Wednesday, July 9, 2014

WHAT WILL KEEP YOU FROM MOVING FORWARD

Michael Kelly's most recent post in FORWARD PROGRESS is a must read for all of us on a discipleship journey. - STEVE

 
The New Testament calls us to a different kind of ethic – it’s a new kind of obedience. It’s not one measured in adherence to a code, but an obedience that’s through and through – not just doing right, but being right. Not just acting with love, but truly loving. Not just willingly acting but feeling it as well. But in the middle of all of these demands, there is one that isn’t quite as exciting:

Keep going.

Don’t give up.

Persevere to the end.

Or, as Journey might put it, don’t stop believin’:

“Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us…” Hebrews 12:1

“If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us…” 2 Timothy 2:12

“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.” James 1:2-4

“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 24:13

During those days, these verses were read largely in the context of persecuted believers, or in the prediction of persecution to come. Faith was or would be challenged with loss, and in light of the cost, many would abandon their confession. They would reject what they believed. They would give up and stop running the race of faith.

But I don’t currently live in a persecuted state, and I’m not often tempted to give up my beliefs based on threats of property seizure, social loss, or outright violence. Likely, if you’re reading this, you might not either. But the exhortations to remain in the faith are still there. It seems like a good time, then, for me (and others who live in relative freedom like me) to ask the question of our own selves:
If not persecution, what will make us give up our faith?

You could probably point to many things, so here’s one more to throw into the mix: materialism. Greed. Prosperity. This is what might make us give up our faith. To understand why, though, you have to dig in a bit to the basis of Christianity, and then how prosperity puts a challenge to it.
Christianity is, from the beginning, a humiliating religion. To come to Christ, you can be full of all kinds of sin. But the one thing that you cannot be full of is pride. That’s because the message of the Christianity is a self-debasing one – you are dead in your sin, and you can’t ultimately help yourself out of that condition. You are a person in the worst kind of need.

Understanding that helps us see why prosperity might be the thing in prosperous nations of the world that might most make us abandon our faith. With money comes misplaced security. With money comes misplaced confidence. With money comes the altered sense of self that makes us forget or neglect why we came to the cross in the first place.

Money makes us forget our need of God, and with that forgetfulness comes the abandonment of the gospel.

So be careful, all of us who are rich. Be careful that your money does not replace your God. Be careful that your money does not keep you from believing.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

LOVE IN A PIZZA BOX

Tim Bistline is the Senior Pastor of the Church of God of Landisville.  He has a deep love of Jesus and a heart for discipleship and his family is a great example of the idea of being missional. US AND COMPANY is his blog which is followed by718 people.  This recent post expresses the heart of what this blog, IMMEASURABLY MORE seeks to communicate to the 21st century church of Jesus Christ.

love and a pizza box

photo

BY TIM BISTLINE
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matt. 22:37-40 (NLT)

My oldest daughter, Emily, spent a week of her Christmas college break on a mission trip to the Bowery Mission in New York City. Sixteen young adults went on an urban adventure to love God and love “their neighbor’s” in the Big Apple. Something amazing happened to my daughter which solidified the entire purpose of the trip; something so small that you and I might miss it, but my daughter “caught the God moment” with both hands and her heart. Here is her story…

On Tuesday, the team of college students were sent out to an area in the neighborhood known as Thompson Park to set up a “make-shift” food market where homeless people could come and shop for fresh food and produce. Along with the portable market, a food line was set up to distribute hot food for the taking. It was a cold, damp and rainy morning
Emily began serving soup in the food line; sandwiches were being served along with drinks. Other students moved crates of food out of a delivery truck o keep the portable market shelves filled with food for those who came to shop. The mission team kept busy despite the outside conditions growing worse.
Midway through the morning, Emily served a homeless man who was struggling to communicate with her as to what he wanted; there seemed to be a language barrier despite her efforts to speak Spanish to the man. He kept pointing down, looking under the table as if to point at her feet. She nodded, kept her composure and tried to remain polite but was confused by his actions and attempts to speak. After a short time, the man-made his way through the “soup line” and disappeared into the large crowd that had gathered for the food.

