“You are just a big baby…why don’t you grow up!”

“You are just a big baby…why don’t you just grow up!”  Most of us have heard or used those words with friends or others as we were growing up.  They were meant to get our attention so something would change in the way we were acting.  In my experience many of those times the charges were accurate.  I needed them.  I was acting in a way that was destroying the enjoyment and relational comradery of the people I was with.  These same issues are true in our lives today.

While Paul didn’t use that exact phrase, he did clearly infer the same thing to the church in Corinth.  It wasn’t designed to flatter but get their attention so something would change.

  • 1 Corinthians 3:1-3  And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.  (2)  I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able,  (3)  for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?

The writer of Hebrews did the same thing.

  • Hebrews 5:12-6:1  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  (13)  For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.  (14)  But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.  (6:1)  Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity.

My wife and I have been privileged to have 4 children and 6 grandchildren (2 on the way).  We have loved every stage of our children and grandchildren’s lives.  We have also walked with many other people raising children and grandchildren.  One thing is true both naturally and spiritually. Babyhood is delightful, but perpetual babyhood is deplorable.  This is why we are all called to “press on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1, Phil 3;12-16).

Babyhood is delightful, but perpetual babyhood is deplorable.  This is true both naturally and spiritually.

What does it mean to be growing towards maturity?  A simple definition is living more of our lives responding to God and less to any other motivation (self-centeredness, flesh, culture, or the enemy).  Paul said it in the above verse “you are still fleshly…for since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly” (2 Cor 3:3).  Consistently yielding to the motivation of self-serving flesh is the sure sign of immaturity.

Self-centered immaturity is the cause of much harm in any relationship, especially among the people of God.  This is why Jesus consistently mentioned that we must deny self-centeredness in the calls to follow Him (Mt 10:37-39, 16:24-25, Mk 8:34-35, 10:21, Lk 9:23-25, 17:33, 14:27-34, Jn 12:24-26).

Three areas that reveal immaturity

  • Your inner desires: In the natural realm as you grow up you notice that your childhood toys no longer interest you. I think spiritual maturity works in a similar way. When you are growing in Christ, the world’s pleasures that are often wrapped up in things lose their appeal. At the same time, your hunger for God increases. You want to be with Him (prayer etc) and you become more motivated and sustained with making Him known. You want more of Him moving in and through your life. That desire gradually begins to overshadow all others (like Jesus said the Kingdom would do in the parable of the mustard seed Mt 13:31-32).
  • Your understanding: When you were young your understanding of the world was very limited. As you grew up you began to see the world from a broader, more mature perspective. It works the same way spiritually. As you grow you begin to see life from God’s perspective. You evaluate opportunities as well as temptations from a bigger perspective. It becomes more difficult to be pulled into things that have no real eternal value. Serving God becomes the most important thing in this life and everything else takes a back seat.
  • Self-centeredness: One of the most obvious traits of infancy and childhood is selfishness. Babies want their way and they want it now! Mature Christians are more submissive to the Lord. They become more concerned with His world than their own. They are willing to sacrifice and wait for Him.  More and more of their life source is found in Him and His world rather than their own. Instead of God existing to bless their world a mature perspective takes over and they begin to see that they exist to serve His world.

If we are going to “press on” and grow to maturity we have to be willing to put away “childish things.”  Let’s not mistake me-centered or self-help spirituality for genuine spiritual maturity lest we end up worshipping a god we make instead of the God of the Bible. Relationships are both the measurement and means of maturity. Click To Tweet

People growing in maturity will progressively exhibit fruit in these 3 Biblical areas.  They are indelible characteristics of one growing in maturity.  You will notice that possessing them will enable us to walk well with others, while not possessing them will work to destroy most relationships.  Relationships are usually both the measurement and means of maturity.  Just possessing Bible knowledge isn’t maturity.  It is when that knowledge coupled in a relationship with God causes actual fruit to be produced in these areas.

Relationships are both the measurement and means of maturity.

