Change My Heart Oh God

God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.

Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.
-Matthew 5:8 & Psalm 51:10 (NLT)

"Change my heart oh God."   

I want God to do things for me, but God wants me to ask him to change my heart.  God already is good - a good father, a good provider, and a good shepherd; for example.  I am not trying to pray to get God to be any of these good things.  But, God wants me to pray for him to make me receptive.  

"Change my heart of God."

Perhaps the key is with us and we easily forget.  I ask God for a plethora of things, but I need to ask him to do something inside me.  I want the outside stuff, but need to remember about transformation. 

"Change my heart oh God".

John the Baptist offered this insight: that the fruit in our lives comes from changed hearts (Matt. & Luke 3:8).  John put his finger on how some people who say they are believers, do not have changed lives.

"Change my heart oh God".

Jesus gave us a word on what a changed heart or purified heart does.  It sees God.  I believe that a pure heart will see God in life.  If I see God better, I can have His heart and follow Him.  He wants me to come with Him and He takes care of His own.  That sounds pretty good.

The changed heart is a repentant heart.  Do I want salvation?  Yes.  The book says, "in repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength" (Isa. 30:15).  Repentance means changing or returning.  That ought to be my life-style.  We actually get saved by returning to God, like refocusing and re-calibrating.  "Come let us  return to the Lord", says Hosea (6:1).

"Change my heart oh God."  

It is so easy to see the need for change as, 'out there', and not in me.  God asks me to pray for myself to be changed, because God wants a partnership with me.  He gives me permission, but he also asks for permission.

"Change my heart oh God".

Take a look at Jesus, standing at the door of the church of Laodicea, knocking (Rev. 3:20).  Why doesn't he just open the door and walk in?  He is asking for permission to enter.  Isn't this strange, because isn't the church his?  He wants cooperation and partnership; as in great co-mission.

When I answer the door and let him in, do you know what Jesus wants to do with me?  He wants to have a meal with me.  Jesus wants to meet and eat.  What could be better than spending time with Jesus?  

Change my heart oh God,
Make is ever true,
Change my heart oh God,
May I be like you.
You are the potter,
I am the clay.
Mold me and make me,
This is what I pray
-Eddie Espinosa, "Change My Hear Oh God"

In His Grip

It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose.
-Philippians 3:12 (CEB)

The goal of life, of my life, is to know Christ.  Not to just know about him, but to know him personally.  It is very much so, a process.  

I remember eagerly reading Knowing God, by J. I. Packer, and being a bit disappointed that I didn't have some sort of infused impartation and a step up in knowing God, after reading that book.

Relationships take time and life happens 'out there' - in your life.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  We can get the truth part, but miss the way and miss the life.  He works transformation of us by his life in us.  

I was in a class once, where a model of 'the stages of growth in God', was being presented.  Part of the obvious was that these stages take time.  A fellow student, in my class, shared that God had taken him through all these stages in one night.  But, in reality, he was a very selfish, domineering, and verbally abusive person.  It was much to my fellow classmates chagrin that this fellow was shameless.

Some people really do have a positive experience or get a hold of some truth and feel elation in their souls.  They now believe that they have arrived and a degree of pride sets in.  Philippians was, in part, written to people just like that, who were deceived.  We never arrive.  We are made mature and more Christlike over a whole life.
I’m not there yet, nor have I become perfect; but I am charging on to gain anything  and everything  the Anointed One, Jesus, has in store for me—and nothing will stand in my way  because He has grabbed me and won’t let me go. -Philippians 3:12 (VOICE) 
Our spiritual experiences with God, in the past, are meant to spur us on to desiring to know him more.  "The foretaste gives you a taste for", I heard a wise man say.  Where is it that Paul is not there yet, nor perfected?  In union with Christ.  He has not claimed to have fully grasped the meaning of Christ at this point in time (Hawthorne, p. 151).

The pursuit of Christ, of knowing him, is just that, a pursuit.  It is more like a hunt through all sorts of terrain, than a race on a track.  There is an ebb and flow in the chase.  Sometimes, we are swimming, and other times, it is a slow ascent.  There is great effort required in this pursuit, hunt, or chase.

The pursuit is to grab hold of or seize something, which is knowing Christ.  The grabbing hold of or seizing is of understanding or grasping with your mind.  In a simple phrase, it is 'getting it'.  I want to say, "now I am getting it".  It is like stepping over into, "ah ha!", or like the figure of speech, when we say, "I see", to mean, "I understand".

In our pursuit of Christ, we are seeking to seize on the understanding, the "getting it" of knowing Christ.  We are striving to get a grip, to come to grips with knowing Christ.  We are grasping for that.
...but I am pressing on to see if I can capture it, because I have been captured by Jesus Christ. -Phil. 3:12b (Goodspeed)
The answer to the question of why does Paul want to pursue Christ and why do his words encourage us to do so, is that He has first pursued us.  It all begins with God's initiative.  We are in his grip.

The driving force to know Christ, in me, originates in the fact that Christ grabbed a hold of me first.  The idea originated with him.  He who is the way, knows the way for me; which is to and through him.  It has always been about him, so I really don't have to worry about me, because I am in his grip.

