Thursday, April 29, 2010

R12: Chapters 8 & 9 follow-up, It's All About Me!

I have to follow up on the last two chapters. Each time I’ve sat down to start punching away on my keyboard, my train of thought finds a point and steamrolls me through to the end of the post. And then I realize I never got around to some of the points I wanted to make in the first place. I spent a lot of time on Chapter 8, defining the temptations of the World, and by the length of my post it is no surprise this is one of the longest chapters in the book. Chapter 9 follows with the “hows” to combat the temptations in Chapter 8. And I spent most of this morning’s post instead talking about the “whys”.

Something I inadvertently left out of both of these however is one major roadblock we all have to face in order to “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of [our] minds.” I mentioned before that both commands here are passive. So while we’re commanded to do this, we’re not expected to do it on our own. So the obstacle to overcoming the world and transforming as God intends is ourselves. This is too important a point to be left out.

Chip paints this perfectly in Chapter 8:

I am personally convinced that much of our worldliness is a total misunderstanding of the real issue. There are far too many people who are stuck in cycles of sin that they repeat over and over again because they think the issue is their actual behavior. Behavior is almost always only the symptom. The real issue is far deeper...

I'm amazed that even in our sin we figure a way to make it "about us." My sin, my problem, my behavior, my addiction, my struggles, my difficult background, are all words and phrases that focus on us.
This comes up again in Chapter 9 as we’re reminded that we are not the ones who do the transforming, we are the ones transformed. And this fact, that sounds so simple, is why religion so often fails. We have to remember that religion is a man-made institution designed to draw us close to God. It is man-made however, meaning it is imperfect. And over time traditions set in, cliques form, apathy and ambivalence creep in, and generation after generation see splits, revivals, restorations and the cycle begins anew. Religion does not save. Church programs do not heal. Our fellowship should not be our object of worship. These belong to Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God the Father.

So the World tricks us into thinking it’s all about ourselves and religion buys into it. My sin drags me down. But if I do this and I do not do that I will overcome. Our spirituality becomes a checklist, our relationship with God becomes about rules, and we forget the grace of God that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) (Remember that Romans 12 begins with “Therefore…” after following chapters 1-11) This is not to excuse sin. This is not to advocate some private, personal ascension to holiness independent from the Church. This is to plead that we step out of the way and let God do what he wants to do in our lives. When we do, repentance becomes easier, resistance to temptations becomes natural, and holiness becomes who we are.

Think: What action is commanded in Romans 12:2 that results in transformation? How does this action differ from ways you have attempted to be more Christ-like?
Reflect: How would you characterize your mental and spiritual diet? What correlation might there be between areas where you "struggle" and what is going into your mind?
Understand: What is your biggest barrier to renewing your mind? Don't know where to begin? Don't have a plan? Don't have the discipline?
Surrender: Ask God to create an appetite in your heart for Him and His Word. Ask Him to show you where to read in the Bible.
Take Action: Set your alarm clock back twenty minutes each day for two weeks and meet with God to start your day.
Motivation: Listen to "Peace and Power of a Prioritized Life" which shows you a simple but powerful way to read adn hear God's voice. [Found by clicking the R12 button to the right and going to the Free Resources under the "Separate" tab]
Encourage Someone: Ask someone to make the two-week commitment with you to meet with God first daily. Text each other at noon in order to hold each other accountable.

R12: Could your mental diet be killing your soul?

Before I move on to the next chapter, I have to cover some more ground from last time. The post was pretty long as it was and I neglected a few points that tie us into today's topic.

While I spent a lot of time describing those things that compete with God for our affection, I didn't talk much about us being lovers of God. If our faith is weak or nonexistent, or if we've been hurt by the religious (and often blame that on God) why would we choose to love God over the pleasures of this world? 1 John 2:17 touches on this, "The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." Even if we don't believe in God, we know that our lives are going to end. On one hand, that means that our pleasures in this world are all we have and we should chase after them exhaustively. On the other hand, it means that whatever pleasures we enjoy in this life are meaningless since we're just going to die anyway and we will have no memory of those pleasures. God offers a third option, an eternity with him where the pleasures of this world are insignificant in comparison to the joys of being united with our Creator in heaven. Now, that's hard to wrap our minds around. God could just as easily be the Flying Spaghetti Monster with a promise such as this. So we need to establish why we should take God at his word.

Remember that Romans 12 begins with "Therefore, in view of God's mercy..." after following a crash course of Jewish history and theology in chapters 1-11. We have to know who God is and what he has done, both throughout history and personally in each of our lives. Then the opening paragraph of Romans 12 ends with "Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." There's a promise at the end and we have to trust that God has our best in mind.

But the world wants us to think differently. This is the focus of Chapter 9- the battle in our mind. The world fools us with its pleasures into thinking "to feel, to have and to be" are ends, not means. So our goal should be those pleasures instead of experiencing those pleasures as our goals are of a higher calling. Take sex, for example. Sex is great! Sex is fun! Sex feels good! (How many more times do I have to type sex for my blog hits to triple?) And sex was designed by God for us to enjoy. But he gave us the context of marriage, or for the more liberally minded (though I do not agree) the context of a monogamous relationship. Here the "joy of sex" is not the ends, but the means to emotionally and spiritually bond with your spouse. It can be effectively argued that the best sex is when you are most giving (verbally, emotionally, or physically) and the worst is when you are the most selfish. There's a reason for this. It is not the ends, but the means to an end.

You could describe any of yesterday's temptations the same way. We need to eat and food tastes good, but food is not an end, but a means to nourish our bodies. And so on, and so on.

So there is this battle in our minds that tries to convince us that these temporary pleasures are worth sacrificing eternal joy. And we are easily duped. "I'm sad right now, what good does eternal joy do me now when who knows how long I will live or if heaven is even real?" So we give into wordly pleasures to satisfy the right now.

So we need our thoughts to be eternally minded. We need to "take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:15) and "whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Philippians 4:8) We need to win the battle in our minds.

But how? By feeding it spiritual thoughts. Think about a 40 hour workweek, 6 hours of sleep every night, and two hours of church on a Sunday. The balance is filled with errand-running, TV watching, bill paying, and if there's enough time you might actually sit down for meal. And if not, you can always get something on the road. What dominates your attention? What is filling your mind during these times? So you need a steady diet of spirituality to overcome the diet of the world that dominates our time. We can't read our Bibles 24/7 or lock ourselves away in a monastery or convent. But we can read the Word every day, we can surround ourselves with spiritual people every chance we get, we can listen to spiritual music, we can "pray continually" (1 Thessalonians 5:17) by guiding our thoughts towards seeking God's will- asking yourself WWJD.

But we have to build strength to overcome. Like I said, just based on time, the world dominates. So we need to train our thoughts. We can't just open the Bible randomly and be encouraged by a Proverb. We need to study something specific, otherwise we're just spinning our spiritual wheels. Likewise, we need to train our minds to always be thinking about God's will by filling our thoughts with Scripture. This comes from memorization. I admit I'm not good in this area. But Chip gives a very compelling example of why and how this benefits.

