Thursday, August 17, 2017

Horizontal Church vs. Vertical Church (The Presence-Driven Church)

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Preaching at Faith Bible Church in New York City (Flushing)

The Vertical Church is a people group of Jesus-followers who desire nothing more than God's earth-shattering presence, and who experience that presence whenever and wherever they gather. The presence of God is the glue that holds them together. This is the meaning of Jesus' words about "whenever two or more gather, there I am in their midst." That's all that's needed: Jesus in our midst.

The Horizontal Church needs more than "Jesus in our midst," even to the exclusion of Jesus, leaving only us and "our midst." Here people have been seduced by the god of relevancy. Many are good people who have been mis-discipled. They have been taught - by culture - to rely on their own natural charisma to attract consumer-seekers. Much energy and money is spent on catering to the prevailing cultural ethos and its chronos-mentality; hence, there are temporally choreographed services because people (it is assumed) will pull out their cell phones if the earth-shattering presence of God hovers among them for more than an hour. The Horizontal Church unwittingly adds to Scripture, and has Jesus saying, "whenever two or more gather, with a fair trade coffee bar and stage lighting and short services and apps and creative add-ons, there I am in their midst, if only for an hour."

Horizontal churches burn people out in striving to measure up to the ever-shifting bar of cultural coolness. Even name changes and stage lighting cannot rescue these sinking vessels. (Vertical Church is not essentially about external makeovers, not that serving coffee or tight blue jeans are evil.)

James McDonald of Harvest Church in Chicago writes:

"Eventually everyone vacates church where God is not obviously present and working. Getting people back to church is pointless unless God comes back first— that’s what Vertical Church is all about!
Ritual church, tradition church, felt-need church, emotional-hype church, rules church, Bible-boredom church, relevant church, and many other iterations are all horizontal substitutes for God come down, we all get rocked and radically altered, Vertical Church.
The problem is you can’t fake glory. You can’t manufacture it, or manipulate it, or manifest it at will. Only God Himself can bring glory into a church, and when He does, communities get shaken and lives get changed, and the fame of Jesus Christ curls continuously upon the shore of human hearts like a Hawaii 5-0 wave. Church is supposed to be a tsunami of glory every Sunday, and that is what we gather for." (MacDonald, Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be, Kindle Locations 104-105)

McDonald says, "In Vertical Church God shows up, and that changes everything."

***
I worked today on my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church, to be published hopefully before the Lord returns.

My first book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Relationship Comes Before Request

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South Haven, Michigan

If I had a child who did not listen to my counsel and respond to my directives, I would not listen to their requests. If they ask me for something, I'll want to first talk about our relationship and their nonresponsiveness.

God has no use for the prayers
of the people who won't listen to him.

Proverbs 28:9 (The Message)

If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, 
even their prayers are detestable.

Proverbs 28:9 (NIV)

James 5:16 says, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Which would mean, the prayer of an unrighteous person is powerless and ineffective.

Which means, the prayer of a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist is powerless and ineffective.

The God of Christian theism is not some big butler in the sky who exists for our gratification. God is a God of relationship. He is a loving Father, we are his children.

Relationship always comes before request.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Five Stages of Spiritual Transformation

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Linda and I, in South Haven, Michigan
God can change human hearts. He is able, and desires, to transform (Rom. 12:2 - meta-morphe) our hearts into increasing Christlikeness (Gal. 4:9).

Since 1977 I have been developing my theory of spiritual transformation, which is about How God Changes Lives. The inputs for my theory of spiritual transformation have been and are:

1. the countless hours, over forty years, that I have gone alone to a quiet place and prayed.


2. my ongoing saturation in the Christian scriptures, studying and meditating on them.


3. the 3000+ pastors, Christian leaders, seminary students, and lay people I have been privileged to spiritually mentor and coach through class lectures, dialogue, and the submission of their spiritual journals for me to respond to.


4. my past and ongoing study of the history of Christian spirituality.

IMy theory can be applied not only to the issue of spiritual transformation, but also to the ideas of spiritual “renewal,” “restoration,” “renovation,” and “formation.” All these concepts have to do with “change,” and in Christian spirituality change is good, stasis is bad. One is either growing or dead. 


Spiritually, to not be growing is to be dying. As my friend Jim Hunter has said, “We’re either green and growing or ripe and rotting.” 

Or, as Robert Quinn has written, it’s either “deep change” or “slow death.”

My approach to spiritual formation (I use “formation” and “transformation” interchangeably) applies and works cross-culturally, cross-temporally (concerning both old and young; and past, present, and future), and with both men and women. This is because the locus of spiritual formation is “the heart.” Thus, change and renewal happen at a deep, ontological level. Because the deeper we go inside persons the more we are all the same, the principles of Christian spiritual formation speak to everyone, everywhere. 

