Dependent.

I have been thinking a lot lately about things that we are dependent upon as Christians in America & in the church in America. Sadly, my thoughts have not brought me to the person of Jesus Christ, and the leading power of His Holy Spirit. It would seem as if HE IS NOT ENOUGH.

I have had many conversations with many of you over the past few months about things that we are dependent on. These are things that, if they were taken away from us, we would not know what to do/how to function. We MIGHT survive, but you can forget a flourishing walk with Christ that usher’s in His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

It is very odd to me that most arguments or discussions I hear regarding “church” and what it means to follow Christ are rarely about an individual’s complete denial of self, and pursuit of the Great Commission. Instead, they are about things other than that…things that are seemingly irrelevant compared to the above. We will talk about “how to do church”, “church structure”, doctrine, staff, gatherings, elders, pastors, programs, worship, sermons, podcasts, etc. etc. etc.

I began to think…in my thinking I began to discuss these thoughts with some individuals. I began to introduce scenarios that lacked the above elements (“church”, structure, institution, pastoral staff, programs, worship services, sermons, teaching, childcare, youth groups, small groups, Bible Studies, etc.) and those I spoke with started getting VERY uncomfortable. They began to speak back at me as if I had just denied Christ and the Cross. It was as if it were THOSE things that mattered, as if THOSE were the things that held the most value in the kingdom. It was as if THOSE were the things they were dependent upon, and if they were taken away there would be no way to function as a follower of Christ.

My mind began to wonder to other countries where the believers there have NONE of the things in either of the above lists. They have Christ. They are LUCKY if they have a few pages of the Bible, and enough food to eat on a daily basis. Chances are they do have a thriving community of other believers who are in the same boat as them, completely & utterly dependent upon Christ. You see, Christ is enough for them. They have nothing BUT Christ, and it’s enough. They don’t “need to be fed”, or tickled by some fancy guitar riff in the middle of a Hillsong….song. They don’t need to be entertained by funny sermons or podcasts, and they certainly don’t need a group of professionals planning out their monthly service project or weekly program. (Not all of these things are BAD, however, when we become dependent upon them, and cannot fathom life without them it is DANGEROUS)

It would appear as if we, as Christians in America, are dependent upon a lot of things; Christ does not seem to be one of them. We seem to be too wrapped up in idolatry to notice our need for a risen Savior. Yes, I said IDOLATRY because that’s what we do. We don’t worship Christ. We worship the things in the lists above. We worship & idolize & are dependent upon them because if they were taken away from us our “faith” would fall to pieces. We would be left in shambles.

“Christ, forgive us for our idolatrous hearts. Turn us back to you. Do whatever it is that you must do to cause us to place you above any other gods. We need you.”

What are some other things that you can think of that the church in America may be dependent upon? (Things that an average Christian might not know what to do without if it were taken from them)

Desperation Blog…Part 2

A couple months back I posted an entry titled, “The Godless: A Desperate Generation”. Though it is not entirely necessary to read before this entry, it may help you to see what sparked the thoughts below…

In the past few months I have been almost convinced that it is impossible to be desperate for God in America because of our lack of need for Him in regards to basic provision. My mind has shifted gears in the past few weeks, though I still strongly believe that it is MUCH more difficult to grasp a desperation for God without needing, and relying on Him for the provision of our basic needs.

I have realized that anyone, in any country, who takes the scriptures seriously, lives them out, and denies themselves daily, can begin to understand what it means to be desperate for God in a physical and Spiritual sense. If I truly live the scriptures, and take them seriously then I will be without some sort of fleshly need, or desire. I will have need for God’s provision in my life. Because desperation for God has not been modeled for many of us in our lives we will have to pursue it more intentionally, and with everything in our being. As we deny ourselves of fleshly desires we will quickly be made desperate for God, His presence, and provision in our lives.