We also have to cut out the junk. I love Doritos. I can't get enough when I eat them. But they don't satisfy any craving. So when I eat them, I want more and more and more. Junk food is like that. I can't live off of Doritos, I need real sustenance. Likewise, the world feeds us junk. We can't live off of it and it doesn't satisfy. So we need to cut back on TV, music (most of what fills the Pop charts is moral filth), gossip in the workplace, etc.

In encourage you to find the junk in your life and cut it out. Feed yourself some real spiritual nourishment that satisfies. And "be transformed by the renewing of your mind"

(Not going to do TRUST ME yet. This subject demands another post. Look for it later today.)

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

R12: Are you a faithful lover?

Woah, getting personal, aren't I? But that's not the kind of lover Chip Ingram means in his book, Living On the Edge: Dare to Experience True Spirituality, aka LOTE: The Book. No, in this case you are God's lover, a member of Christ's bride the Church. So are you faithful?

The second relationship in R12 is Separate from the World. You cannot even begin to address this relationship without turning your Bible over to 1 John 2: "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." (v 15-17) We need to examine this Scripture to define the world, and Chip does an excellent job of this using some handy alliteration.

"The cravings of the sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does" is the NIV translation. Look at NASB to break this down more specifically, "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life". Three temptations, of which we can all relate. Lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, the pride of life can be simplified as the temptation to feel, to have, and to be. Even further: pleasure, possessions, position; satisfaction, security, status; food, fortune, fame; girls/guys, gold, glory; or sex, salary, status. I list each of these so that hopefully one (or more) stands out to you whereas "lust of flesh, lust of eyes, pride of life" can be unrelatable because "it sounds religious". I think the examples given show that this is not religious, but a struggle common to anyone who resides in this place we call the world.

Ministering to addicts, I relate most to the first temptation. I'm hesitant to us "sex, salary, status" because the first is more than just sex. Yes, that's probably most common, but addiction is also about the need to feel good, or to mask feeling bad by feeling numb and calling that "good". The warning is to HALT, if you're Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired you're most vulnerable to giving in to your addiction. You're driven by feeling. But this isn't limited to chemical addiction either. One of the examples above is "food, fortune, fame". In fact, I was reading an article on weight loss yesterday that used the HALT example as a warning to not emotionally eat. If either of these don't relate to you, you can always fall back on the standard "sex". Even there, it's a mask to cover up emotion. Pornography and masturbation is so appealing because it requires no commitment (other than a credit card!) and therefore, no emotion. Affairs begin under the same principle, but eventually real people have real emotions and someone, on either side of the affair, is bound to break.

As my family's primary bread-winner, the second is also very tempting. I want them to be comfortable, to not have any needs. I get down on myself when things are tight as if it's my fault. I beat myself up if there's a patch of dead grass in the lawn, or if there's a burned out light bulb that I haven't yet changed. I am always giving in to this second temptation because in these cases, I lament that "the grass is greener on the other side" (especially if my grass has dead patches!). We look at the size of our home and want to upgrade. Yesterday at work, I parked next to a bright cherry-red Corvette, my dream car since I was a boy. I could not wait to get an HDTV, even though we don't have cable or satellite. I could go on and on, but I'm sure I don't have to. You could fill a page yourself of all the things you want because of the "lust of the eyes." And it's all for security. We're fooled into thinking that "things" will make us secure and happy. That "the one who dies with the most toys wins." But we also know that "you can't take it with you." The Ash Wednesday saying, "remember man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" is to remind us that the trinkets of this world are meaningless. "The world and its desires pass away..." Needtobreathe has a great song to close their most recent album The Outsiders. I love the chorus to Let us Love: (emphasis added)

Let us love
Like we are children
Let us live
Like we're still living
In a world we know,
is burning to the ground

Finally, I relate to "the pride of life" as a professional. In fact, my primary Love Language is words of encouragement. I need to be recognized, lifted up, appreciated. But I cannot compromise my convictions to gain approval. I cannot cheat, gossip, or cut corners to get ahead. The hardest thing for me to do at my job is to sit back and just let things happen on their own. I don't get the calls I think I should. Yet when I surrender my career to God's Will, in other words when I stop trying to advance myself, I find myself in the exact places I'm trying to go simply by chance opportunities opening themselves up. This is a constant prayer of mine, to "not think of [myself] more highly than [I] ought, but rather think of [myself] with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given [me]." (Romans 12:3) I'm nothing special at my job. My work isn't ground-breaking, it just is what it is. I'm owed nothing. Hard things to say, but necessary to keep myself from falling into this temptation.

I know you can relate to at least one of these. Most likely, you can relate to all three. But you're not alone. Here's a homework assignment. Look at the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4 and compare his temptations to this list and your own struggles. Be reminded that "we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin." (Hebrews 14:15) To go further, look at the temptation of Eve and be reminded that "no temptation has seized you except what is common to man." (1 Corinthians 10:13)

So humbled, recognize that the command in 1 John is not about following any specific rules or "planting hedges" to protect ourselves from the world. The issue isn't about what we do, but what we love. Our primary love should be God alone. Anything, or anyone, else is adultery.

"You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?" (James 4:4-5)

Think: What's the single biggest issue, related to the above, that has surfaced in your life?
Reflect: How does seeing the world as a seductress change its appeal? How does reframing sin as a "relational issue" versus "breaking the rules" make you feel about times when you sin?
Understand: Which of the temptations above are you most vulnerable?
Surrender: Ask God to give you the courage to come out of your denial and rationalizations and be ruthlessly honest with yourself and Him. Remember that it's not about rules, but about relationship.
Take Action: Do a three, five, or seven day media fast. Break away from TV, radio, the Internet and see what happens (Romans 13:14). [this will make it hard to follow this blog, but if you're really struggling with any of the temptations above, it is well worth it]
Motivation: Listen or read "How to Break Out of a Destructive Lifestyle" from the Miracle of Life Change series found under the Separate "Free Resources" found by clicking the R12 button to the right and then the 'Separate' tab.
Encourage Someone: Download the message/chapter summarized here for someone you know it would help [or send them a link to this blog!].

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

R12: Why is the Christian life so difficult?

Reposted from last week to get back on a M-F schedule...

The title speaks for itself. I could leave it there and open up for discussion on Romans 12:2 and satisfy [last] week's blog carnival on self-control all at once. But I won't leave it there. We need to answer this question. We need to know how to overcome.

Chapter 7 in Living On The Edge lays the groundwork to answer this in future chapters, I'm sorry to tease. But the set up is just as valuable. We can't answer this question because we don't know why it's an issue to begin with. This week's blog carnival is on self-control. The question is bound to be asked, "why, as Christians, do we still struggle with sin?" Chip Ingram poses that the reason is because we do not understand the struggle. As I mentioned last time, I learned from the book Wild At Heart that our struggle against sin has three enemies- Satan, the World, and our sinful nature. Chip comes to the same conclusion but words it differently- the who, where, and what of sin. If our religious tradition focuses only on one, or even two, of these but not all three, we are destined to fail. This is because Satan wants us to fail, we live in a world designed to discourage us, and we desire comfort that satisfies our sinful nature. We need to overcome each of these.

