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The reason New Testament teaching on submission and self-denial seems so totally radical to most people is because it is totally radical. (Mark 8:34-  And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”) It goes completely against fallen human nature and even Christians (or especially Christians) struggle with it intensely. What we have is a world with 6 billion suns- all wanting everything to revolve around them.

In this utter dependence of all things upon the creative will of God lies the possibility for both holiness and sin. One of the marks of God’s image in man is his ability to exercise moral choice. The teaching of Christianity is that man chose to be independent of God and confirmed his choice by deliberately disobeying a divine command. This act violated the relationship that normally existed between God and His creature; it rejected God as the ground of existence and threw man back upon himself. Thereafter he became not a planet revolving around the central Sun, but a sun in his own right, around which everything else must evolve.

A more positive assertion of selfhood could not be imagined than those words of god to Moses: I AM THAT I AM. Everything God is, everything that is God, is set forth in that unqualified declaration of independent being. Yet in God, self is not sin but the quintessence of all possible goodness, holiness, and truth.

The natural man is a sinner because and only because he challenges God’s selfhood in relation to his own. In all else he may willingly accept the sovereignty of God; in his own life he rejects it. For him, God’s dominion ends where his begins. For him, self becomes Self, and in this he unconsciously imitates Lucifer, that fallen son of the morning who said in his hear, “I will ascent into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God. . . . I will be like the Most High.”

Yet so subtle is self that scarcely anyone is conscious of its presence. Because man is born a rebel, he is unaware that he is one. His constant assertion of self, as far as he thinks of it at all, appears to him a perfectly normal thing. He is willing to share himself, sometimes even to sacrifice himself for a desired end, but never to dethrone himself. No matter how far down the scale of social acceptance he may slide, he is still in his own eyes a king on a throne, and no one, not even God, can take that throne from him.  (AW Tozer- The Knowledge of the Holy)


Jesus washing feet

Jesus washing feet

Jesus’ teaching on servanthood and greatness is so foreign to human nature and society, that it is almost impossible to grasp the depths of its significance. Our culture is so celebrity and “greatness” oriented (think American Idol) and the church is so steeped in contemporary culture that the concept of greatness through servanthood the way Jesus defines it is almost beyond comprehension for most people.

And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?”   But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.  And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:33-35

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28

Richard Foster makes this statement about service in his book “Celebration of Discipline” (see John 13:1-17)-

Whenever there is trouble over who is the greatest, there is trouble over who is the least. That is the crux of the matter for us, isn’t it? Most of us know we will never be the greatest; just don’t let us be the least.
Gathered at the Passover feast, the disciples were keenly aware that someone needed to wash the others’ feet. The problem was that the only people who washed feet were the least. So there they sat… It was such a sore point that they were not even going to talk about it. No one wanted to be considered the least. Then Jesus took a towel and a basin and redefined greatness.

Everyone wants to be great. Jesus wants us to be great. It’s not that hard to figure out. It’s just hard to do. But honestly, what is the alternative?

I think we tend to forget this universal truth… Whether it was the disciples, the rich young ruler or you and me today- “It is impossible to follow Jesus and not be led away from something.” The implications for this are pretty staggering  when you think about the disciples leaving their jobs and families to follow Jesus and the young ruler walking away from Jesus. The disciples had joy and the young ruler “went away sad”. You really have to ask yourself “To whom shall we go?” Take your choice, but choose wisely. Check out this Slice of Infinity-

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.   So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,  and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)

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Thinking Man

From Tozer’s “The Knowledge of the Holy”-  “As nothing is more easy than to think,” says Thomas Traherne, “so nothing is more difficult than to think well.” If we ever think well, it should be when we think of God.

I seriously doubt that most people give much thought to what they think about or how they think. Perhaps the biggest problem in the contemporary church today is the lack of serious thought about the great doctrines of Christianity. JI Packer once commented that Christianity in America “is a mile wide and an inch deep”.  One reason for this is that with the last several generations brought up on a steady diet of banal television, it is hard to get people to unplug from the world and be quiet long enough to have an original thought or to even think about God. Add to that the fact that the very medium of TV is designed to entertain and amuse, and you have a recipe for brain mush soup.

