work of his body on earth?

3. Perhaps these "greater works" are yet future (in my life at least)?

4. Perhaps I am not doing greater works because I am not asking "in His name" - that is, according to a relationship with the Father as Jesus had?

5. ????

At the moment, I am most inclined to understand these verses in light of option #4 above. One central theme I see in John is that Jesus was totally dependent on the Father for everything and did nothing by his own personal initiative. For example, John 14:10b says

"...The words I speak to you I do not speak to you on My own. The Father who lives in Me does His works."

The works of Jesus then are rooted and sourced in His Father. That means that Jesus would only seek to do what He knew the Father was seeking to do. He knew what His Father was doing because of the kind of relationship He had with His Father - one of total dependence. I believe this truth is core to the Christian Life - that everything is sourced in God! We were created to be totally and continually dependent on God. After all, He is the source of Life! To be disconnected from that source results in death (ie. The Garden of Eden)!

Perhaps my problem is that I am not relating to the Father in the same way, with a will ONLY to do what He's doing? That being the case, if I were doing only what I saw the Father doing, maybe I'd be part of doing greater works?

Lord, please help me understand and experience the truths of these scriptures!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Daily Bread: Psalm 90:14-17 (HCSB)

Satisfy us in the morning with Your faithful love
so that we may shout with joy and be glad all our days.

Make us rejoice for as many days as You have humbled us,
for as many years as we have seen adversity.

Let Your work be seen by Your servants,
and Your splendor by their children.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us;
establish for us the work of our hands - establish the work of our hands!
Psalm 90:14-17

I really dig these verses. There are so many cool ideas here. The idea of starting the day my being satisified by God's faithful love. The author rightly sees the relationship between finding satisfaction in God as the basis for being able to live a life of joy and gladness. Our days need to start with worship, then continue with worship throughougt. I don't mean singing per se', but setting the compass of our hearts towards the "true north" of Jesus.

I like how the psalmist goes on to ask God "give us as many good days and experiences as we've had bad days and experiences". It's like "God, we've had a lot of hardship, and we want to see your splendor for as many days as we've seen grief". Who cannot relate to that? I've had an easy life compared to many, yet I've still seen a lot of grief, frustration, etc. It would be fantastic to experience a measure of God that were the same amount - and it WILL be.

Finally, as one who is, and continues to struggle with "Lord, what would you have me to do with my brief life", I love "establish the work of our hands - establish the work of our hands". Man, I just want to do what God has for me - to see Jesus lifted up. I long for God to turn this from an intellectual vision to a vision lived (as I am reading in Richard Showalter's book - see book notes).

Book Notes: On the Way with Jesus - A Passion for Mission - Part 1

Author: Richard Showalter

I admit it, I am an underliner! There, I said it, shweew! As I read, I tend to underline things that stick out to me. The problem is, I don't often recall them afterward. A friend of mine has told me how he writes things down elsewhere as they stick out to him as he reads. That excercises the brain a little differently and helps to commit them to memory, and also saves the book's value ;-). So, that's what I am going to do, only on my blog rather than a notebook.

p. 19
"The vision is for mission:
  • A mission initiated in prayer, bathed in prayer, consumated in prayer
  • A mission that responds to God's initiative and holds fast to the centrality of Jesus, the authority of Scripture, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit
  • A mission that takes seriously the judgement of Go, in the hereafter as well as the here and now
  • A mission that knows that sufering love is at the heart of the evangel and even embraces martyrdom as a way of witness
  • A mission that forsakes the deed/word polarities found amoung too many Christians and rather is caught up in a New Testament worldview that does not recognize such a distinction
  • A mission that does not focus on success and failure in terms of numbers, of worldwide denominational linkages, or of tradition
  • A mission that that is focused on the formation and nurture of new faith communities centered on Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and radical in obedience
  • A mission that depends on the power of the Holy Spirit
  • ..."

p. 21
"Yet in the end, vision alone is not the answer... It is easy to drift into thinking that a vision held intillectually is equivalent to a vision lived, that a vision stated is a vision realized. Perhaps that's why Jesus said so much about obedience." - Ouch!

p. 23
"Passion for Jesus expresses itself inevitably in compassion for the world. True compassion, of course, has little to do with merely getting enough material wealth to share with others. Of course, we'll share what we have of that. Instead, true compassion has everything to do with having Jesus' heart for the world.

After that, our hearts and our lives, all that we have and all that we are, are broken like break for those who hunger. They too will see and feast and live."

"Finally, let's fling ourselves at the feet of Jesus in the true communion and discipleship in our generation, abandoning oursleves once again to the Lord who bought us. Tbhere's no greater privilege, no nobler passion."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

All is not opposites

I've been thinking lately how bizarre it is that people (myself included) are so polarized in their thinking on so many issues. It's as if we only see the world in pairs of opposites.

