Category Archives: Church

In the Spirit of Lent

As I prepare to preach through Lent to Easter, I’ve been contemplating the meaning of this season. It’s a time of much-needed inner reflection for the church. It couldn’t come at a better time in my own life right now. And I suspect for everyone else as well.

The season of Lent covers the six weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. It’s a time of preparation as the church looks forward to Passion week and celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. This season involves an intentional focus on inner reflection through prayer, repentance, and self-denial. It is when we become acutely aware of our own brokenness and need for salvation.

Why do I need this season? I need it because I’m often tempted to look at others instead of myself. How can I help others? What is wrong with “the world” and how can I can help to transform it? As a pastor and teacher, it’s easy to live in this mode of existence. It’s easy to ignore what’s on the inside.

Also, I have noticed that as Christians we often need a little balance in our lives—equilibrium in our faith and practice. I think it’s possible to live in God’s love and grace, learning to live in freedom, and then forget something that is critical about ourselves and the gospel: we’re sinners saved by grace.

Bonhoeffer said that “cheap grace” is grace without discipleship, grace without repentance and the cross. Costly grace reminds us that practicing self-denial and repenting of sin is the call of every Christian.

Sin isn’t to be taken lightly.

Sin is “missing the mark” of God’s holy and righteous character, which is fully expressed in Christ. It’s a misuse of human energies, a breakdown in divine fellowship, and of human community. Sin is rebellion within the human heart against God’s best for his creation. It’s a spiritual distortion within humanity.

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” 1 Peter 2:11 NIV

We can’t be lazy and careless on our journey with Christ in community. We must be intentional in the working out of our salvation (Phil 2:12). We need to remember the sin that is at work in us and the urgency of having it removed from us. This then requires us to look in the mirror, allowing God to chisel away the rough edges. The chiseling may hurt a little.

You can feel it when the cross meets your flesh.

Let us agree with Paul and claim this salvific truth concerning our identity:

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Gal 2:20 NLT

So what about those sinful inclinations? How are we doing with temptation? Are we, by the power of Christ, overcoming sin at work in our lives? What measures are we taking to stamp out our anger, our lust, our gossip, our greed, and our cynicism? Have we allowed anything to become an idol in our lives?

Are we counting ourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ?

I do believe that Lent is also a good time to reflect on the problem of evil. Things are not as they should be. And if we’re going to walk in God’s love and grace through the purging process, we need to know from whence evil comes, and why we struggle with sin in the first place.

“Consider this: sin entered our world through one man, Adam; and through sin, death followed in hot pursuit. Death spread rapidly to infect all people on the earth as they engaged in sin.” Rom 5:12 VOICE

If we do not accept that the cosmos is not as God intended it to be, as a result of human sin on the earth and angelic (demonic) rebellion in the creative evolutionary processes of the primordial past, then we will inevitably attribute evil to God, instead of acknowledging the culprits who are responsible—ourselves and Satan who is the “god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2). Blaming God cuts us off from our only source of strength and salvation.

I submit to you that if there is any place in our hearts that wants to attribute evil to God, including our so-called “natural” proclivities, this makes naming our sins and repenting of them all the more difficult.

We will say things like, “Well, God made me/them this way” or “God is to blame for evil” in my life and the world. But if we accept that Jesus of Nazareth is the God-man, fully human and fully divine, we know the truth about the Creator and his good will for us. Christ reveals the divine will for our broken humanity.

We know that God in Christ is bringing order to the chaos. The good news of the Kingdom is that God has taken responsibility for the free world he created by becoming a human being and experiencing the darkness of our fall. He took up our sin and rebellion and nailed it to the cross (Col 2:13-15).

Jesus was crucified and raised for our sanctification. He calls out a people, a church, to accept this free gift and transform this broken world by the power of his Spirit. He wants us to participate in sorting it all out.

Sin has been rendered powerless. Death has lost its sting! Christ took on the powers of darkness and defeated them through holy living, even unto death. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead has been given to us.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3 NIV

What will we do with the Spirit’s power this Lent? Will we quench the Spirit or will we let him have his way in us? The future of the church is wrapped up in the way we respond to the Spirit that is at work in the world, seeking to reconcile all things to God, and bring healing to the nations (Col 1:19-21).

Be strong and courageous. Call sin what it is and repent of it.

Stop looking at the sins of others, and reflect inwardly toward your own need for sanctification. It is there that we will find healing for our souls in this season of renewal. Blessings on the journey.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Anabaptism 101 (Sermon Series)

Hello blog readers!

This past Sunday I finished preaching through an exciting 6-week sermon series entitled Anabaptism 101 at Christiansburg Mennonite Fellowship (CMF) in Virginia, where I’ve been pastoring since the first of the year.

The series focuses on the historical roots and current convictions of Anabaptism. As many of you know, I didn’t grow up within an Anabaptist tradition. And since half our congregation didn’t grow up Anabaptist, this sermon series seemed like a good place to begin as pastor.