Time passed. Emily kept serving soup. A light rain turned into a slow drizzle of showers; more time passed. And then, out of no where, the man returned to the soup line with an empty pizza box. He made his way around the table, moving toward Emily; she felt some concern rising up in her, but did not panic. She did not feel as though he was posing any kind of threat. After all, he was only caring a pizza box. He stood beside her, gently pushed her to one side and put the pizza box on the ground where she had been standing. She watched the man in action; she began to notice that where she had been standing, a puddle of water had formed around her feet. She then began to realize that her feet felt cold and wet. The man motioned for her to step on to the pizza box; she did and once again, began serving soup. Then it “hit her”… the God moment.

In an effort to love and serve God by loving and serving her “neighbor”, Emily realized that the “neighbor”, with nothing more than some street smarts and ingenuity, returned a favor of love with the gift of a pizza box to keep her feet dry. (It is the wisdom on the street… to survive, you must stay warm and dry and it is very important to take extra care of the feet.) A simple, small, kind act of love from a stranger changed the heart of my daughter that day. The power of love through serving others can make a big difference in our lives and in the communities in which we live, and change our hearts. Let us ALL learn to lead with love!
For more info in the Bowery Mission, check out their website… http://www.bowery.org

Friday, December 27, 2013

JOHN ORTBERG--SEVEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT SPIRITUAL FORMATION

In a few weeks I begin teaching a group on "Speaking Into a Life". It's about mentoring some in their spiritual formation.  These words from John Ortberg are a good  reminder to all of  us who presume to take on this task. - STEVE

The phrase "spiritual formation" expresses the most important process in the world. But it also drives me crazy. Although I grew up in the church, I never heard the phrase until I was out of college. Now it's a subject I find myself writing and thinking about a lot. But like all language, the phrase has a way of taking on baggage and barnacles and misunderstandings. So here are a few items I need to get off my chest.

 1. I hate how spiritual formation gets positioned as an optional pursuit for a small special interest group within the church. People think of it as an esoteric activity reserved for introverted Thomas-Merton-reading contemplatives. I hate that. Spiritual formation is for everyone. Just as there is an "outer you" that is being formed and shaped all the time, like it or not, by accident or on purpose, so there is an "inner you." You have a spirit. And it's constantly being shaped and tugged at: by what you hear and watch and say and read and think and experience. Everyone is being spiritually formed all the time. Whether they want to or not. Whether they're Christian or not. The question isn't if someone will sign up for spiritual formation; it's just who and what our spirits will be formed by.

2. I hate how spiritual formation gets equated with certain restricted methods. So, for example, someone who grew up in a traditional evangelical spiritual context will swap out meeting at Denny's at 6:00 a.m. for inductive Bible study for lectio divina and learning about the difference between meditation and contemplation and engaging in Ignatian exercises. Any technique is just a technique, and always only a shade away from becoming a new legalism. There is no magic formula, just life. Wise method is always needed, in spirituality as in auto mechanics. But the goal is always love. Better to be a loving person without knowing how you got there, than an expert no one can stand to be around.

 3. I hate how easy it is for people to become "champions" of spiritual formation without actually becoming transformed. Sometimes in churches somebody will discover a particular vein of spirituality and seek to recruit others into it, or assume a superior position because they have found certain techniques—but no one actually wants to become like them. I hate it when we forget that the goal is producing truly good people, not becoming experts at certain spiritual activities, or advocates for certain writers.

4. I hate it when people misunderstand the nature of spiritual disciplines. I read an author recently who wrote that the problem with spiritual disciplines is that they turn transformation into a merely human enterprise; for instance, if you struggle with lust you can simply begin to practice fasting as a way to alter your appetite. That's a little like saying the problem with eating breakfast is that it turns nutrition into a merely human enterprise. If you have become a Pelagian breakfast-eater, the solution isn't to stop eating breakfast. It's to start doing it with the right mind, recognizing my dependence on God's presence and goodness and provision in it. That's as true for fasting as it is for eating.

