Archive for September, 2010

Plan Be

I remember while on walkabout arriving at the spot where historians believe Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount.  The smallish hill lies outside of Capernaum, Simon Peter’s hometown, along the west shore of the Sea of Galilee.  As we hiked from Capernaum, the heat overwhelmed us, and soon we were looking for anything we could find to slake our thirst.  Along the road we stumbled upon a grapefruit orchard, and the fruit couldn’t have been riper. The temptation was too much to resist. My buddy and I grabbed a fruit from a tree in each hand, and we sat down where Jesus spoke.  (Never mind that we were stealing!)

The opening words of Jesus’ sermon are called the Beatitudes.  The power of the Beatitudes may first be found in the shock of reading them.  Jesus redefines the blessed life, the “Good Life” as we may call it these days, in a way no one else would.  The “Good Life” is seeing your spiritual bankruptcy?  Mourning?

Ever since he spoke these words people have been debating what Jesus was getting at. Many suggest that Jesus was giving his commentary on the Law of God.  Rabbis often taught by giving their personal take on the Law.  The verses that follow the Beatitudes leave little doubt as to whether Jesus was doing that.  Others have suggested that Jesus gave us the Beatitudes to show us our need.  How can anyone who reads Jesus’ words not honesty feel they miss the mark?

More than anything, I believe the Beatitudes reveal Jesus.  Jesus did not come to present another way of life.  He came to show himself to us.  Then he said, “Come and follow me.”   I’d rather find the right prescription, or better a silver bullet, or at least a rule that I can follow. I want a plan I can work.  I’d like goals and milestones to mark my progress.  Instead, God gives us grace in and through a person.  He gives us Jesus.  In our community groups we’ll be looking at the Beatitudes not as a list of goals but as characteristics of Jesus that we receive and learn by grace as we pursue him. That’s what we’ll be doing together: pursuing Jesus.

Vice Squad

This Sunday Granada begins the fall cycle of community groups. Over three hundred people have signed up to participate in over twenty groups.  The title of our new study is Character Counts. We will concentrate on putting on the character of Christ.  Our community group meetings each week will track with our weekly worship messages.  During our time together we will look closely at the Beatitudes and the Seven deadly sins.  The Beatitudes give us a bird’s eye view of the character of Christ.  The Seven Deadly Sins help us to see our sin.  Why would we want to do that?  As we look at our vices we can better understand the parts of our sinful nature we are grappling with so that we can put them to death.

The Seven Deadly Sins arose in the church during the fourth century when one of the desert fathers set down a list of eight sins that beset a man of God.  His name was Evagrius, and one of his disciples, John Cassian, boiled them down to seven and gave them a more logical order.  Now the Seven Deadly Sins are not so listed in the Bible, but each of them are well discussed in scripture. These seven were chosen for a number of reasons.  First, they were seen to be capital vices.  The word “capital” comes from the word for head.  In other words, it seemed that these vices were the headwaters of the other sins.  Pride was considered to be the root of them all, and the other six also seemed to be the fertile ground for the sprouting of other sins.  Second, Christians found the list of vices helpful for self-examination.   The goal in looking at these vices is to identify networks of sin in our lives and discover layers of sin we were not aware of.  As Rebecca DeYoung explains in her book Glittering Vices:

Rather than praying in general for forgiveness of sin, or reducing all our sin to pride or generic selfishness, we can lay specific sins before God, ask for the grace to root them out, and engage in daily disciplines–both individually and communally–that help us target them.  Naming our sins is the confessional counterpart to counting our blessings. Naming them can enrich and refresh our practices of prayer and confession and our engagement in the spiritual disciplines.

Now I don’t know about you, but I like to keep my sins in hiding.  I don’t want other people to see them, and I am blinded by them as well.  So any thought of bringing them out in the open terrifies me.  Every now and then I get a glimpse of the ugly things inside. Anger flares up.  Envy blossoms. I covet something of my neighbor’s.  I find myself resisting looking into the thing any further thinking that the problem will go away, or believing it is not so deep. Contrary to this scripture tells me that looking at the thing opens the way for healing, and that turning from it is life. Whenever I pay attention in these moments and turn to Christ, I can see healing flow.  The bondage of the thing is loosened, and I can more easily embrace the way of Jesus.

Would a check-list for self-examination assist you?  What do you see that you need to confess and turn away from? During the weeks ahead we’re going to walk on a journey of discovery together.  I hope you will come along.

Grace Accomplished and Applied

In a fortnight, Granada Church begins a new cycle of community groups that tracks with our Sunday worship messages.  The title of the new series is Character Counts: Putting on the Character of Christ.  During our nine week study we will consider the seven deadly sins and also the beatitudes of Jesus as a means of developing Christian character.  Even now I wonder what came over me to brave such a journey together.  Rather than apologize, let me explain.  I love the gospel because it’s true and probably because I need it so much.  We have been pleased to see the modern church refocus her attention on grace. We have rightly challenged teaching that said: God does some of the work of salvation but we have to do the rest.  We know better.  Jesus does it all.

However, our focus on grace has had unintended consequences.  We have rediscovered the giving of grace, that God receives the least, the lost, the littlest and the losers (which pretty much describes me). But, we have not explored and enjoyed the extent of this grace.  We’ve been captured and enthralled by one glint of light shining from one facet of the gem.  In a sense, we’ve sold grace short.  We believed that Jesus came and died so that we could be ourselves and live authentically.  We’ve believed that nothing should diminish my true wonderful self, and Jesus came and opens the way for me to live my life, and to the fullest.

The problem with this is that God promises and plans far more. God intends with grace not only to bring us to himself, but also to conform us to the image of Jesus.  He intends to make us like Jesus.  Being a Christian isn’t really about self-actualization or self-fulfillment.  It is about Jesus and his kingdom coming to you.  It is about making a completely new you.  “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation…” captures it pretty well.

Now if this is true, how is this going to happen? It doesn’t wait until your death as some teach.  It takes place here and now through this applied grace of Jesus. This is what we will be looking at in the weeks ahead.  How is it applied? How can we we experience and live this grace promised and supplied in the gospel? This is what we will explore together over the coming weeks.

Next post: Why the Seven Deadly Sins?


Do you pray?   I don’t know about you, but over the years my prayer life has come in waves.  There have been times when I have been a passionate pray-er. During those moments, my prayer life has been steady and rich.  My heart has been hot and my passion for God deep.  These times are often followed by a season when my prayers seem as dry as dust.  I feel spiritually anemic and must force myself to pray. I pray little and feel guilty for not praying more.  I tell people I am praying for them when I need to be asking them to pray for me.  It is in these times of struggling prayer, times when I find no joy in praying, that I remember prayer is a discipline.  In the same way that conversation and the sharing of our lives together sustains my relationship with my wife Sandy, prayer nourishes and sustains my relationship with God.  Some evenings I return home so exhausted I feel I have nothing left.  But, Sandy pursues me and invites me to open my life up and share it with her. In so doing, our relationship grows.

In the same way, God comes to me when my heart grows cold and he fans the fire.  He pursues me through the experiences of my day, and the needs that are thrust upon me. Sometimes it requires the shock of desperate need or the awareness of beauty to feed the fire.  It is God moving through my feelings of urgency to drive me to my knees.  He is calling me to share my life with him.  Of course, he knows it all, but relating is communicating.  That’s what he wants, why I was created, and the key to prayer.  I see Jesus sharing this with the Father and I want it too!

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. Luke 6:12

What does your cycle of prayer look like?  Where are you at this moment?  Please pray for me.