For as long as I've been around evangelicals in particular, it seems like most "believers" will only ever acknowledge two "positions" on many issues. Here's a few examples:

  • Republican or Democrat
  • Calvinist or Armenian
  • Old or New Testament
  • Legalistic or Licentious
  • Covenant or Dispensational
  • Liberal or Conservative
  • And the list goes on!
Why is it that we are so polarized in our view of life that we must lump all people into groups at the outer edges of every issue of life, as if all people are either/or and never something else? This is very apparent to me as I look at blog posts and the follow-up comments. Often I see this "oh, you don't agree with my position, you're one of those..." types of comments. I've witnessed this person more times than I would like too!

That's one of the things I love about Jesus. He's so anti-stereotype. No one could look at him and say, "oh, I've seen this before, that's such and such...". Jesus is totally unpredictable - he's ... WILD!

And so, if we bear the name of "Christian" (lit. Little Christ), shouldn't we posses the same characteristics of being anti-stereotypical and completely non-categorical? Maybe if we focused less on trying to pigeon-hole one another into the black and white buckets we put one another into, we'd have more time and freedom for Jesus to produce his wild life in us!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Syncretism: "Democrianity" - The Religion of America

Many years ago, I had the privilege of sitting under the teaching of a wise, experienced missionary who had seen the Lord use him and his family to bring the gospel to another culture and witnessed the birth of the Church in the people group he worked with.

One of the main issues this sage spoke of was that of "syncretism" which is "A blending of religious beliefs and practices from the cultural context..." or "...the interworking of two or more cultural perspectives into one system."

In this gentleman's experience, this issue of syncretism was one of the more daunting challenges to planting strong churches in this foreign land. You see, the people had a tendency (as do all people it turns out) to combine the new information they were learning about Jesus with their existing, animistic beliefs, with some scattered religious ideas left over from past missionaries also thrown in here and there. His ultimate conclusion? The Gospel Message and the truths of scripture must replace the existing beliefs of the culture or they will result in a new, albeit counter-biblical or extra-biblical worldview.

Since those days, I have come to see some of my own syncretistic tendencies in how I think, etc. Over many years, and continuing to this day I've been challenged to answer the question "What about what I believe is really from a scriptural worldview?" Turns out, much of what I had been taught and always believed was from American culture and NOT from the culture of the Holy Spirit of God as I see in scripture.

This is where some might find my comments to be offensive.

As the scales continue to fall off, it's becoming apparent to me that "Christians" in this country have syncretised the gospel message with the social, political and even religious values and ideals that have existed in America since it's birth as a nation. Since this is not biblical "Christianity" as described in the book of Acts, I find myself calling this combination of belief systems "Democrianity". I choose this word because "democracy" is just one of those values that many in this country hold in as much esteem as faith in Jesus.

I need to be careful here to say that I don't necessarily find some of these American ideals and values to be particularly troublesome or ungodly, however, when mixed with the scriptural message of redemption - a message that transcends all generations and all cultures - a dangerous new mix emerges.

I think it's safe to say that a growing number of Americans are rejecting what they perceive to be "Christianity" because they're finding it to be so desperately lacking in real spiritual value. They should be! What we've seen lived out before us is not the life of Christ described in the scriptures, but an amalgamation of biblical ethics, political ideals, and ethno-centric beliefs that ultimately emasculate the scriptural message of redemption and wreak havoc on the witness of the Church! That's not to mention the sheer propaganda that is hurled at the American public for the sake of getting support for actions that stand totally opposed to the character of Christ.

I've got a lot to say about this topic, so my next several blogs will be devoted to fleshing out some of the myriad ways I see this syncretism occurring right before our eyes. Stay tuned! In the meantime, seek the Lord about what beliefs you might have "merged" with the gospel message!


The Idolatry of Scripture?

A facebook friend, David Flowers, posted a comment on his profile that he'd be blogging about a matter that he "believes many Christians are "Bible-centered" instead of Christ-centered".

Many would find this abrasive and downright heretical. Is it really, or is it possible that we've been so trained in the ways of religious thinking that we don't hear what people like David Flowers are saying?

I agree with David's observation. I think this has been a problem since forever. The Scribes and Pharisees (the "professionals" and "clergy" of Jesus day) were chiefly guilty of this. They certainly revered the Scriptures more than anyone else, yet they missed the revelation of the person of God in Jesus Christ. Did they lack willingness or zeal? Did they simply ignore certain parts of scripture? Perhaps they just hadn't read Isaiah? No! They were experts in ALL the scriptures. They revered it more than anyone else - even refusing to say or write the name of God out of reverence. Understand that these guys had ALL the the scriptures of their time memorized!

I think many today, through ignorance and the semantics of the English language have come to believe that the "Word" in John 1.1 is the scripture. It's not, the "Word" in John 1.1 is Jesus!

The "Word" (gk. logos) in John 1.1 could be understood as God's "communication" to man. The scriptures are very clear here that Jesus (not the scriptures) are the essence of God's revelation of himself to mankind. Of course, scriptures too reveal God to man, but when God wanted to "encapsulate" Himself in a form we could understand and relate to, he chose the person of Jesus Christ.

