Category Archives: Deeper Christian Life

Overcoming Cynicism (Sermon)

Overcoming CynicismI’ve written on cynicism a few times here at the blog. If you follow regularly, you know this is something I’ve admitted to struggling with myself. I consider myself a recovering cynic. I must repent of my cynicism daily to follow Jesus faithfully.

I’m becoming increasingly aware that I’m not alone in my cynicism. In fact, I’ve gotten more response through personal correspondence on this one issue than any others. It no doubt strikes a chord with folks today. And I’m not surprised.

I’ve found that cynicism is the elephant in the room that nobody really wants to talk about.

A few weeks ago I preached a sermon that is a compilation of stuff I’ve written, as well as new thoughts, on the subject of struggling with and overcoming cynicism. This one sermon was probably the most relevant message I gave all year. It connected with our congregation like no other.

In Overcoming Cynicism, I specifically take on the growing cynicism toward the church, the Body of Christ. It’s something we desperately need to address as we seek to emerge from the “evangelicalism” of the last 30 years.

Here are a few excerpts from the sermon:

“Cynicism manifests itself out of frustration with persons, institutions, organizations, and authorities that have left her victims disillusioned and angry. Cynics feel cheated, robbed, lied to, and taken advantage of. Maybe you know the feeling. Disillusionment has been described as the “dispersal of illusions,” and many Christians are finding themselves passing through disillusionment only to drown in a sea of cynicism.”

“Cynicism is a sickness… it leads to despair. We must repent of it… repent by believing that God is greater than the evil at work in the world, for he calls us to be people of hope. We repent of it because it’s not consistent with the people we’re called to be.”

“Let’s be clear. It’s not cynicism simply to acknowledge reality. It’s just that we can’t fully know what’s real without considering the God fully revealed in Jesus. Reality must conform to the good news of Christ. If we’re not doing that, then why bother with being a Christian. Hopeful realism is about resurrection and the promise of new creation. And this is what I believe we’re being called to embrace in the gospel message. It allows us to see the Spirit of God at work, and it empowers us to join him in shaping God’s good future.”

You can download the sermon and view slides (PDF) here at our archives. Listen to Overcoming Cynicism and learn about practical steps you can take on your way to becoming a hopeful realist this Advent season.

Grace & Peace,

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

 


Not Against Flesh & Blood (Sermon Series)

Last month I attended the Missio Alliance conference Church & Post-Christian Culture in Carlisle, PA. The focus of the conference was on the growing interest in Anabaptism as a tradition that has much to offer the church in our present cultural context. Needless to say, there were a lot of Anabaptists there.

In one of the afternoon breakout sessions, pastors Greg Boyd, Paul Eddy, and Dennis Edwards spoke on spiritual warfare in “Fighting the Right Fight: An Anabaptist Perspective on Spiritual Warfare.”

I went to the first session and showed up a little early. The large room soon filled up and folks were turned away because of fire safety regulations. It was obvious that pastors and other practitioners were interested in the topic.

I remember during the discussion hearing someone say that “we (Anabaptists) don’t talk about this very much” largely because Anabaptists haven’t been known for drawing attention to unseen, spiritual realities.

It’s true that Anabaptists have mostly shied away from the “charismatic” and been more cerebral toward matters of faith. Something I’m hearing pastors in my district within Virginia Conference regrettably lament.

I got the distinct impression that folks were feeling like they wouldn’t even know where to begin in talking about this with their congregations.

While I was listening, I held an outline to a seven-week sermon series on this very topic. For me, the entire session and discussion was affirmation that the series I had put together was indeed something led by the Holy Spirit.

I was already set to begin the series that weekend.

Not Against Flesh & Blood

This coming Sunday I will be preaching the final message in the Not Against Flesh & Blood series at Christiansburg Mennonite Fellowship.

If you’re interested, you can download the sermons and the slides (PDF) at CMF’s sermon archives. The outline gives a brief description of each message.

1. Creation & Chaos
Scripture Reading: Genesis 1:1-2, 3:1-7; Romans 8:18-23; Ephesians 6:12

In the beginning the Triune God created an orderly universe out of love. Then somewhere in the primordial past a portion of his angelic agents began working against the Creator—war in the unseen realms! Chaos ensued and creation began her groaning. In time, the disorder and chaos that began in the heavenly realms were perpetuated with God’s highest creation in all of the physical world: mankind. The first human pair used their free will to spread sin and rebellion upon the earth. Does God hit the reset button on creation? No, God responds by enacting a mysterious, redemptive plan that would not only set the world to rights, but would eventually set the entire cosmos free from decay.