 

Here is a brief outline of each message in the series:

  1. Beginning of a Movement—A general overview of key persons, events, and issues that led to the “radical” 16th century Anabaptist movement. What does “Anabaptist” mean? Where does the name “Mennonite” come from? Where is Anabaptism going today?
  2. Radical Discipleship—The Anabaptist view of discipleship in detail. What does it mean to follow Jesus? Did Jesus really expect us to follow his teachings from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)? What is so different about the Anabaptist view versus the popular evangelical view?
  3. Word Made Flesh—The Anabaptist view of the authority of Scripture, and a Christo-centric hermeneutic (interpretation) of the Old Testament. Do Anabaptists hold a high view of Scripture? What is so different about the Anabaptist view of Scripture versus the popular evangelical view?
  4. Church as Kingdom Community—The Anabaptists saw the church as a missional, counter-cultural family of Kingdom citizens. What is the meaning and purpose of baptism? What is the meaning of communion? Why live a simple life? What does it mean to embrace “the other”?
  5. The Politics of Jesus—The most controversial and oft-misunderstood aspect of Anabaptism: non-violence and the politics of Jesus. In what ways did Jesus resist empire? How far do Anabaptists take Jesus’ message of peace and reconciliation? How do Anabaptists understand church & state? How subversive is the NT?
  6. Triumph of the Lamb—Answers to the most common objections concerning the non-violence of Jesus. Didn’t Jesus come to bring a sword? Didn’t Jesus tell his disciples to buy swords? Finally, does the portrayal of Jesus in Revelation contradict the Jesus of the Gospels? How will the way of the crucified Lamb conquer evil in the end?

You can download and listen to each message by visiting our temporary sermon archive. We will be archiving all sermons on the new church website once it is up and running. Please stay tuned for that.

There was Q&A after each message, but you can only hear it following the Triumph of the Lamb. Our small groups are going through The Naked Anabaptist for further discussion and study. If you’re looking for a good overview of Anabaptism, or Neo-Anabaptism, check out Murray’s book.

If you have questions or comments, please let me hear them here at the blog.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Is it “My Religion”?

I have always enjoyed the Christian metal band, Skillet. They have some of the best lyrical content and heart-pounding rhythms in the business.

So, I like Skillet. But I’d like to offer a brief critique of the lyrics to a song off of their most recent album, Rise (2013). While I think that it makes the point that Christ is the source of life and faith, I believe it goes too far and falls headlong into a Christian egocentrism. It certainly leaves that impression.

Here is the song with the lyrics.

I have to say that the song seems very representative of our individualist American culture, especially post-modern religion. It says I don’t need anyone else. I don’t need the church. I don’t belong to a group. I’m an island. It’s just me and Jesus (my faith). I can live apart from an intentional worshipping Christian community. Very popular these days.

Of course we don’t need the traditional trappings of “church” (e.g. stained glass, pews, “high” priests, etc.) to follow Christ. I’ve been through all of that. I get it. And, yes, if people disagree with your beliefs, the important thing is for you to be faithful. Maybe he means that. I’m not sure.

But to say that it “ain’t their business what I wanna believe” is contrary to NT teaching of knowing Christ in community.

The NT teaches that Christians belong to one another and Christ. If the lyrics are suggesting that intentional Body (church) life is unnecessary for discipleship, then I couldn’t disagree more.

Listen to Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (MSG):

“By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink.”

If the band is even hinting that my faith is simply about me and Jesus, then the song promotes a message that is antithetical to the Gospel which calls us into relationships with one another.

We are “living stones” being built into a spiritual house (1 Pet 2:5).

In my opinion, this song sounds like one more example of a cynical Christian that is fed up with institutional Christianity and jumps clear over the road into the opposite ditch of a nebulous church practice, a me-centered Christianity.

We may feel better singing it, but it does nothing to improve our situation.

We are never to give up on one another or to cease fellowship with the church (Heb 10:25). We belong to one another. It’s not “my religion” (if it’s even religion at all). It’s “our faith” together in Christ.

No matter how much a person has learned about the love and grace of Christ for themselves, if after an extensive period of time you are refusing to gather with believers (for whatever reason) in regular community where you are required to act on that love and grace, then you’re being disobedient.

Be intentional about knowing Christ in community. There is no other religion.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

Read here for more on the fallacy of the nebulous church idea.


Deep Listening

In the last couple of weeks I have been reminded of the radical polarities within society, culture, and the church. I have especially noticed this when it comes to Christians trying to have conversations about theology and ethics.

We must learn to stop thinking from within the extreme positions of any given issue, and discover a third way. Continually responding to our brothers and sisters as if there are only two camps of thought is dishonest and destructive.

This is the way of politics, but it’s not the way of Jesus. The way out is through the practice of deep listening.

“Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.”  Prov 18:13 MSG

There are many issues today that are threatening to tear the church apart. We can’t hope to overcome these challenges without learning to listen before we speak. This means that we come to the table in order to listen and learn.

We do not come simply to share our own thoughts and convictions, assuming that we know the other person and their journey. This will require humility and a desire to want to understand our neighbor for Christ’s sake.

Let’s remember that while some of us may have (or believe we have) a more pure & authentic understanding of Jesus than our neighbors, no one person or group has the corner market on truth and the fullness of Christ. We serve a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, cosmic Christ that can’t be contained in your (or my) theology or denomination.

Therefore, we need each other. We belong to each other (Eph 4:1-5). There is NO other way forward. The Kingdom is coming, and will come, through ONE Christ and ONE church (Jn 17:20-24).

After we have listened to the person from across the table, it is possible that we simply disagree on the matter. That’s fine, but at least we listened and sought the good of the other. We’re always seeking the good of the other. I think that’s what the third way of deep listening is all about.

Deep listening should always lead to a greater understanding and love for our neighbor, even if our neighbor turns out to be our enemy.

And in that case, we love them and pray for peace.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


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