If you do a word search in any Bible software using the work “think” you will find that most of the verses are pointing out that people think wrongly about God and themselves- they think what everyone else is thinking and they think they are right. But to think with the masses is a dangerous thing- even in the church. We are easily deceived and self-deceit is the stuff parables are made of. In the parable of the sower, Jesus points out that what you hear and think about will have profound effects on your life-   “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” (Luke 8:18)

I dare you to leave the TV off all weekend and think for yourself. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

I had a long discussion with my brother the other day about the lack of real life change in most churches and we agreed that the American corporate church model of programs and large group events is not an effective way to grow mature Christians. The Acts church model is much more organic than what we typically do. Big is not always bad, but there is a huge difference between “big and fat” and “big and strong”.  So, I think there needs to be a top to bottom layered emphasis on disciple making for the church to thrive and be everything God intended. I don’t think discipleship is hard, it is just time consuming and messy. That is probably why most churches don’t do it- we want instant results (another American trait) and discipling people takes time and effort. The analogy that comes to mind is building cathedrals. There will never be another cathedral built in America (or probably the world) because we do not think the result is worth the time and money. But if you want the permanence and beauty of something that is built for the glory of God, you have to pay the price. There are certain things that can only happen one way and Biblical, Jesus style discipleship is how disciples are made. So, pray about who you can invest your life in. There is undoubtedly someone waiting…

From the 2-16-10 Slice of Infinity at RZIM

This excerpt just reminds me of the inevitable nature of life and how we as Christians should view it.

Following the downward path of Jesus can lead to a renewed, hopeful, and restored vision of life. For as we embrace our inevitable deaths and declines, as we embrace the downward path, we have the opportunity to let go of the false things we think make up our lives. We let go of thinking that the accumulation of wealth, power, and resources make up a good life; we let go of thinking that busyness makes us important; we let go of thinking that our personal safety and security are to be preserved at all cost. And as we let go, we can embrace those who make life fullest, we can put others’ interests before our own, and exist for the sake of others. And what is done on behalf of others for the sake of Christ will indeed endure beyond our deaths.

Great quote from John Piper in his forward to CJ Mahaney’s book- “Worldliness- Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World“.

“The gospel makes all the difference between whether you are merely conservative or whether you are conquering worldliness in the power of the Spirit for the glory of Christ.”

Mark Dever says “Worldliness is normally invisible to us, like water to a fish. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so dangerous to us.”

It is worth spending some time thinking about how you view worldliness and what John meant when he wrote- “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions- is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)

Piper slammed it out of the park yesterday in his talk on the life, theology and philosophy of CS Lewis. Well worth your time to watch or, if you want to download the audio you can get it here.

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William Cowper

I’ve never really studied poetry other than in a freshman English class or something like that. But I’ve always been fascinated by the Psalms and many of the classic hymns. They take the human pathos and put theology behind it.  In my church, we are much more likely to sing a Chris Tomlin song than one of the old hymns, but even Tomlin sees the genius and depth that many of these hymns have and he incorporates some of them into his music. So, that said, here is a great hymn (poetry) by William Cowper that might just be what your soul needs…

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
And works his sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purpose will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
the bud may have bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

I’ve been going through Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline” with a couple of guys I meet with on Sunday nights and we are looking at the chapter on “Study” as a personal discipline this week. He ends the chapter with these wise words that we should spend some time thinking about-

We would do well to study institutions and cultures and the forces that shape them. Also, we should ponder the events of our time, noting first, with a spirit of discernment, what things our culture lifts up as “great events.” Let’s look at the values of the culture—not what people say they are, but what they actually are.

Let’s learn to ask questions. What are the assets and liabilities of a technological society? What has the fast-food industry done to the tradition of a family gathering for dinner? Why do we find it difficult in our culture to have time to develop relationships? Is Western individualism beneficial or destructive? What in our culture is in harmony with the gospel and what is at odds with it? One of the most important functions of Christian prophets in our day is the ability to perceive the consequences of various forces in our culture and make value judgments upon them.

Looking at the “great events” of American culture (Super Bowl, award shows, etc) and what it says about our values is depressing to me. Our almost complete obsession with celebrity, sports and entertainment speaks volumes about our values. The fact that at any major university the football and basketball coaches make at least 4x what the president makes (and maybe 10-20x what a professor makes) speaks loudly about what we value in this country. But what really worries me is how the church and most people who consider themselves followers of Christ are as obsessed with sports and entertainment as the pagans are.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy sports, movies or other forms of entertainment- I do. They play an important role in society. But when a culture elevates sports and entertainment to the level it has in America, I believe that culture is in danger. When Christians buy into that level of idol worship, I believe that the church is in danger.

There are of course, many things in our culture that are not in harmony with the gospel but it is really dangerous when the values of the church are not in harmony with the teachings of Jesus. Jesus’ last instructions were to “go and make disciples” and to teach them to observe all that He commanded- not entertain them in the hope that they will “accept” Him. I believe in excellence in all that we do in the church because God is worthy of our best efforts- not because we need to compete with the world. The church will never be able to compete with Dubai World and if we try, we waste valuable time and resources.

So I wonder where the modern day prophets are who “perceive the consequences of various forces in our culture and make value judgments upon them”?