  • The ethics of God’s love (attitudes and actions of 1 Corinthains 13:1-13).  “Patience, kindness, not jealous, no bragging, non-arrogance, does not seek its own, not easily provoked, doesn’t take into account wrongs committed against them, does not rejoice in unrighteousness but the truth bears all things (patience), endures all things, and hopes in all things.”
  • The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24).  “Joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control.”
  • The mind/attitude of Christ (Philippians 2:1-11).  “Doesn’t have selfish ambition,willing to unite and walk in unity with others,  humble in mind seeing others as more important than self, doesn’t look out for its own interest but the interest of others,has a humble attitude, and is a servant.”   

To press on to maturity we must follow what Paul continues to say in Philippians 2:23-13 Work out salvation with fear and trembling (it takes effort) as we embrace God’s work in us. 

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True North: Pursuing Biblical Christianity

Authentic Christianity is coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus and being joined to a family of imperfect people who are learning to live a new life in a new way as they pursue God’s mission together.

A dear friend, Emily Peterson recently made a plaque to hang on our wall with a Scripture on it that has been a life message for Denise, myself, and many others we have walked together with for 37 years.  God used that Scripture to start us on a journey of discovering and pursuing His design for His people.  That passage as well many others in the New Testament set us on a path towards His Kingdom and Biblical church life that we are still pursuing today.

Crafted by Emily Peterson

Acts 2:36-47…(41)  So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.  (42)  They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…  (46)  Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,  (47)  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

 A definition that stuck with us in our early days defined what we were seeing in Scripture, “Authentic Christianity is coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus and being joined to a family of imperfect people who are learning to live a new life in a new way as they pursue God’s mission together.” That is still our aim and passion.

We need to be Biblically courageous

I remember a story of a leader speaking in China with several people who were part of underground churches.  He was describing the typical experience of church life in American.  One of them began to laugh and then the whole group began to laugh.  The leader was not trying to be funny and was wondering why they were laughing.  One of the Chinese members began to wave their Bible as they continued to laugh and said loudly “how did you get that from reading this book.”  What a revealing comment!

If you had only the Bible to give you definition would you be pursuing the kind of church life you are living? Unfortunately, many Christians are shopping around for a vision.  They look at what people are doing and then think I’ll take that part, I don’t like that, I would tweak that a little, or I like this about that church so I’m going to combine all these things and do it this way.  This isn’t what should guide us.  It should be about what the Scripture says.

When revelation is something from God through Scripture it isn’t about pursuing a trendy thing or a popular thing.  It is about pursuing a Biblical thing. It’s when we say “we have got to do this.” It is like Caleb at the edge of the promised land, “We must, by all means, go in and take possession of it” (Num 13:30).

These revelations become core convictions that people refuse to compromise even in the midst of difficulty and personal loss.  Some call it God’s inner compass.  It always points the same direction no matter how lost one would seem to become.  Like Paul, it is an internal heavenly vision that guides, “I have not proved disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19).

It is the Spirit’s inner compass.  A traditional compass points to the true north based on the magnetic north.  That is the magnetic point on the earth in which all other magnetic fields point downward.  The problem with a traditional compass is that it can be thrown off by getting close to metal objects, iron, other magnets, or even some other rocks.  External forces can cause the directions to be compromised.

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”  – G.K.Chesterton

Another type of compass which is more like God’s inner compass is a gyrocompass. This is the type of compass that ships have traditionally used.  A gyrocompass finds the true north from the earth’s rotation rather than one point of the magnetic north.  Its strength is that it can keep the true north even if magnetic or other material is placed near it.  It is orientated to something much bigger than itself, the earth’s rotation.  No matter what the competing external force, it keeps its true north based on the rotation of a larger sphere, the earth.

This is the type of inner compass that God wants His people to have.  Their direction is based on rotation around God’s bigger purpose.  No matter what the external or internal pressure is they hold true to clear values given by God.   Daniel and his three friends best exemplify this type of compass as they stood firm on what God had shown them even to the point of death.  The result was three moves of God in a hostile land based on their unwavering conviction (Daniel 2:1-18, 3:14-30, 6:1-28).