This is my experience over the years as I have been privileged to teach this material to Chinese pastors and leaders in Singapore New York City, and Vancouver, to Indians in India, to African Americans at Payne Theological Seminary, Palmer Theological Seminary, and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, to African pastors (Kenyan and Ugandan) in Kenya, and to hundreds of Anglo pastors and Christian leaders from the U.S., in Canada, and beyond. In my seminary classes, I have taught this material to pastors and seminary students from every continent and, it seems, representing most of this world’s countries. All this interaction and input has served to help me refine my teachings, reducing them to the following points.

How does God change a human heart? Here is a Phenomenology of Spiritual Renewal and Transformation; viz., a description of what I see happening when lives are renewed and transformed in Christ.

1 – THE NEED (Recognize how needy you are)


Without this step growth will not occur. To recognize one’s own neediness is to be in a very good place, spiritually. Isaiah 6 serves us well here. Isaiah, who is arguably the most righteous person among the people of Israel, enters the temple and sees a vision of a holy God. The result is that Isaiah is “undone,” or “unraveled,” or “dis-integrated.” There is a huge gap between the holy-otherness of God and Isaiah with his dirty mouth.

To recognize, to internalize, the gap between self and God is crucial to one’s inner change.

2 – THE GAP (Understand the magnitude of the needed transformation)


The Jesus-idea is that God wants to morph us into Christlikeness. Paul, in Galatians 4:19, longs that “Christ be formed” in his Galatian brothers and sisters.

The issue here is not asking “what would Jesus do?” but rather doing what Jesus did, as a matter of the heart. For example, if I had the heart of a great soccer player I would do what a great soccer player does. Jesus, as he hung dying on a cross, did not have took look at a wristband and ask the question, “Now what would I do?” Rather, Jesus forgave his persecutors, and we must believe he did so not as a matter of ethical protocol but because this was, indeed, his very heart.

The word Romans 12:2 uses is, in Greek, metamorphe. Literally, this is about “a change of form.” What is needed here are not more ethical rules to follow, since one can obey laws without having a heart for them. This concerns what Dallas Willard has called “the renovation of the heart.” To be morphed into like-Christ-ness.

Because the magnitude of the transformation is so great, we realize we can’t do this by means of our own will power.

Therefore…

3. I CAN’T SELF-TRANSFORM

Spiritual formation and transformation into like-Christness is not something we can do on our own. Indeed, if it were something we could do on our own, then we will have greatly diminished Christ. When it comes to this kind of change it is good to realize that we can’t “self-transform.” This is one thing we cannot do in our own wisdom and strength.

There is some good news here. This realization, if it is a heart-reality, frees us from “striving.” When it comes to personal transformation no striving is allowed. It simply won’t do any good to “try harder.” The goal of heart-morphing into Christlikeness is so beyond us that striving is useless. If we are to be transformed, only God can do it.



4- ONLY GOD CAN EFFECT THE NEEDED TRANSFORMATION

The God who spoke and brought a universe into being is not puzzled by you and I. We pose no special obstacle to change, except that, in our created uniqueness, we could exercise free will to oppose being changed. 

God can change me into greater Christlikeness, and desires to do so.

Therefore…

5 – GET INTO GOD'S PRESENCE AND DWELL THERE/ABIDE IN CHRIST

Allow God to get his hands on you. Enter into the “spiritual gymnasium” and “exercise unto godliness.” (See 1 Timothy 4:7) But isn’t that a kind of “striving?” No, because the spiritual exercises or disciplines are simply ways of ushering us into God’s presence. Once we abide there, God himself changes us. We are like lumps of clay on a potter’s wheel, with God himself the shaper of our hearts.

John 14-16 is important here, as Jesus gives his “final discourse” to his disciples. Be a branch, connected to Jesus the true Vine. The stuff and life and resources and joy and peace and power of “the Vine” begins to course through the arteries of “the branch.” Just as a branch could not be attached to a healthy apply tree and fail to produce apples, so you and I cannot consistently dwell in God’s presence & remain unchanged.

Don't focus on change.

Don't work to make it happen.

Focus on staying connected to Christ, and you will be changed.

Mostly, this is a slow-cooker, not a microwave.


***
My first book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Book #2 is Leading the Presence-Driven Church (Fall 2017).

I have begun writing book #3, How God Changes the Human Heart

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Carrying a Promise With Me Today

I began today by reading out of Psalms and Proverbs.

I wrote Ps. 92:12-14 on a 3X5 card.

It's in my pocket, staying close to me today.