Chip goes into the grammar of verse 2, but I'll spare you. One important point in each of the verbs is important though: "conform" and "transform" are both passive. That means it's not us doing it. The world conforms us with external pressure and only God can transform us by the power of His Holy Spirit. So much of my struggle against sin is relying on my own strength. I will always fail so long as I continue to rely on myself. Trying hard to 'do right' or be religious cannot overcome Satan's schemes or the World system.

So we need to come to terms with who overcomes and how. It is not us. It is not our church. It is not some self-help book or any special preacher or brand of Christianity. It is Christ alone. And we need to ask ourselves why. To be more moral than someone else? To be more holy? Will that elevate us to some closer level to God? No! We need to remember that God is our Father and as His children He only wants the best for us. So we turn ourselves over to him so that we can "test and approve" His will.

More on how next time.

Think: did you learn anything new in this discussion?
Reflect: why is the Christian life so difficult? What specific schemes of Satan in this World appeal most to your sinful nature?
Understand: how do you currently battle the temptations of the World? What works for you? What doesn't?
Surrender: share honestly with God where you struggle most. Ask God to reveal whomever or whatever s keeping you from the fullness of your relationship with Christ.
Take action: address whatever God reveals to you as an answer to this prayer. Ask for forgiveness and claim 1 John 1:9.
Motivation: listen to the audio message How To Get God's Best for your life by clicking the R12 button on the right.
Encourage someone: invite someone struggling spiritually over to your home for dinner, to a Bible study, or just to coffee to catch up.

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Monday, April 26, 2010

R12: Are you getting God's best?

Reposted from last week to get back on a M-F schedule...

The first part of Romans 12 focused on Surrender and the first relationship is with God. The second part of Romans 12 focuses on Separate and our relationship with the World:

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2)

My eyes were opened reading Wild At Heart when it was pointed out that we have three enemies. Often we focus all of our attention on Satan and use his schemes to excuse our own sinful nature. But the third that is often neglected, is the world, but they all go hand in hand. Romans 12 calls our attention to fight two of the three. Fight our sinful natures, transforming our minds, by resisting the temptations of the world.

Sounds easy, right? It is the world that distracts us and keeps us from "fix[ing] our eyes on Jesus" (Hebrews 12:2) I think of the scene in the Matrix with the woman in the red dress. A pretty good speech for evangelism. But also a good example of the world as our enemy. The truth is, the values, temptations, and "patterns" of this world are contrary to the will of God. We desire to know God's will, but neglect that the world keeps us from fully experiencing it. So Paul challenges us to "test and approve" it which we cannot do so long as we continue to be tied in any way to this world.

What ties us to this world? Family, friendships, wealth, fame? Lately the Church has established roots deeply into the realm of politics- governing in this world. Sadly this has paralyzed many. Regardless of the nobility of their goals, they will forever be unable to "test and approve God's will" because of this tie to the world.

So the question is, are you getting God's best, his good, pleasing and perfect will? If not, what is tying you to this world?

Think: Read Romans 12:2 over slowly, with special emphasis on the last nineteen words.
Reflect: What comes to mind when you think about doing God's will? Does your mind gravitate to words like difficult, painful, distasteful, or do you find his will to be good, pleasing and perfect? Why?
Understand: How and where have you struggled the most in your journey with Christ? What habits, sins, or setbacks seem to thwart your relationship with Christ?
Surrender: Ask God to begin opening your eyes and your heart to what His good and pleasing will is for your life.
Take Action: Watch How to Get God's Best for Your Life at the R12 online resources.
Motivation: Write out this prayer, or a personalized version, on a 3x5: Father, help me not to let this world squeeze me into its mold, but transform me from the inside out as I meditate and apply Your Word to my life.
Encourage someone: Write a note to someone who knows Christ, but is not walking with Him. Let them know you care and are praying for them today.

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Just who do you think you are?

While waiting to get back on schedule with the R12 lessons, I figured now was a good time to introduce myself to those of you who have stumbled onto this study.

About me: I've been a disciple of Jesus for ten years, having been converted in a campus ministry. I grew up religious and dedicated, but lacking in direction and at crucial times, conviction. I have a young family- married almost seven years with two young children (2 and 5). I try and balance my personal ministry, reflected somewhat in this blog, with my professional and family life. So you'll see times like last week where business travel or family struggles derail my best intentions on this blog. My personal ministry is putting my faith into practice in every aspect of my life- public and private. Often we consider religion to be a private affair, but I have the strong conviction that the "culture war" is fought publicly and we are not to put our light under a bowl. Hence, the title of this blog. I struggle with application at times though. I want to be philanthropic, but often fail to follow through. My ministry consistently includes Bible study by leading a small group, mentoring a teen, and volunteering to teach 3rd and 4th grade Sunday School. I also help lead a ministry for recovering addicts. In the past ten years, I've also led Singles and Teen ministries and have had the joy of leading many to Christ and the sorrow of watching many leave.

About this blog: It's been a few years since I started here and I'd like to think I've matured and learned a little along the way. While this started with a more political bent, I think there are other, more effective, means of demonstrating our faith publicly. The title of this blog, Public Christianity, is dual-layered. On one hand it is living your faith in every part of your life, including the "public" part. Here I intend to provide tools for you to think through doing that like I'm doing now with R12. On the other hand I talk about the interplay between current events, media and ideas -- public things -- and Christianity. (many thanks to my sister who put this more eloquently than I ever could) While I'm grinding through a specific study now, if you browse my archives you'll see that I cover everything. I go from writing about things heavy on my heart to headlines that catch my attention. The ultimate goal through all of this is to help all of us to develop a comprehensive Biblical Worldview, where we view all things through the eyes of Christ. Oh yeah, this is also a proving ground for my desire to write a book or two (or three or four...).

About my links: You'll notice if you've been around a while, I recently removed the "resources" links and have added a ton of other bloggers. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Peter Pollock who introduced me to Bridget Chumbley and their blog carnival. There, I've "met" several gifted bloggers who all approach their faith uniquely (as they should!) and therefore add their own perspectives to their relationships with God. You'll find all of these blogs linked under "Blog Carnies". "B.I.C. Blogs" are for "brothers in Christ blogs". This isn't meant to be exclusionary, but instead reflect either other bloggers from the same family of churches as myself or that I've met or corresponded enough with that I feel comfortable calling them "brother" (or sister as the case will ultimately be). So "brother" is both doctrinal and affectionate. There are a few carnies that I need to "promote" but I haven't gotten to that yet. There's a couple other sets of blog links that I haven't had time to compile yet, but that will only add to the clutter. I removed "resources" to clean my links up and have made a bigger mess with my blog roll. Oh well.

Anyway, I thank you for stopping by. I hope we can grow together as I continue with R12 next week. And I hope you find enough here worthwhile to come back often.

Monday, April 19, 2010

R12: All In

My apologies for not having the last chapter under the topic of Surrender up earlier. The weekend got the best of me. I do plan on keeping the M-F schedule for the next topic: Separate, so expect that first post later this morning (10ish Pacific is my goal).