What are core essentials of His design in the Bible that we can’t live without? 

We don’t want to simply be informed about God’s design with a “that’s nice to know” perspective.  We want to be pursuing God’s design with a “we must go for it” attitude.

When God’s people receive revelation from Him it becomes vision.  It is more than just “nice to know” ideas.  We don’t want to simply be informed about God’s designs with a “that’s nice to know” perspective.  We want to be pursuing God’s design with a “we must go for it” attitude.  That is the difference between a good idea and a God-given vision.  Good ideas come with a take it or leave perspective.  Real God ideas come with a Spirit-inspired  “we must go for it” passion.

We must not allow a mentality to develop in which we believe certain things but fatalistically accept an opposite reality.  Rather we are to have a mentality that this is what we believe and therefore we must pursue it.

  • A local church is God’s family living out His relational way of life among the people as they follow Him on His mission.   A church is not a building, meeting, or an organization.  A local church is a relational way of life.  It is God’s family living out their life together following Jesus on His mission (Acts 2:38-42, 4:35-42, 59 “one another’s” in the Epistles, 44% of the NT instruction about how to relationally walk together).
  • The local church is central, not peripheral to the plans and purposes of God (Mt 16:18, Eph 1:23, 3:3-11, 5:25-32, Rev 19:7, 21:2-9, 22:17). Many see local churches as consumers see online or retail outlets. Churches exist to accommodate and satisfy consumers.   Biblical church commitment is not a consumer driven accessory for people’s personal dream fulfillment.  God’s people are not consumers looking for the best church deal (most benefits at the cheapest price).  We are a people who are consumed by God living out His purposes (Titus 2:1-14).
  • The Kingdom of God (Rule of Christ) is to be embraced and expressed through God’s people.  As His people submit to Christ’s Lordship in all areas of their lives as well as His headship in the church (Acts 2:36-42, Rom 10:9-10, Col 1:17-19, Rev 1-3) His Kingdom is revealed.
  • Local church membership is comprised of disciples who follow Jesus together on His mission and seek to put into practice everything He says (Mt 28:18-20, Acts 11:23). In the gospels, Jesus says to “follow Me” 25 times.  Only 4 times He says to believe. The emphasis is clearly on following.  About 269 times in the NT God’s people are referred to as disciples while only 3 times it referrs to them as “Christians.”  The emphasis is on discipleship which means following and obeying Jesus.  Church members are not just an audience of people (watching stones) attending meetings who made decisions about Jesus.   Real membership is a group of disciples pursuing Him and His mission together (living stones not just watching stones).
  • God’s design is a continual and increasing Spirit-filled life with Biblical evidence.  God’s people are to be led by, filled with, and moving in all the gifts of Holy Spirit both in meetings as well as everyday life (John 7:37-39, Acts 1:8, 2:1-4, 4:8, 31, 6:3, 8:12-24, 9:1-17, 10:43-48, 19:1-6, 1 Cor 12-14, Eph 5:18).  The pursuit of a Spirit-filled life is essential, not optional (Jn 7:37-39, Acts 1:8 etc.).
  • All the Ephesians 4 ministries are essential, not optional, in the building of local churches.  They bring increased vision, spiritual impact, and provide good care, counsel, and accountability for local churches and leaders.
  • The local church is governed by a team of leaders (elders with deacons alongside) chosen by God, recognized by people, with Ephesians 4 ministries involved in their appointment (Acts 14:23, 15:4-23, 16:4, 20:17-28, Phil 1:1, 1 Thes 5:12, 1 Tim 5:1-21, Tit 1:5-11, Jas 5:14, 1 Pet 5:1). This is in contrast to a one-man “pastor” who works with a deacon or elder board appointed by the congregation who form a committee to govern church affairs. Jesus’ design is for leaders to walk together in a family/team relationship similar to the relationship among the Godhead (John 17:11, 21-23).
  • God desires trans-local Ephesians 4 ministries to walk and work together as a family team (Acts 13-28, Romans 16:1-16, 1 Cor 16:10-24, Col 4:7-18, 2 Tim 4:1-23, Phil 4:1-23). They walk together as a family and their input helps provide good foundations (Eph 2:20, 1 Cor 3:10-12), as well as fatherly and motherly care into local church families (1 Thes 2:7-11).
  • The missionary call to the world is upon everyone, everywhere, all the time (Gen 1:26-28, Mt 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, Eph 1:22-22 etc.). Local churches are God’s family together on God’s mission. Missions isn’t a program or a special call upon a few people who live in faraway places.  It is the daily call upon all the church whether it be across the street or across the ocean (Jn 17:23, 20:21).  In Jesus’ model for missions seen in Matthew 9-11 and Luke 9-10 He sends them out in pairs and the others they are joined to are able to follow them into the work.
  • God desires praise and worship that is heartfelt, Spirit-filled, and according to His truth (Jn 4:23-24) with all the physical expressions prescribed in the Bible. This includes, but is not limited to the Biblical expressions such as shouting seen 265 times in Scripture, playing musical instruments 58 times, singing 29 times, lifting our hands 14 times, clapping 12 times, bowing or kneeling 12 times, dancing 9 times, and standing 7 times.
  • God desires His people to have a multigenerational perspective that reaches back to help those younger while at the same time we reach forward.  We want to leave a spiritual legacy to those coming behind us (Ps 78, Titus 2 etc).
  • Biblical “ministry” is not about gifted people on platforms in corporate meetings.  Ministry is about every person being equipped and using their God-given talents and Spiritual gifts to build up the family of God everyday to reach the world with the gospel (1 Cor 12-14, Eph 4:10-32, Rom 12:1-17, 1 Pet 4:10-11, 1 Tim 4:4, 2 Tim 1:6).