If you are married, and truly seeking the scriptures/living them out in your marriage then you certainly know, or are learning to be desperate for God. If you are not married, that’s okay, you should still keep reading. At the core of the Gospel we see this idea of denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following after Jesus. (Matthew 16:24) This is a daily denial of self, which goes completely against everything in our being. This poses a question: if we are not desperate for God, are we truly denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following Jesus as the scriptures call us to? A second core principle of the Gospel is the idea of putting the interests of others before ours, having the attitude of Jesus. (Philippians 2:4-5) Second question: if I am not desperate for God on a daily basis I am basically saying that I have this “flesh”, “denial of self”, and “other’s interests before mine” thing figured out. That thought breeds self-righteousness, and arrogance. Scary.

I know many people who seem to have it all together. They have the right answers for everything. They have the best, most eloquent responses to all of life’s situations. They read all the right books, and spend large amounts of time studying scripture. This intrigues me, especially when very little of it is translated into life practice. It seems to be mere head knowledge. Ironically, many of these same people think very often about themselves, and very little about others. At the core there seems to be a lack of desperation for God. Maybe an even deeper root is the absence of the realization that NEED to be desperate for God should exist!? In our sin nature we have been deceived into thinking that a “good Christian” is someone who has it all together instead of someone who is daily crying out in need for God to save them from themselves.

I have learned lately that I am an extremely selfish person. I will probably be learning this more and more as I get older, lasting until the day I die. This has manifested itself in the relationships I have with friends, as well as my marriage. The Lord is making me desperate for Him to choke out my fleshly, selfish desires, and put my wife’s/others interests before mine. That is, after all, what I’m called to as a husband, and believer.

Some other questions that have crossed my mind in reference to this subject of being desperate for God:

Is my lack of desperation for Him, which we have seen can be translated to a lack of denying myself, and putting the interests of others before me, be hindering me from involvement in the growth of the kingdom? Ouch.

How many kingdom opportunities am I missing out on as a result of my lack of desperation for God, and my focus on self?

As Christians, when will we stop thinking it’s all about us, our walk with God, our time with God, our community, our church, our faith, our righteousness, our accountability, our sin, our forgiveness, etc. and start focusing on how those things can empower us to bring light/life to dark/dead places? (Take the focus off of ourselves, and our interests in order to redirect that energy to the focus on the interests of others)

Thanks for reading. I would enjoy, and greatly benefit from any insight you all have on these thoughts.

“Gospel Authority in the Upside Down Kingdom…”

I am currently in the middle of a series of posts titled, “All Mixed Up, Don’t Know What To Do”. However, the Lord has been teaching, and speaking to me through prayer, community, and one of my mentors about the authority of the Gospel in the upside down kingdom of Jesus. I will pick back up with the “All Mixed Up” series very shortly…

In the I.G. community here in our neighborhood we have committed to walking the streets every Friday morning at 7am to cover our neighbors in prayer. God has given us a desperate heart for this hood, and it’s sanctification. This is where we live, and we feel influenced to seek it’s welfare through deep relationships with those who live here as well. As we were walking the streets, and praying this past Friday the Lord gifted us with a beautiful realization about His authority, His Gospel, His Spirit that lives in us, and what that implies for those of us who call Jesus our Savior.

In man’s kingdom the word authority has a particular meaning. Many of us, myself included, are a bit rebellious by nature, and have had “issues with authority” throughout most of our lives. (The words of my amazing Dad!) Some of us relate the word to a husband & wife in the context of marriage, though often times not Biblical. We think of teachers, police officers, judges, managers, and bosses as having authority. Many of us are under the authority of someone, but also have authority over others. Regardless of which of the above examples we subscribe to the underlying theme is that of a power, or influence over others through control. The dictionary definition of authority is, “the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine.” Whether accurate, or inaccurate this is the view many of us have in regard to the word authority. The thoughts we have on words like authority are the result of our upbringing, culture, technology, country, education, and so much more. Sadly, this default meaning for the word authority we have acquired has tainted our ability to understand the authority that Jesus speaks of in His upside down kingdom. This is something that we will forever be handicapped by as we seek to pursue ushering in the kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven.
When Jesus walked the earth He challenged all the norms, thus we have the phrase “upside down kingdom”. There are many examples of how Jesus did this throughout scripture, but we will focus on His view of authority. As we saw earlier, man’s idea of authority stems from influence by control. We can all agree that our bosses have some degree of authority over us. They control, or influence the way we do things in many ways. A police officer has the authority to pull us over, ticket us, or arrest us. Jesus submits a different idea of authority in His upside down kingdom.

