I was listening to a podcast by Tullian Tchividjian called “Jesus + Nothing = Everything.” In it, he described how even our spiritual growth efforts can become self-centered by taking the focus off who God IS and making it about what we do.
The intent of spiritual growth is to build our relationship with God, but I’ll confess that sometimes I find myself hijacking it for my own glory. I’m not nearly as interested in spiritual “growth” as I am in gaining spiritual “knowledge” to add to my “spiritual” arsenal or to expand the “spiritual” facade I hold up for others to see. Wow! Did that make any sense? What I meant is this: Instead of being motivated to “grow” toward God, I am motivated by selfishness to make myself look like I’ve “grown” toward God. Sinful. That’s what it is. I’m sinful. I need Jesus to rescue my attempts at spiritual growth. I’m so sick that I need Jesus to keep me from tainting the very practices that guide me toward Him. True spiritual growth efforts are motivated by the greatness of God which moves us to seek Him. Often, my efforts are motivated out of a desire to know more than my friend’s know – out of a selfish “I’m more spiritual” attitude.
I will also confess that I love the way I feel when I go to another “level” or “spiritual” high. Even a new tidbit of information or insight about the Bible is enough to make me feel like I have “grown.” My insatiable desire for more doesn’t allow me to fully rest in Jesus’ effort on the cross. This is sinful. I wrongfully believe my efforts and knowledge about Scripture is what matters. It’s NOT! What matters is God’s character. NOT the things I do, but the things He IS. What matters is the cross! Because of who He IS, He chose to go to the cross. And because of that, I am already close to Him. Even when I seek spiritual “growth” with selfish motivations, even in the midst of my sin, He died for me. He loves me fully! Right where I am He loves me. He . . . . . loves . . . . . me.
God should be glorified. Completely glorified. ‘Cause He’s great and we are not. He is faithful. He is love. He is amazing! Loving each of us no matter how sick we are. He is so out of our league. We can never understand how great He is – how great His love is. His ways are so much higher than ours. (Is 55:8-9)
I guess what I’m saying is that this hijacker wants to return this glory back to it’s rightful owner.
To God be the Glory forever, and ever, AMEN!
Romans 11:33-36 33Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” 35“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” 36For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
SmallGroupTrader.com‘s mission is: “Helping people trade in the pursuit of the American-Dream for a world that desperately needs Christ.” Remember the old game Chutes and Ladders? To me, this carries some of the same ideas.
Paul didn’t exactly trade in his pursuit of the “American-Dream,” but he traded in a similar pursuit – one that placed himself at the center of the universe. Paul traded the life of ladder climbing and achievement within the Jewish religious system for a life of self-sacrifice. He even longed to suffer in order to have fellowship with Christ where he knew his true identity could be found. He traded a facade of worth for fullness in Christ. Paul was a trader. He traded the ladder for a ride down the chute.
Acts 8:1-3 describes Paul (Called Saul at that time) as one who made havoc of the church and dragged Christians off to prison. He breathed threats and murder against believers (Acts 9:1-2) and was exceedingly zealous (Gal 1:13-14) in persecuting the church and trying to destroy it. He was a blasphemer, persecutor, an unbelieving insolent man. (1 Tim 1:13)
Why?? Cause Christianity threatened the old Jewish religious system where he had found his whole identity. It struck at the roots of who he was. Paul (Saul) had worked very diligently at climbing the rungs of the religious ladder. He was well educated and well respected within that system and was perfectly happy with the way others perceived him. He was comfortable in that system and Christianity didn’t play by the same rules.
I know. I know. Some of you are saying, “How could you say that Paul’s identity was in the Jewish religious system?” Here’s how: Check out what he wrote himself about those days.
Galatians 1:14 – “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”
Philippians 3:4b-6 – “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.”
Galatians 1:10 – “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
There it is. Paul said himself that he had been trying to please men. Why? ‘Cause it esteemed him. He was a people-pleaser. These verses make it clear that Paul had been trying to be better or more worthy than others. He was compensating for his own inner feelings by working for positions and bragging rights – climbing the religious ladder.