On to the subject at hand. The illustration of a blank check is used to describe wholly surrendering to God. The problem is, we often think that blank check is from God to us, instead of the other way around. On the other hand, there may be a moment in our lives where everything spiritually aligns and we are more than willing to hand God a blank check for our lives. But we fail to mention that we have a secret account hidden away that he can't touch. We all have that "one thing" we hold on to, that we are unwilling to give up. So we find ourselves stuck in the religious machine, unable to fully experience God's blessings in our lives.

From the book: "Unfortunately, I know a lot of Christians who spend the majority of their time 'trying hard' to please God but never quite feeling like they measure up. Their Christian life is little more than multiple attempts of self-effort to gain God's approval. For others, the Christian life is more like fulfilling a duty and obligation on the weekend by attending a service and attempting to live in a moderately more moral way than the people around them. Both approaches completely miss God's heart and intent for His children." The numbers back this up. Recall the Barna poll that found that 81% of Christians surveyed considered spiritual maturity to be defined by "following all the rules".

So if God doesn't want us to be religious, legalistic, or even "moral" on some sliding scale, what does he want? He wants us. He wants a personal relationship as a Father to his child with each and every one of us. It's not about the "how" but about the "what". This is where religion fails. The focus is wrong. It's corporate, not personal. It's rule-based, not relationship-based. It's lukewarm instead of passionate for your own [spiritual] flesh and blood.

That relationship however, comes at a cost. It must cost us our will, our regret of the past, our dreams for the future, our all. So what are you holding back? For many, it is their religious tradition in the face of what the Bible clearly states. For a lot of people, there's the "one thing" that they swore they would take to their grave that no one else would ever know. Most of us hold on to something in our lives- our career, our relationships, our money- that we begrudgingly offer to God, but not with our whole hearts. For Chip, it was a girl and basketball.

For me, it was all the above at different points in my life. First I had to surrender my religious tradition. The Biblical definition of a disciple of Jesus was inconsistent, and ultimately incompatible, with my religiosity. I had to give up "the faith of my fathers" in order to have a meaningful relationship with God. I was converted in campus ministry, loved my brothers and sisters there, and loved where I lived. So when I graduated I then had to surrender limiting my career by my geography by packing up and moving. Yet it took me a year of waiting tables before I was willing to surrender my career to God and go wherever he chose. At the same time, I had to surrender those relationships (and an interest in a particular sister) to move someplace where I knew no one. My biggest fear moving was that I would have to build new relationships and in so doing, it would take too long before finding "the one" and forging a relationship with her. I was convinced I should have been married already and I felt like I was running out of time. But once there, after stubbornly trying to build relationships while keeping one eye open for her, I found most of the single sisters in my congregation were seldom encouraged and were left out of the dating "scene". So I chose to surrender my desire to find "the one" so that I could encourage the sisters right in front of me with no expectations and no strings attached. It was only then that who God had chosen as "the one" came into my life. Even then, it took me a while to see it. While I was building this relationship, ignorant of God's plan for us, I was digging through my own past and had to face one of those "I'll take this to my grave" events as part of my recovery. After laying it all out on the table, I was suddenly able to see this sister for who God planned her to be and fell deeply in love. Shortly after we were married. We chose to surrender her career for our firstborn on the faith that God would provide on my still entry-level salary. It wasn't long after that decision that I was given a large raise. I could go on and on, but I'll just say that I think I have the best job in the world, I'm blessed with a beautiful and faithful wife and two adorable children. All because of a series of decisions to surrender.

I don't say this to boast, or even as a how-to or what-to-expect with surrender. In fact, my heart is overcome with sadness. Last night at my recovery group I learned a young man, who I personally challenged a couple of weeks ago to be open about his "one thing" because he was stuck in his recovery, backslid and fell of the wagon and has been on a binge since. He was willing to own up to what he had done as an addict, and he had literally been through Hell and back, but would not own up to who he was. And that was keeping him from fully surrendering. I'm sad because I know that God has better in store for him. I know that God can work powerfully in his recovery. I know that God can repair the incredible damage he's done to his family. But he needs to surrender.

The secret of surrender is not holding anything back. Writing that blank check. Going "all in" where it's then up to God whether you win or lose. Only then can we experience the full extent of God's blessings in our lives. I've seen it. I've struggled through it. I've seen it in others. I want to see it in you.

***Updated 9:40. Forgot the TRUST ME acrostic***

Think: What do you hear God saying in Romans 12:1?
Reflect: Why does God want "all of you"?
Understand: What is the best way to process your inner thoughts and feelings? Journal, music, long walks, good friends, etc?
Surrender: Just do it! Sign that blank check! Go all in!
Take Action: If you choose to surrender, highlight Romans 12:1 in your Bible and date it. Tell someone about it.
Motivation: Write Psalm 84:11 on a 3x5 and put in your wallet or purse so you can review it every time you make a purchase this week.
Encourage someone: Share Psalm 84:11 with two people via email, text, phone call, etc this week.

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Friday, April 16, 2010

R12: What does a surrendered life look like?

Now the rubber meets the road. It's been nice to share parables and theories on what surrendering to God is about. But what does it look like? How do you actually do it? That's the subject of Chapter 4 of LOTE: The Book. Before digging into the Biblical example Chip gives though, I want to share with you a few real life examples.

Please read Kevin Martineau's post on "You can't steal second with your foot on first", Peter Pollock's "Stepping out without looking", and Bonnie Gray's "What If Challenge". It seems the Holy Spirit has put this subject on each of our hearts. Thanks too for Lalyne, Sam, and Jay for their comments thus far!

The book If You Want To Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat covers a lot of this ground, addressing the fears that hold us back and the underlying desire to hold on to our own will. That book challenged me and still does. I assume Max Lucado's most recent, Fearless, is similar and I must also recommend Gordon Ferguson's Victory of Surrender.

Obviously based on the popularity of this topic for books and blogs this is a subject we can all relate to. Either we've mastered surrender (yeah right, what an oxymoron!) or we struggle frequently against it. We all have a story we could share that demonstrates the risks taken and the rewards God has blessed us with. But I want to look at the example Chip gives in his book, because there's a lot there to take away.

Chip's example is of Abraham and Isaac. Cliche maybe, and I'm sure you've heard a dozen sermons on "what's your Isaac?" But I want to point out a couple of things that were recently pointed out to me. Usually the sermon points out that because Isaac was so loved, it was that much more a powerful testament of Abraham's faith to offer him in sacrifice. You might also hear that because Abraham loved him so much, he had become an idol. But you don't often hear why. Have you ever wondered that? Why was Isaac an idol to Abraham? Isaac represented God's promise. He was a visible demonstration of God's faithfulness. So Isaac represented God's goodness to Abraham. But he wasn't God. Think about the irony of that for a moment. Abraham worshiped Isaac because he represented the goodness of God, but was an idol since he wasn't God. Some Christian denominations consider the crucifix and idol. We can worship a symbol of God's sacrifice without worshiping God Himself. You might also see this as resting on your laurels; "Wow! Look what God's done for me! That is now going to be my object of worship!" Our health, our families, our careers can all be blessed by God and the temptation is for those to turn into our idols. Not because they demand all our time or all our attention, but because they represent to us God's goodness though they are not God. We fall into the same trap worshiping our church. We see God do a great thing and suddenly think our church is blessed above the rest.
So what does Abraham do? We often hear about how he obeys without questioning. He left "early the next morning." He didn't put it off. What a great example of submission and obedience, right! But what is the first thing he says to his servants? "Stay here. We're going over there. And we're going to worship." Abraham's willingness wasn't an act of obedience or submission, it was an act of worship. We get this order mixed up. We obey and say that is our worship. It should be we worship and it is demonstrated by our obedience. Worship comes first.