Jesus has a hold of me.  My whole thing is to pursue him and he has already got me.  Knowing he has got me, that I am in his grip, frees me to whole heartedly pursue him.  I don't need to worry about my stuff, because he has me.

Jesus captured me with his love.  He has seized me and my life is his to do with it whatever he wants to do.  That is good news.  Whatever issue I face, call it baggage if you want, he has got it.  All my stuff, all my junk: he's got it.  My passion, that was born in my life in him that he initiated, is to pursue him.

Being already known and seized by him, in his grip; gives me absolute freedom in pursuing knowing him.  He is living out his life in my life, with suffering, death, and resurrection.  And, I do not at all claim to understand it, nor do I claim have 'arrived'.  I am in process, on a journey, or more specifically, on a hunt or pursuit of knowing him.  And, I am utterly secure in his grip.


I pray that your partnership in the faith may become effective as you fully acknowledge every blessing that is ours in the Messiah.

So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.
-Philemon 1:6, 17 (ISV)

Solidarity is defined by as: 
1. Union or fellowship arising from common responsibilities and interests, as between members of a group or between classes, peoples, etc.: to promote solidarity among union members.
2. Community of feelings, purposes, etc.
3. Community of responsibilities and interests.
1840–50; < French solidarité, equivalent to solidaire solidary + -ité -ity

I could not find solidarity in an English translation of the Bible.  So I looked it up in French translations and I found it here, in Philemon twice.  They are the Greek words:
koinōnía (a feminine noun) – properly, what is shared in common as the basis of fellowship (partnership, community).
koinōnós (a masculine noun/substantival adjective) – properly, a participant who mutually belongs and shares fellowship; a "joint-participant."  (HELPS Word Studies)
Solidarity is related to union, unity, community, fellowship, and partnership.  In Philemon, Paul writes to Philemon, on the basis of the solidarity they share.  It means that they share a working purpose together in something bigger than themselves.  That sharing is life in Christ.

A big take-away from the letter to Philemon is that the kingdom of God is flat.  Although he was a slave, Onesimus is equal, in Christ, to Paul and to Philemon.  The slave, the Apostle, and the businessman are all in an equal partnership, in Christ.

The 'in Christ' part is not just a theory or ethereal, but the living reality.  The person in the kingdom with the most visibility is equal to the new believer.  That one is the new brother or sister and that one is an elder or a mama or papa, in Christ.

In the kingdom, all people have gifts, roles, functions, and offices.  Your gift, role, function, or office. do not make you a boss of others or a superior.  There is no hierarchy in the kingdom.  That is the way non-believers conduct affairs.

If you are a leader, you are in a role where you are functioning in your gift(s).  Some examples are: Sunday school teacher, home fellowship leader, worship leader, outreach leader, mission team leader, and a hundred other examples.  These are all serving roles.  These are all servants, servant leaders.

In the church, we call it servant leadership.  In servant leadership, we invite people to follow, we point the way, and we come along side people and support them.  When the people you are leading need stern control, for their protection or for the protection of others, sternness is called for.  But that is not the norm.

With gift, role, function, and office all standing on the flat plain of solidarity, community, partnership, or fellowship in the kingdom; we also have the issue of authority.  Paul had apostolic authority.  You and I, like Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus; have a measure of authority, in Christ.

Authority comes with gifts, but the authority is always for building people up in Christ.  Paul, the Apostle stands on the flat ground of solidarity that he shares with Philemon and entreats him, as a brother.  This is an amazing example of Christlike conflict resolution, in the church.

Christians are in union with Christ, which makes them in union with other Christians.  Christ is the basis for all relationships in the kingdom, which includes the church.  If you have something against someone, like if you feel or believe they have wronged you, and you are both Christians, then the question is, "how does your mutual union with and solidarity in Christ, come to bear on this conflict?"   

Knowing Christ: Suffering With Him

I want to know Christ - yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead.
-Philippians 3:10-11 (NIV)

Knowing Jesus Christ means knowing his resurrection power.  It means knowing him in the power of his resurrection.

What is it like to live in his resurrection power?  That is what Paul wanted and was striving for.    Knowing him in his resurrection power is the normal Christian life.

I want to know the Messiah —what his resurrection power is like and what it means to share in his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, though I hope to experience the resurrection from the dead.
-Philippians 3:10-11 (ISV)

We are invited or given permission to know him.  Not to just know about him.

Life in Christ is earthy suffering: pain, heartache, rejection, misunderstanding, and conflict around you.  All that is infused with his resurrection power.

How is suffering worked out?  Through death and resurrection.  You die and his life in you lives, and you get to share that life with him, walking it out - living it.  It is not a theory or a thesis, but an experience in life.  We are saved by and live with and in a living person.

My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
-Philippians 3:10-11 (NET)

Paul seems not completely certain when he says, "somehow to attain" (NET), or "I hope to experience" (ISV), or "so, somehow to attain" (NIV).