Acts 9 describes Paul’s conversion experience. It’s a beautiful trade. I will not ruin it by trying to recount the story – you should read it yourself. Here’s the link: Acts 9
Now, check out how Paul’s thinking was changed. Look at what he wrote afterwards:
Philippians 3:3-11 – “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
It’s clear that his identity is now in Christ alone. He even calls his past accomplishments “rubbish.” His position in the Jewish religious system, his reputation, his esteem. . .rubbish compared to Christ. His new values are to gain Christ, to know the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. It doesn’t sound like his position is important to him anymore.
In 2 Corinthians 12:5-11, Paul goes so far as to say that the greatest position he could find himself in is actually the lowest rung on the ladder. He says he’ll boast only in his weakness, ’cause it’s in those circumstances where he finds Christ’s power resting on him.
Andrew Seidel writes of Paul after his conversion in this way: “He is no longer seeking their approval; he is no longer competing with them. As a result, they have lost their power over him and he is free. He has the confidence to do what he believes God is calling him to do, no matter what the opposition to him might bring. The one Person he cares about pleasing is God himself. ”
In the end, it’s clear that Paul was a trader. He traded a life of facades, positions, people-pleasing, and never-ending ladder climbing for a simple life in Christ. And it is there that He found fullness. He was loved and secure simply in being a child of God and his new identity in Jesus Christ could never be stripped away.
Paul traded the ladder for a chute. Paul was a trader.
Erwin McManus spoke at the RightNow conference in Dallas 2008 and shared a great message that solidified some of the things I’ve blogged about in the past. Here’s my summary of his talk:
Acts 17:16 – “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.
19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?
20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.”
21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.”
Erwin points out that there are 3 different spaces described here.
The 1st space (vs 17) is where Paul goes when he is first troubled by the idolatry – The Jewish synagogue. Most church folks do the same thing. When they have a problem, they first discuss it with the people closest to them – people like them. We like to bounce ideas off of people who think, look, and act like us ’cause it’s a safe way to arrange and solidify our own thinking. This is the space we arrange, create, and maintain to help us feel safe. It’s home. It’s where we invite others to join us. Many churches use an “attractional” ministry strategy to get people into their 1st space. This is a great strategy as long as it continues into the 2nd space.
The 2nd space is also seen in verse 17 – the marketplace. Paul immediately, takes his concerns to the people outside the church too. This is the space that no one controls – where everyone is welcome. Unfortunately, most Christians rarely speak of faith outside their “safe” church walls. However, if they did, they might get invited into the sacred 3rd space.
The 3rd space is seen in verse 19. “Then they took him” describes the 3rd space. It’s the place that others control and create. It’s the place where they invite others. It’s in this space that Paul’s concerns are finally eased. In this 3rd space, he gets to talk to the main people he’s concerned about.
This 3rd space is truly where Christians can reach the world. Instead of waiting for people to come to church, the church should go to the world and express Christ’s love in such a way that they are invited into the 3rd spaces of others.
In his book, Paul the Leader, J. Oswald Sanders says, “The man who does not know fear cannot know courage.” (p.44, 1986, 4th printing, Navpress)
I have always believe myself to be a courageous man. My brother and I grew up daring/encouraging/shaming each other to try the next more dificult feat. I want my son to grow up seeing a father who is a man of courageous faith, and yet, I must admit that I’m not sure there’s anything that I’m attempting right now that’s scary. (Besides my roles as husband and father – and by the way, those are the most important roles I will ever have.) I’m not sure I’m exercising my faith too much right now. I know that I’ve gotta be faithful with what He’s given me in order to be given more, and yet there’s also this timing thing. I know I can’t wait ’til everything is perfect to step out in faith ’cause it’ll never be perfect, but. . . I also don’t want to step out in my own strength before the Spirit prompts me in His power. This whole “following Jesus” thing is hard.
Anyway, this one statement from Sanders has sent me on a journey into my own perceptions of life and faith. I share it here, hoping that it will stretch your mind a bit too.
I always thought it was a bit prideful of Paul to write things like – “follow my example” (1 Cor 11:1) and “join with others in following my example” (Php 3:17). Anyway, he says things like this throughout Scripture and it always bothered me a little, but last night in our small group it came up again and I think I finally understood it. One of the guys explained that in those days they didn’t have the Bible (well, not as we know it) – most people couldn’t read the letters that they did have either. Jesus had already resurrected too, so there really was no way for someone to know how to live out their faith except in watching someone else do it. Paul was trying to live his life in such a way that others could look at him and know how to live as a Christian.
