What Spiritual Disciplines did Jesus do?

30 06 2018

Remember WWJD?  What Would Jesus Do?  When I was a young teenager I attended a regional youth convention for my denomination, and WWJD was the theme.

WWJD braclets

We were given a book to read called, “In His Steps”, by Charles M. Sheldon.  Surprisingly, the book was originally published in 1896.  Someone in charge of the regional youth ministry that year somehow came up with the idea that this book and the WWJD campaign (which did sweep the country at the time) would be a great way to disciple teens.

 

The great irony is that while I was part of a very conservative, evangelical denomination, the book’s author, Rev. Sheldon, was a late 19th century Protestant “liberal.”  His liberal outlook caused him to emphasize the social implications of imitating Jesus, while simultaneously almost completely ignoring the spiritual and supernatural things that Jesus did.  The fictional characters in the book, and the devotional questions at the end of each chapter said very little about prayer, fasting, healing diseases or casting out demons.  Instead, the focus was entirely on living a moral life and helping the disadvantaged around us.  In the months after the youth convention, I faintly recall someone in the youth group asking our youth leader why we did not talk about miracles when we discussed imitating what Jesus did.  Jesus healed the sick, so, are we expected to do the same?  The response by the adults in the room ran along the lines of, “Well, healing is not something all Christians can do– it’s really a rare gift and doesn’t happen very often, so we need to focus on Jesus’s teaching to be good boys and girls who help others.”

 

It wasn’t just the miracles being left out of WWJD movement.  I have no recollection of ever discussing the spiritual habits Jesus exhibited in the pages of the Gospels either.  To be honest, I’m fairly certain that Satan and his minions had a good side-splitting laugh over a youth discipleship movement that completely ignored the heart of who Jesus was– a Son who poured all of himself into imitating his Father in heaven, and who stubbornly kept to practices and habits that kept that filial relationship kindled to a vibrant, eternal flame of love and devotion.  Jesus could not have accomplished any of what he did without that essential relationship– the unity and love of the Father, Son and Spirit.  As a true and full human being, Jesus had to nourish and maintain the health of that relationship with a specific habit of life.

 

Now, to tie some things together.  A few posts ago, with the help of the inestimable Dallas Willard, I answered the question, “What is the church for?”  This is what I landed on:

 

The purpose of the church, as Christ’s Bride, is to bring glory to the Trinity by ushering in the reality of the Kingdom into the people and places within her reach.

 

As I continued to explore the implications of this, I emphasized that accomplishing this purpose will require hard work (which is NOT opposed to being saved by grace through faith) done in the context of a loving, committed community.  This loving, committed community, called the church, pours itself into a regimen of repeated practices that will enable her various members to live out Jesus’ instructions and to delve ever further up and farther in to God’s Kingdom.  In other words, the consistent practice of the spiritual disciplines can help individual believers experience victory over sinful habits and a renewed mind increasingly more free of destructive attitudes.  The effectiveness of the other works of the church will depend on the extent to which real, lasting transformation is happening in the lives of those who are leading and doing those works.  I contend, then, that the work of Spiritual Formation is prior to and the necessary environment for the Kingdom success of everything else the church does.  If we have believes in the church who only know continued slavery to sin, who then win new “converts” to the church, what sort of “disciples” are actually being formed?  Whatever the end product, it is NOT what Jesus and Paul had in mind for what the people of God in Christ should look like.

 

But now we must move from the theoretical to “boots on the ground” action.  Good theology is ALWAYS imminently practical.  And I want to begin by looking at the sorts of habits Jesus exhibited.  Now, I know I previously stated that the New Testament does not give us a step-by-step tutorial on how to actually do all that Jesus commanded, and I stick by that claim.  However, it does provide glimpses of Jesus and the Disciples  actually doing certain key spiritual practices.  But, as you are reading the New Testament, if you blink, you will miss them.  Here is one example:

 

So Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up.  And as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.  (Luke 4:16)

 

Jesus in the synagogueOn Saturday’s, if you were looking for Jesus, you would have to go to the Synagogue to find him.  For Jews, the Sabbath was on the seventh day of the week, Saturday.  And on that day when no work was allowed, the people gathered in their local Synagogue.  What went on in these gatherings?  The service was fairly simple, and recognizable:   Prayers (usually written, set prayers) were said or sung (chanted), which included Psalms of praise.  Also, the Shema was recited by the congregation– from Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel, the LORD is your God, the LORD along!”  Next, there were set readings from the Torah and the Prophets.  Readers were appointed for this task to read from the scrolls, and apparently Jesus was often asked to do so.  And then the reader or the leader of the synagogue would comment on the readings, explaining what they meant for how God’s people should conduct themselves.  If a teacher from another town was visiting, he was often invited to bring a word of exhortation as well (we see this in the book of Acts when Paul would visit the synagogue in each town on his missionary journeys).  The gathering would end with more set prayers or parts of Psalms.

 

This service was mostly taken from the worship that took place at the Temple, with one important difference– there was no animal sacrifice in the synagogue.  Sacrifice was exclusively the domain of the Temple in Jerusalem.  This pattern of synagogue worship was established during Israel’s Babylonian captivity when there was no Temple, but the people still needed a way to keep their identity as God’s chosen people alive and real.

 

You can see that our Christian worship is patterned after Synagogue practice.  But Christian worship has re-united holy Scripture with Sacrifice– Holy Communion, the Eucharist.   The consistent Christian pattern of worship for two-thousand years has been Word and Table infused with Prayer and Praise.holy-communion-cross-in-cup

 

Here’s the point:  a significant portion of Jesus’ spiritual formation happened in these Saturday gatherings– with set prayers, readings from the Old Testament, and teaching that applied what was read to real life.  We are very mistaken if we believe that Jesus, as the second member of the Trinity, simply had all knowledge and spiritual maturity downloaded into his head at birth, or when he turned twelve.  Yes, Jesus was fully God, but we see in the Gospels that he does not know everything, such as the day when God would bring about restoration and final judgment.  Never forget, Jesus was also fully human!  And as such, a significant part of his formation as a human person came as the result of the influence of his parents, his community, the synagogue, the pilgrimages to Jerusalem, etc.

 

Two questions:

 

  1. Is gathering, at least weekly, to worship with fellow believers a true priority in your life? Connected to this:  Are we being careful to train new believers to make weekly public worship a priority in their lives?  Or are we too afraid of sounding legalistic?