What if authority was not through control, or causing someone to submit to us, but rather something that was naturally awarded us as a result of love and service? For example, I submit to Christ, and His authority in my life as a result of His love for me. Jesus extended grace to me, and served me on the cross. My response to His actions are a willing submission to Him, and His authority in my life. He does not have to twist my arm, control, persuade, bribe, or compensate me to gain my submission to Him, which is not the case for most relationships we are in where someone has authority over us. We submit to our boss’s authority because he will fire us if we do not. We submit to our teachers because they have the ability to fail us. We submit to the police officer because he has a gun, and to the judge because he can put us in prison. Jesus’ authority is not a result of control of, or power over our individual lives. His authority in our lives is a result of us responding to Him, who He is, and what He did for us.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.Mark 10:45

This is how the triune God chose to gain authority “over” His children; by being under them. (Kneeling to wash the feel of His disciples & accepting a punishment for people who didn’t deserve it to gain them access to the creator of the universe.) He did not put His thumb on our heads, and push down. He came to serve us, and die for us to complete a task that we ourselves could not; He raised the bar, and set the standard for how we are to live. That is the authority He has in my life. My deep appreciation for His grace causes me to submit to his authority. He did not force authority, or control.

This is the authority that we are invited to have in the lives of our neighborhood if we emulate the actions of Jesus. The Jesus inside of us kneels down to serve, and “wash the feet of our neighbors”. We serve, love, and build a relationship with those who live around us. We, through humble service, earn a voice in the lives of those we have grown to love; those who have also grown to love us. We have now not only sought to share the Gospel in words, but with the actions of our lives. Hidden agendas are non-existent, and ulterior motives nowhere to be found. Through modeling the life of Jesus we have now, by accident, gained authority in the lives of our new friends. Actually, the Spirit of Jesus living in us has now gained authority by our obedience, and submission to Him.

These realizations are what led to our prayer for the neighborhood this past Friday morning. As we walked down Lorilyn Ave. I prayed that the Gospel, and love of Jesus would have authority in the lives of those who live in this neighborhood. I prayed that we, by the power of the Spirit of God living in us, would be made able to love and serve the people in this neighborhood in such a way that would cause them to respond appropriately. I prayed that the authority of Jesus, His Spirit, and His Gospel would reflect the upside down kingdom. We do not desire to have an oppressive, controlling, consequence fueled, and forced authority in this neighborhood. We begged the Lord to show us ways that we can come not to be served, but to serve our neighbors. We truly believe that as we move forward and reflect the upside down kingdom of Jesus that it would place a bent towards Jesus in the hearts of those who do not know Him as Savior.

Jesus, may Your Gospel have authority & power in this neighborhood not through control, but through your followers humbly living out that Gospel. As we live a Spirit led life, may it gain a supernatural authority, presence, and voice in the lives of those who do not know You as Savior. Amen.”

“The Godless: A Desperate Generation”

I am currently in the middle of a series of posts titled, “All Mixed Up, Don’t Know What To Do”. However, the Lord has been teaching, and speaking to me lately about my desperation for Him, or lack thereof. I will be writing a few entries on desperation, and pick back up with the series shortly after…

Inashmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips , but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the commandment of men, therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.