Just as a father tries to live as an example to his children, Paul was doing the same. The idea of following someone’s example was not a foreign concept for the Jews either – the whole rabbinical system was based upon “becoming” like the rabbi. Jesus Himself taught his followers to do as they had seen Him do. (John 13:15). Anyway, all this is to say that Paul wasn’t just a big headed guy, he was simply trying to teach others how to live out their faith, and he used the same technique as their culture had been accustomed to.
In class last week Dr. Loken pointed out something that seems pretty basic, but it was just something I never really thought about before. Paul uses the phrase “grace and peace” alot. Here’s why – “Grace” was a standard greeting for the Gentiles. “Peace” or “Shalom” was the standard greeting for the Jews. Anyway, every time he used this phrase, he communicated that both Jews and Gentiles are one in Christ. It’s also a beautiful picture of the first century church which spread from the Jews to the Gentiles through Paul himself. Anyway, I just thought it was cool stuff!!!
I thought this was a cool pic – even the earth has questions!
The Corinthians were given the chance to ask Paul some questions – you can read Paul’s answers to them in 1 Corinthians 7:1-16:4. Dr Loken took some time out of class the other night to have each of us write down the one question we’d ask Paul if we were given the chance.
Mine was: In what ways do you see that our “Christian” culture today has been deceived, and how should we repent?
Here are some of the other questions people would like to ask Paul: Do babies who die go to heaven, and if so, how is Jesus the only way? (Dr. Loken)
Why did God use you?
What was your thorn in the flesh?
What limits should be allowed when it comes to alcohol?
Why is it so hard to lead a sinless life?
Should women be in ministry and if so, to what extent?
Should a pastor serve at more than one church?
How do you deal with doctrinal differences in church?
What is “triple honor” and “double honor?” (1 Timothy 5:17)
What is the “cup of the Lord?” (Hab 2:16)
Why is it so hard to do what is right sometimes and not other times?
Were you always celebate? Did you ever have a girlfriend or wife?
Female leaders in church?
How can I know for sure what to do?
Under what conditions is divorce okay?
Can the church discipline without excommunication?
Speaking in tongues?
Would you be Calvinist or Arminian?
How does the Trinity work?
Anyway, I thought there were some good questions. What would you ask him if you had the chance?
Yes – I spelled “fourth” wrong on purpose – you’ll understand later. (It’s a really bad pun – but I’m just that stupid.)
Are you growing the way you should?
An interesting thought came out in class last night. We were talking about 1 Corinthians. Dr. Loken explained that Paul had planted the church in Corinth 4 years prior to writing the book we know as 1 Corinthians. (It’s actually at least the second letter he sent to them. – Check 1 Cor 5:9) Anyway, in Chapter 3 Paul makes it clear that he is disappointed in the Christians there for not growing to maturity. He assumes that after 4 years, they should have a basic understanding of their faith and even be able to teach others by that time. If you read Hebrews 5:10-6:2 along side 1 Corinthians 3, you can see the kinds of things the writer of Hebrews thinks they should understand: (1) repentance/life change, (2) Faith/trusting God’s sovereignty, (3) Baptism/Holy Spirit’s indwelling, (4) Laying on of hands/healing (James 5), & (5) Resurrection/Judgement – heaven & hell. (Each of these can be found in Hebrews 6:1-2)
Anyway, this whole 4 year thing is interesting to me – think about it – Jesus was with the disciples about 4 years – Paul expects maturity in about 4 years – we send students to college for about 4 years hoping that they would have a basic understanding of their subjects. Dr. Loken suggested (I think appropriately) that if you were discipling someone for 20 years and they hadn’t grown enough to disciple others themselves, then something is wrong. He never suggested that we don’t need long-term accountability or deeper teachings – but in regards to these basic tenants of our faith – we should be able to teach them to someone else after about 4 years of discipleship. This is not a scriptural law or some hard-and-fast rule, but simply a guide which the Scriptures seems to point to as a basic benchmark.
As a youth minister who will have students in my ministry for about 6 years, this was especially interesting to me. I think I’m gonna begin working on a plan to make sure that these ideas are clear in each and every one of our students by the time they graduate. I’ll try to work with our childrens coordinator to begin this process during the time when our students are transitioning from childrens ministry into youth ministry. For us, that happens in a “confirmation” process.
Anyway, it was a fun class – which brought up quite a few ideas which were new to me.