Monday, February 24, 2014

Deconstructing the Lego Movie

I grew up playing with Lego, so it wasn't a big ask to take my youngest son and 4 of his 8-year old friends to see the Lego Movie on Saturday. It was fun, clever and had a very catchy theme tune that got stuck in everyone's head, whether they were 8 or 41 years old! "Everything is awesome!"

The song is dripping with candy-pop irony though. "Everything is cool when you're part of a team," is the propaganda of the Lego regime seeking to keep every Lego character locked in oppressive conformity. Essentially, the message of the movie is, "You're special, break free from the conformity of community and discover your unique individuality." Of course there is some  truth to that, but I'm not sure we realize that this is the Gospel of Individualism, and that it's being preached to us every day from almost every angle. I wish I could just sit and enjoy the movie.
But honestly, it is building a world-view which needs careful dismantling.

As I've begun to look at how the Trinity shapes the identity of every believer, we simply have to distinguish between Individualism and a Trinitarian view of family. We need to break free from conformity to the world's view of community as oppressive conformity, and trust God to renew our minds through the Trinity, who dwells in perfect unity and diversity, with self-giving love.

The Bible's view of the individual's life is one of a silver thread; beautiful yet fragile. Individualism's message is that the unique quality of each individual is best discovered on it's own. The Trinitarian view is that when we allow God to weave us into the tapestry of community we are stronger and
richer than when we were alone. In fact, the Bible says that we cannot truly know ourselves apart from community; that there are aspects of our souls that are obscured from us but are clear to others.
"If we have fellowship with one other we walk in the light..." (1 Jn 1:9)

Fascinating that Jesus' acid test for whether Peter loved Him, was loving Jesus' family.
"Do you love me, Peter? Then feed my sheep." (Jn 21)
Our vertical love for Christ is tested horizontally in family.
But that can sometimes be as painful as stepping barefoot on a stray piece of Lego!
It's relatively easy to love Jesus, isn't it?  He's perfect and has given Himself faithfully to us. Jesus was calling Peter to extend the same grace to Jesus' flock, that had been extended to him in his failure. As John Stott said, "Loving the  family of God sometimes means forgiving the inexcusable because the inexcusable has been forgiven in us."

The younger brother of Individualism is Deconstructionism - the fear of Institutions. This world view embraces community, but in a very fluid, unstructured manner. Any imposition upon the individual's freedom to come and go as he or she pleases is seen as restrictive. Again, there is a need to deconstruct
Deconstructionism through the Trinity. The perfect Family is committed to one another, has a leader and a mission. While the Bible does speak of the World-Wide Family of God of which every believer is mystically a part,  it is also clear about believers belonging to local families. "To the church that meets in Priscilla's  and Aquila's house." (Romans 16) These local families were committed, submitted and met daily  around the preaching of scripture, prayer  and the sacraments. You could be put out of one, which assumes that you were welcomed in to one too. The early church was not as fluid and disorganized as the Deconstructionists would like it to be!

Christ has reconciled us to His father and his family through his own blood, and oh what richness, when we discover the love of the Father through his family! There is nothing like it!
It is not good for man to be alone!
In Christ we have found a perfect Father, but we have also found a family,
which though imperfect, is very good.
Awesome, in fact.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Intolerance of the New Tolerance.

From where I stand, there's been a significant shift in the common understanding of the word tolerance.  The Merriam -Webster Dictionary describes tolerance as "a willingness to accept feelings, habits or beliefs that are different from your own." So according to this definition, tolerance is not that one does not have strong beliefs or convictions. It is about how we treat those with whom we differ with respect to their beliefs or convictions.

The new definition of tolerance is not yet written in dictionaries, yet it is being inscribed on the soul of our culture.  Here is one example of how it might be defined, from a statement in a  recent article in the New York Times. "People who think they have the truth are dangerous. Everyone has the right to determine what is true for him or herself. No-one should try to press their view of truth on others."