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE GOSPEL CAN HINGE ON ONE WORD

From Michael Kelly comes post that serious disciples need to reflect upon - STEVE

It’s only 3 letters. A throw away word. The kind of word that appears countless times in an article. One that we simply write or say or read without thinking much about it because at its best it simply links what comes after it to what comes before it. It’s a word that shows up in a passage of Scripture that beautifully summarizes the gospel message:

“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

In these three verses, the word appear three times in this particular translation, but it’s the appearance in verse 10 that I’d like to call your attention to. We are newly created in Christ for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to walk in.

You find in this passage a holistic treatment of the gospel. That is we were saved by grace, through faith, for good works. Take any of those three components away and you have an incomplete message. We are brought near to God not on the basis of our own merit, but by grace. Unmerited favor. Undeserved blessing. Completely apart from ourselves, this grace finds its root in God alone and His great love and mercy. It is by grace we have been saved.

And that grace is given to us by faith. Faith is the track upon which the train of grace rides. It is the avenue by which we are made right with God. It is through faith alone that anyone at any time is ever made right with God. As Charles Spurgeon beautifully put it, “Faith is the silver thread upon which the pearls of grace are to be hung. Break that, and the pearls lie scattered on the ground.” Faith is the mechanism by which the gospel ceases to be mere historical fact and actually comes to rest on a person. It’s the moment when a person ceases to merely know and begins to actually believe.

And then there is the last part. This grace, which comes by faith, is for good works. It’s a cause and effect kind of thing. Those who experience this grace are irreversibly changed. They bear the fruit of righteousness and now love God with their deepest desires. Their souls have been awakened to true beauty and, like someone who has eaten the richest fare once, no longer find a cheeseburger from McDonald’s all that satisfying any more.

By grace. Through faith. For good works.

Our understanding of the gospel might turn on any of these words, but I’m thinking particularly today about the word “for.” We are created for good works; not by good works. This we must understand.
If it’s “for” then we are free. If it’s “by” we are enslaved. If it’s “for” then grace is the focus. If it’s “by” then performance is the focus. If it’s “for” then we are unleashed to do that which God has reborn us to do. If it’s “by” then we are caught on the treadmill of self-justification.

Now all that is well and good so long as we not only know we were saved by grace, through faith, and for good works. We must also truly believe it to be so. For there is perhaps no other word in all Christianity that might be so quickly replaced with another as “for” is with “by.”

Thursday, June 6, 2013

TAKING JESUS SERIOUSLY



ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN LIFE MATTERS - MARCH 11, 2013

 


By Steve Dunn

“Jesus doesn't need us to reduce Him to a poor puny Jesus just so people can ‘accept’ him. He doesn't want us to accept him, he wants us to follow him.”
 - David Platt

     We apologize for Jesus too much.  We de-radicalize him and spin him, so that people might be willing “friend” him on Facebook.  We want people to like him. We want people to accept him.

      We downplay that his neighbors in Nazareth were offended by him and his family embarrassed by him.  We placed pictures of him with children everywhere but grow uncomfortable with him whip in hand in the Temple.

      So we wipe the blood stains off of our crosses.  We declaw our apologetics.  We want make him into a Republican or a Democrat depending on our political persuasion.  We quote his words on love and yet ignore his probing questions. We talk about His work on the Cross because the suffering is done so we can avoid the pain of eternal separation from God, but downplay what he taught the night before with a basin and a towel.

       We need to take Jesus seriously and to tell the people the truth. “ Then he said to them all:  ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9.23

Sunday, April 21, 2013

WANTING TO BE LEGOLAS

JD Blum writes a blog that I read regularly called A DEVOTED LIFE.  Here is his post from today, one I wish I had written.
“…He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.” Acts 27:43b-44
Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's T... 
My daughter recently bought the DVD of the Hobbit by director Peter Jackson.  We have subsequently watched it a multitude of times in the last couple days so my mind has been flooded with images of Middle Earth.  I love epic tales.  I have been drawn into all of J.R.R Tolkien’s tales of Middle Earth due to their epic scale.

The problem with epic tales is that they can skew our expectations of reality.