In the first message of the series, we look at how things came to be broken the way they are today, and how the spiritual forces of evil are still at work exploiting human weakness and opposing God’s will. It’s a struggle between good and evil, but ultimately the real battle is not one of flesh and blood.

2. Cruciformed Sovereignty
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 25:1, 7-9; Matthew 8:23-34; 1 John 3:8b

Isn’t God all-knowing? Didn’t God see this great cosmic rebellion coming? If so, why did he create in the first place? If evil comes to pass, God must have wanted it, right? Do we truly have free will, or is everything already determined? If it’s a real battle between good and evil in the heavenly realms, can God lose? What guarantees do we have that Satan will be outwitted and defeated? These are old questions, both philosophical and theological, but they need fresh biblical answers that are consistent with the God revealed in the crucified and resurrected Jesus—keeping in view the real struggle between good and evil (i.e. a battle of the wills), among what is seen and unseen.

In the second message of the series, we consider the problem of evil and God’s interaction with time (past, present, and future). How does God experience the present with us and see the future? If God’s sovereignty looks like Jesus’ power and domination over evil by the cross, and the real struggle isn’t with flesh and blood, what does this mean for how his followers should confront spiritual evil?

3. Prayer as Holy Resistance
Scripture Reading: Daniel 10:1-14; Mark 9:14-29; Matthew 6:5-13

In the Bible and in our experience, the future is partly open and partly settled. Therefore, prayer can be seen as joining with God in engaging the present in order to shape the future. He calls us in Christ to rebuke spiritual evil, even so-called “natural” evils, and bring about the Kingdom through our words and actions. Prayer is a cry for the Kingdom in an act of holy resistance against the evil that seeks to destroy us and our neighbors. Yes, we are changed when we pray, but so do those things around us when we pray in faith. According to the Scriptures, God acts through his Spirit and his heavenly court (i.e. angels) when we pray according to his will. In the way of Jesus, we resist in continual prayer.

In the third message of the series, we dispel of the notion that prayer only changes you and doesn’t have an effect on God or the outcome of the future. On the contrary, God has built it into the very fabric and framework of space and time that we would work with him in the redemptive story. In fact, without our free participation in the Kingdom’s work of resisting evil, we postpone God’s good promises to us.

4. Prayer in Imagination
Scripture Reading: Exodus 33:7-11; Matthew 6:5-13, 11:28-30 (MSG)

Having a warfare worldview and a robust theology of prayer is good, but it’s not enough. We need to be intentional in practicing a life of prayer. Jesus calls us to remain in constant communication with the Father as we go about our lives. He even expresses the holy desire to pray with his own disciples. But Christ also reveals that getting away to a private place is necessary for deepening our relationship with God and for getting in touch with the unseen realities of the world around us. In order to go deeper with God, we must learn to use a disciplined imagination to see Christ as we meet with him face to face.

In the fourth message of the series, we look at how this existential and mystical part of our faith requires that we use our minds for more than analyzing and doing mental gymnastics. We need a supernatural experience of the living Christ. Only then can we join the spiritual war on terror.

5. Sword of the Spirit
Scripture Reading: Psalm 119:1-16; Matthew 4:1-11; Ephesians 6:10-18

We constantly have messages and images running in our minds, even on repeat. Some are good and reflect God’s truth, others are bad and can hinder us, even destroy us. Filling our hearts and minds with Scripture is a powerful and effective way of combating the flesh and the devil. The psalmist knew that meditating and memorizing Scripture transformed the soul, and washed the dirt from his eyes. And Jesus, God in the flesh, immediately resorted to quoting Scripture when facing the tempter, Satan. How much more ought we make Scripture reading, study, and memorization part of our spiritual arsenal?

In the fifth message of the series, we look at the importance of reading and teaching Scripture to bring about the change God wants in our lives, and for transforming the church. Is our thinking being shaped more by the Scriptures, or by culture and our own limited experiences? How can we use the “sword of the Spirit” that’s at work in the written word to confront evil?