This view insists that people who think they have the truth are intolerant. Even dangerous.
Whether we agree with this or not, we must recognize that this represents a significantly new definition of tolerance. Here, intolerance is not simply pressing one's view of truth upon others. (That has always been seen as intolerant.) Intolerance here is holding the view that one truth is more true than another.

The irony is that the words expressed by the New York Times journalist  express a particular view of truth themselves.  It is a Western, Post-Modern, Enlightenment view of things. It is essentially saying, "What is true is that there is no truth, which is a more enlightened view than those dangerous bigots who believe that there is truth."

D.A. Carson calls this the intolerance of the new tolerance.

Few people have articulated the shift in our culture's view of tolerance better than Rick Warren. Some may say that he is describing something peculiar to California, but I would submit to you that what he is describing is a much broader mood than that. "Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate."

Compassionate conviction is what we need but, it preaches more easily than it lives. 

This past week, Dr. Rosaria Butterfield, a former English professor  and outspoken Lesbian from Syracuse University, spoke at Wheaton College's chapel service in Illinois, sharing the story of how she had converted to Christianity and had entered into a heterosexual marriage.

While her provocative message encouraged many, it also offended others who protested outside the chapel. When she heard that some students were protesting her chapel talk, she sat down and met with them to listen to their grievances. She concluded that their different conclusions on sexuality came from a different view of Scripture. Her view was that Scripture was inspired and authoritative with regards to sexual ethics, while the students held a revisionist view of Scripture. They agreed to disagree.

However, this was how she described the tone and tenor of her conversation with them.

"This is the world I helped create; I was an activist, I was a professor who authored the university’s policy on domestic partnership, which they still use today. I helped make this world, so I really feel for students. There is nothing about what they’ve said, there’s nothing about anybody’s response to me that was offensive in any way. In my heart, I felt huge solidarity and connection.”

I think Rosaria Butterfield manages to thread the needle of compassion and conviction.
God give us grace to follow suit.

*Dr. Butterfield's  book is called, "Secret thoughts of an unlikely convert."You can order it here

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Fist-cloud: Praying bold prayers in dry seasons. Day 3

James, the younger brother of Jesus, wrote some great stuff on prayer. His prayer hero was Elijah the Old Testament prophet. "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit." (James 5)

Imagine a prophet who prays for a drought on a whole nation? What's more, God listens. That has to take some gutsy courage. Elijah gets given the name, Troubler of Israel for good reason.  However, there was method to his madness. Elijah's job, as a national prophet was to call people away from idol worship back to trusting and worshipping Yahweh. The drought wasn't the cursing of a cruel prophet. It was meant to goad them away from worshipping the false God Baal. Once idolatry had been severely dealt with at Mount Carmel, Elijah prophesied rain, and it rained again.

What James doesn't mention is that when Elijah prophesied rain, the only sign that the drought would be broken was a small cloud on the horizon, as small as a man's fist. He crouched down on the ground and prayed with impudence - I love that word! It means persistent audacity. Elijah  kept sending his servant back to see if the fist-cloud was growing. He prayed until the sky grew black with clouds and it began to rain.  There is no greater metaphor for revival than rain in a drought. God revived Israel through Elijah's prophetic, persistent prayer.

James encourages us though Elijah's example in a few ways:
1. We are called to pray bold and persistent prayers into the drought situations of our lives and the lives of those we know. Lets pray for God to send his rain into those situations.
2. Our prayer has power beyond our personal situations. It has national implications.
We are not to pray only for blessing on a nation. We are also to pray for righteousness.
Let's pray for a turning from idolatry and a returning to God,  in our Church, State and Nation today.
3. Even if we only see a glimpse of revival as small as a fistcloud, we are called to pray into being what we see prophetically. This can seem presumptuous, but church history tells us that the promise of  revival was always accompanied by prophetic and persistent prayer. Paul charged Timothy, "in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare."1 Tim 1:18 Lets pray persistently with the promises that God has spoken over us individually, as a church and as a nation.
Just one more day. Let's make the most of it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

How should I pray when I'm fasting? Day 2

Our  first night of prayer during the fast was wonderfully poignant. There are few things as powerful as public confession, when people are sincere and specific. God's conviction and forgiveness were tangible. God wants to leave His indelible fingerprint on our lives.