Isaiah 29:13-14 (NKJV)

Notice the title to this post is The Godless, and not the godless. We are certainly not “little ‘g’ godless”. We serve many “little ‘g’ god’s”. It is as if “Big ‘G’ God” has been pushed from our society, culture, church, and country right out from under our noses. In Revelation 3:20 Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to dine with him, and he with Me.” This letter was written to the lukewarm church. Alan Hirsch, the author of “The Forgotten Ways”, has responded to this verse by saying, “How in the world did Jesus get outside of the church in the first place?”

We live in a day, time, and country unlike any other in the history of the world. In America we have “freedoms”, and opportunities that surpass that of any other place in the world. People die trying to get into our country to experience “a better life”. The foundation of our country was built upon God, and the Ten Commandments. We’ve got it all together, right? We are a Christian nation, right? Wrong. (When I refer to “Christian Nation” I do not mean that many people sit in a church building on Sunday morning. We’ve got that part down. I am referring to radical followers of Christ who take the Gospel seriously, and die to themselves daily in pursuit of the growth of the kingdom of God; this is something I struggle with daily). But what other country has a cluster of states referred to as “The Bible Belt”? What other country has a church on every corner? We are desperate for God, right? Wrong. We DO NOT need God, right? Right?

This idea of desperation and need go hand in hand. If you do not need someone, or something, then you are not desperate for them. If you are not desperate for them, then you certainly do not need them. This word desperation has intrigued me lately. The root of the word is desperate. Are we desperate for anything other than “The American Dream” that we cling to so…desperately? The definition of the word is: a state of despair, typically one that results in extreme or rash behavior. So, are we desperate? Yes, for many things, but not for God. Does our desperation result in extreme or rash behavior? Yes, our pursuit of comfort and security has led to greed and complete self-dependence. We have successfully removed the need of God from our lives. After all, we have everything we could ever need, and most of what we want. If we are hungry we instantly fill our stomachs. If we are hot we crank on the A/C. If we run out of something we simply go to the store and buy it. If we want something we cannot afford we finance it. If we need to contact someone we pick up our cell phones, which are now in the hands of six year-olds! If we get a flat tire we call roadside assistance. If we’re sick we immediately go to the doctor and get drugs prescribed. (No need to pray to the God we’re supposed to be desperate for to heal us). I could go on and on. Are these things bad? Not necessarily, but where does God fit into our daily lives? Is it even possible for us to be desperate for God? I, in my own power, have the ability to provide for my every need, and the needs of my family. Where can my need for God be found? (I have recently become desperate for God in the area of my marriage, and being a husband. I am desperate for God to be in me, what I cannot be on my own. This is a good start, I suppose, to learning what a daily dependence on my Savior looks like. However, I believe it is far from a Biblical view of “denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Jesus”.) How often do we, in all reality, deny ourselves of anything that we want or need?

I once heard someone say, “Many of the churches in America are so ‘man operated’ that they could grow without God.” What he was saying is this: Find a fascinating speaker who is good at communicating moral behavior, a great “worship leader” who can generate butterflies in your tummy, a staff of motivated (not to mention very well paid) and driven professionals, a cool, modern, and “hip” building/location, furniture from Ikea, a coffee shop, etc., and you can easily get a few thousand people into your building each week for a “service”. For some reason I do not believe the New Testament Church we read about in Acts was led by rare professionals. The early church grew and spread like a virus because it was easily reproducible. It didn’t take a superstar pastor, a rock star worship leader, and a huge building, etc. to multiply. In fact, I would say the above “model” we are accustomed to is nearly impossible to multiply. (Please do not misunderstand me by thinking I promote a particular “model” of church; anyone who thinks that any ONE model will offer “effectiveness”, or “success” proves their ignorance.) We may see addition with our current form of church, but not multiplication. The early Church spread and multiplied because ordinary, everyday people encountered Christ, and it messed them up for good, and for their good. They were transformed. Can our current form of church lead to transformed Christ followers? Of course! I am a product of a great one. Are many of these churches very effective in doing great things all over the world? Yes! Can we always be striving to be more effective? Of course. Might this require drastic and radical change for some churches and individuals, including myself? Yes. I am reminded of a business term I learned in college: Kaizen. It originated in Japan, and is the term used for continuous improvement. It simply means for us to constantly be looking for better ways of doing things. We must never come to the conclusion that we have it all figured out. This births pride and leads to ineffectiveness. As you know, we in America have this mindset. There is no attack here, but a simple submission that the Church (People of God, not a location or building) may be entering a new chapter, or era in what it looks like to be a Christ follower…maybe it doesn’t come with such ease anymore…maybe it requires much sacrifice…maybe it challenges us to be uncomfortable…maybe it BECOMES our everyday lives, and not just a part of our lives.