The literal translation of this part of 3:11 is, according to Hawthorne, "if somehow I might attain", which is close to the NIV.  Hawthorne (1) wrote that: would appear that Paul uses such an unexpected hypothetical construction simply because of humility on his part, a humility that recognizes salvation is a gift of God from start to finish and that as a consequence he dare not presume on this divine mercy (Caird).  A translation such as Goodspeed's translation, "in the hope of attaining" adequetly and accurately expresses Paul's feeling of awe and wonder as he wrote the phrase εἴ πως καταντήσω (cf. Acts 27:12; Rom. 1:10, 11:14 for similar expressions of expectation: Blass, Debrunner, and Funk, A Greek Grammar of the NT; p. 375).
The, "somehow" and "I hope", express humble expectation in God's grace and goodness.  It does not express doubt, but expresses faith.  Our faith feels certain, but we do not attain certainty in ourselves, but it comes through a person who we humbly relate to.

The person, the man or woman in Christ is in touch with and experiencing Christ in his resurrection power.  He or she also shares his sufferings.  Jesus Christ fellowships with you in his sufferings in your life.  The power is awesome and heady, while the suffering is humiliating at times; but woven into it is sweet fellowship with our savior.

If you live in the power, but avoid the suffering, you miss the fellowship and you are in danger of not cultivating humility in your life and you are heading down the road to the place where Jesus says to you, I never knew you".  That is a place none of us want to get to.

The pain you feel, as you die to self, is matched by Jesus.  He is there with you.  Your dying is transformed into his living through his power and you are made to be like him.

1. Gerald F. Hawthorne, "Philippians" (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 43), 1983; p. 146



With the measure you use, it will be measured to you (and even more).
-Matthew 7:2b, Mark 4:24b, Luke 6:38b

Isometric means "of the same measure" or equal measure.  The metric system is a system of measurement.  Jesus says this saying three times.  It means, "what you deal out, you will get back", which is how the CEB puts it.  It also means, "you'll be evaluated by the same standards with which you evaluate others", which is how the ISV translates it.

Our giving determines our getting, is what Jesus is saying.  Give out negative, you get negative; bless and you will be blessed; love and you will be loved; be generous, and generosity will flow back to you.

If you do not deal out anything, what will you get back?  Nothing.  If you are lonely and want friends, be friendly.  If you need something, then give something.  Money, for example.

If you want and need grace, be gracious.  This is where the judging, evaluating comes in.  Even if you are pointing out negatives that are true, you can do it graciously or ungraciously.  Jesus was gracious when he gave negative evaluations.

It's something to grow in, for us; to speak the truth in love or to care enough to confront.  If you can not say it with grace and love, then do not say it.  That's pretty simple.  Sternness and righteous indignation can be under-girded by love and grace.  Anger is allowed (Matt. 5:22), but rage and verbal abuse is out of bounds (Eph.4:26)

So, there is a principle in life to giving and getting.  It is not just about money, but it includes money.  If you give money to get money, then what?  Did you give with love and joy or out of greed or lust?  So, when the money comes back, it will come lovingly and joyously or in a greedy avarice-like, idolatrous way.

If Jesus is giving us a spiritual principle.  What you deal out, you will get back, and sometimes more.

The word is generosity.  Jesus is echoing Proverbs 11:25, "a generous person will prosper, and anyone who gives water will receive a flood in return", or as the NIV has it, "whoever refreshes others will be refreshed."

By the same principle, strict, judgmental, stingy, harsh, and mean people will find themselves living in a dim and negative atmosphere that they have brought upon themselves.

Many unhappy people are doing it to themselves.  Cultivating a generous soul is the best antidepressant out there.  Your measuring tape says "love and grace" on it.

Continually Shifting From Self-Righteousness To Knowing Christ

I consider (look upon, also count, continue to consider) everything (all these things to be a (as) loss (everything else is worthless) in comparison (when compared, for the sake) with the (because of the, of what is) superior value (overwhelming gain, excellence, far more valuableinfinite value, surpassing worth), of knowing (the knowledge of) Christ Jesus (the Messiah Jesus) my Lord.

I have lost everything for him (For his sake I did in actual fact suffer the loss of everything, for who I have suffered the loss of all things, it is because of him that I have suffered the loss of all things, For his sake I have discarded everything else, for whose sake I have lost all things) but what I lost I think of as sewer trash (but (indeedI consider it, count them as rubbish, consider them rubbishas useless rubbish, counting it all as garbage), so that I might (could) gain (win) Christ (in order to gain the Messiah) and be found in him (for now my place is in him, and become one with him).  In Christ I have a (genuine) righteousness of God that is not my own and that does not come from the Law (not dependent on any of the self-achieved righteousness, I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law) (that comes from the law)   but rather from the faithfulness of (in) Christ (the faithfulness of the Messiah).  It is the righteousness of (that comes from) God (that comes from God) that is based on (on the basis of, and depends on) faith (for God's way of making us right with himself depends on faith).
-Philippians 3:8b-9 (CEB, PHILLIPS, NKJV, ISVNLT, NIV)

Imagine you have a piece of paper.  Imagine drawing a line down the middle.  Write everything that you have, that you have done or accomplished, and everything that has been done to you; on one side of the paper.  On the other side, write, "knowing Christ Jesus my Lord".  

On the left hand side of that paper, you might have listed your job, your bank accounts, your significant relationships, and perhaps bad things that have happened to you.  But when you look at Christ, it puts all those other things into perspective.

