Thursday, April 20, 2017

JUST LIKE JESUS

I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be like Jesus. All too often I think we limit "being like Jesus" to acts of kindness, to praying for people, and doing "church stuff." We might even think of it as being good. This year during lent I was re-reading Dallas Willard's amazing book, The Divine Conspiracy, when something stuck in my head. I grabbed my Bible and opened it up to Hebrews 5.8: Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. Suddenly it hit me hard that being like Jesus meant learning obedience. It wasn’t like I had never thought of that before, or that I had never read that text before, but in that moment it hit me that learning to be Christlike meant learning to be obedient.  

For you this may seem overly simple, or maybe in your thinking this should be obvious, but the idea that obedience is more than a great suggestion in how to become Christlike, that it is more than just good for spiritual formation but rather it is essential to being Christlike grabbed my heart. It means that becoming Christlike is more than being helpful, kind, and thoughtful. It means that being Christlike includes a costly decision to obey. When Jesus was in the garden he did not want to suffer the agony of the cross but rather he was pursuing the joy that would result from his obedience (Hebrews 12.2). The Bible never says Jesus wanted to hurt, that he wanted to leave his beloved disciples, or feel the weight of the world’s sin. But he did! Jesus obeyed, even to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2.8).     Then it occurred to me that the model of Jesus obedience was even when you don't feel like it, and even when the price is high, even to the point of death. It is better to obey, than to offer another sacrifice. It is better to obey than go to church, it is better to obey than offer a song of love or to confess my faithfulness, because obedience is the ultimate expression of love for Jesus and the Father.

Read Jesus' words in John 14.23-24: Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me. When everyone is preaching about how God is love, and pontificating about what love is or isn't. When the world shouts down the church for obedience to God, it is not our obedience that is out of step but rather the common misuse of the word love. Love does not do whatever it wants, demanding its own way, it is not self-seeking, it is not rude when it defends the truth or when it finds people falling short of God's standard but neither is it disobedient. No matter what the price, Jesus loved the Father enough to obey. So if we are choosing to be students of Jesus, followers of the Way, then we are also choosing obedience; not just convenient obedience but the costly kind.

Monday, April 17, 2017

HAVE I BEEN BAPTIZING PEOPLE THE WRONG WAY?

I am sure that most people will be thinking about modes of baptism when they read the title to this article, but I am not speaking about modes of baptism at all, nor the connection between forgiveness of sin and baptism. I am thinking about discipleship and parenting. I am thinking about the role of spiritual parents and physical ones. As I have been processing the things we do in church and the role of discipleship I have seen a gap between form and function. Often times what we do, and the things we teach don't line up; Not in a hypocritical way. I mean we accidentally un-teach everything we just taught. I think one of the ways we do that is through church culture.

In the American church (and probably most western churches) we have those who have been ordained to do most of our baptisms. I have regularly told people that it is not required but I have not resisted the preference for ordained clergy either. Then it occurred to me one day, am I inadvertently teaching people to rely too much on me? Am I inadvertently teaching people to trust in the ability of the ordained more than learning to obey God for themselves?

I am not saying that pastors should stop baptizing people, but if I want parents to be responsible for their children's spiritual formation rather than depending on youth group to save their children, shouldn't I ask them to baptize their children, by getting in the baptismal tub with me, and doing the actual dunking? When someone in our church leads their friend to Christ wouldn't it be sweeter to have them in the baptismal too, physically participating?

Nothing in the Bible requires the person doing the baptism to be ordained clergy, so rather than just saying everyone gets to play, why don't we let everyone play? I want more people making more disciples.

Would you like to baptize your child? Would you like to baptize the friend you led to Christ? Are you nervous? Can I help? I can say the words for you if that will help, but will you do the baptizing?

I think I am going to start asking some new questions.  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

PRAY WITHOUT CEASING

A few weeks ago (in March) I had a dream about the urgency of prayer in our church, followed by several confirming words, dreams and visions from others in the body. It was a real wake-up call to make sure that prayer had its proper place in the church, drawing us not to religious practice, but deeply into intimacy with Jesus.

The problem was busyness! We all get busy, we all have too much to do, but the truth is that we don't stop and pray because we have time, we pray because we need the power of the Hoy Sprit for living. We pray because we need direction from our heavenly Father. We pray because we need the mercy of Jesus. We do not pray because we must (as in law) we pray because we must (as in our deepest need to be whole).

Here we are now, about one month out form that first urgent call to pray. Since that time I have certainly changed my prayer routine, made more room in my schedule throughout lent and I have committed to keep that space for the Lord. I have heard from several people that they needed that call to action as well, and who have reoriented their lives to be more intentional in relationship with God. We have also seen a renewed interest in our prayer meeting, which we moved to Tuesdays at noon.

At the same time, I also see that the dire warning has passed and there is a tendency to let the urgent fade into the background of normalcy. It is easy to let complacency creep back in and for us to begin doing everything in our own strength. It is all too easy to let our stomach decide that we need to eat now before we pray. To let urgency demand we skip prayer meeting to spend time catching up on work. To let TV take the place of intimacy not only with God but also with those whom we live.

Most of us have expressed some level of concern for our nation in recent months both during the election and afterwards. Some have taken to political posting, arguing, and letting fear control their view of life. Others have buried their heads in the sand or on pinterest posts to avoid the ugliness of political debate. Yet the truth is that what we are talking about when we speak of the civility of a society, its manners, it social decorum, its moral underpinnings, and the issues of justice in a society is that the real need is for revival. For people to be transformed. We cannot transform a society except one heart at a time being transformed by the love of God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. The need in our land is less about making America great again, and making America good again, as in good like God is good, as in intentionally becoming more and more like Jesus Christ.

So one month later my real reason for writing is wondering, what will it take to bring us to our knees in prayer? What will convince us that our deepest need is for God? Politics do not change the world, they only reflect the condition of the hearts of those who vote and those who lead. Laws do not change people, God proved that on day one when Adam and Eve chose rebellion over relationship with God and broke his laws bring about sin and death. The Law of the Old Testament did not save us, that was Jesus who died on the cross because we were guilty of violating the Law. More laws will not make our society better or more free, or more moral. Putting the ten commandments on court house lawns will not change our society unless we first write them on our hearts.

Our deepest need is not for social transformation but personal transformation. Pray without ceasing is not a rule, but a way of life that takes me into the presence of God to know his heart, to know his will, and to empower me to do his good, pleasing, and perfect will.