Pulling From the Source

beautiful-tree-and-river[1]

Recently, in the Twitterverse, I came across a post on a blog site titled: “Missional: Is it Religious Gentrification?” by Tyler Tully. Having just moved to Sacramento, and am in the thrust of joining with my boyfriend (there’s got to be a less “cheesy,” more fitting title – just saying), Chris, to start a church in Midtown, and having heard the word “missional living” tossed around, much like the word “discipleship,” of course I was interested in hearing someone’s take on this “movement.” Our mission at Midtown Community Church is “leading people to live Christ-centered lives every day.” We want to live as missionaries to the people of Midtown and to be the church to them – to love on and serve them – to do life with them. The question I’m always asking myself is what does that looks like in my life.

Having grown up in the church in the American culture, I don’t think I was ever encouraged or taught what the true posture of a Christian is – and I was blind to it to a certain extent. Being a Christian who follows the Great Commission and the Great Commandment requires a deliberate, intentional and disciplined way of living and thinking. Living missionally is most definitely not natural or easy. It’s not an extracurricular thing we do every so often – it encompasses and touches everything and who we are – because this lifestyle is how we’re called to live as Christ followers.

Back to the blog post I came across. There was a portion of it that really leaped out at me, and got a culmination of thoughts whirling around in my head that I decided to work out by writing down. Here’s one of Tully’s comments/perceptions on the missional movement:

The last 10 years have shown more buzz around the term missional, although many of us are still scratching our heads about what that really means…While we’re trying to understand, worship, and participate in building the Kingdom of a marginalized 1st century Galilean, we are still operating from a place of access, privilege, and homogeneity – and we need to admit that the missional movement conversation has been dominated by the Dominators, if we are to see any meaningful Kingdom building. In other words, the missional movement needs to repent.

My brain is like a ping pong match between his words and my own wrestling with what it looks like for me to live missionally – to be the church, making disciples, getting outside your “comfort zone” and pouring into the people around you. All of that is so heady and sounds amazing. There’s this stirring in your soul, much like the reaction Lucy, Peter and Susan had in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, to the statement: “Aslan is on the move.” It wells up when you read about men of God, like Daniel, or books like Crazy Love, You Lost Me or Tangible Kingdom. You say to yourself, “YES. I want to be a part of that. I want to live that way.” And then the inevitable “Ok, so now what do I do? What’s my role?” If I’ve discovered anything about human nature, and myself, I find there’s this subtle, easy tendency to live vicariously through other’s testimonies of how they’re living missionally – it sounds so grand. It’s that innate desire for a tangible kingdom – for something more than what this world has to offer. But, like bystanders at a sports game, you really have no stake in it – it’s not your victory or loss. You didn’t train, sweat, struggle, get pounded, or make the winning play. Fans may take it personally, but it’s definitely not physically affecting them.

I’ve come to realize that just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s complicated. That’s my problem – I tend to overthink because I’m a recovering perfectionist. I want to immediately know what I need to do, how to do it, and have “missional living” down overnight. Boom. Reality check. In asking “How do I do this?” “How do I get results?” I came to realize that I was stopping with “I” – that I was dependent on myself to find “solutions” and to make this missional thing happen. It’s rather exhausting, because, let’s be honest, we’re the worst saviors ever. After I arrived at this realization, I was struck with a “light-bulb moment” from a conversation on Psalm 1 this past Tuesday. This was it: It all boils down to the SOURCE of your approach to “go forth and make disciples.” Because here’s the truth we all know: Anyone and everyone can and does plug into their community (this fever among the millennials to belong, yet not commit), whether it be an intermural league or social club of some sort.

It’s a good to pour into others on their turf, but here’s the question: What source am I pulling from to pour out? If it starts stops with just me and my own willpower – well I already know that only takes me so far. It’s like a kid putting on a firefighter uniform. They can look it, wish it, but they sure aren’t it when it comes to putting out fires and saving lives. They don’t have the training and experience. Ah, now I’m getting somewhere (maybe). This is where we look back at my earlier reference to Psalm 1. Verses 1-3:

“How blessed is the one who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand in the pathway with sinner, or sit in the assembly of scoffers! Instead he finds pleasure in obeying the Lord’s commands; he meditates on his commands day and night. He is like a tree planted by flowing streams; it yields its fruit at the proper time, and its leaves never fall off. He succeeds in everything he does.”