Knowing Christ is not just about intellectual knowledge.  It is a working knowledge.  You learn the knowledge by living it.  It is heart knowledge.  The goal of the commands of God is love (1 Tim. 1:5).  We walk with and obey Jesus through our hearts and the world around us knows we are Christians by our love (John 13:34).

As God develops us as leaders, he is taking us to a place where we know the Lord Jesus as our life.  We cease trying to work for Him, but begin allowing Him to be our All in all and do His work through us.  Growth in being in Christ results in more effectively doing ministry for Christ.  God wants us to minister from the place of being (John 15:5).

Mature saints or seasoned leaders take time to develop.  People who have studied notable leaders of the past, estimate that it takes 15 years, on average, to get to the place where being and doing (John 15:5) begins to be lived out in the leader's life (Sandford, pp. 15-16).

A person gets converted or saved and begins a life in Christ.  At some point, they up their commitment and begin a life-style of service.  That's when the 15 year clock starts and the growth is gradual, and remember that the 15 year mark is an average that is gradually made way to.

When Paul wrote the words above, he had some time on his "clock".  It had been about 24 years since he got saved and 15 to 16 years (or so) from his first missionary journey.  Paul had a lot of time and experience in Christ, when he wrote about losing all things, but gaining Christ.

What Paul is saying, for himself, and it applies to us as well; is that making the decision for Christ, in the past, is not enough.  We must choose or decide again daily, by continuing to not depend on our selves; on our accomplishments or possessions, to gain any favor with God.  Nothing can compete in our lives for merit or allegiance, with Christ.  

To become a mature Christian takes time. Maturity also comes from process.  There is a saying, "gifts are given, but fruit is grown".  Character takes time to form.  That's why it's called character formation.  A person with gifts, but without character will falter.  

My grandmother told us the story of a school principle who was burned in a house fire, because he would not flee the house, without getting dressed first.  He was ashamed to be seen in underwear or pajamas.  

We have nothing to offer but Christ.  The message and the ministry is Christ plus nothing.  The Christian life is lived in Christ, plus nothing.  We don't need any "hamburger helper".  

The way in is the way on.  The good news that got you saved keeps you saved.  There are no fillers, binders, or MSG added to the meal.

In that place that you are at today, what are you standing on or depending on in it?  What is holding you up or what are you holding on to?  

The Christian life's goal or the Christian's life goal is union with Christ.  Salvation is an event and a process.  You step over and into Christ and you are saved.  But maturity, character formation, and fruitfulness take time.  

Miles J. Sandford, "The Green Letters: Principles of Spiritual Growth", 1975
J. Robert Clinton, "The Making of a Leader", 1988; (pp. 153-74)
Gerald F. Hawthorne, "Philippians" (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 43), 1983; (pp. 129-44)

Sky Links, 3-14-13

Photo: Spacebridge by longobord CC 2.0
Christian Community Does Not Work Without The Cross

I listened to Frank Viola's podcast or a message he gave called, "Warning, Christian Community Does Not Work Without This".  This is some of what Frank said:
Living with other Christians in community is one of the most glorious experiences a Christian can know. But it doesn’t work, it never has worked, and it never will work unless you embrace the cross....

10 Insights About the Cross
1) A person cannot teach you how to recognize the cross in your life. God must show you. It’s a matter of spiritual instinct.
2) The ears of God’s people tend to be deaf to the cross. We don’t like to hear about it.
3) The cross is the easiest thing in the world to forget. So we need to be reminded of it.
4) You will never know the Lord you’re supposed to know outside of a head-on collision with His cross.
5) Authentic body life never works the way you want it to. It’s a railroad track to the cross.
6) The instrument of the cross is very often our fellow brethren in Christ.
7) You cannot crucify yourself. You can drive one nail into one hand, but the other hand will be free. So the cross is God’s wonderful design.
8) God will create a tailor-made cross for you. Jesus is a carpenter, so He knows how to build them. And very often, the cross will be served to you freely by your brothers and sisters with whom you fellowship.
9) The more gifted you are, the more the cross is needed in your life to break your tendency to rely on yourself, to manipulate, and to exalt yourself in subtle ways.
10) In community, your blind spots will eventually get exposed. True body life is a house of mirrors. The Lord will not destroy the Lord within you, but He’ll seek to destroy everything else. This is especially true if He has called you to His work.

The whole transcript of Frank's message is here.

Churchianity or Kingdom of God?

Roger Thoman, at Simple Church Journal, re-posted something he wrote back in 2005, That Which Has True Kingdom Value - Love, in which he quotes Greg Boyd, from a sermon of Greg's, in which Greg says that we can build a church that has no kingdom value:
But it's not clear that building a church in and of itself has any kingdom value. One could
just be constructing another religious carnival to entertain American religious thrill seekers. One could be feeding the beast of the American consumer mindset that wants more than anything else to use Jesus as a means of improving our already overly-privileged lives. The question I am presently wrestling with, therefore, is how can we 'do church' in a way that cuts through all this American religious excrement and actually advances the kingdom of God.

Only to the extent that we act as Jesus acted, dying for those who despised him, are we authentically his body. Only to the extent that we sacrifice our lives for others, whether they be enemies or friends, can we claim that the kingdom is present in us. Only to the extent that we replicate the sacrificial love of Calvary for the homeless, the sick, the rejected, the oppressed and for prisoners, do we belong to the kingdom of God, as Jesus taught (Mt 25).
From the distinct perspective of the kingdom of God, all the profound knowledge we might ever acquire and dispense to others is nothing more than a 'clanging cymbal' if it isn't motivated by and doesn't result in communicating Calvary-quality love (I Cor. 13:1-4). All the 'true doctrines' we might believe, all the pious talk and religious activity we might ever engage in, all the theological debates we might ever win and all the great revivals we might ever hold are altogether worthless, devoid of any kingdom significance, if they aren't motivated by and don't result in love defined as Jesus Christ dying on the cross.
Only to the extent that we bleed out of love for others in what we do does anything we do manifest the dome in which God is king. This is as simple as it is challenging. It is as obvious as it is obviously absent from the Church.

Why Small Groups, Cell Groups, or Home Groups Don't Work (usually).

Brian Jones wrote this provocative post, years ago (and please see the follow-up), saying that small groups need to die:

Would Jesus Join A Small Group In Your Church?
Think about that for a moment. Forget about your goals. Forget about your motivations for offering them. Forget about all the supposed benefits of participating in one. Do you honestly think Jesus would join, lead, or start a small group within the existing structure of your small group’s ministry at your church? 
Of course not. Not a chance. Not in a million years. 
Because while your people are stuck in the “hairball” of your church’s ministry (to steal Gordon MacKenzie’s great line), Jesus would be out rubbing shoulders with people in your community, helping them to find their way back to God and teaching them to obey his teachings. 
Jesus would be actually doing what small groups say they want/should/need to be doing, but they can’t, because they’re too busy being a “small group” inside the confines of your small group’s ministry infrastructure. 
It’s like a jogging class at a community college where the instructor, instead of taking his or class jogging and commenting on technique while they’re actually jogging, stuffs everyone into a classroom and lectures to them three days a week and then gives them a final exam. 
Disciples are created “out there.” Small groups, if not by their definition, definitely by their practice, all occur “in here.” 
With few exceptions, modern-day small groups are great at producing:
  • Christians sitting in circles, talking to one another inside a building
  • Reading and commenting on the Bible
  • Ranting about how they long to “get out there” and do something that matters
  • Awkwardly ending their time by praying for “prayer requests”
  • Going home unchallenged and unchanged

Five years went  by and Brian Jones posted an update.  His church focused in on making small groups work at making disciples.  Small groups are places where the opportunity exists for making disciples, spring-boards, if you will; is what he wrote.  About discipleship, Brian wrote:

5 Discipleship Convictions Solidified 
In the last five years some core convictions regarding the process of discipleship have been solidified. 
1. It takes time to create a disciple. 
Not in the commonly promoted annual “small group” life-cycle time-frame, but years. 5 years. 10 years sometimes. Just about every person that likes small groups talks about a group where they grew to become a disciple, years ago. And that’s a key issue – discipleship takes YEARS. Where we miss the mark is in thinking, “It took Jesus 3 years to make disciples, so that’s a good bench mark.” Really? 
2. 99.99999999% of the time it takes separating men and women. 
I don’t know what it is, but I can lead a group of men to serious levels of intimacy and sharing, but sprinkle a little estrogen in the room and its right back to talking about football and work. Women tell me it’s the same way. Discipleship can occur with mixed groups, but it’s rare. Actually, I take that back. I have never seen an instance where guys open up and talk about their deep personal struggles to obey Jesus’ teachings with women in the room. 
3. It takes a very, very small group. 
Small group practitioners make the mistake of “modeling” their small group leader-to-attendee ratios on a flawed model – Jesus. Jesus had 12 disciples, not because that’s the ideal ratio for disciple-making, but because, as most scholars believe, he was making a statement about the apostles, the twelve tribes, and a new Israel. If you’re looking for a more realistic model, the inner circle of Peter, James and John is as good as any. 
4. It takes a genuine disciple. 
According to Matthew 28:18-20, discipleship is not about teaching people Jesus’ teachings, but teaching people how to obey Jesus’ teachings. In fact, that’s probably the simplest definition of a disciple I can give:
A disciple is someone who knows and obeys Jesus and his teachings.
Who cares if someone can lead a small group discussion on worry? People become disciples in the presence of someone who can teach them how to stop worrying, from experience, by the power of Jesus. The argument most people make against small groups is flawed. The problem with small groups isn’t that they pool the group’s collective ignorance; it’s that they pool the group’s collective disobedience. 
5. “Group time” must be balanced with “out there” missional time. 
If we know anything about Jesus its that (1) he spent time with his disciples alone and (2) they followed him into situations where they watched him heal, teach, rebuke, serve and love. My experience confirms that an added dimension of growth occurs when those being discipled are encouraged to go “out into the wild” and “actually do what Jesus did.”
Brian's website is here.

God is Both Good and All Powerful

I listened to Michael Youssef talking about  "Why Does God Allow Evil".  Dr. Youssef refutes the
heretical ideas written in the best-selling book, "When Bad Things Happen To Good People".  In that book, it is my understanding, that Rabbi Kushner espouses or postulates that God is either not all powerful or not all good, since God allows bad things to happen to good people.  Buzzzzzzzzz - wrong.  Youssef said that Kushner ends his book with an exhortation to "pray for God".  The truth is that God is both all good and all powerful.

Grace in Suffering

I also listened to (March 11, 2014 pgm.) Rick Warren talk about, "The Courage To Keep On Going".  Here is his outline from part 2.  The links to the outlines for parts 1 & 3 are not functioning.  My "take away" was that God gives you, the one suffering, grace to go through whatever you are facing.  God does not give grace to those observing your life from the sidelines.  These folks who lack grace for your dilemma will be ungracious to you and towards God.  They don't always mean to be mean either.  Some people don't know or don't have faith that God will give them grace when they will need it, so they don't take risks, spiritually, and so they don't grow.

When Your Prayers Don't Seem to Connect With God

David Hayward wrote about "What do you do when you realize prayer doesn’t work?"  David wrote that when prayer is not working for you, that you should admit it, embrace it, and deepen it.  Then, he explained:
My prayer life has dramatically changed over the years. When someone asks me if I
pray, I don’t know whether to say never or always. This is intimately related to my view of God, so I treat this question with great caution and respect. Here’s my answer:
  • I no longer view “God” as up there, out there, in here, beyond or remote. For me, the story of the incarnation describes That Which We Call God, revealed in Jesus, then sent as Spirit, as now among us, in us, as us. All is “That-Which-We-Call-God”. 
  • While aware of this overwhelming and overarching reality, I allow all of who I am to emerge… all my sorrows, my failures, my weaknesses, my wants, my joys, my passions, and desires, my longings… everything that I am… all of who and what I am… I allow this to rise within me into my awareness to join with the former awareness of the reality of #1 where these two awarenesses abide together.

Men Dying In Marriage (it's a good thing)

Regi Campbell wrote a follow-up to his most commented on blog post, "The Happy Wife Pledge".  The pledge has 15 parts.  He wrote (before giving the pledge):
I used to think marriage hinged on picking the right woman. Choose well and you’ll have
it made. Then I grew up some and decided it was a 50-50 deal. If my wife and I were “equally yoked,” if we both worked at it and did our parts, we could have a great marriage.
Now I believe it’s almost entirely up to the man. And I can prove it.
Men are quick to quote the “submit” verses Paul wrote. We overlook the fact that “wives, submit” is always accompanied by “husbands, love”. Show me a man who gently and patiently loves his wife and I’ll show you a man whose wife will gladly ‘submit’. But it’s not the ‘chicken or egg’ question because men have to go first. Love her well and she’ll be more than happy to submit and meet your needs.

Sky Links, 3-10-14

Photo: Spacebridge by longobord CC 2.0
Let Israel’s salvation come out of Zion!
When the Lord changes his people’s circumstances for the better,
Jacob will rejoice;
Israel will celebrate!
-Psalm 14:7, 53:6

Broken Dreams

We talk about, "what is tour dream?", or, "what do you dream of doing?'; and so forth.  What happens when you believe that you have come alive to this idea and you get in touch with your dreams and begin to pursue them, but experience failure, rejection, disappointment, and heartbreak?  Adam H. McHugh wrote about this.  Here is a poignant excerpt from his post, On Having Dreams:
The last year, without hyperbole, has been the hardest year of my life. It has brought with it bouts of depression, when I didn't want to get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes I have been sad and other times I have been angry and often I have felt lost, still wandering in the wilderness, trying to find where the glory of God went. One morning in November I sat on a bench at the beach, the sun shining radiantly, and just felt utterly abandoned and bereft. One afternoon I sat at my favorite coffee shop in Los Olivos reading, and an old man, not knowing I was there behind the tree, threw the remnants of his coffee on me. It's been a throw-cold-coffee-on-Adam kind of year. My heart has been pierced, again and again.
Later is the post, Adam writes:
... We devote so much energy to cycling through the memories and regrets of the past, or to what will come in the future, that we miss what is right in front of us. This morning I woke up before my alarm clock, yet again, and as I lay there frustrated and too tired to fall back asleep, I decided to tune my ears to the life around me. I heard an owl hooting outside my window. I listened to him for at least 10 minutes, letting his vigilance protect my heart.
I still believe in dreams. I still believe in taking risks. I won't be someone who chooses comfort and security over going for it. I won't let the pain of lost dreams and lost love deter me from dreaming and loving....