Herein is the rub that I think guys like David Flowers have picked up on. Many seem to have missed this and are acting as if God's Logos is the scripture. To say so is NOT to dismiss the revelation that is in Scripture. But by itself (as many have pointed out in the comments to David's comment) is not sufficient for relating to God. Once cannot achieve eternal life from reading/knowing the scriptures alone. Why?! Because they reveal man's need to be restored to relationship to God, and further, God's single means of providing that relationship - Jesus Christ!

Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of God. Yes! Agreed! Amen! However, the scriptures do not create a relationship with God, they only reveal how to have one through the single means God provided for relating to himself - Jesus the Christ.

Therefore, it can be said that we cannot relate to God outside of the Jesus Christ AS revealed in Scripture. However, it IS possible to know, love, and even idolize the scripture, but not have relationship. That's Bible-centeredness! That's "having a form of godliness but denying it's power".

Relationship with Jesus -- Scriptures = Unfruitful Life
Relationship with Jesus + word of God = Eternal Life.
Scriptire w/o Relationship with Jesus = Empty Religion.

A few disclaimers:
1. I believe that all scripture is God-breathed and inspired by God.
2. I don't believe that one can have Jesus, but reject the scriptures.
3. I believe that Jesus is the ONLY way to relate to God and have eternal, abundant life. This message is contained in scripture, the hearing of which must be united with faith in our hearts, confession with our mouths, and entering into relationship with Christ on the basis of his finished work on our behalf at Calvary.
4. I LOVE the scriptures, because they reveal the God that I am in relationship with.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Syncretism: Freedom to Worship?

Visit many mainstream church buildings these days and you'll likely be greeted with a flag pole dutifully flying the stars and stripes. Walk inside these buildings and you might just find both the "Christian Flag" and the American Flag. Maybe as you greet people, you might notice a flag lapel pin or two, or a patriotic Bible cover.

If flags and American icons were the issue, I'd hardly waste the time to consider or write about this. But I am fearful that it doesn't stop with flags. The real syncretism is taking place in the subtle elevating of American values to the level of scripture, faith, and walking with Jesus.

What are those values? How about Individualism, Patriotism, Democracy, Freedom to name a few? I am sure by now some of you are very ticked! Let me clearly say, these values have their place and I truly appreciate the brave men and women who have, and continue to risk their lives for these values and the general safety of our republic. But is the achievement of these ideals and values the chief end of man and his relationship with God? Is there a difference between what has been accomplished by the Cross and what has been accomplished by the Constitution? I believe there is.

The gospel of Christ's salvation and the resulting freedom it brings is a message that transcends all cultures and is appropriate for every context of human life. The Apostle Paul wrote to believers both free and slave, male and female, Jew and Gentile. He didn't seek to entice these believers to repel or embrace values of their culture - even those we would consider wrong (like slavery). Instead, the scriptures admonish the hearer to find their identity in Christ and no longer from circumstances, culture, tradition, family, ethnicity, gender, etc.

The gospel is the power of God for salvation for all people who exercise faith in Christ in every circumstance of life. Doesn't the resulting relationship with God through Jesus Christ grant the believer the freedom to worship whether in a "free" country, or under the rule of despotic leader?

In America, we are indeed fortunate to have the freedom to write, speak, assemble, and even disagree with one another and our leaders (so far). But freedom to worship is different and is a sacred right that all people in Christ have despite their culture or restrictions placed on them by their government.

Why? Because worship happens when my spirit, soul, mind and heart joyfully recognizes how big God is and how little I am. How then can that be granted or denied by an external force? Worship (the kind that pleases God) is spiritual and entirely independent of the material trappings we've spent so much time adorning it with.

Our freedom to worship was secured by one man - Jesus Christ - when he uttered the words "It is finished". It was at that point that the veil between God and man was torn asunder and the hostilities between God and man were breached. Before Christ took my place (and yours) on the cross, I was alienated from God and without hope in the world.

That being said, how many times do we credit those in the military, or the founding fathers with securing and protecting this freedom to worship? The reality is, only the soul set free from the evil one is free to worship God. No one can take away that "right" because it's spiritual, and no one need defend it because it cannot be taken away!

Someone is likely saying by now "he can only say these things because of freedom he has because of the blood shed by thousands of soldiers, etc...". Really? Would the mouths of the saints really be sealed in a land where "worship" was forbidden?

Strangely enough, this is not the testimony of those following Christ in places like China, Indonesia, India, etc. Read the stories of people like Richard Wurmbrand of Romania and you'll see that no government or human institution can silence a heart won over by God! If we require force to "secure" or "protect" this liberty, it's truly a testimony to the shallowness of our faith and worship.

Take a brief look through scripture and you won't find America (unless you consider the book of Mormon to be scripture, then you have much bigger problems to sort out). That means that the Kingdom of God represented in the Scriptures can, did, and will continue to thrive with or without the blessings of our nation. Hopefully, our nation will be a friend to the advance of the Kingdom. To do so, I believe we need to begin to separate our duties to Christ and our duties to state recognizing what is borne of God, and what is just cultural. To do that, we must recognize our identity confusion, embrace the culture of the Spirit of God, considering ourselves foremost to be "In Christ". Perhaps then we'll accomplish what Jesus desires we would.