 

 

  1. Is the Sunday morning worship service in your church intentionally forming believers to be like Jesus?  Or are other agendas taking center stage?

 

I’m not saying our worship services have to be identical to what Jesus experienced.  We are, after all, on the other side of the Cross and Resurrection, and every culture expresses their worship with different nuances.   But the core of the worship that Jesus experienced should be the same core for us as well.

The irreducible center of our Christian worship should be Word and Table infused throughout with Prayer and Praise.  If our public gatherings are typically 30 minutes of singing, 30 minutes of sermon, with a minute or two of read Scripture and corporate prayer, then what we are doing is rather outside of what Jesus, the Disciples, and the early church were very intentional about when they gathered for worship. 052614_2114_PastaBowlWo2.jpg

 

The bigger issue is:  What kind of people are we forming with our pattern and style of worship?  For example, how will believers learn how to pray if we do not pray well on Sunday morning when we are all together?  What sort of prayer life will they have if it is all extemporaneous?  Do we pray the Scriptures?  Do we pray as one body?  Or do the pastors and worship leaders do most of the praying?  Would the people in our churches be scandalized by written, set prayers prayed in unison?  If so, why?  That is how Jesus and the disciples prayed when they were gather for public worship.

 

The great benefit that Jesus experienced with his custom, his habit, of going to Synagogue every Saturday, wasn’t in the fact that he just went to any house of worship, and participated in any ‘ole liturgical practices.  That won’t do!  Rather, Jesus participated in a pattern of worship centered on the Word of God, and the set, corporate prayers of God’s people, accentuated by leaders who helped the people gathered to apply the Word to their lives.  If our churches are emphasizing other things, we will not reap the sameHoly Bible with cross benefits as Jesus did in his day.  Our emotion-laden songs may raise our spirits for that hour of worship, but what will be the foundation under our feet when all else is stripped away?  What will actually form us deeply as God’s sons and daughters?  What will last when the style of worship changes yet again?  How will we ever learn to be like Jesus if our weekly worship gatherings are so obviously different from what he experienced?

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More Words from Willard

28 05 2018

Just read this today, in Willard’s book, “The Great Omission”, pgs. 105-06.  Seems very pertinent to my post from yesterday:

…Jesus’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) make references to various behaviors:  acting out anger, looking to lust, heartless divorce, verbal manipulation, returning evil for evil, and so forth.  But as abundant experience now teaches, to strive merely to act in conformity with these illustrations of what living from the Kingdom of God is like is to attempt the impossible, and also will lead to doing things that are obviously wrong and even ridiculous.  It would merely increase “the ‘righteousness’ of the scribe and pharisee,” not to “go beyond” it to find genuine transformation of who I am as Christ’s man or woman in his Kingdom (Matthew 5:20). 

The instrumentalities of Christian spiritual formation…involve much more than human effort.  Well informed human effort is necessary, for spiritual formation is not a passive process.  But Christ-likeness of the inner being is not a merely human attainment.  It is, finally, a gift of grace.  The resources for it are not human, but come from the interactive presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who place their confidence in Christ, as well as from the spiritual treasures stored in the body of Christ’s people upon the earth.  Therefore it is not only formation of the spirit or inner being of the individual that we have in mind, but also formation by the Spirit of God and by the spiritual riches of Christ’s continuing incarnation in his people, past and present–including, most prominently, the treasures of his written and spoken word. 

 

 

 

 

 





Who Will Teach Us How?

27 05 2018

The civilized, cultural Christianity of our grandparents taught us that it is not proper to be angry at God. He’s perfect, we’re sinners.  If bad stuff happens to us, we recognize that we deserved it and we thank the Lord it wasn’t worse.  Fortunately, biblical Christianity is not civilized.  Exhibit A, Psalm 88–

 

O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?  Why do you hide your face from me?  Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.  Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me.  They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together.  You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;  my companions have become darkness.

 

Holy Bible with cross

And yes, the psalm ends on that very happy and bright note!  This is not, necessarily, a healthy relationship between the psalmist and his God.  I take some comfort in this, while also realizing this is not the final word in Scripture.  In Psalm 88 we only get a snippet of a long, arduous conversation.

 

Since becoming a young adult, I have had a long discussion (really an argument) with God– the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And yes, I’ve argued with all three of them!  The angry question I throw at the Lord is this: “Why can’t I do it?!  Why can’t I be even partially consistent in my spiritual life?  Why can’t I overcome sin, bad attitudes, bad thoughts, bad actions, and a generally whiney demeanor?  You insist that I be holy but you don’t seem to help me and you don’t tell me HOW?!”

 

I have tried many, if not all, of the answers that Christians great and small have given to this angst filled question of mine:

 

  • I need to rely more on God’s grace and less on my effort
  • I need to try harder and exercise more will power– put into practice a better method, or read the right books, attend the right seminar, or change denominations.
  • I need to get over it!  I’m going to be a sinner until I die, just trust in God’s grace and move on.  (Thank you, Martin Luther!  Simul justus, et peccator, “simultaneously justified and a sinner”)
  • I need an “accountability partner” who will meet with me regularly to make sure I’m not continuing to do sinful acts (and I have to admit to him when I do sin).
  • I need to get to the root of my heart-wounds and sins and allow Jesus to heal them, and then I will have victory in my life.
  • I need to read my bible more, pray more, give to the poor, fast, and sell all my possessions.
  • I need a better interpretation of the Bible that helps me see that when Jesus told us to “be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect”, he was speaking metaphorically.

Martin Luther

More could be added to this list.  And I’m not saying that everything in that list is worthless.  But, none of them have worked to help me actually overcome my bursts of anger, my bouts of selfishness, my slouching into depression, my succumbing to sin.

 

Why?!  Why is this the case?!  Why doesn’t the Bible, somewhere, spell out in painful detail the process to overcome sinful habits, and destructive attitudes?!  This seems, really, really important!!  Why are there no explicit “how to” portions in Scripture that walk me, step by step, into exactly what I need to do to stop sinning, and to stop letting anger or lust or bitterness or selfishness control my life!  Holiness for Dummies

 

I can’t overemphasize how big this is, and how much this has caused serious problems with my relationship with God.  The truth is, not being able to do what Jesus commanded, has caused the most serious challenges to my faith during my relatively short life.  And yes, I do label it a crisis of faith that I have experienced from time to time.

 

I also feel alone in this.  Again, this is huge!! Why aren’t more of my Christian friends frustrated by the gap between the clear teaching of Scripture and their actual behavior and internal attitudes? (“Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”  Really?  I go to bed angry plenty!) The most I hear from the pulpit is that we all struggle and we should help each other.  Really!?  That’s all I get?!   I don’t even get a Sunday school class with the title, “7 steps to holy living”?   And as far as I’m concerned (see my previous two posts) this is THE thing the church should be concerning itself with the most, above everything else–  teaching, instructing and demonstrating how to live as Jesus instructed.

 

Instead, my denomination is mostly concerned with church planting and getting unsaved people “saved.”  Yes, I am fully cognizant that I sound like a raving, insane heretic in challenging this.  I love the fact that my denomination wants to start new churches in order to reach those the church has ignored or forgotten about.  Of course that’s part of the Great Commission.  But what about the “teaching them to…” part of that same Great Commission?  Recently, in reading my denomination’s periodical,  I saw a lot of excitement about evangelism and church planting, and almost nothing about what we should do with these new Christians once they start coming to the church.  It is my perception (which I’m sure is flawed) that most local churches believe that if we can just get the “lost” to say yes to Jesus, the rest just takes care of itself.  If I’m wrong about this, then why is outreach and church planting so much more prominent than programs and processes that train believers in the ways and attitudes of Christlikeness?

Holiness 101

Now look, I’m sure there are local churches out there doing yeoman’s work in the area of spiritual formation, etc.  But that work does not get lifted up and shouted about by the denomination.  What is touted are those churches who change and become more “outward” focused, and experience numerical growth.  The emphasis is “success” as generally defined by the culture.   Our God is a big God and he uses all of this to advance his Kingdom.  So, I’m not trying to argue that such evangelistic efforts are a waste of time or unbiblical.  I’m saying they are out of proportion with the clear and unconfusing directives of the New Testament.  Jesus did not make it overly complicated when he said, “Make disciples:  baptize them into the reality of the Trinity, and instruct them how to do all that I have commanded.”   Why are most of our current efforts only implementing the first half of the Great Commission?

 

I promise, I’m not naïve, and I fully realize that churches which are primarily “inward” focused, and have a lot of bible studies, prayer services, and the like, are also not really training each other how to actually do what needs to be done to be holy.  I myself have failed in this way too.  I’ve taught Sunday school classes on prayer, and had some really great discussions that we all felt really good about.  But we never really got around to the business of prayer itself.  (I’ve also been part of a church that talked about prayer, but then turned the Sunday night service into a time of focused intercessory prayer.  We witnessed God move through that work.)

 

My point is that both “inward” and “outward” focused congregations are missing the boat on that second part of the Great Commission.  And I desperately need a community of believers right now who takes it seriously and will start to work to train themselves and others to do what Jesus said.  After all, what sort of spiritual life are we bringing new believers into if we don’t give them some help, instruction and training in how to overcome sinful habits and destructive attitudes?  Otherwise, church becomes a club, and not a training center for the Kingdom of God.

 

Time to set aside the rant and get practical.  What is the solution?  What am I supposed to be doing so I can overcome the desires of the flesh, and consistently walk in the Holy Spirit with Jesus at my side, and the Father’s love filling my life?  And I point out again that the New Testament does not outline for us the specific regimen that we need to put into practice.  Sure, Paul will say, “put to death what is earthly in you. . . . And put on . . .compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. . . .”  (Colossians 3: 5 & 12).  Apostle PaulYes, O Great Apostle, that is very good advice, and I love it!  But HOW?!!!!  What concrete steps must I take to actually put to death “impurity and evil desire”?  The Bible remains painfully quiet in this respect, and I can’t help but wonder why this is so.  And since I believe in the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures, I can only conclude that this omission was intentional.

 

Paul and Peter and John purposely were not inspired by God to give specific, 1, 2, 3, steps to holiness.  I’m sure this was in part because as time and culture changed, specific practices would not easily translate and the “old ways” would quickly become a legalistic religion.  But, there has to be more to it than that.  And I believe the answer is within the Great Commission itself.  Jesus commands his disciples to be about the business of “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  The word “teaching” really has little to do with Modern notions of education, where eager pupils sit in neat rows and give their rapt attention to the master lecturer at the front of the room.  This sort of teaching (as much as I enjoy it) is merely the passing on of info and data.  This is a million miles away from what Jesus had in mind when he spoke these words.

 

What did he mean by “teaching”?  Well, just read the Gospel of Matthew and you will see.  Yes, he often sat down and spoke to his “students” about the Kingdom. But he also demonstrated the Kingdom by casting out demons, healing the sick, and calling disciples to “follow” him (in other words, to imitate what they saw him doing and saying). Lastly, the Master sent his apprentices out two by two, into the surrounding villages to teach and do the exact same things Jesus had taught and showed them himself.  This is a proper education in the school of Jesus the Messiah!  And this is exactly what Jesus had in mind when he uttered the words of the Great Commission– his disciples were to verbally instruct, show by demonstration, and finally send out the new recruits to actually do what they had heard and seen. (Also note that the disciples came back and reported to Jesus all they had done in his name.)  This is a system of apprenticeship, and this is far removed from how we do “discipleship” in the early decades of the 21st Century.

 

God did not inspire specific, step-by-step instructions because he wanted his people to work on this together in community, and not in isolation.  If it was all spelled out in the New Testament, I could just stay at home and follow the steps without recourse to being part of a community of faith.  Evangelicals will not like what I say next:  This means the Bible alone is not sufficient for full salvation leading to a holy life.  We must rely on one another for the training necessary to grow in grace and to actually stop sinning and having unholy attitudes.  We will have to submit to the wisdom of those who have gone before us on this path, while also adapting their instruction to the particular terrain of our own time and culture.  Sola Scriptura only works if the Bible is intentionally made the Church’s Bible and the people who are the Church work together to help one another actually do what Jesus instructed.

 

Recently, I was reading about a church in North America whose practice in Spiritual Formation was this:  before coming to Communion congregants were strongly encouraged to meet with their priest for Confession (obviously, this was not a Protestant or Evangelical church).  When the priest noted a persistent sin or unholy attitude in a person’s life, he directed him or her to a nearby monastery where each member of his church was assigned to a monk who became a spiritual director. In every instance of spiritual direction, the monk would give specific practices and exercises for the church member to do.  More often than not, these exercises seemed unconnected to the particular sin the person was failing to overcome. But for those who stuck with the assigned regimen, significant progress was made in their efforts to defeat sin.

 

This makes me think of the original “Karate Kid” movie.  The Sensei, Mr. Miyagi began his instruction of his teenage student (who just wanted to learn Karate so he could beat up the bullies at school) by having him paint the fence and house, sand the deck, and wax the car.  Of course, Daniel, the teenager, gets fed up with feeling like Mr. Miyagi’s Karate Kidslave.  He turns in a huff to walk away from his instructor when Mr. Miyagi calls him back and has him demonstrate with his arms and hands, “sand the floor” and “wax on, wax off”, “paint the fence”, and “paint the house”.  All of these motions end up being very effective blocking techniques against incoming punches and kicks. The repetitive motions of seemingly unrelated work, were actually creating muscle memory of the most fundamental defensive moves in martial arts.

 

I have come to believe that something similar needs to be the starting point for those wanting to defeat persistent sins in their lives.  If a person has spent the last 20 years giving in to the sin of lust (or greed, or pride, or fill-in-the blank), it is worse than discouraging to simply tell that person to stop sinning by will power and to keep up his daily “devotions”.  You will teach that believer that he is either an abject failure in the Christian life, or that God’s grace is not sufficient. Ingrained habits cannot be undone by simply ratcheting up more will-power, or by speaking more spiritual platitudes like, “let go, and let God.”  Serious effort and training must be entered into for the long haul, setting aside the need for instantaneous results.  The “student” must trust her instructor that regular fasting will somehow help in the defeat of anger, greed and lust.

 

The bottom line:  I cannot just wake up one day and decide to stop yelling when I get angry.  I will fail, 100% guaranteed.  But I might actually be able to build into my daily routine, 20 minutes of silence and solitude in which I meditate on a single verse of Scripture.  And I have to be patient to allow that seed to bear fruit in its time– not mine or the world’s!  But more fundamentally, I need to be in a community that not only encourages this sort of training, but actually offers it and sees it as vital to the health and mission of the community.

 

Please church, I’m begging you, for my sake and yours.  Stop trying to impress the world with standards of success that it has set from its own, corrupted brokenness.  Instead, listen more carefully to Jesus and start putting time, people, money and resources towards actually carrying out both halves of the Great Commission.  If Evangelical churches cannot do this, they should not be upset when those who attend their churches go looking elsewhere– hopefully to other more ancient branches of Christianity, but maybe to other religions and spiritualties altogether! Our churches may be growing in number now, but what will they look like in 50 years if the people in them are not intentionally trained in the ways of Jesus?





God’s Grace, Our Fight

19 05 2018

What is the family for?  Why does it exist?  Is it to provide a sense of belonging and safety to each individual member?  Or is its purpose merely biological–as in the purpose of the family system is to ensure the survival of the human species?  If this was the ultimate reason, I would think we could find more efficient ways to propagate human kind.  Or, as our current age is asking, is the family really all that important as traditionally defined?  If our human relationships are primarily about self-fulfillment and self-actualization, then we should be allowed to define and use “family” as we see fit.  (By the way, in case you haven’t noticed, the traditional family has been suffering under a withering attack by cultural elites for the last 50 plus years.  So I worry that my analogy which follows may not translate well in the current time and place that I live).

Train up a child

What if the purpose of the family is to raise up the next generation?  I mean this in much more than a survival way of thinking.  As Proverbs has it, the purpose of a family is to train up a child in the way that he should go (22:6).  A family exists, as it does, to ensure that the next generation can do more than survive.  A family trains up its children to be good, brave, self-sacrificing and maybe even virtuous, so that the future world is a place for human flourishing, rather than suffering and strife.  I’m afraid our culture is now paying the price of failing to do exactly this, in numbers too great to overcome with simple law-making  and law enforcing.

 

Note that even families without a clear moral compass instinctively know that they have to pass on some sort of training to their children if they are to have any hope of living decently well later on.  Things like, “Don’t let people take advantage of you,” and “Don’t let that money burn a hole in your pocket,” are attempts to train and raise up a successful next generation.  And here’s the truth we all know but tend to resist:  training a child in the way he should go always involves intentionality and repetition.  My youngest son is now 12 years old, and I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve had to remind him to say “Please” and “Thank You”, and to brush his teeth after breakfast.  As my kids get into their teen years, training becomes more complex and involves a greater investment of time and effort than it did when they were young.  This includes late-night conversations, and having to draw difficult boundaries, while also trying to expand their responsibilities.  And all of this is best done in the context of relationships that are founded on an unyielding love.

 

Here’s what I’m driving at:  just because we really, really love each other in our family, does not mean that our children will automatically be “trained in the way they should go.”

 

Swerving back now to the church and spiritual disciplines, we must keep before us the fact that while the church (you and I collectively as believers in Jesus) is rescued by God’s grace in Christ, that grace does not, ipso facto, train us to be able to usher in the Kingdom into ourselves, and into those around us.  Training involves blood, sweat, and tears– and a LOT (I mean a LOT) of boring repetition (should I repeat that?!).

Spiritual Discipline

Before we can proceed with a discussion about the hard, repetitive work of spiritual formation, we need to clear the deck of some rather large obstacles and barriers.  Please don’t immediately cast stones at me as a heretic, but those of us raised in Evangelical churches need to stop dismissing and ignoring the hard work of spiritual discipline out of the fear that we are denying salvation by grace through faith and committing the most horrid of heresies called “works righteousness”.  As in my last post, Dallas Willard helps clear the air so we can see a bit more clearly.  Or, to switch analogies, he helps us set aside our heavily “grace” colored, Evangelical spectacles so that we can see spiritual discipline in a better light.

 

The following quotes are from his book, “The Great Omission,” which is a collection of his talks on the subject of Discipleship in the church.  All of what comes next is from Willard’s presentation given to a large group of Evangelical pastors and ministry leaders, entitled, “Spiritual Formation in Christ is for the Whole Life and the Whole Person.”  (Yes, this is lengthy, but our misconceptions of how grace and effort should never play together are deep and will take some time to be exposed and removed.)

 

Dallas Willard on “Grace and Works”  Willard the Great Omission

 

God is not pushy–for now, in any case.  He is not going to overwhelm you if you don’t want Him.  He gives you the power to put Him out of your mind.  And even if you want Him, you have to seek Him.  Now, I realize that there is a sense in which He is already seeking you, and I am not trying to dispose of that, but we misunderstand what is our part and what is God’s part.  God is ready to act.  He is acting.  We are not waiting on Him, and if it doesn’t hurt your theology too badly, He is waiting on us to respond.  And you know we have a problem here.  As I often point out to folks, today we are not only saved by grace, we are paralyzed by it.  We will preach to you for an hour that you can do nothing to be saved, and then sing to you for forty-five minutes trying to get you to do something to be saved.  That is confusing, to say the least.  We really have a problem with activity and passivity in our theology.  (pg. 57-58)

 

        Grace and works.  Isn’t “spiritual formation” really just another term for “works”?  Yes, we’re talking about if you mean, “Am I going to have to do something?”  You cannot be a pew potato and simultaneously engage in spiritual formation in Christ’s likeness.  You have to take your whole life into discipleship to Jesus Christ, if that’s what you mean by works.  But on the other hand, nothing works like genuine faith or trust in God.

        Much of our problem is not, as is often said, that we have failed to get what is in our head down in our heart.  Much of what hinders us is that we have had a lot of mistaken theology in our head and is has gotten down into our heart.  And it is controlling our inner dynamics so that the head and heart cannot, even with the aid of the Word and the Spirit, pull one another straight. 

        May I just give you this word?  Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.  Earning is an attitude.  Effort is an action.  Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.  Many people don’t know this, and that is one major result of the cutting down of the gospel to a theory of justification, which has happened in our time.  I have heard leading evangelical people say that grace has only to do with guilt.  Many people today understand justification as the only essential result of the gospel, and the gospel they preach is–and you will hear this said over and over by the leading presenters of the evangelical faith–that your sins can be forgiven.  That’s it!

        In contrast, I make bold to say, the gospel of the entire New Testament is that you can have new life now in the Kingdom of God if you will trust Jesus Christ. . . .  Become the kind of person who routinely does what Jesus did and said.  You will consume much more grace by leading a holy life than you will by sinning, because every holy act you do will have to be upheld by the grace of God. . . .

        If you preach a gospel that has only to do with the forgiveness of sins, on the other hand, you will be as we are today:  stuck in a position where you have faith over here and obedience and abundance over there, and no way to get from here to there because the necessary bridge is discipleship.  If there is anything we should know by now, it is that a gospel of justification alone does not generate disciples.  Discipleship is a life of learning from Jesus Christ how to live in the Kingdom of God now, as he himself did.  If you want to be a person of grace, then, live a holy life of discipleship, because the only way you can do that is on a steady diet of grace.  Works of the Kingdom live from grace.   (pg. 61-63)

 

        …baptism in the Spirit, spiritual experiences, high acts of worship, and other experiences of worship do not transform character.  They just don’t do it.  [These spiritual highs] have meant a lot to me, but they have not transformed my character.  . . .

         …Character is formed through action, and it is transformed through action, including carefully planned and grace-sustained disciplines.  To enter the path of obedience to Jesus Christ–intending to obey him and intending to learn whatever I have to learn in order to obey him–is the true path of spiritual formation or transformation. . . .

        …What transforms us is the will to obey Jesus Christ from a life that is one with his resurrected reality day by day, learning obedience through inward transformation. 

 

Returning to the start of this post (and to the previous post):  What’s a family for?  Answer: To raise up the next generation, training them in the way they should go.  Training always involves persistent, difficult, repetitive effort.  I am saying that family life is a window on how we are to understand the church.  What’s the church for?  To make disciples by bringing folks in close contact with God’s grace in Christ while simultaneously training them in the ways of Jesus in pursuit of a holy, grace-filled existence.  Taking this seriously means changing the way we “do” church.  It means not allowing the culture to define “success”.  And it means hard work, dealing with failure, and extending grace to those who fail and to ourselves when we also fail.

 

Let’s let Paul bring this home:

 

From Paul, in Colossians 3:  So if you have been raised with Christ seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth. . . . [How?]  Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly. . . . These are the ways you also once followed. . . . But now you must get rid of all such things.

Put to Death, Paul

Note the words Paul employs here: “seek”, “set your minds”, “put to death”, “get rid”.  Paul also says elsewhere that we need to “put on” heavenly, Kingdom things.  These are all verbs, and verbs are actions.  Paul was not in angst that these strong, violent, and necessary actions might lead believers to that pernicious devil of “works righteousness” and the undoing of being saved by “grace alone”.   In all of Paul’s letters his message is clear:   You are rescued from wrath and hell by grace through faith! Now then,  get up off your bloated sense of self and fight for the Kingdom to grow and deepen, both inside you and outside you.

 

If we have at least partially blown up this false dichotomy between grace and working hard, then we are ready to talk specific actions.  How do we actually become holy?  There is a time-tested process to it that is highly reliable.  The problem, of course, is that few today actually give it a try for more than a few days or weeks.  But spiritual discipline, to be effective, requires the whole of me– fractions will not do.





Confused Ecclesiology

29 04 2018

What is the church for?  Perhaps this is too broad of a question.  It’s too easy to pontificate on the purpose and mission of the church catholic.  Too much big picture, and not nearly enough specificity.  Perhaps it would be better to ask:  What is the local church for?holy-communion-cross-in-cup

 

I have the sense that our post-modern, Evangelical understanding of what the church is and does is in a crisis that is reaching a fever pitch.  Without belaboring the point, the impression I get is that virtually all Evangelical churches simply want to be successful in terms that make the most sense to our current, North American culture– that is to be productive and growing.  A successful church, according to  this paradigm, is one that is multiplying it’s “impact” with ministries and community projects, while also growing in weekly attendance and membership.

 

It doesn’t require a top-notch New Testament scholar to immediately notice that these markers of a successful church sound very out place and foreign when laid next to the book of Acts, or Paul’s letters.  I don’t recall Paul excoriating young Timothy for his church’s lack of numerical growth or lack of services to the poor and marginalized. In other words, our ecclesiastical concerns in 21st century North America, are very much not in sync with the authors of the New Testament.

 

This discontinuity between present day church life and ancient biblical faith was especially painful to me when I was a pastor.  I really could not get a clear idea of what my role, as pastor, was.  Was I to be the CEO and chief marketing strategist whose sole purpose was to grow my church’s “brand”, and increase the number of “customers” and  “shareholders”?  Was commercial success my main “pastoral” concern– for the sake of the Kingdom?   Or was I mainly to be a priest and shepherd of souls to those with whom I had regular contact?  Or was my main responsibility to be a liaison between my local church and the wider community?  Or again, was I to be mostly an evangelist in the mold of Billy Graham, winning souls with the power of my persuasive speaking?  Or was I supposed to scrap all of that and become a leader raising up leaders who carefully follow Maxwell’s “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” while simultaneously avoiding the “Five Dysfunctions of a Team”?

 

Look, I’ll be flat out honest that this post is largely a plea for help and a noisy confession that I am beyond confused and probably more than a little disillusioned about the role and function of the church and her ministers.

 

It doesn’t get any less confusing if I step back and look beyond the borders of Evangelicalism.  Liberal Protestants insist that the church fulfills her purpose through acts of compassion, and campaigning for social justice against the systemic “isms” that constantly war against the marginalized of our world (racism, sexism, genderism, etc.).   Roman Catholics, while doing plenty of their own SJW (Social Justice Warrior) activities, really land on the Sacraments as the center of the church’s life and identity.

 

071714_0240_TheTablethe5.pngI am most drawn to the sacramental centering of the church’s identity and mission.  My love and study of church history have inexorably drawn me in that direction– I feel most at home in that sort of liturgical ecclesiology.  But, even this only begs more exasperating questions:  What are the sacraments for?  What is their purpose and function within the church?  How does enacting the sacraments give identity to the church and purposeful direction to her many works?

 

I feel like I’m walking in circles and have now landed in the exact spot I started from.   I still don’t really know what the church is for, or how her ordained leaders are supposed to lead and manage her.   I might soon be ready to start sleeping in on Sunday mornings if this circular journey doesn’t soon break out into new paths (or maybe very old paths that are seldom used in our day).

 

So, here I am standing on this perpetually circular path, with apathy settling in to my very bones, when suddenly I hear heavy foot-falls of a large man, who is surprisingly quick and instantly upon me.  Without warning I am hoisted into the air and dropped into the icy waters of the nearby river.  This river of Scripture and the Saints, leaves me gasping for air, but also clear headed.  I look up to see that the large man who caused my impromptu bath is Dallas Willard (it’s too bad that Evangelicals do not canonize saints, because Willard fully deserves such for the conduct of his life and the liberating depth of his teaching).

 

(Side note:  I hope that life in the new heaven and earth include being able to watch and hear great saints in deep dialogue.  I would love to see Willard, Athanasius, Maximos the Confessor and CS Lewis at a heavenly pub discussing a holy life in Christ over a pint of frothy brew!)

 

Willard had the ability to immerse his readers into the whole reality of God’s kingdom through the tiny portal of single verse of Scripture.  “I keep the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved” (Psalm 16:8).   Jesus has brought the Kingdom of heaven to us so that the Trinity can be with us– no longer withholding the grace, power, peace, love, truth and beauty we so desperately need.

 

The purpose of the church, as Christ’s Bride, is to bring glory to the Trinity by ushering in the reality of the Kingdom into the people and places within her reach.  The church must never cease from bringing all into the reality of God’s nearness, “He is at my right hand” and his redemptive strength, “I shall not be moved”, by training disciples of Jesus how to consistently “keep the Lord always before me.”

 

The other disparate activities I mentioned above, now have a clear role and objective:   The sacraments are given that we might know the Lord’s intimate nearness.  We see Jesus in the poor we feed and the abused we rescue.  We joyfully proclaim the coming Kingdom and God’s closeness, and seek to draw in those who are currently outside it’s generous borders.  We train up leaders who can do all of these activities as humble, Spirit-filled apprentices of Jesus the King.  And lastly, we lead and manage the affairs of the church with integrity and energy because of the precious nature of the structures that enable Jesus’ disciples to do what he commanded.   052514_0100_ThingsAreNo3.jpg

 

As Willard puts it:  “…how much of our personal efforts, as well as our ministerial and teaching efforts, are directed toward spiritual transformation in this holistic sense? . . .  I do not know of a denomination or local church in existence that has as its goal to teach its people to do everything Jesus said.  I’m not talking about a whim or a wish, but a plan.  I ask you sincerely, is this on your agenda?  To teach disciples surrounded in the triune reality to do everything Jesus said?”  (The Great Omission, pg. 61).

 

This begins to bring clarity, for me, to the pastoral role in the life and mission of the church.  Leader, priest, manager, evangelist, liturgist, community liaison — can all have a razor sharp focus as long as I keep the Lord near me, knowing that he is at my right hand and I need not be moved (or confused).   All of these pastoral duties must exist to support the church’s identity as Christ’s bride, who labors tirelessly to show all that God is very near, and to train all who are willing in those activities that enable Jesus’ disciples to be more and more full of God and eager to do all that Jesus did and taught.

 

This brings other clarity as well:  if I as a pastor, or the church as a whole, are doing things just to be noticed and seen as “cool”, or to draw a crowd or to be viewed as being on the correct side of the political divide, then I and we are suffering from amnesia.  We have forgotten and set aside our true identity and role as apprentices of Jesus the Master redeemer of all things.  There are too many broken and spiritually dead folks who have been sitting in our church services for decades who need to see the Lord right beside them.  And there are too many eager ministry leaders in our churches who don’t know the first thing about how to actually do what Jesus commanded them to do.  They don’t have any tools or know-how to stop lying, lusting, stealing, murdering (in their hearts), coveting, hating, and just sinning in general.  No one has trained them in the ways of Jesus.  And that is only the surface of the neediness of those who are already “in” the church.  If they don’t know how to overcome sin and be holy like Jesus was holy, how will they be able to teach those who are nominally Christian or those who are “lost” outside the Kingdom’s borders?  What a mess!  Clueless disciples of Jesus trying to “win” and evangelize non-Christians!  We don’t have time or resources to be pursuing anything other than the genuine, whole-life transformation of those within our reach.

 

Without very careful attentiveness “church” becomes about something else– whatever we can grasp with our own two hands that will make sense of our mission, and enable us to build something we can manage and control within our own power.  Many models and examples now lie before us:  contemporary worship, leadership training, numerical growth, building campaigns, community organizing, feeding the poor, racial reconciliation, youth ministry– on and on the list could go.  None of these things, by themselves, is somehow anti-Gospel, but when any one of them are lifted up to the level of the church’s main identity and purpose, it simply is idolatry.  Even “spiritual” activities such as prayer, bible study, worship and fasting, if isolated from the big picture of the Kingdom of heaven, can become stumbling blocks to the church trying  to step up into her full and rightful place and identity.  If we are a “praying” church, let it be because we know how much we need the power of the Holy Spirit to actually live out what Jesus commanded, and not because that is our church’s “brand” in our local ecclesiastical market.  (And why would a group of people boast that they are a “praying” church?  If there is no prayer, there can be no church in the first place!)