Let God Speak to You

Ron McKenzie is one of my favorite bloggers. He is the author of Being Church: Where we Live.  Ron wrote a series of posts on a book called Visions, Visitations and the Voice of God, by Lyn Packer.  It is a 136 page book on the subject of revelation and experience with God.  In Ron's fifth post on this book, he listed eighteen terms used to describe revelation from God, in Packer's book:
  • Still small voice of God - This is an internal hearing. God speaks spontaneous words or thoughts into our mind and heart from our spirit.
  • Internal visual impression– A thought picture impression or vision that is seen with the eyes of our understanding.
  • Open eyed vision – Physical reality fades and the spirit realm is opened before us while our eyes are open.
  • Open-eye spiritual vision – Our eyes are open, but a strong impression, sensing or perceiving is overlaid onto the physical realm – we usually still see the physical realm.
  • Closed-eye vision – We receive a strong impression, or pictures like a TV screen on the backs of our eyelids.
  • Trance vision – Our body usually goes very still and can even be frozen in place. Our eyes can be open or shut. Often we are in the vision, operating within it.
  • Perceiving – A strong knowing within, that a particular reality is there.
  • Dreams/daydreams – Dreams are often used by God to reveal kingdom mysteries and his heart. They are often symbolic in nature and will often apply to our personal life.
  • Night visions – These happen while we sleep but are different from a dream.
  • Angelic visitation – Where we receive revelation from one of God’s angelic messengers.
  • Inner audible voice – When the voice of God is so loud in our mind, it might well have been audible.
  • Audible voice of God – God’s voice is heard with our natural hearing.
  • Words of knowledge – One of the gifts of the Sprit.
  • Bodily impressions – Through physical sensation. For example, heat in the hands often means a healing anointing.
  • Spiritual discernment – The ability to ascertain the presence, identify and activities of both good and evil spirits.
  • Inner witness – God confirms something to you by an inner knowing that “This is a God thing”
  • Prophecy – God speaks to us through other believers.
  • Visitation – An extended period of time when God speaks through vision or speech to an individual or group.

Notes, Quips, and Quotes

Your future is hidden in your daily routine.
- Mike Murdock

The hardest changes are from God’s order to God’s new order.
-Rich Marshall

Fellowship ends when the meeting begins.
-Australian pastor

Would you rather be right or be loved?
-Dennis Prager

Whenever God gives freedom, it is always implicit that the freedom He gives you can be given to other people.   You can go around setting other people free from the very thing that you were victimized by. God comes into your life and He turns the areas of your abuse into areas of ministry and significance. He gives you a calling in the area where the enemy tried to strip you of your identity or even kill your life.  Your testimony is the beginning of your ministry!
-Graham Cooke

Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or to remove it.  He came to fill it with His Presence.
-J. Claude

The church is created and governed by the calling and sending activity of God. The church is secondary to the kingdom of God in that it is the instrument or means through which God regularly expresses himself.
-Todd Hunter

"God, Show Me What The Enemy Does Not Want Me To See"

“You were the anointed cherub who covers;
I established you;
You were on the holy mountain of God;
You walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones.
-Ezekiel 28:14 (NKJV)

“God, show me what the enemy does not want me to see.” 

I first read about this prayer in a post from Doug Addison, from October, 2013; titled "Breaking Through Your Own Ceiling".  Doug Wrote:
I had a dream this month that I was standing on a portion of land that I should have inherited from my grandfather of Cherokee descent. It was a small strip of my favorite place on his farm where I played as a child. Someone wanted to buy the small strip of land for $1000 and tried to run the transition by me quickly. I felt rushed but I decided to take a closer look and when I did I noticed a brand new speedboat parked just out of sight on the land. I knew it meant that there are ministries, and spiritual and literal inheritances that the enemy wants to rob from us.
It is time to ask God to reveal and bring forward our generational callings and gifts that we may or may not have been aware of. After this dream I began to pray with a greater authority, calling out all that the Father has for us from our generational backgrounds. This is the time to take greater authority. Ask God to reveal and bring to you generational blessings, gifts and ministries that have been held back or stolen.
My staff and I have been praying a powerful prayer I learned from Arthur Burke: “God, show me what the enemy does not want me to see.” I want to encourage you to pray this simple prayer and watch as God will indeed reveal things right now that will set you free and allow you to move forward.
I love Jeremiah 33:3, that says:
‘Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’
I love the fact that there are secrets that God wants to tell us, if we will seek him.  God wants to show us (lost) truths, but he also wants to show us (lost) people and even help us find (lost) things.  Did you know God invented "lost & found"?

It should come as no surprise that there is stuff we don't know that God knows, so we call to God and ask him to show us these things.  Recall that James wrote, "you have not because you ask not", and Jesus said, "ask and it shall be give, seek and you shall find, and knock and the door shall be opened; for everyone who asks shall receive, and everyone who seeks shall find, and to everyone who knocks, the door shall be opened."

So, we can ask God for anything; and that's Biblical.  On the other hand, the Devil's work is to oppose God's plans (1 Peter 5:8, Rev. 12) and blind people (2 Cor. 4:3-4).  This brings us to Ezekiel 28:14, where Satan is described, who has the ability to cover or hide things.

This prayer: “God, show me what the enemy does not want me to see”, is very insightful and powerful.  Yesterday, in his prayer focus, Chuck Pierce wrote:
"This is a time to remove the covering that Satan has used to hide blessings. Ezekiel 28:14 says, “You were the anointed cherub that covers with overshadowing wings…” WHEN HE FELL, HE KEPT COVERING OVER RESOURCES AND BLESSINGS THAT ARE IN THE EARTH. God is saying, “The covering that was over certain things -- whether it’s land, resources or favor that the enemy’s been trying to overshadow and cover -- is being ripped off and ripped open. When the angelic hosts come in, all of a sudden they re-align My people, and cause My people to get in a new formation.”
Here is a post from a guy who dared to pray this prayer, “God, what do you want me to see that the devil doesn't want me to see?”

Gathering in Christ - Eating & Discussion

On the first day of the week, as we gathered together for a meal, Paul was holding a discussion with them. Since he was leaving the next day, he continued talking until midnight.