It doesn’t say the blessed or godly man is defined by all the things he does, but by who he is, why he is blessed – and, in turn, how that shapes his everyday living. What’s his source? He takes pleasure in doing God’s commands – he fills up his mind and heart with knowing God’s Word. It correlates with the tree (“down by the river!!”) in verse 3. This tree can withstand any season and whatever that season throws at it because its roots are pulling directly from an unending supply of water. It doesn’t stop there though…with just the intake of water. The water causes something to happen to the tree. You see this outpouring and harvest of it bearing fruit…so others can taste and see God’s goodness. But the tree couldn’t have, in and of itself, produced the fruit or survived without the river/water/stream. Relationships.

I am praying for myself, each of you, and Midtown Community Church, that the Lord will give us more of a love and delight in pursuing Him, reading/memorizing His Word, obeying Him. Not that I don’t find delight in Him now, but I want more…and to do it better, more consistently and faithfully.

There are many things in this post that I could break down further, but it would become a book.

Bottom line: If I don’t fill myself up with Him, I have nothing to give to begin with.

Let’s guard against our tendency to make everything technical, legalistic or a 10-step process.

Advertisements

Understanding Your Needs

0ba4066e74190b322ca46711aa72c660

This morning, when I read Matthew 6:33-34, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble,” I understood it in a whole new light.

Whiplash

Starting in verse 25, Jesus tells us reasons to not be anxious about our lives, what we’ll eat, drink, wear, etc., and points to the birds and flowers and how God feeds and clothes them (and are we not more valuable than them). I’ve always understood those verses to mean God is faithful and will provide everything we need. So you’d think that would mean we’d always be comfortable and safe from harm or pain. But this is not so, because I then think of Christians persecuted, raped, beaten, tortured, starving, and dying around the world. Also, for those of us who are sick, who’ve experienced loss, who are striving for something and can’t seem to get anywhere, who can’t seem to “catch a break,” who can’t afford to meet rent or buy groceries, etc. What about us/them? Is this an empty promise? Is He a cruel, unfeeling, unfair and unjust God? No. God never contradicts Himself. Indeed, He promised us that if they killed him they would kill us, too (Matt. 24:9). And Paul says (paraphrased) who can separate us from the love of God? Death, famine, plague, etc.? (Romans 8:35-39)

Quick detour. Think of it this way (I don’t claim originality with this analogy; I reference Matt Chandler, lead paster at The Village Church). Imagine you’re a parent (maybe you are), and your two-year-old wants a whole can of Coca-Cola (or your dog wants your slice of chocolate cake). Would you give it to them? No. Why not? Well, you don’t want them to get sick. Do they see it that way? Of course not. You’re the mean, bad person. We all know how this goes down. The pouty lip, whiny begging and then wailing as if you’d committed the worse crime to them. They see the treat as the best thing in the world for/to them. Are you being unfair and cruel or loving and merciful? You’re giving your child (or pet) what they need.

The revelation

Back to the passage. Here’s the beautiful part. If you look back to the beginning of verse 33, “…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” there’s where the answer is! God promises to gives us everything we need in order to serve and glorify Him…to further His kingdom. “…and all these things will be added to you.” So, whatever it takes, He will make sure you have it. What a glorious hope and assurance.

Isn’t that just AWESOME?!

The part of this that makes me quake is that it’s so easy to proclaim it and let type up these truths, and much harder to believe when the tribulation comes. I know how cowardly and pathetic my own heart is and how often I fail at the little tests.

Will we be able to say in those shaky, scary times, “It is well with my soul”?

7 Tips for Better Bible Study

I came across this blog by Mark Driscoll, pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., and had to repost it because all too often we make it all about the reading/gleaning knowledge aspect alone, and don’t take into consideration other key elements. Also, he talks about how bible study encourages and commands us to be the church. As Alistair Begg is fond of saying, “The plain things are the main things and the main things are the plain things.”