I was speaking with a student pastor friend of mine the other day. We were thinking hard about this absence of desperation for God in our country. We were chatting about what could be done differently in the area of student ministry. It would seem as if the days of great Wednesday night services, unbeatable camps/events, funny speakers, rockin’ bands, and the most thought provoking messages are quickly coming to an end. Are these things bad? Of course not. Can all of these things be present, along with hundreds of students who attend these weekly events, and still lack a true understanding of what it means to follow Christ? Sadly, the answer is yes. Erwin McManus, in his book, “Chasing Daylight”, writes on the idea of Christians being moved but not mobilized. He was referring to a group of men who came to a weekend retreat and got excited. They were certainly moved, but not mobilized to action. What will it take for us to be more than simply moved, but radically mobilized to live out the Gospel. Can we proceed in the same fashion we have for years? I think not. Do we, as adults, model a need for God to teenagers? I think this would be a good start for us. We must portray a selfless/desperate attitude to the next generation of Christ followers, or they will not be Christ followers at all.

There is a movement taking place all over the world. The truth is that the Huge God that we speak of, and sing songs about here in the states is performing miracles in other countries regularly. He is healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, and raising the dead. Wait, did I just say, “raising the dead”? We are instant skeptics. Once again, we talk about our God being Big. Do we truly believe it, and do our actions prove our belief? I wonder if our lack of faith has prohibited the Lord from doing things He desires to do in our lives. I am reminded of a story in Mark 6 where Jesus returns to His own country to teach and do miracles. Verses 5 and 6 say, “Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief…” I pray that my unbelief will cease to hinder the Lord’s work. I beg the Lord everyday to give me faith that believes He still raises the dead to life.

Is the Lord doing miracles in the states? Yes. Are we aware of the miracles, and in turn, directing the glory to Him because of them? Not usually. (We must first become aware of the miracles taking place all around us if we are to give Him glory for them) I’ve been to Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam, and seen a movement taking place. I have heard about it in China, and have friends who are a part of it in India. To describe this movement we can think about the early Church in Acts where thousands were transformed by Christ in a day. Notice, I did not say that thousands prayed a prayer of conversion in one day. We have seen that in the states regularly for many years. I am speaking of people who witness a Christ follower heal the sick, or raise the dead to life through the power of the Spirit of God that dwells in them. Upon this encounter of a miracle they can do nothing but desperately beg to know this powerful God. They are forever changed, forever transformed. That is a movement. Christ is equipping His Church. He is taking His Church back into His hands, and out of the hands of man. He is doing what He is doing, and graciously welcoming us to be a part of it. Thousands of Christ followers in America are waking up to this call of what it truly means to radically follow Christ. A restored desperation for God is flooding into the hearts and lives of Christians all over the United States, and world. This of course, is contrary to everything in our flesh. The question is whether or not we will truly die to our flesh in order to live in this movement.

“Father, continue to wake us up. Challenge us. Move us to action and mobilize your Church. Instill in us a holy discontent for the status quo. May we begin to take the teachings of your Son, Jesus, seriously. We submit to You, and beg for your guidance.”