On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight.

On the first day of the week, when the disciples were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and continued his speech until midnight.
-Acts 20:7 (CEB, NRSV, WEB)

When Christians gather together, Christ is the center.  Jesus taught the first disciples to remember him when they met together, in the meal that they ate together.

Later on, this was changed to the Roman Catholic way of taking a sip and a nibble from a priest.  The Protestant Reformation changed this a little, but we are still not celebrating or remembering or communing with Christ the way that he modeled and the way the church in the NT did.

The meeting of the church is for Christ and about Christ.  I want to find Christ in a Christian gathering.  Why do you go to church?

The early church, recorded in scripture, gathered together to break bread or have a meal.  Some would argue, and I agree with them, that breaking bread means having communion (The Eucharist, The Lord's Supper) in the context of a meal together.

That's church.
The breaking of bread probably denotes a fellowship meal in the course of which the Eucharist is celebrated (cf. Acts 2:42).  -F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (1979)
The first thing is that they gathered for a meal.  The second thing is that Paul had a discussion with them.  It was a dialogue, a back and forth; discourse and response, living room style.  I love these words about this sort of thing from Michael Green, that Dave Black quoted:
The home is a priceless asset. It is informal and relaxed. It makes participation easy. The teacher is not six feet above contradiction and there is no temptation to put on a performance.
Having a dialogue or a discussion is so much better than listening to a speech.  That was what Paul did here.  Paul might have done the majority of the talking, but there were questions or responses from the others and possibly, interruptions.  I'm betting that Paul liked it.

Hungry learners ask lots of questions.  Discussions and dialog-ing are far more productive for learning than monologues or speeches.

We could make the case that Jesus instituted having a celebratory, remembering meal; when his disciples gather.  We could also say that he never said that we should have a sermon when the church gathers.

The modern sermon tradition has its roots in the 3rd & 4th centuries, in how the church changed; and in the protestant reformation and puritan tradition. You can read all about it in Frank Viola & George Barna'a book, Pagan Christianity (chapter 4).

We tend to read the Bible through the lens of our traditions. I have heard or read preachers argue for weekly preaching on the basis on Acts 20:7. Often, the translators themselves are biased toward traditions.

Sermons have fallen on hard times in many places.  Stuart Murray Williams wrote:
Research into the effectiveness of sermons has uncovered worrying evidence that all preachers need to take seriously. North American and European studies have produced similar results: somewhere between 65% and 90% of those interviewed directly after the meeting ended could not say what the main point of the sermon was or what issue it was addressing. Again, it is possible to argue that sermons are about more than information, that they impact the heart as well as the mind – but is that an adequate response?

How much preaching is a sheer waste of time? We pray, we study, we reflect, we craft a sermon, we illustrate it with stories, we deliver it with passion and integrity – but it has very little impact on those who listen to it. They are too polite to say so usually, but it did not really engage their attention, address their concerns or affect their lives. Some give up after a few weeks or several years and leave our churches. How many of the thousand people a week who have left British churches in the 1980s and 1990s did so because they were bored by our sermons? Others remain and listen to perhaps 100 sermons a year, but with what result?

Jeremy Thomson, a lecturer in Religious Studies at Birkbeck College, has explored this topic in a Grove booklet entitled Preaching as Dialogue: Is the Sermon a Sacred Cow? He writes in the introduction: ‘For all the effort of preparing, delivering and listening to sermons, most church members are not as mature as we might expect as a result. Why is this? Of course, there are bad sermons, and there are preachers whose lives are inconsistent with their teaching. But people may listen week by week to the best prepared and presented sermons, given by thoroughly sincere preachers, and yet make little progress in Christian discipleship. Some preachers blame congregations for a lack of expectancy that God will speak, for an inability to listen to a “solid exposition”, or even for disobedience to what they hear. But I suspect that there is a more significant factor in the failure rate of the sermon than the quality of the preacher or the responsiveness of the hearers. I want to suggest that the problem lies in our concept of preaching itself.’

Jesus said, "do this in remembrance of me".  Do what?  He said to eat together, with him (the Lord) in our midst. That's the Lord's Supper!

People naturally talk when they are eating.  Except, don't talk with your mouths full!  Christians, who have Christ in them, bring Christ in them, when they gather.  There will be sharing, dialogue and discussion.  Welcome to a meal with Christ!

This is the church as described in the snap-shots that we have of it in the NT.  Other snap-shots show an interactive body of people, where everybody has a voice and a hand.  There is no clergy/laity divide in the NT.  We are all priests, we all have Christ in us.  Some are gifted to teach, but that's not all we do.

I believe that we should have a higher view of preaching, in the Karl Barth & Dietrich Bonhoeffer tradition AND I believe that church gatherings can be and should be so much more than one person talking.

I remember hearing the story, in which God showed someone what this new church would be like, and he said that it would be like when people gather in a kitchen.

Talking, eating, some standing, and some seated.  Casual, not pretentious; shared life together.  This would be the essence of this new church.

Jesus is the builder of the church.  What does his church look like?

-This post was first published in 2014.

For further reading & study:

Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola & George Barna
Interactive Preaching by Stuart Murray Williams
Eric Capenter - Acts 20:7 Gatherings