An important point that we often miss as believers (in whatever stage of life transformation by the gospel) and that becomes discouraging is we tend to think because we’re limited in knowledge, etc. we can’t be affective or show Christ to others. There are things that you believe in Scripture that are true, but you just don’t fully understand why you believe them, nor can you adequately defend them. Your “ignorance” does not make your beliefs wrong, does it? You may need to grow deeply in your knowledge, but your beliefs are true and remain unchanged. Your conviction of their truth deepens, but the truth is the truth. You tracking with me?

Ok, here’s Driscoll:

 bible-studying-pen-papger.gif

When tempted by the devil to turn stones into bread after a 40-day fast in the wilderness, Jesus responded by saying simply and profoundly, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Paul, when writing to his protégé, Timothy, writes that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

David writes, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:48).

The implications are clear: life and growth come from the study of God’s words through Scripture. We are not to read and study the Bible begrudgingly but rather view it as the source of life and, like David, love God’s word.

But the reality is that we all struggle at times to study faithfully or joyfully. So, it’s nice to have a few principles to help us refocus our love and study of Scripture. Below are seven principles that I’ve found beneficial.

1. Actively serve and participate in a local church to learn with and from other Christians.

Colossians 3:16 (NIV): “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

2. Be under the authority of Scripture to be interpreted by it, not over the Scripture to be interpreted by you.

Hebrews 4:12–13 (NIV): “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-­edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

3. Pick up the Bible for life transformation, not just mental information.

John 5:39–40 (NIV): “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

4. Pick up the Bible for relational purposes—not functional ones—so that you will love God and not just know or use him.

Matthew 7:21–23 (NIV): “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’“

5. Don’t just get into the Word; get the Word into you.

Memorization, Psalm 119:11: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

Meditation, Ezra 7:10: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”

6. Take advantage of godly Bible commentators, your pastor, respected theologians in church history, and wise Christian friends to better understand Scripture.

Romans 12:7 (NIV): “If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach . . .”

7. Don’t think you need more knowledge. Often you need more obedience to the knowledge you already have.

James 1:22 (NIV): “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

A Battle of the Wills

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” – Romans 7:15-25

I have been reading through the book of Romans and read chapter seven this morning. Verses 15-25 made my heart ache and this flood of tears pouring down my face came out of nowhere. I have memorized and read this passage many times and realize it’s true about me, but never felt it more acutely than I did this morning. I thought back to what seemed like 1,000 moments  yesterday when I was so aware of my brattiness and pride, yet it seemed like a losing battle. I was repulsed by what I saw in myself – shame filled me. But even the shame I felt yesterday was mixed with selfishness. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck. Today, as I wept, I mourned and then praised the Lord for his amazing grace and longsuffering love towards a wretch like me, and the fact that I have others (especially Chris yesterday) who demonstrate and show a grace that reflects God’s towards me – whether it comes gently or as a rebuke. May I seek, by His grace and Holy Spirit, to love and forgive others as He already has when He died for me.

The Danger of Believing You ARE Because You SAY

This weekend, at the Majestic Theater in downtown Dallas, I saw Max McLean perform The Screwtape Letters, adapted from the original book by C.S. Lewis. It is about a head demon (Screwtape) giving advice via letter correspondence to his nephew, Wormwood, seeking to advise him in ways to corrupt the faith of a human being who becomes a Christian.

Chris, Max McLean and I outside the backstage entrance after the show

I have yet to read that book, but after hearing the one-man show of it, I am eager to delve in. Of the book, Lewis says, “If I didn’t enjoy writing I wouldn’t continue to do it. Of all my books, there was only one (The Screwtape Letters) I did not take pleasure in writing.”

Lewis went on explain: “They were dry and gritty going. At the time, I was thinking of objections to the Christian life, and decided to put them into the form, ‘That’s what the devil would say.’ But making goods ‘bad’ and bads ‘good’ gets to be fatiguing.”

He pointed out, even in his day and age, the problem with the church. How you can go to church with Joe, the grocer, and not really care to know him outside of that building because he’s not your type. Or even how we pay our dues/tithes to the church, but don’t care to do more than that or give/invest directly into the community around us. This almost “paying” the church to perform for us – both in the leading of worship and in doing service/sending out missionaries – then living vicariously through the church and sharing in a glory that is not ours.