Monday, August 14, 2017

How God Changes the Human Heart (One-Hour Seminary)

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Trust Is a Cure for Fear, Anxiety, and Worry


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I made it to the top of the big dune at Warren Dunes State Park (Michigan).
I bought a new chair for my home office. I had the previous chair for twenty years. I trusted it. I knew it would hold me. Therefore, I had no anxiety in regard to it.
It would be contradictory to say, "I trust the chair I'm sitting in, but am afraid it won't hold me."

Where there is trust, there is no fear. This is true with my office chair, it is also true with God. Psalm 27:1 says, “The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" The antidote to a fearful heart is to make God one's "fortress and strength," the result being, "what shall I then fear?"
We see the connection between trust and fearlessness throughout Scripture. 

Psalm 56:3 - Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.
Psalm 56:11 - In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? (I "put" my trust in the Lord, like I "put" the water in the glass. Trust is an action. This is a very Hebraic idea.)

Psalm 112:7 - He will not be afraid of evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.

Isaiah 12:2 - Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; ‘For the Lord, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’”

Where there is trust, there is an absence of anxiety. The person who is mostly filled with anxiety and fear is the person who does not *trust, or whose trust is misplaced. 

How do I make God my trust?

Trust is an action we take. I “put my trust in the Lord.”

          If God was a chef, I would eat his cooking.

          If God was a shepherd, I would listen for his voice and follow.

          If God was a rock, I would stand on him.

          If God was a fortress, I would make my home in him.

          If God was a river, and I a tree, I would send my roots to him.

If God was a vine, and I a branch, I would attach myself to him.

If God was a fire, I would be consumed by him.

If God was water, I would drink of him.

If I was a cup, I would be filled to overflowing by him.

         If God was a hidden treasure, I would seek him.

If God was a word, I would read him.

If God was my Lord, I would obey him.

If God was a chair, I would sit on him.

I would do these things every day…  after day…  after day.

There is a cumulative effect that results from a lifetime of trusting in God. A psychological confidence, a certitude, emerges. It is like the confidence I got as a result of sitting in the same chair for twenty years, and finding that, through it all, it still holds. 


*I recognize that there are clinical, neurophysical conditions that cause anxiety and fear. The antidote for such conditions may be medications. But even when medications stabilize a person's emotions, issues of trust may remain. Medication will not help a person when the only chair they have keeps breaking.


I anticipate my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church to be out in a few months.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Saturday, August 12, 2017

If You're Racist, You're Not a Follower of Jesus


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South Haven, Michigan

Linda and I just returned home from a week away, celebrating 44 years of marriage.

I've been mostly disconnected from the news.

On the drive home we listened to the horrors and evil happening in Charlottesville, Virginia. Words fail to express how saddened and angry this makes me.

My anger is what the Bible calls "righteous anger." It's righteous, because the people doing this are, obviously, not followers of Jesus. You can't follow Jesus and be a racist.

Racism is evil, from the pit of hell, demonic. Racism is absolute darkness, and darkness has nothing to do with light.

"For God so loved the world..."

The world. All peoples. All races.

The hope of Israel was always intended to be for all the nations.

Racism is anti-God, anti-Christ. A racist is an antichrist. A racist is against Jesus. Anyone who claims to be a "Christian" and embraces racism is a wolf in sheep's clothing, a false prophet, possessed by a demon, ignorant of the Scriptures, or ignoring the Scriptures.

Real followers of Jesus understand this.

What color is God's skin? The question is nonsense, like "How long is blue?" God, being an immaterial Spirit, doesn't have skin.

When the skinless, colorless Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he inhabited skin darker than my Scandinavian flesh.

Self-Forgiveness and Inner Healing (Sermon)

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South Haven, Michigan



My sermon on self-forgiveness and inner healing is HERE.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Judgment Grows In the Soil of Forgetfulness

South Haven, Michigan

Today I am seeing how much I need to be preached to. Because I do not love like Christ loved. He had a pure heart of love; my heart is still being formed in love (Gal. 4:19).

I tend, too much, to react in judgment, than respond in love. I am asking God to rip this evil out of me.

Greg Boyd writes:  “Most Christians tend to walk more in judgment than they do in unconditional love… In so doing, we are forsaking the most fundamental job description God gave us: to love others as he has loved us.” (Greg Boyd, Repenting of Religion, 98) 

It is sobering to remember that "he has loved us" not because we were so ridiculously cute and lovable, but while we were against Him, while we were his enemies. Romans 5:10 says, "For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!"

How important is this? Paul wrote, "The whole law is summed up in a single commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other." (Gal. 5:14-15)

I think we are all "hard to love" people, from our subhuman point of view. We think we're not like those "other people." Our tendency to judge others grows in the soil of forgetfulness. We have forgotten:

1) Who we were when Christ rescued us; and

2) that we are now on Jesus' rescue team, with love as our job description.