Fasting is less painful with meaningful prayer. Prayer that deepens in intensity and connection to God is what makes a fast worthwhile. First it helps to know how to pray and what to pray.

Again Jesus' teaching on fasting and prayer in Matthew 6 is so helpful.

He calls us to a posture of confidence. "Your Father in heaven already knows what you need before you pray." Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the person who woke up his neighbor in the middle  of the night for some bread. "His neighbor will get up and give him bread because of his impudence." I love that word. It means persistent audacity. Jesus encourages us to bother God with impudence.

Another posture is reverence. He is our Father, but He is holy, He is in heaven and he has a heavenly  will that often runs counter to my earthly will. Prayer is not a menu where God the waiter takes our order. It is the place in which I align my will with His and begin to pray for that. This is how His kingdom comes. These are helpful postures in prayer.

But what about he nature of prayer? What do I pray? Jesus' teaching here is a most helpful framework. I break it onto 6 simple directions that help me to pray more specifically.
a. Adoration "Our Father who lives in heaven, Holy is your name." I worship God for His character, thank Him for the gift of the Gospel and His Spirit.
b. Submission "Your kingdom come Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." I bring my will to Him, and ask Him to show me where His will is counter to my will. This can be a wrestle!
c. Supplication "Give us this day our daily bread."I ask for His provision of faith, wisdom, clarity, energy and finances for that day. I pray for the needs of my family too.
d. Confession. "Forgive us our debts and we forgive those who are indebted to us." John Stott said that Christian is someone who forgives the inexcusable in others because the inexcusable has been forgiven in him. I keep repentance and forgiveness as specific as possible, and I keep on doing it until I am free from it.
e. Protection "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil." The bible says to watch and pray so that we will not fall into temptation. Watchful prayer is recognizing the devil's schemes of temptation, asking God for protection against this strategy, and resisting Satan in prayer. We are in a spiritual battle! Let's not be spiritually naive. I pray protection on my family too.
f. Declaration "For yours is the kingdom the power and the glory." This is not in the Matthew text but I like to end by praying beyond my own life, into other situations like my family, friends, church, leadership team, and other churches we work with.

I encourage you to use this as a skeleton for your prayer. Flesh it out with your own situations, struggles and needs. Hopefully this will make your fasting more than a hunger strike!
See you tomorrow night.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

"Send Revival, Start with me." Fast Day 1

Revival. Such an evocative word. It brings to my mind images of big tents, bellowing preachers, swaying choirs and enthralled crowds. I don't hear the word that much these days, perhaps because of the perception that much of what men call revival may simply be more hype and emotionalism than a genuine move of God. That said, I've found myself reading more about revival recently and feel a fresh longing and faith for it. We need it desperately in our churches. In our nation. In our lives.

In particular, I've been reading about the revivals that sparked the Great Awakening in New England  around the  early 18th century. Jonathan Edwards, the New England Puritan, was one of America’s foremost Christian thinkers and became the president of Princeton College. He was a thinking man, but  he vigorously pursued, prayed for and preached towards revival in the Great Awakening.

While many people at the time were skeptical about the strange physical manifestations in these revivals, Edwards resisted the idea that religion had to be morbid or subdued, claiming that true religion consisted of holy affections. Although he admitted that these affections required discernment, he was an advocate of the possibility of physical and emotional  phenomena when people encountered God’s presence. “‘Tis no wonder that when the thoughts are so fixed, and the affections so strong, and the whole soul so engaged and ravished . . . that all other parts of the body are so affected as to be deprived of their strength, and the whole frame ready to dissolve.” I'm not sure if you have ever watched  a paramedic revive a body back to life, but it is often dramatic and messy. Are we open to revival being a little messy? I'd rather have messy life than orderly lifelessness, wouldn't you?