 

I fear that most (if not all) of our current efforts to make the church more “effective” and “missional” are leading us down the yellow-brick road to the Emerald City where we will find only a mere human behind the curtain, rather than a powerful God who is close to hand, whom we can keep always before us because there are time-tested practices and habits that make it so.  More on the Spiritual Disciplines in the next post….

 





The Empty Tomb Saves Us

31 03 2018

041611_0226_BrokenTombs2.pngI’ll admit up front that a “good mystery” feels like a contradiction in terms.  Not knowing the whole story is painful to me.  But the power of a mystery (book or movie) is that you, as a member of the audience, lack key information that would enable you to identify the person (or persons) who committed the crime.  So often, these stories specialize in misdirection:  you spend most of the time assuming the murderer was the bitter old gardener, but in the end your assumptions are shattered as it is discovered that the seemingly sweet grandmother actually pulled the trigger.   In fact, you realize in retrospect that you had built a false narrative around your assumptions about the gardener, all of which had to be de-constructed so you could see the true story of the person actually responsible.  And now looking back, those bits of evidence that did not make sense in your false narrative, now fit perfectly into place in the light of the whole truth.

 

This helps me understand why Evangelicals seem to struggle with understanding the place of the Resurrection in God’s salvation of me and you.

022811_0328_ChristtheWr4.jpg

Why do I think this?   So often, Evangelical preaching, teaching and counseling on how God saves us, is centered on the need for our sins to be washed away and atoned for.  If our sins are not forgiven we will come under God the Father’s condemnation and wrath.  Jesus prevents this by his crucifixion and the shedding of his blood, offering a perfect sacrifice which results in a once-and-for-all payment covering all of our sins.  Despite the recent passing of Billy Graham, we can still hear his simple, straight forward presentation of Salvation to the people filling the stadiums– people who need to hear the Good News of God’s love in Christ and the forgiveness of their many sins.   There is certainly plenty of Biblical support for this narrative of salvation, especially in the writings of Paul.  (For one example among the legion of examples, see Romans 5:6-11)

 

In this tight, coherent narrative, there are some parts of the Biblical data that are hard to “fit in.”  I am thinking primarily of the Resurrection of Christ.   If the Cross saves us and gets us to heaven with God, what was the purpose of the Resurrection and the Empty Tomb?  The typical answer given by Evangelicals is that by rising from the dead, Jesus proves, once and for all, that he is the perfect Son of God, which means we can know with confidence that his sacrifice on the Cross will truly work to forgive our sins– his crucifixion is efficacious in our redemption.  In this understanding, the Cross is central, and the Resurrection is mostly a convenient and happy post-script that reinforces the centrality of the Cross.  This conclusion is understandable, given the fact that the Gospels spend about 90% of their time on Jesus’ passion and death, and about 10% on his rising again.

 

But… what are we to make of statements like this?

 

“Righteousness will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  (Romans 4:24-25). 

 

This passage feels like a piece that does not fit the Atonement puzzle we Evangelicals have so carefully crafted.  It is Jesus’ blood that justifies us before God our righteous judge!  What could Paul possibly mean that his resurrection is also key to our justification?!   Perhaps in this “mystery” of salvation, we have some misguided assumptions that are preventing us from seeing clearly all that Jesus accomplished in his death and resurrection.

 

The early church certainly did not ignore what the New Testament had to say about the need for our sins to be forgiven, but they saw sin as a corollary of a much deeper, more serious problem.  After all, in the Old Testament, we see God simply forgiving sins (Psalm 51 as one example), and there was no sacrifice in the temple system that would atone for “high-handed” sins like murder and idolatry–so why did God need the Cross of Christ to be able to forgive us?  The deep trouble of the human race is the fact that we are slaves to sin and death, and we are under the power of the Evil One (1 John 5:18-19).

 

God can forgive our sins, but that does not deal with the problem of our captivity to death and the devil.   Thanks to Adam and Eve, we are all prisoners here on this earth under the malicious management of the demons and their master.  This is a situation we cannot extricate ourselves from just by asking God to forgive our various and sundry sins.  Someone is going to have to succeed where Adam and the nation of Israel failed.  Adam & EveSomeone, who is a human like us but who also possess God’s holiness, is going to have to break in, beat the devil decisively, pay our ransom, and lead us all in his train of victory.   This someone is not a mystery, but is Jesus of Nazareth– Son of God and Son of Man.

 

By his death, Jesus undoes the failure of Adam, Eve and all the rest of us since the days they were cast from the Garden.  As Paul (or the hymn from the New Testament church he is quoting) puts it in Philippians 2, Jesus makes a downward movement from equality with God in heaven, to the dusty roads of Nazareth and Jerusalem, and is obedient (where Adam was disobedient) to the extreme of crucifixion.  This next part must be quoted:  Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name [which is God’s name, the LORD, YHWH] so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus the Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

 

Note that even those “under the earth” will bow in submission– death, the devil and his fallen angels.  This victory does not become a reality unless Jesus is raised to life again.

022811_0328_ChristtheWr5.png

One of my favorite depictions of the theological power of the resurrection comes from the East, in the famous icon of Christ’s “harrowing of Hell” on Holy Saturday– the day between Good Friday and Easter morning.   The powerful and victorious Jesus, not merely resting in the tomb on Saturday, has crashed the gates of Hell, and has taken Adam and Eve by the wrists (because they are helpless to raise themselves) and are pulling them up with him in his Resurrection to a bright, new morn while the Old Testament saints and angels watch amazed and stunned.  Note the broken gates/doors under Jesus’ feet, as he bridges the gap to the dark abyss of eternal death below.    It’s true that Adam’s sin put him in the predicament of enslavement to death and the devil, but it’s also true that mere forgiveness of sins would not result in his (and our) rescue from these dark powers.

 

The Anglican church we once were a part of had these powerful words for all the people to say towards the end of the Communion prayer:

Dying, He destroyed our death

Rising, He restored our life

Lord Jesus, come in glory!