6. Worship as Warfare
Scripture Reading: Exodus 10:1-9; 2 Chronicles 20:1-30; Revelation 4:1-11

Worship is far more than our preferences for music and singing. In fact, true worship should have less to do with our personal preferences and more to do with how best to corporately express God’s infinite worth out of sincere thankfulness and celebration for who God is, what he has done, is doing, and will do for us. Furthermore, worship is an activity of heaven and earth. We join with heaven in our worship. Like it is with prayer, worship is calling down the Kingdom. It mysteriously expands the Kingdom in us and around us—pushing back the darkness that seeks to consume us with fear and hopelessness.

In the sixth message of the series, we look at how worship is used in spiritual warfare. It’s not about the performance. It’s not about our preferences. It’s about calling heaven down so that God’s glory would fill the earth. Worship is a part of spiritual warfare, because it’s not against flesh and blood. We join with the angels singing, and demons flee.

7. Hell Will Not Prevail
Scripture Reading: Matthew 16:13-18; 24:4-14; Revelation 12:10-12

Jesus said he saw Satan fall from heaven like lightening. In other words, our archenemy doesn’t have a chance against God almighty! Jesus crushed the head of the serpent, and now we merely see the erratic floundering of a rogue angel losing his power. Jesus said he would build his church and not even the gates of hell would prevail against her. Our promise comes from the crucified and resurrected one. He has defeated death and inaugurated the Kingdom, which is expanding through the church until his glorious return. What does this look like today while we still contend with a fighting enemy?

In the seventh and final message of the series, we look at how evangelism, in conjunction with our prayers and worship, should be seen as a powerful weapon to advance the Kingdom of God. The growing church will proclaim an end to evil and the rebellion that began long ago.

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“The God of peace will soon crush Satan…” Rom 16:20

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Shapeshifting Hippie Jesus

A popular progressive blogger recently said that Jesus “doesn’t lay heavy teachings on people” in connection with his yoke being easy and his burden light (Matt 11:28).

So if Jesus’ teaching seems too heavy and hard for folks (Lk 9:23), does this mean that they merely need to reinterpret Jesus or soften his commands in order to ease their discomfort? I sure hope not.

I prefer Bonhoeffer’s sentiment that those who accept Christ’s commands are the ones who find his yoke easy and the burden light, but to those who resist them (him) his yoke is hard and the burden too heavy for anyone to carry. Just ask the rich man, or those listening to the Sermon on the Mount for the first time.

Jesus didn’t say, “accept yourself and take up your sword and follow me.”

Which translates this way today: I’m fine the way I am and I’ll fight (by whatever means necessary) anyone who says otherwise.

This seems to be particularly reflective of our narcissistic, morally relativistic American society still experiencing the destructive political and social consequences of the 1960’s. We can easily see the error of the tactics used by the Religious Right in the 1980’s to promote a power-over, politicized Jesus, but it was the social “hippie” revolution that completely emasculated Christ and transformed him into an anything-goes “love” guru.

If you follow my writings, you know that I’m not down with the cage-fighting Jesus. I’m an Anabaptist. I believe that Christ is love (agape) and peace as revealed on the cross, but these truths are understood in their purest form after letting Jesus define them for us in word and deed, even in the hard stuff.

It doesn’t happen, and will never happen, by shaping Jesus to fit a new cultural trend, what is politically correct, or what the current zeitgeist (spirit of the age) would have us believe about ourselves, the Messiah, and the sacred Scriptures.

Anyone who reads the Gospels will hear Jesus teaching a radical repentance to come into the Kingdom (Matt 3:8; Mk 1:15; Lk 5:32; 13:1, etc.), but our shape-shifting of Jesus to accommodate our cultural presuppositions about ourselves and our world appears to be keeping us from actually repenting of anything.

Jesus didn’t lay heavy teachings on people? No, quite the opposite. But this is where we are today: well-intentioned folks fed up with fundamentalism not realizing how dangerously close they are to reshaping Jesus to further their own interests and agendas—another version of fundamentalism, the libertine sort.

As Jesus said, “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” to those who lived by the law. I’d say it equally applies to those who use fancy-free language that make folks feel better about their sin in order to promote an easy believism, or a moral therapeutic deism. They both stink to high heaven!