So now let's look at Romans 12:1-"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship." Our "living sacrifice" or surrender to God is our worship! Note that "spiritual" can also be translated "reasonable" or "appropriate". So Paul is telling us here that this is what we should be doing. It's what is reasonable, appropriate, and therefore spiritual.

But why? "In view of God's mercy..." I mentioned this in the introduction, but we have to start with a "therefore". We need to look back and see all that God has done for us. It may be personally after already stepping out on faith to follow Jesus. Or as a new believer it may only be the Biblical examples of God's faithfulness to his chosen people and the fulfilment of his promise through the sacrifice of Jesus. In fact, this is the outline of Chapters 1-11 of Romans. So Chapter 12 begins, "Therefore..." Abraham knew what God has done in his life- he gave his barren wife a son. Therefore... he worshiped.

What better example can there be of surrender? What better example can there be of worship?

Think: What or who might be your Isaac?
Reflect: What do you fear most about sacrificing your Isaac? Can you see that sacrifice as an act of worship?
Understand: What past experiences make it hard for you to trust God? For example, past abandonment neglect, abuse, or divorce will often cloud your view of God as a Father.
Surrender: Tell God how you are feeling and what you are thinking in prayer. Ask him to direct your next steps.
Take action: Write out what might be Isaacs in your life.
Motivation: Download and listen to the full audio message: How to Give God What He Wants Most at R12 online (found by clicking the button on the right, going to the Surrender tab, and finding it under Free Resources).
Encourage someone: Tell someone you care about to check out R12 online, the book, or this blog. Introduce to them God's dream for their life.

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

R12: Do you believe God has your best in mind?

"[S]uppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:31-33)

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)

Is surrender really a bad thing? Think about the word and reflect on the first passage above. We can identify surrender with warfare and battle. The one who surrenders is the loser. They don't get a say in the terms of their surrender so they hope for mercy from the victor. Surrender in battle can bring shame and disgrace. Think Germany after WWI, without which there wouldn't have been a WWII. Surrender can also completely change your society and your culture. Think Japan after WWII.

If you were to challenge God to a fight, who would win? Yet we do this every day. "I want to do this." "I think that is right." "This feels good and I don't care about the consequences." Do we ever win? Sometimes things seem to work out for a while. But long term? So we fight and and we fight and ultimately we lose. We lose the battle, but only to one who has our best interest at heart. As He draws up the terms of surrender, He isn't looking to gain territory or riches, He isn't looking for ways to hold you down, rather He is giving us terms to empower us, enable us to reach the glory he has planned for each and every one of us. We just need to believe it. Surrendering to God is the complete opposite of the examples above. Instead of shame and disgrace, it brings humility and glory. And it will completely change your life to the point that it no longer resembles what it was before.

The second passage above sounds like it was written by the greeting card industry instead of by the Apostle Paul. You see it on bumper stickers and on business cards. It's the cliched response when confronted with tragedy like cancer or miscarriage. It is so overused the truth behind this Scripture is lost. God does have the best in mind. But we often don't, or can't, see it. And in some cases, we never will until we're with Him in heaven.

The first parts of surrender we've talked about are sacrifice and risk vs reward. The next part is trust. And this is where it gets hard. Can you really trust God? The barrier to fully committing to God are usually feelings of, "but what if..." We know God will affect our relationships, our dreams, the overall course of our lives. But we struggle to believe that these changes are for the better.

I always think of my friend Dave. Before he was baptized he was afraid God would whisk him away to some far away land like China. Several years later he found himself willingly in China; there to adopt a baby girl. As a recovering alcoholic, at his baptism a friend told him he could see him one day leading a recovery ministry. He replied, "why would I want to hang out with those losers?" And now he leads that ministry with losers like me.

If you're a disciple of Jesus, chances are God has done something incredible in your life that moved you to greater faith. Remember that. Let it encourage you that God has so much more in store. If you're wrestling with surrendering fully to God, think about what God could do for you. Pray about the issues you long to overcome, the real challenges to your faith. God will answer, but not likely in a way you'd expect. In fact, better.

Think: What part of surrender do you struggle with the most? Sacrifice? Taking risks? Trusting God?
Reflect: Write down the top two barriers/fears that keep you from making a total commitment to Jesus Christ.
Understand: How does your view of God impact your ability to trust Him? How do you see God most days? Vengeful or merciful? Kind or demanding?
Surrender: Pray to see God clearly. Pray to get over the intellectual belief and move to a deeper faith.
Take action: Write out Romans 8:32 (not the same Scripture as above!) on a 3x5 and read it every morning this week, asking God to believe what it says.
Motivation: Listen to the message on the "Goodness of God" by clicking the R12 button on the right.
Encourage someone: Share one thing God has done for you in the last few weeks with a friend. Ask them what he's done for them.

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

R12: Why is it so hard to surrender to God?

Surrender. Raise the white flag. Give up. Quit. Loser.

Surrender is a difficult concept to spiritually grasp. Our world-system paints the word in such a negative light that it is hard to find anything positive through it. But that is only because we don't understand what surrender means. The last chapter talked about the sacrifice of our very will in order to realize God's good, perfect and pleasing will. But sacrifice is only one aspect of holy surrender. Chapter two talks about another piece- risk versus reward.

Chip uses case studies from the book, Risk, Reason and the Decision Making Process. If you don't have LOTE: The Book, don't worry, Chip uses the same illustrations in his mp3 lesson. His case studies are basically modern versions of the parables Jesus gives in Matthew 13. Let's look and reflect on these for a moment.

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it." (Matthew 13:44-46)

Do you feel sorry for either of these people? After all, they had to sell everything they had to get the treasure they were looking for. In the second case, the person would end up with nothing other than a pearl. Sure, he could "flip" the pearl and earn great wealth, but what in the meantime? And it's safe to assume he already had great wealth because he was a merchant of pearls. Can you imagine the conversation he must have had with his wife?

"Honey, you wouldn't believe the pearl I found today!"

"That's great dear."

"But we can't afford it with the money we have. So I sold the house, our livestock, and all the other pearls in my collection (even the ones I gave you for our anniversary)."

"You did what?!"

He would had to have been pretty bold to pull off such a move. The same goes for the first man. What if he returned and the treasure was gone? What if the owner of the field wouldn't sell? In both cases, what if these men were wrong? What if the pearl was a fake? What if the treasure was really worthless? They had to conclude that the reward outweighed the risk.