Like the apostle Paul said, “not that I have already obtained or already become perfect, but I press on” (Phil 3:12).  We are to continue to reach for God’s ideal with those joined together by God.  We have tasted many of these things in part, and are far from perfect, but like the song Shekinah Glory we want more,  “you move and we want more, You speak and we want more…more of Your fullness.”

 

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God’s Answer to a Culture Starving for Community and Connectedness

There is something in the human race that needs and seeks connectivity with a community.  That desire originated in creation.  God said, “Let US make man in OUR IMAGE and OUR LIKENESS” (Genesis 1:26-28).  The US and OUR were the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who had been living in perfect family/community forever.  Man was designed with THEIR image and likeness, part of which is family/community.  The only thing in the Garden of Eden that God said “it is not good” was “for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18).

Facebook To The Rescue

Isn’t it interesting that in the 80’s the seeker-friendly movement helped churches run more like corporations in order to attract people.  Now corporations like Facebook are seeking to operate like churches. 

On June 22, 2017, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, spoke at the inaugural Communities Summit in Chicago.  He spoke of Facebook’s goal to bring greater connectivity to people that they once found in groups like churches and little league teams.  He identified the decline of community, connectivity, and support in groups like churches.  His goal is to use Facebook to fill in the gaps.   He made some very good points that should challenge God’s people in both their identity and mission.

Can he help provide what the church used to provide?

Some of his points were as follows, “It’s so striking that for decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined as much as one-quarter. That’s a lot of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else.  People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity — not just because they’re religious, but because they’re part of a community.”

Zuckerberg suggests that Facebook can help fill those gaps using it’s networking power to organize, “We started a project to see if we could get better at suggesting groups that will be meaningful to you. We started building artificial intelligence to do this. And it works. In the first 6 months, we helped 50% more people join meaningful communities.”  Some took his message as an attempt to replace churches or other organizations, but for sure he is seeing the gap in churches and is ready with Facebook to continue to improve in filling it.

Enigma in social media and connectedness

A lot of researchers are troubled by an enigma that is accompanying the rise of social media (which tends to challenge Zuckerberg’s ideas).  It seems that while we are more socially connected online with sites like Facebok, