Changing The World

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”― Leo Tolstoy
I was sharing with our local body last night about the need to be praying for workers in the harvest. It was a little blurb as a piece in a larger evening of prayer. As I shared what I’d planned to say, I quoted Luke 10:2-3, where Jesus commands His disciples to ask God for workers to be sent into the harvest, and in His next sentence says, “Go! I am sending you out…” It occurred to me that we spend a lot of time praying for God’s will to be done; for God’s Kingdom to come here on earth; for our culture to be changed; etc. when we ourselves are not willing to be the agent of said change or kingdom expansion. Jesus basically says, “Pray for workers, and I am sending you out as said workers!” This is in line with several other passages, but this morning struck me as particularly connected to the model prayer in Matthew 6. Let me explain. But before we really dig in, please get your Bible out and read each reference carefully. Don’t just blow through here and miss the chance to hear God’s voice from His Word!

In the prayer Jesus offers as an example of how we should pray, He gives us some things to be praying for. These things are not new to us, right? Here’s a simplified list:
God is holy, His kingdom come and will be done on earth as in heaven, give us our daily bread, forgive our debts (as we forgive our debtors), lead us not into temptation/deliver us from the evil one, and in some manuscripts we are to acknowledge that His power and glory are the power and glory that are eternal. It took me a long time to see this. It actually took someone else pointing this out to me. But this prayer looks an awful lot like asking for things He has already promised us. I’m going to take the above list and break it down for you.
1) “Hallowed is Your name” – This is for us to acknowledge that He is above and apart from His creation. Even His name is holy (set apart). He is active in His creation, but not part of the creation itself. Isaiah 40:22-26 is a powerful reminder of this.
2) “Your kingdom come, Your will be done.” – The Scriptures are replete with calls to obedience as that is God’s will for us. Take your pick from the plethora of NT passages like 1 Thes. 5:18, Hebrews 13:20-21, Luke 9:23, James 1:5, and so on. How does God’s will happen on earth? We conform to His design for us in obedience. PARAMOUNT! This is the focal point of this entire model prayer: our conformity to His desire for our lives that His will would be done on earth.
3) “Give us this day our daily bread.” – Jesus has already promised that God meets our daily needs for food and water. In fact, later in this very same chapter of Matthew we read a well-known passage about not worrying about what we will eat or what we will wear. So, why are we praying that God will give us the food we need? We are reminding ourselves that His will gets done through our submission to His principles for us. Why do I strive to provide for my daily needs? Because I’ve forgotten His promise to provide for me. His will gets done on earth when I trust Him for my daily needs.
4) “Forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” – For those who have trusted Jesus, their debt is already forgiven. 1 John 1:9, Acts 3:19, 2 Cor. 5:17, Eph. 1:7, Hebrews 10:17, Ps. 103:12, Mark 11:25… Why are we asking Him to forgive us? We often miss the contrast here. It’s His will that we forgive others as He has forgiven us. By submitting to His model of forgiving, His will gets done on earth.
5) “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” – This one’s a bit trickier, but if we look at a few Scriptures, we can make sense of it. First, James 1:13 says that God Himself doesn’t tempt us. But we find the Holy Spirit leading Jesus to temptation in Matthew 4:1. The key verse for understanding this is found in Psalm 20:24, which says, “A man’s steps are the Lord’s steps.” There’s not a moment you’ll face in your life that doesn’t hold a temptation. The thing is, God doesn’t lead you INTO the temptation. He orders our steps to places where our faith can grow. But our prayer is to not fall to the temptation. Again, this is a point of submission for us. He has already promised to deliver us from the evil one. He’s already promised us a way out of every temptation, as we see in 1 Cor. 10:13. Will we submit to His way out? Will we follow Him out of the temptation? When we submit ourselves to His way out, His will gets done on earth.

Here it is: this model prayer is all about us submitting ourselves to His reign and rule in our lives. He is holy, set apart. And to see His will done here on earth is His desire and should be ours. Therefore, trust Him for your daily provisions. Therefore, forgive as He forgives. Therefore, take His way out of temptation. The model prayer isn’t a wish list. Instead, we find a submission list with some of the greatest areas of our lives; all pointing to His Kingdom comes when we let Him change us by submitting to His design for our lives. Will you change the world by allowing God to change you?

The Heart of the Matter

So, lets say you sell it all and move to another country where you hope to see revival, awakening, salvations, etc. Isn’t that a great reason to move? Isn’t that a great cause to devote your life to?

In Matthew 13:44, Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like a treasure that a man found. Hiding the treasure again, he goes and sells everything he owns to be able to buy the field and be the rightful owner of the treasure.

The treasure of great price is not an obscure verse. It’s pretty well known. I think, at least for me, the problem isn’t the selling of everything to lay hold of a treasure. The problem for me is at the very beginning where Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like… So often what I want, where I commit time, what I want to lay hold off is indeed something worthwhile, but not the greatest treasure, the Kingdom.

My daily reminder to take up my cross every day now comes with an attachment: take up your cross and pursue the Kingdom. Sure, revival and awakening are kingdom things. Salvations are the greatest of all miracles! But if i pursue them and not HIM, I’m missing the point entirely. Seek first His Kingdom, and He’ll do the rest.

The Center Of My Universe

Who is at the center of your universe?  God?  You?  Your kids?  Your Spouse?  Your Values?  HIS Values?  It’s an important question for followers of Jesus, especially today.  I live in a very secular, very humanistic culture. And, I would guess that you do, too. I see it all around me: people who have decided humanity is the highest good. As a short definition for secular humanism, I would offer this: a belief structure that embraces social justice, human reasoning, ethics, and philosophy for the shaping of a value system while simultaneously rejecting anything spiritual or faith flavored UNLESS said belief stems from a sense of self-fulfillment or self satisfaction. Such a system would, then, value human choice, tolerance, and logic in the pursuit of self-fulfillment. And, self-fulfillment is the bottom line.

Before you go wagging your finger at such an obviously non-Christian way of living, ask yourself what drives you day in and day out.  For example:  if I were to sell all of my possessions, give the money to the poor, and live the rest of my life in the service of the least of these, it would appear to be a very Christ-centered life.  It very well could be.  But why do I choose that life?  Do I choose it ultimately because it’s fulfilling to me?  Is it my value being played out?  Or have I embraced something Christ has asked of me in the pursuit of obedience to Him?  That’s the issue.  As if reading my mind, The Nomad Podcast posted this quote from Carl Medearis this morning:
“As Christians, we’re faced with a problem difficult to see because it’s so obvious. We’re aware of Jesus, but we are obsessed with Christianity. We’re stuck on its requirements and we’re defined by its doctrines, caught in an endless struggle to find out where we fit, if we’ve “arrived” yet, and if we’re doing it right…In this state, we’re not living in the grace of Jesus. We’re trying to maintain our membership.”

Modern western Christianity seems to be moving toward, at least in part, an attempted  synergistic mixing of Christian principles and secular humanism.  We follow those teachings that bring us the greatest fulfillment or that broker acceptance from those we value, avoid most things that require deep faith or great sacrifice, thus elevating ourselves or the group to the position of god.  This is a very complex and serious thing to me.  We have found a way to secularly humanize Christianity with the pursuit of what feels right to us, often embracing logic, social justice, and self-fulfillment with no thought to God’s desire for us or faith while at the same time having the appearance of Christianity.  Still having trouble wrapping your brain around what I’m saying?  When people come together to study the Bible, they circle up, read a verse, and then ask, “What does this verse mean to you?”  Fourteen answers and perspectives later, we’ve taken a text and filtered it through us to derive its meaning.  And no one dare say, “This verse couldn’t mean that…” or you’re intolerant, dogmatic, and narrow minded.  I agree that there is room for interpretation of the Bible, but not to the extent it’s normally taken.  The flex should come in what that simple truth looks like as it’s put into practice in our lives.  In my 20+ years of being a Youth Pastor, I saw it countless times.  I would ask, “What does this verse say?”  And 20 answers later there’s been an honest attempt at deeply spiritual things, philosophical things, application-type things, only to have to say, “Look at the verse.  The answer is there.”  Typically, we’ve run God’s Word through the filter of “me” in order to find its meaning.

Anyway, I digress.  I really simply wanted to pose the question today, “Why do you and I do what we do?”  Here’s a couple of quotes to meditate on today:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)  “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  (Luke 14:27)  “My food…is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”  (John 4:34)  “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  (Gal. 2:20)

If I do all the right things, but only because I find them fulfilling and derive great satisfaction from them, have I really embraced what Christ is all about?  Honestly, only if I can say that love for and obedience to Christ, no matter the cost, are my bottom line.

A Pivotal Event For All Time

Wolfhart Pannenberg, D.D., asserts that the resurrection of Christ is the most pivotal event in human history. He correctly contends that every event up to AND since the resurrection is only properly interpreted when seen THROUGH the resurrection.

This means 2 things:
1) The Cross, as God’s ultimate and eternal plan, holds much more than egg hunts and candy for all humanity. Let’s face it, for most of the Western world, there is some sort of lip service paid to the meaning of Easter, and a greater expectation of a day off from work, candy, or Easter eggs. However, whatever the expectations, Easter is on the minds of most Western thinkers, even if it’s just in this superficial treatment of the holy day. As a follower of Christ, we have an opportunity to point people to something so much bigger than a day off. The Cross event is the single event upon which all of history hangs. The Cross event holds the key to correctly interpreting and extrapolating every event on the time line of humanity. We ought to be awakening people to the magnitude of this event, and inviting them to something so much deeper and greater than a chocolate bunny.

2) As “Jesus People,” we must be sure that we are Easter People all year long. We have an obligation to interpret the events of our every day lives in light of the resurrection of Christ. Since the Cross Event IS the most important event in history, and since we claim to have been eternally changed by the Cross Event, those who follow Jesus must model its importance in an ongoing fashion, and not just when it’s on the minds of our culture. How do you interpret the loss of a loved one? How do we interpret the great promotion at work? Unless every event of life is scrutinized in light of the Cross, we miss the point.

I hope that this Easter Season, those who claim the name of Christ will also claim the impact of Christ. Our challenge should be to point others to The Cross, while we ourselves hold fast to The Cross.

“Forgotten God” Study DVD Resource

A couple weeks ago, I began working through the “Forgotten God” study DVD that I received from David C. Cook Publishing, and I’ve got to say I love it! Francis Chan does a GREAT JOB of bringing a discussion to the DVD that truly supplements the book, rather than just re-teaching it.

In each of the DVD’s 7 tracks, Chan adds onto the topic of the chapter, but does so in a way that others can be involved in the discussion even if they haven’t read the material.

Having read the book three times now, I enjoyed the DVD because it added to the book in a meaningful way, allowing me to get more from the book even though it was my third time through.

I enjoyed all of the chapters. They are well written and well done. I must admit that the “Big Red Tractor” was probably my favorite. There’s even an “out takes” track that was pretty funny.

I would encourage anyone planning on reading “Forgotten God’ to pick up the DVD. It’s a GREAT teaching resource, but has something to offer everyone who’s reading the book.

Hard Things

If you go digging into the New Testament, you will find Jesus having some pretty intense conversations with people at various times. Sometimes those conversations center on basic and easy things to understand. But, periodically, you find Him laying the smack down in such a way that people decide they just don’t want to follow Him any more. Have you ever been there? Jesus confronts you with a truth that requires you to either choose to change your outlook and behavior or to choose to just not follow Him completely any more. I mean, let’s be honest. If we pick and choose what parts we will obey and what parts we will ignore, aren’t we really just being disobedient across the board? It begs the question, “How much disobedience does it take to be labeled ‘disobedient?'” When Jesus says things like, “You can not be my disciple if you don’t hate your own life,” or “If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself, take up his cross every day, and follow me.” it brings us to a point of choosing. Either we will obey, or we won’t. It’s simple, really, if we’re being honest about it.

This semester at “The Porch,” we are going to be digging into these hard sayings of Jesus while taking an honest look at what it means to be His disciple. Our “theme” for the Spring is “We Do Hard Things.” Will you join us in this journey towards obedience?

A 2 Quote Morning

While reading this morning, two thoughts really impacted me. Since I know the way many of you think, I thought you’d find them provoking as well.

“…this is exactly what I see: a lot of people who have added Jesus to their lives. People who have, in a sense, asked Him to join THEM on their journey, to follow THEM wherever THEY feel THEY should go, rather than following Him as we are commanded. The God of the universe is not something we can just add to our lives and keep in as we did before.” (“Forgotten God,” Francis Chan, p. 122)

“What if you could hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and He asked you to literally give EVERYTHING you owned? What if He asked you to sell ALL your possessions and give the money to the poor? Could you do it? Before you start explaining why He would never ask that of you, take a moment and answer the question honestly. It’s not out of His character to ask for everything.” (“Forgotten God,” Francis Chan, p. 126)

In a recent ongoing dialogue with an old childhood friend, we’ve been chewing on the state of the Western Church, and perhaps this hits close to what we’ve talked about. Feel free to let the discussion begin!

Encouragement? Prophecy? or Both?

In my retreat time this morning, I was reading John 14 – 16. It’s an amazing 3 chapters about the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ relationship to Father and Spirit, and the connection of all 3 to us. Being 3 of my favorite chapters of Scripture, I read them often, but was deeply impacted by them this morning in a way not the norm for me.

I tend to read this passage and find encouragement for my life in the Holy Spirit’s role/connection for me. I enjoy phrases like “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” and “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” They remind me of the intimate connection we have to Father because of Son by indwelling of Spirit. And rightfully so. Jesus Himself says that He is telling us these things “so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

Have you ever read these chapters as prophecy, though? Look at the progression of events in these chapters. Jesus will be gone for a short time and then return. He will send the Holy Spirit when He leaves for good. The disciples will have questions now, but then all things will be clear. Greater things will be done by them. They will be scattered for a time. They will be hated by the world, yet overcome it. Their grief will turn to joy. They will be put out of the Synagogue. In a passage where most find comfort, Jesus in a very detailed way outlines the rest of their lives for them!

And, just as He said, they are with Him, dessert Him, have their grief turned to joy, walk with Him a bit longer, receive the Holy Spirit, and never doubt again. They turn the world upside down, and in spite of being martyred, they have peace in this world. They heal the lame and blind, raise the dead, speak in languages they’ve never learned, and are noted as ordinary guys who are changing the world because they had been with Jesus. These three chapters of John so closely parallel the Book of Acts that I am amazed more people don’t teach on this! We turn to these chapters for comfort. But do we turn to them for prophecy and to see if our lives are “lining out” like people who truly have received His Spirit?

As Jesus wraps up this prophetic/encouraging discussion with His friends, He says, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” What did the Disciples end up asking for? That their lives be used up for Him, His kingdom, and His glory. And that’s what He did with them, and they received a joy that was complete. A joy so complete that Paul and Silas could sing as they are beat nearly to death (Acts 16).

Finite Minds

I’m noticing an increase in the number of conversations I’m having with people about things our finite minds can’t wrap around. Most recently around the idea that God sovereignly saves BUT man is still responsible to respond.

I don’t know if this represents a significant shift in people’s awareness of Biblical paradox, or if people feel like they have become smart enough to grasp infinite things with their finite minds.
As a follower of Jesus, we serve a God who is not confined nor constrained by “the possible.” He works beyond our frame of reference, outside the time line. It should not surprise us that there are things that are a reality in spite of our inability to grasp them. For instance, no matter how simply you break it down, all of our best analogies to explain the Trinity fall short. I’ve heard most of the comparisons, like the apple, egg, or even our own existence. And while saying the Trinity is like an egg is a beginning place for the trinity, the shell is never the yolk is never the white. The apple, although being core, skin, meat, and seeds, has never been on earth while talking to itself in heaven and promising to send itself back once it goes away (John 14-16).
The reality is we will never grasp this side of eternity many of the intricacies that surround our HUGE God or the way He operates. But the truth is that brings me great comfort. Knowing that God can’t be explained or fully understood is one MORE reason He can be trusted and looked to for the impossible! He inspires trust and hope because He is unlike anything we will ever experience! And while some wrestle to wrap their brains around Him, I strive to let Him wrap me in His paradoxical presence and just be amazed by Him.