To be clear, I don’t think the one who said Jesus “doesn’t lay heavy teachings on people” really believes that the love of Christ is an “anything-goes” sort of thing, but this misleading rhetoric inevitably sets a person on a trajectory of disaster. It’s not the pathway of repentance for the inheritance of the Kingdom.

Christ ought to be forming us into his image, not the other way around. That is the critical difference. It’s certainly what has made all the difference in my life.

What do you think? When you read the Gospels, is Jesus laying down some hard stuff? Do you hear Jesus extending a high invitation and high challenge to those who would join him?

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Farewell to the Flesh

The Scriptures teach that we human beings are created in God’s image (Gen 1:27). We know that God is spirit, so we’re not talking about his physical appearance, but rather the imago dei is about reflecting his goodness into the world as beings with a special standing and calling—to lovingly rule as caretakers of creation.

As Stanley Grenz has written, “God has designated us as his representatives so that through us creation might experience what God is like. We are to mirror the divine character and thereby reflect God’s own nature” (Created for Community, pg. 77).

Think about this with me: God, who is spirit, became an embodied soul in Christ. Human beings were first body, but then became souls when God breathed life into us in Eden (Gen 2:7).

It’s clear that God thinks the joining of the spiritual and the physical realms is a darn good thing. Incarnation is what he wanted all along. And it will come to completion in the future resurrection.

But there is something about the “flesh” that needs to be understood.

Identity Crisis & Confusion

The New International Version translates sarx (flesh) as “sinful nature” when the NT is referring to that part of human beings that is familiar with sin, that which seeks to root our identity in evil desires and actions—distorting the image of God. The translators did this as not to confuse human “flesh” to mean “sinful” when speaking about Jesus (e.g. Jn 1:14).

I understand wanting to differentiate its meaning, but “sinful nature” is terribly misleading in what it says about us.

Greg Boyd explains it this way:

“The flesh is not a nature that is essential to someone’s identity. It is rather a deceptive way of seeing and experiencing oneself and one’s world and thus a deceptive way of living in the world… It is a way of existence that comes naturally to fallen creatures, but it is not itself a “nature.” Indeed, it is sinful and destructive, and believers are exhorted to live free of it, precisely because it is against the nature God created in us and the new identity God gave us in Christ. In other words, the flesh is a worldview that is based upon a lie and that therefore opposes truth.” Greg Boyd, Seeing is Believing (pg.35)

A self-identity of “flesh” began in Eden when the first humans bought into the lies of the serpent and experienced the fall from their original position of knowing God, themselves, and the world.

  • Lie 1: Being made “in his image” isn’t best.
  • Lie 2: You are self-sufficient and know better that God.
  • Lie 3: You can obtain life by doing something.

These lies are at the root of every sin we commit, though they can take many different forms. This identity of flesh is maintained by what Paul calls the “pattern of the world” and we’re told to resist it by being transformed through the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:1-2).

Therefore, the “sinful nature” is actually a lie. It’s not the true you.

This “flesh” is the identity that is formed as a result of sin, while living in sin, and through the constant shaping of outside influences (e.g. family, society, culture, etc.). These forces often can and do seek to mold us into an image that is contrary to what God says about us in Christ (Rom 8:1-2).

We are created in his image, but we are broken and not as we should be. Thankfully, Jesus came to repair the damage done and offer us a new identity.

A New Identity in Christ

The apostle Paul said that we believers have died with Christ, even been crucified with him (Gal 2:20), and the life we now live is done so from a position of being “in Christ” and Christ living in us.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV

Christ is the perfect image of God, and offers us a new identity rooted in him.

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:1-5 NIV

Jesus says his Spirit is available for the creation of new life—an identity where sin is not natural—where “sinner” is not your name. What you feel or have been shaped by with the “pattern of the world” is to be denied for belief in a deeper truth: You are a new creation in Christ!

Over and over again the Scripture says that we are to shed the old identity by taking control of our thoughts and turning our gaze upon the truth of heaven (Col 3:1-4; Phil 4:6-8). We must be intentional in this pursuit.

The one who conditions the heart and mind to embrace the new identity will gain control of his body, effecting the whole course of his life.

Isn’t it time to say farewell to the identity called “flesh” that enslaves you? The following scene from Peaceful Warrior (2006) illustrates this spiritual feat.

What’s keeping you from dashing the false image and ego? Let go of your flesh and choose to daily embrace your new identity in Christ.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


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