We are all part of the most epic plan ever imagined.  The wonderful aspect of this plan is that it does not come from an author’s imagination but it is real.  God’s redemptive plan has been unfolding throughout history.  What story could be greater than the Creator God of the Universe, the Great I AM, saving His fallen and rebellious creation from certain destruction?   It is a plan of unfathomable dimension and limitless depth.

However, this epic plan mostly unfolds in the ordinary.  It is typically carried out in the normal.  Every person plays a role in the greatest story of history when they rise in the morning and either set their minds on the things of the Spirit or the flesh. We are all living in the epic whether we know it or not.

There are the occasional glimpses of the spectacular but the majority of the time we trudge along in the familiar.  I want to participate in  God’s epic plan with grace and courage.  I am reminded of a scene in the Return of the KingLegolas slays an oliphant by effortlessly swinging up its side while agilely dodging his assailants. After killing the beast he then gracefully slides down it’s trunk to land lightly upon his feet.  That is the sort of participant in God’s great unfolding story that I want to be.
Mûmakil in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rin...
Mûmakil in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, this is where the imagination and reality clash.  Reality is more like the Apostle Paul’s experience. Directed by God to return to Rome, he was placed on a ship by his captors.  They were caught in a violent storm for fourteen days where they struggled in vain to hold the ship together.  They had to unload cargo into the raging sea.  Able seamen had to be prevented from abandoning their ship and responsibilities.  They spied an opportunity to run their ship ashore on a beach of a nearby island.  They casted off their anchors, set the sail, and made for the beach only to strike a reef.  The entire party gets washed ashore amid planks and a myriad of ship debris.  They were undoubtedly covered with sand and the grime of the sea, bruised and battered.  It was not a very graceful exit.  It certainly was not an elegant or agile landing.
That is life.

Orlando Bloom as Legolas in Peter Jackson's li...I have never really experienced a “Legolas” type moment.  Most of my moments have been more of the ungraceful and awkward type where I have landed in an inglorious and embarrassing heap.  That does not mean that they were unimportant or not a part of God’s plan.

We need to be careful about seeking out and participating in only “Legolas” like moments.  They may never happen.  I don’t know if I have ever felt like I had the perfect words to say or write.  I can’t remember ever clearly seeing the path before me so that I could effortlessly bound forward without the risk of tripping.  If we wait for the perfect conditions to make our leaps of faith, then we may never jump.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Hebrews 11:1
Our eyes are on another world as we walk through this one.  We have placed our conviction in things that cannot be seen.  Our reality is that we move forward by faith.  That means that we may stumble.  That means that we may become part of a group that gets ingloriously washed ashore.  We may pick imperfect words and look foolish.  We may not see the next foothold and appear indecisive.  We may be walking along and trip over the common and fall in an awkward and embarrassing heap.
PESUDA ship wreck, Tlell, BC in HDRHowever, I will risk landing in a clumsy heap over the security of standing on the sideline of God’s wonderful plan of redemption with my dignity intact.  My dignity is not worth much in comparison to God’s plan.  The opinion of others is insignificant in comparison to the glories of God. The blessings of a deep and meaningful relationship with God are found only in the practice of our faith.    God will only be found by those who seek Him through the power of His Spirit.  That happens when we are actually in the epic journey of faith.

Are you ready to trust in the promises of God and take your potentially inglorious next
step?  We need to remember that every inglorious step that we take forward leads us to a glory beyond what we can even comprehend at this time.  That glory of our Lord will cause all the struggles and suffering of this time to fade in an insignificant memory.  Every inglorious step, taken in faith, serves a purpose and is transformed by the Spirit into glory for our Lord and Savior.

We must decide which glory we want the most – God’s glory or our own.

PRAYER: Father, forgive me for so often choosing my glory over yours.  Forgive me for seeking out opportunities where my risks of appearing inglorious can be managed.  Forgive me for not trusting you like I know I should.  Father, help me in my unbelief.  Help me to walk by faith and to set my eyes not on what I see in this world.  Help me to set my convictions on the things that I cannot see.  Help me to take the next step of faith, forgetting myself, for your praise and glory.  Amen.