So while Edwards didn't dismiss these physical phenomena, he called people to look for what he called the Distinguishing Marks of the work of God’s Spirit in revival.  "Distinguish between the essential and secondary work of the Spirit. The essential work of the Spirit is love of Christ, obedience to the Scripture, holiness and love of our neighbor. The secondary work may include physical manifestations but these are not essential.  Revival should be sought. If it is revival, it will result in the salvation of the lost and the awakening of God’s people."

History tells us that the Great Awakening touched and changed every facet of our nation, from politics, to commerce to education to church life. These revivals could not be dismissed as mere emotionalism. They were transformational. How we need this in our day!

God is Sovereign and we cannot force Him to repeat what He did 300 years ago. However, we can pray for an awakening in God's people that spills over into our world.  Let's pray on the first day of the fast that the Sprit would awaken us to these marks of revival: love of Christ,  obedience to the Scripture, holiness and love of our neighbor. This is the heart of revival. 

We cannot ask for God an awakening in our nation if we are living in hypocrisy and idolatry as His people. Let's remember that His promise in 1 Chronicles 7:14 begins with His people and overflows to the nation." If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. "

In the inimitable words of of Matt Redman, "Send revival, start with me."

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Reward of Fasting.

We generally call a community fast twice a year. I have to admit that I  normally go in asking, "Why are we doing this, again? "but always come out going, "Oh, now I remember why we did this!"

So why do we fast as a church?

In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus speaks very clearly about fasting.  "When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast anoint your head and wash you face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father, who sees what is done in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret will reward you."  

1) We fast because Jesus commanded it. He said, "When you fast," not if.
He also said that while He was with His disciples they would not fast, but when He left they would fast. (Mark 2)
2) We do not fast to win the approval of people. "Do not look gloomy like the Hypocrites, they have received their reward." Neither do we fast to earn God's approval. We already have God's approval through Jesus. Nothing we do could make Him love us more!
3) We fast because there is a great reward in drawing close to Jesus. "Your Father in heaven sees in secret and rewards you."Though few people enjoy fasting, there is a very real reward and that reward is Jesus himself. In fasting, we deny ourselves food in order to feast on the Bread of Life and the  Living Water. Fasting is ultimately feasting on Jesus. Time and time again, people come out of a fast saying, "I may be hungry for food, but Jesus has satisfied and sustained me in a way that no food could."
4) We fast because it is a source of  victory in spiritual warfare. When Jesus was tempted by the devil he fasted.  When Jesus' disciples struggled to deliver a boy of demons, he said, "This kind only comes out by prayer and fasting." Matt 17:21
5) We fast because it is a catalyst for mission Acts13:2 "They were worshipping and fasting and the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have for them.'"

So I urge you all to join us from Monday to Wednesday as we fast together. It's a liquid fast, which means anything from just water, to juice, to soup, or all of the above.
A few practical helps:

a. Be prepared for some dizziness, headache, or nausea in the early stages. Most of our bodies have never gone without food for longer than a few hours.

b. Lead up to and break your fast gradually with meals that are light and easy to digest. Trying to gorge yourself following a fast will only make you sick and will leave you with an unpleasant memory of fasting.

c. Sometime during your fast, mix your fast with prayer, time in Scripture reading, singing, or devotional reading. Remember: fasting is not an end in itself. Seek the Lord, not the experience of fasting. Keep checking your motives concerning your fasts. Hypocrisy and spiritual pride can easily creep in. There is a reward for fasting, but only fasting done with the right motives (Matthew 23:28).

Each day we focus on a common theme, gathering from 6:30 - 7:30pm in the evening to pray through that particular theme together. I've felt going in to this fast that we should focus on the overall theme of Revival, and I will send out a blog each day starting Sunday, to let you know what the next day's focus will be.

I anticipate a deeply rewarding time as we seek the Lord together.