C.S. Lewis was once asked: “Do you feel, then, that modern culture is being de-Christianized?”

To which Lewis replied: “I cannot speak to the political aspects of the question, but I have some definite views about the de-Christianizing of the church. I believe that there are many accommodating preachers, and too many practitioners in the church who are not believers. Jesus Christ did not say, ‘Go into all the world and tell the world that it is quite right.’ The Gospel is something completely different. In fact, it is directly opposed to the world.

The case against Christianity that is made out in the world is quite strong. Every war, every shipwreck, every cancer case, every calamity, contributes to making a prima facie case against Christianity. It is not easy to be a believer in the face of this surface evidence. It calls for a strong faith in Jesus Christ.”

Speaking of church, tonight one of the pastors taught on Matthew 6:1-4 – totally missed the entire point of the passage, but my dad always taught me to take something away from a message. I did like how he briefly contrasted 6:1 with 5:16, on doing good works to be seen by others vs. letting your light shine before men. One is about US and the other is about HIM. I also have to watch my heart and to not puff myself up in that “judgement.” God isn’t powerless and can use anything to and for His glory and in the hearts of people. But during the message I skimmed down to a verse I’ve memorized in the past, but that stood out to me in a whole new way. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:7-8). I thought back to my own despair at how I feel like I don’t sound good when I pray aloud anymore or have much to say. Then I realized that desire that seemed “good” and “holy” was really about my pride, how I appeared and it was, in fact, also keeping me from praying more to the Lord.

This all reminded me of a method Screwtape encouraged his nephew to use on his patient (Christian) – to use something “good” and make it bad. Shame is a powerful weapon. There is a difference between grief that leads to a godly repentance and grief that is rooted in pride and has us miring in shame and distracting us from the grace found in Jesus Christ.

A Few Problems With Us and American Christianity

We are so eager to go out and create a legacy of some sort, to change lives with the gospel, to minister effectively, pray for revival, and to make systems better. All of these are wonderful, godly desires – if they’re from the heart. But (and I ask myself this same question) how many of you are doing that SAME thing, on a SMALLER scale, with the family, loved ones, friends, bank teller, hair stylist, recluse neighbor, etc. in your lives? How can God entrust us with the bigger things in life if we can’t be faithful in the little things He’s so abundantly blessed us with and put in front of us? Or how can we even be as effective? Food for thought.

On both a bigger and smaller scale, as I mentioned earlier, these are wonderful, God-given desires. But, we have to guard the intentions of our hearts. Because anything beautiful can become twisted. We see it everyday around us – this tendency to worship the creation rather than the Creator. We all have this struggle between being Pharisaical and pursuing/living out holiness.

Each of us, to varying degrees, is a Pharisee. We’re religious hypocrites. We’re assured of our own righteousness because of what we do and do not do, instead of what Jesus had done for us. Anytime we read a verse about the Pharisees, we need to realize that they were the ‘Bible guys’ – they were the serious, devoted Biblicists….

Mark Driscoll

It’s not just about doing, but why we do it. Are you seeking to do good for others and drown yourself in ministry because you’ll feel better about yourself, out of duty or because you feel you’ll earn more of God’s love, grace and forgiveness? Are you doing it to prove a point or prove yourself to others?

That is such an impossible feat and crushing goal/burden. You’re doing it from a fear – and as Scripture tells us, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18 NKJV)

You can’t earn any more or any less of God’s love and grace (insert Romans 6:1 here). He paid it in full on the cross. It is finished. There’s such freedom in that to then to fall more in love with Christ and joyfully live out and serve others with the purpose of showing them a glimpse of His perfect love and holiness.

Look at how Jesus did community and missions with every kind of person. One of the main problems with the church in America today is that we teach people to be narrow-minded with all these “do’s” and don’ts” instead of showing and teaching them from the Bible what it looks like to pursue holiness on the straight and narrow path. “For the gate is narrow and the way is HARD that leads to LIFE, and those who find it are FEW” (Matt. 7:14). On that note, we often want to interpret Christian living through our American lifestyle. Or we’ve been told that Jesus is like Tinker Bell – just sprinkling the love dust – and that He wants our happiness in the way of health, wealth and prosperity. Many are turned off and disillusioned by this lie that looks “good.” We’ve managed to Americanize “Christianity.” We see in churches, especially in the Bible belt that it’s become our social feel-good-about-my-spirituality-and-meet-people club. But on the flip side of that – we can’t become bitter, blame or discredit entirely the effect of the church in people’s lives. Who are we to play God in that sweeping determination? And we most certainly shouldn’t use it to fuel our pride and justify ourselves.