Were these men lucky? Extra holy? In better with God than their neighbors? Not at all. Chip rightly points out in his book that these men were wise. This was a revelation for me. I never considered these parables in this light. Surrendering in such a way isn't about holiness or piety, about luck or any special blessing. They knew what they found. They evaluated the reward, considered the risk, and acted in wisdom.

We are tempted to think that spiritual surrender is a standard for only the most holy, the most committed of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe we believe it is only for pastors, priests, or ministers. We could also believe that such a level of commitment is impossible for us. But we only need to be wise. Consider the risk. What do we lose by following God whole-heartedly? Our own selfish desires, success as defined by the world, acceptance by friends and family? But what do we gain? "Every spiritual blessing." (Ephesians 1:3) Our desires "satisfie[d]... with every good thing." (Psalm 103:5) And of course a saving relationship with the Creator of the universe, the forgiveness of our sins, healing of the damage done, and even "treasures in heaven" (Matthew 6:20) where we have hope for eternal life.

So you need to ask yourself. Is the risk worth the reward? If so, surrender.

Think: What do you take away from this lesson?
Reflect: Is how I described surrender the same as you've come to understand it personally?
Understand: How does considering the above parables as actions of wisdom change your perspective on surrender?
Surrender: What do you risk by surrendering to God? List it out. Pray over it. Be honest with God about how you feel.
Take action: Write out the following definition (from the book) of total commitment on a 3x5 and read it every night before going to bed: "When I come to realize what God has done for me, who He is, and what He has prepared for me in this new life (that I cannot see), I eagerly abandon anything and everything to obtain this fabulous, rich, rewarding eternal life He is offering."
Motivation: What would God need to do to convince you he has the best in store for your life? (Read Romans 8:32, Psalm 37:4)
Encourage someone: Call, text, email, tweet, etc the most committed Christian you know and thank them for their example.

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

Monday, April 12, 2010

R12: What does God really want from you?

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

The first section, or "unit" of Living on the Edge addresses the first relationship in Romans 12, our relationship with God. There's an exhilaration that comes with having a relationship with the Creator of the universe, and eagerness to soak in His Word, and a compulsion to rid ourselves of the sin that plagued our past. That's how Chip Ingram opens his first chapter. Though his second paragraph begins with "But..."

But... If it were only that simple. Eventually some of the old sins and old habits return. Sometimes new character sins are revealed. (For example, I became a Christian before I was married or had children. Both life-changing events have uncovered flaws in my character that were either new or that I thought were gone long before.) We approach crossroads in our faith where we either choose to fight against our sinful nature or conclude the fight's not worth it, that it's just who we are. Marriage, career, children, etc all face the same crossroads: keep fighting to change, to grow, or concede that it's just the way it is so I better learn to deal with it.

Of course, God does not intend for us to live this way. Jesus promised, "Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) He further challenged the church in Ephesus, "You have forsaken your first love... Repent and do the things you did at first." (Revelation 2:4-5) As we mature in our walk with God, we forget that feeling when the Holy Spirit was fresh in our hearts. We settle for Jesus our Savior and forget about Jesus our Lord. And we are either content in our circumstances or we find ourselves struggling against God's will. Romans 12 begins with "Therefore... "and the opening thought concludes, "Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is- his good, pleasing, and perfect will."

So how do we get there? Romans 12:1 instructs us to "offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship." No, this passage is not asking you to go sacrifice yourself on an altar. It is asking that you live your life holy and pleasing to God. "Holy" means "set apart" and of course we want to live lives that please our creator. So what is this sacrifice? It is our will, our sinful nature, our selfishness, our pride, our whole selves for it is these things that keep us from experiencing God's best for our lives.

That leads us to the "s-word" of the first relationship in Romans 12: Surrender. It sounds harsh. It sounds intimidating. But it is the only way to tap into what God has in store for our lives and the only way to truly live as the lights God intends us to be on this earth. To quote from Chip's first chapter, "If you're tired of all the rules, all the formulas, all the religious activities, and even well-meaning church programs that promise transformation but don't deliver, I invite you to join me on a journey of grace, faith, and relationship that leads to genuine transformation." He asks us to trust him, but more importantly to trust God.

Each chapter concludes with TRUST ME as an acrostic for: Think, Reflect, Understand, Surrender, Take action, Motivation, and Encourage someone. I'm going to follow that same format here by paraphrasing the same questions as in the book. I encourage you to answer these questions in the comments if you feel comfortable to do so. You can carry on the conversation over on FB as well.

Think: Do you relate with the "crossroads" I describe above? How so?
Reflect: Does this stir something inside your heart? If so, why do you think that is?
Understand: How does this make you feel, encouraged, scared, convicted?
Surrender: Pray about this. Tell God how you feel, what you desire.
Take action: Come back tomorrow for Chapter 2
Motivation: Watch the first video on Surrender here.
Encourage someone: Pray for someone who you know is going through these same struggles. Pray for all those reading this book or going through an R12 small group, that God encourages them to fight on.

R12: Introduction

Today begins our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

It's also important for some "official" disclaimers before we dig in. I am not affiliated with the ministry of Living on the Edge, Venture Christian Church, or Walk Thru the Bible. The opinions expressed on this blog are my own and do not represent Chip Ingram or any of the organizations above. At the same time, the video lessons linked to at R12, do not represent myself or my church.

While I agree with and endorse the purpose of the Living on the Edge ministry, I do disagree with some of its theology. This becomes clear at the outset with the video questions: How Can I be Certain I'm a Christian? and Is Surrendering to Christ the Same as Becoming a Christian? Chip and I have different answers for these two questions. Personally, I do not believe "Christian" is a label ever intended to look like it does today. It was originally an insult meaning "little Christ". It is not a marketing or political label. And it didn't describe the casual believer in Jesus. I believe most Christians in America are not disciples of Jesus, so I share that concern with Chip and is why I'm pushing this lesson. But unlike the answers in the aforementioned videos, I also question many Christian's salvation, so I pray not only that this lesson helps revitalize the Church with "sold-out" disciples of Jesus, but also that this lesson leads the lukewarm into a deeper, saving relationship with Christ. So where Chip and I diverge is in the second question where my answer would be, "yes, surrendering to Christ is the same as becoming a Christian." Simple statements of faith have nothing to do with our personal relationship with God, and accepting God's grace without repentance and a commitment to count the cost of daily carrying the cross cheapens the Gospel.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

On to the introduction...

To quote from the preface of the book: "Is this book for you? The answer is YES if...

  • You are spiritually stuck.
  • You are tired of the spiritual status quo.
  • You wish you knew what God really wanted from you.
  • You long to break free from some habitual sin.
  • You desire to grow spiritually.
  • You need a clear pathway to spiritual maturity.
  • You are discipling other believers."

Look around and consider the numbers from Barna describing the spiritual health of the Church. Look at your own life and your walk with Jesus. It becomes clear we're not all that Christ would want us to be. This isn't an indictment, but a call to grow. This isn't a criticism, but an acknowledgement of a common state from which we can learn and repent.

It is important to point out early that Romans 12 is not a list of "to dos". Religious activities does not equal being a disciple, that leads to religiosity. Absence of sin does not equal being a disciple, that leads to impossible expectations. Keeping rules does not equal being a disciple, that leads to legalism. Romans 12 is only a description of what a disciple of Jesus should look like. Evidences of your faith lived out.

Romans 12 follows Romans 1-11. It begins with "Therefore..." So something must come first. This lesson will not be effective unless you start with a conviction of the sacrifice of Jesus and what that has done in your life. Therefore... this is how we should live. If we try and apply this without that conviction, we are no different than the Pharisees.

Chip gives his background in the introduction. If you have the book, you could replace his story with mine and it would be almost identical. I say almost. I stuck with church at the same point he turned away. I did so convinced that God wanted something special from me, but I grew frustrated trying to figure out what that was. Like Chip, I didn't have anyone to teach me how to get deeper, how to grow. And like Chip in the earliest years of true Christianity, I kept one foot in religion and one foot in the world, and it was tearing me apart. And like Chip, it was Romans 12 that opened my eyes to a different way to "do religion". It is that conviction that leads me to "Therefore..."

Finally, to quote from the introduction, "The great majority of Christians have been taught that life is about coming to know Christ personally, being saved, being good, and then helping other people 'get saved'. Before long, they become part of the religious machinery whose primary goal is to help more people enter the kingdom of God." In the book Sticky Church by Larry Osborne, the problem of this mentality is described in detail. Assembly line Christianity does not address personal growth, personal discipleship, and as the book puts it, so much effort is made making the "front door" as large as possible, we don't notice when many leave out of the "back door". It's not meant to be this way.

In his introduction lesson, Chip gives some more damning numbers describing the Church today: One in twelve Christians live a Christ-centered life, described as holding a Biblical worldview, living their lives with integrity, are other-centered, and manage their money, career and relationships focused on Jesus. Less that 20% of Christians are involved in any service to the Church, including small groups or "do[ing] life together".

If these numbers shock you, convict you, or sadden you. Stick around. Let's change it. Let's use R12 to transform the Church.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Virtual Small Group

So how is all this R12 stuff going to work?

There are five sections of the book corresponding to the five relationships in Romans 12: God, World, Self, Other Christians, Non-Christians. (The book puts it much more elegantly: Surrendered to God, Separate from the World, Sober in Self-Assessment, Serving in Love, and Supernaturally Responding to Evil with Good.) Each section has five chapters. We'll be discussing each chapter Monday through Friday on this blog.

The R12 section of Living on the Edge online also has videos that correspond to each section. I'll link those from Facebook. If you're not a follower, no sweat, I'll direct you there from here or you can just click the R12 link on the sidebar. I'll do that on Monday and then follow up through the week with the Q&A videos the rest of the week.

I'll use Twitter to post updates on when the videos and blogs go up. I'll also post some "deep thoughts" corresponding to the TRUST ME reflections at the end of each chapter. You can follow me through the button on the sidebar so you can keep up to date on what's going on here.

Actual Q&A discussion, we'll see as it goes. I expect comments on FB and here. I'm also going to be posting discussions on the Living on the Edge FB page. Unfortunately, I don't have access to all these resources throughout the day because of firewalls at work and the remoteness of my worksite keeps me from being as "mobile" as I'd like. So I hope enough people are interested that can keep the discussion going until I can follow up in the evenings. Oh, and I'm on the West Coast, so that doesn't help any. The tweets will be scheduled though, so hopefully momentum can be maintained throughout the day.

Saturdays are bonuses. I'll be posting a summary of the original lesson that the chapters are derived from and using the discussion questions from LOTE's study guides.

You don't need the book to follow along. LOTE provides so many resources online you can participate easily through any of the means above. Even the lessons I'll be going over on Saturdays are available as "resources" that are linked with each video.

Next week is going to be off schedule a little. I neglected that there's an introduction lesson, video, and obviously an introduction to the book. So that's where we'll start on Monday and finish the last chapter on Saturday. The rest of the book will follow the schedule above.

Welcome aboard! I pray the next few weeks lead us closer to Christ and help us to reflect Him through all of our relationships.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Why R12?

So I've been mentioning all week I'll be hosting a "virtual small group" starting Monday going over the book Living on The Edge. You may be asking yourself, why me, why you, why here, or why now?

I've already given some background on why me, but I'll dig deeper as we go through the studies.

Why you? Well, chances are if you're taking the time to visit my blog, given its theme and topics, you have some passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That makes you the perfect person to take this lesson and spread it to your own small group, house church, congregation, ministry leadership, neighbors... you get the idea.

Why here? Well, this isn't only one place this will be happening. You can also follow me on Twitter for more topics for reflection, Facebook for more discussion (sorry I don't give that one out, but if you want to follow me, leave me a message and I might hook you up), and the LOTE Facebook page for even more discussion. There will be more on that tomorrow or later this evening.

Why now? Well, that's the important question. This book came out at the beginning of the year, but I've had the original R12 study guide for a year now. I figured right after Easter is the perfect time for a spiritual 'rebirth' and that gave me time to get a head start on the discussion. But on a larger scale, why now, is because the American christianity (TM) is hurting. Faith is dwindling, the Gospel is watered down, corruption seems rampant, and our focus is not where it should be. In fact, Living on the Edge commissioned a study by the Barna Group to dig deeper into this.

I want to share some numbers that should keep you up at night if you're in love with Christ's bride:

  • 81% of those calling themselves Christians said spiritual maturity is "following all the rules"
  • Half of churchgoers don't know how their own church defines a "healthy, spiritually mature follower of Jesus".
  • Only 21% of Christians described their relationship with Jesus as a sign of their own personal spiritual maturity, 14% living a moral lifestyle, 13% being involved in spiritual disciplines.
  • A minority of churches have a written statement outlining the expectations of spiritual maturity and they often define this by what people do, not what they believe.
  • Outside of the Barna study, an anecdotal example Chip gives is someone he knows was traveling and speaking at different congregations. He asked fifty pastors what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Only one was able to give a coherent answer. Everyone else gave a vague version of "a follow of Jesus". When asked further what that looks like, answered varied as the numbers show above.

The fundamental question I will be asking throughout the study of this book, what does a disciple of Jesus look like? Chip often says the mission of his ministry is to help "Christians live like Christians." I think that is a purpose we can all get behind. If that's your desire, if that's what you long to see in your church and in the Church Universal, come back Monday as we dig in to this great study.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Trailblazer

What inspires you? I don't mean encourages, or edifies, I mean honest to goodness "God breathed," (2 Timothy 3:16) in-spirit moving of the Holy Spirit in you. Maybe it's a psalm, hymn, or spiritual song (Ephesians 5:19), maybe it's a favorite verse in the Bible, maybe it's a friend, a book, or a movie. Maybe it's the stories of those who came before, who blazed God fearing, Jesus-led trails.

Monday, April 5th, Michael Spencer, aka the Internet Monk, passed away after a long battle with cancer. A little more than a year ago, Father Richard John Neuhaus, author at the blog First Things passed away. I can honestly say that without the inspiration from these two men of God, I would not be blogging today. I was shocked to read that the imonk started blogging 10 years ago. These two saw the opportunities of the Internet to spread the Gospel and shaped the online Christian landscape. From Father Neuhaus, I was inspired as he tackled issues of interest to me. From Michael, he introduced a new way to reach the masses without preaching down to them using this new-fangled interweb thingy. I regret not following them as closely once I set out on my own blog.

The early Christian blogosphere, including Get Religion and Blogs4God soon grew to include the Thinklings and Boar's Head Tavern, Stuff Christians Like, Purgatorio, and JesusNeedsNewPR. Most recently, Peter Pollock's and Bridget Chumbley's Blog Carnival has been a network of diverse Christian blogs that all aspire to encourage applying the Word of God through the Internet. Yesterday's topic, Gentleness, drew 39 posts. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of Christian blogs. I will never have time to find them all, but I am grateful for the inspiration the ones I do read bring to me.

Back to imonk for a moment. Another blogger commented a few years ago that America is due for another Great Awakening and that it would likely come through the power of the Internet. I couldn't agree more and I believe the legacy that Michael Spencer leaves behind started the ball rolling that direction. I pray his legacy continues throughout the Christian blogosphere and through the hearts and souls of readers everywhere. Michael was too young. He didn't live to see the next Great Awakening. But he lived to see it begun.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Evident to All

"...clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (Colossians 3:12)

"But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness." (1 Timothy 6:11)

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." (1 Peter 3:15-16)

This week's blog carnival topic is gentleness. A topic that sounds easy enough and was certainly easy to do a simple word-search in Bible Gateway to get the above passages. But let the above sink in for a moment. Can these scriptures describe your attitude, your character? Does it describe your brothers and sisters in Christ around you? Sadly, I think this is a fruit of the Spirit we do not see often enough.

But we should. "Let your gentleness be evident to all." (Philippians 4:5) Our gentleness should be seen. And not just at church on Sundays, but every day, in every circumstance. "All" includes the impatient reckless driver on the freeway, the restaurant server who is rude or indifferent, the others stuck in a long line at the grocery store who all have someplace better to be. "All" also includes the non-believers acting in ways contrary to our convictions, believers who do not subscribe to the exact same doctrine, those whose politics do not align with our own, and those who just sometimes make boneheaded decisions. "All" includes our spouses, our children, our mothers-in-law. "All" means all.

We should restore gently (Galatians 6:1), instruct gently (2 Timothy 2:25), and deal gently (Hebrews 5:2) with others. All these passages are about dealing with others' sin. Because "we have all sinned" we should be that much more patient and gentle with others.

The book Living On the Edge breaks Romans 12 into five relationships: God, the world, ourselves, other believers, and the evil around us. It is this last relationship where gentleness can be most evident:

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[a] Do not be conceited.

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary:
'If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.'
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
" (Romans 12:14-21)

I will be going through this book over the next several weeks (and hopefully finding a way to tie in with the blog carnival at the same time!). I hope you come back as we break down Romans 12 so that we can grow in these relationships and prayerfully, ultimately, be gentle to all.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Work In Progress

Yesterday we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Without this event, our faith would be worthless (1 Cor 15:14). And it is through his death that we die to our sins and through his resurrection that we are given a new life. (Rom 6:4). So now that we have new life, what do we do with it?

I believe the expectation is to build something with our lives. Paul gives an allegory in 1 Corinthians 13 about building on the foundation of Jesus. I've heard this applied to churches, but I believe the context demands it be applied to individuals. In other words, we cannot lean on our church for our faith and how we live our lives as Christians, it is up to each and every one of us at a personal level. An important point is found in verses 12-15 that what we build will be tested so we should build the best that we can. If not, "it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames." (1 Cor 13:15) So how do we build?

A couple of years ago, my wife and I purchased a Do-It-Yourself enclosed patio kit. As advertised, it would only take a weekend or two with a small crew of a "few" people. Piece of cake right? So one weekend, I called my crew, laid out all the pieces, brought out all the tools, and stood there overwhelmed. None of us knew what to do. The patio slab has a downward grade so the walls won't be even. The back wall of the house is stucco so the vertical beams that connect to the house leave up to two-inch gaps. The doors were too heavy to move. Not every piece fit. And on, and on. So we disbanded with our sanity intact, but my pride damaged. That "couple of weekends" project took a year of weekends and weekday evenings. What did I learn from this? Without help, without expertise, and without the right tools and materials, whatever I build will be burned up. So I learned. I just completed a swing set for my children. This took four days. But this time I had help, I had the tools, and I knew a little better what I was doing.

The same is true of our faith. Without help, without expertise, without the right tools and materials, we cannot hope to build anything of value. We try and try and get burned time and time again, but we learn. Many Christians are content with just showing up on Sundays and living their lives their way the rest of the week. Many also treat the resurrection of Jesus as the ends, not the means, of their relationship with God and take God's grace for granted. What they build will be shown for what it is. But I do not believe it is meant to be this way. We know this verse by heart: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." (Eph 2:8-9) But we neglect the rest of this passage: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (v 10) We are a piece of work. We are incomplete. And we are meant to do something with the grace God has given us.

Over the next several weeks, I hope to give us the right tools and materials for us to build something of value for God. I will be going through the book, Living on the Edge, by Chip Ingram and using the online resources to lead a "virtual small group" in an exposition of Romans 12. I'll be introducing the lesson the rest of this week and will dig in to Chapter 1 on Monday. You don't need the book to follow along, but you do need an open and willing heart. Please join me the next few weeks to build something that will last.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Universal Donor

My blood-type is O-negative, meaning my blood can be used by anyone in need. Because of this I am diligent about donating regularly. I used to dread it, agonizing over the initial prick of the needle before the blood begins to flow. Now I treat it as routine. Some times go better than others, but when I gave a few weeks ago, I hardly felt it and was done before I knew it.

Once that pint was full, it was quickly whisked away and I will never see it again. I don't know who needs it and I will never know who will use it. Will it be used during a critical surgery, or be on-hand during a childbirth? Will it save a life or sustain one? I often wonder, and I always pray my blood is put to the best, most needed use.

While my blood can be used by anyone, I am not as fortunate. I can only receive my own type, so I would be dependant on the sacrifice of another stranger if my own life was at risk. But not just any stranger, only one who has the perfect match for my blood-type; one who has perfect blood.

Jesus shed perfect blood. He knows us and knows our specific needs. He knows whether our bodies will accept or reject his transfusion. And while knowing it would be rejected, he donated anyway.

His donation was not the result of a prick from a needle, but from 39 lashes on his back, countless blows, a crown of thorns, nails in his hands and feet, and finally a spear in his side. Yet his blood was spilled voluntarily.

In his struggle, there was no transfusion that could save him. As his life poured out of his body, there were no paramedics to perform CPR or a Red Cross to provide blood. He gave his blood, his life, knowing that there was nothing any of us could give to save him. Our blood is not compatible with his. Still, he gave.

Jesus Christ, our Universal Donor.

"The blood of Jesus, His son, purifies us from all sin." (1 John 1:7)