 

Or, as one of the oldest, extra-biblical hymns of the ancient church has it:

 

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, bestowing life on those in the tombs!

 

And it was you and I that were in the tombs, even though our hearts were still be beating in this life.  Only a resurrected God-Man could truly and decisively save us.  Thanks be to God, that is exactly what he did in the Resurrection of Jesus– who left behind the most beautiful Empty Tomb in all of history.

 





Pushing the “Easy” Button

3 03 2017

1st Sunday in Lent – Matthew 4:1-11

Let’s be honest, you and I live in a time and place that unleashes all of its resources for the sole purpose of persuading us to give in to our temptations.  But, it’s actually worse, we are told that the most healthy lifestyle choice we can make is to identify with our deepest temptations and to embrace them as the truest picture of who we really are.  We are told that the most unhealthy choice is to deny our temptations and wants.  In fact, if we publicly voice our opposition to these lifestyle choices, the social media powers will descend upon us like the very fury of hell (and here, I’m speaking literally).  Businesses have been destroyed, good paying positions taken away, friendships undone, reputations left in ashes from this demonic fury.

Ivan Kramskoy's 1872 Christ in the Wilderness

So, it ought to be a fearful thing that the one we call Lord and Savior is seen here so obviously standing against the temptations thrown at him.  And not only resisting, but coming out very much the winner.  But it is all too easy to go with the flow and think:  Wouldn’t we all be a lot better off simply giving in to some of our temptations, or at most, maybe very, VERY quietly resisting them in the privacy of our prayer closets?  Anything more public may make us look like intolerant holy religious people who are always mean and judgmental!

 

But I suspect that most of you want to beat back your temptations, at least most days, and wouldn’t mind having some help and assistance.  So, let’s look at how Jesus handled it.

 

Now first, Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus has been tempted in every way that you and I have ever been tempted (but did not give in!!).  So, what we see in the Gospel in Satan’s three temptations, only shows us some of what Jesus had to resist– although, perhaps these three were the most difficult ones he had to overcome. We also know from the Gospels (Matthew 16:23) that Jesus was also tempted by Satan to avoid the Way of the Cross– and he used Peter’s mouth to do the tempting.  So, I think we can safely assume that the ‘ole Serpent rarely let up on his attacks on Jesus, especially during his ministry years leading up to his crucifixion.  I’m sure you have all felt there are many times when you’ve yelled to heaven, “Can I just have a break for a while from all these constant, never-ending temptations!!”  I’ve done that, multiple times.

 

Second, look at what Satan is wanting Jesus to do– hit the EASY button!!  “Hey, Jesus, you are the Son of God, the 2nd person of the Trinity– so use your ‘God’ power and make yourself some bread from rocks, or make yourself look like a super-hero by jumping down from the high-point of the temple and landing safely on the street with thousands of onlookers–they’ll call you Messiah and make you king!  OR… skip the whole cross-thing by bowing before me (I mean, really, it doesn’t really mean anything does it?!  It’s surely just an empty gesture) and I’ll give you what you really want– to be the loving King of the world that everyone will adore.”

Ary Scheffer's The Temptation of Christ

Ary Scheffer’s The Temptation of Christ

Jesus knew he was taking the very, very hard road to save the world, and the Great Liar was trying to get him to cheat and take the easy road to accomplish his mission.  NOTE:  Jesus uses Holy Scripture, God’s Word to crush every temptation.  And guess what?  You have access to that same mighty weapon.  But do you take daily advantage of it?  Do you really know it well enough to use it effectively?  A weapon’s no good to you if you don’t know it well and practice with it constantly.

 

Third, Jesus accomplishes the Great Reversal.  Do you recall another time that the Deceiver, Satan, made a famous temptation and succeeded?  Yup, in the Garden, with our original parents, Adam & Eve.  He convinced them to distrust God, to take matters into their own hands, to become like God.  He got them to believe that God was holding out on them by forbidding them to eat from just one tree in the Garden.  Satan sowed seeds of doubt, and they fell for it and the rest of world history records the sad, tragic consequences of their decision.  One of the details we often miss is the in-action of the man, Adam.  Genesis 3:6 makes clear that Adam was “with her”, Eve, and yet he said and did nothing to defend his wife from the lies and deceits of the Serpent.  He could have told the Serpent to “shut up”, or even crushed the serpent to keep it from 071714_0240_TheTablethe2.jpgtalking any more. But he failed, utterly.  Note that Jesus undoes this most horrible of failures, by standing up to and defeating Satan’s lies and temptations.  Now, if Jesus has undone Adam’s failures, he has surely undone all of yours as well.  Paul calls Jesus the second Adam– giving us the ultimate and perfect “do-over.”

 

If you choose to buck the system, and break the pre-programmed code of our current cultural Matrix, and resist temptation, sin and selfishness and fight the Big Fat Liar of hell, you must needs know the dirty little secret that the Enemy of your soul does NOT want you to know:  The same Jesus who handed Satan his lunch in the desert two-thousand years ago is in you, with you, surrounding you.  You are never, ever alone when facing temptations of all kinds.  The mighty Warrior-King who has put-down and crushed every single temptation you have faced, are facing or will face is in you–your heart, mind, soul and body.  And he’s itching for a big win!

 

Will you say yes to Jesus so you can experience that victory?  That’s the only question you need to answer.

 

Items to remember– because there will be a test, every day of your life!!

 

  1. Jesus knows exactly what you are feeling and thinking when you are being tempted– he’s been there.  He is not shocked and surprised that certain things are a huge temptation to you.  He does not think less of you.  But he does offer hope!
  2. Satan plays dirty and will use your friends, (even Christian ones!051714_2225_ThingsAreNo1.jpg!) and family to tempt and discourage you.  Remember, he used Peter’s big mouth against Jesus.  You must always be on guard.
  3. Don’t hit the easy button and take the easy way out!  Man-up, Woman-up, and get your nose into Scripture often.  A true warrior sleeps with his sword, or bow & arrows, or fire-arm because he could be attacked at any time, day or night.  Do you see the Bible as that crucial in your life?
  4. Jesus has already undone your past failures.  Don’t live there for it is a life of defeat and misery.  Live only in the present, and recognize that the victorious Jesus is with you, right inside you.  Say yes to him, and no to evil and sin.   You can and you must– so many are depending on you!  Never stop fighting and never give up, because Jesus never gives up on you!