I don’t know about you, but more and more I realize how I am my greatest hinderance and enemy to pursuing Christ and Christ-likeness. And the longer I live and am a Christian, the less I feel I know and progressed. I pray you feel the urgency and call — to then pray for more of the Holy Spirit and live it out. It’s HARD. The apostle Paul said he had to beat his body black and blue (not sure if that’s literal or figuratively, but you get the point). I pray that I will discipline my heart to look at every choice/action/thought (from the smallest to the biggest) through the lens of eternity and not from my short-sighted, selfish one.

Don’t Let Discouragement Choke You

 

Jon Bloom, president of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched in 1994, wrote on a topic that, as Aragorn said, “would take the heart of me.”

I especially needed to hear it today as I am about to embark on my first ever bike “race” Hotter ‘n Hell this weekend. I must confess I’m nervous for several reasons: mostly because I’ve never done it before; afraid I will get on the wrong course; someone will collide into me and something bloody happen; bonking (when you’re body is zapped of everything and you just collapse). But out of all of it there’s an underlying fear and prayer: that I won’t become frustrated and impatient with myself (it will project to others around me too) at my lack of skills/speed. I will have to fight feeling discouragement. It all boils down to faith and perspective. I need to honestly realize where I am as a beginner cyclist, and realize I have a lot to work towards. I don’t need to beat myself up that I “suck,” but take heart and realize that I can only get better with time and practice. I also need to enjoy myself and realize how I have progressed under Chris’ wonderful, patient training. Oh, and I need to fight against my stupid pride and just accept that there will ALWAYS be someone better than me, and that’s OK.

We all face discouragement and we tend to fuel it with doubts and frustration and impatience – a lack of faith. How do you cope with yours? Read Bloom’s article below:

Discouragement is a temptation “common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13). And in dealing with it sometimes we need tenderness and other times we need toughness. But either way discouragement is not to be tolerated or wallowed in. It’s to be fought.

If we linger in discouragement it can be costly. Its sense of defeat and hopelessness saps us of energy and vision. It can consume a lot of time. It can keep us from doing what we need to do because we don’t want to face it. And it can even be contagious, weakening others’ faith.

When we feel discouraged we want comfort, which is right to feel. But the comforts we often turn to are ways to avoid our fears rather than ways to muster our courage to face and overcome them. When this happens discouragement simply becomes sinful indulgence in unbelief, no different than indulging in lust or anger or other sins of unbelief.

Jesus does not want us to be discouraged. In fact, he commands us not to be. Listen to what Jesus says to his disciples just before what probably was the most discouraging experience of their lives — his brutal death: “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1, emphasis added).

Note Jesus’s words, “let not.” These are not merely comforting; they are commands. He knew they would be tempted to fear. Things were going to look very bad, like the whole mission was imploding. What were they to do instead of being afraid? Believe! “Believe in God; believe also in me.”

In other words, “Don’t let your hearts be ruled by what you see. Let them be ruled by what I promise you.” And that’s what he’s saying to you and me too.

What’s tempting you to discouragement today? Are you having a hard time believing that God really will work for good what looks so bad to you (Romans 8:28)?

Then it’s time to fight, not pout or shrink. Think of discouragement as your faith being choked. When you’re choking, it’s not the time to plop down in front of the TV with a plate of comfort food to medicate your melancholy. You need to dislodge the obstruction so you can breathe. You need to fight for life. You may need to get someone to give you the Heimlich.

Go get encouragement — faith-fueled courage. Don’t let discouragement choke you. It’s dislodged by believing promises. God gave us the Bible so that “through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). It says amazing things like:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:35,37)

Don’t let your heart be ruled by what you see. Let it be ruled by what Jesus promises you.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke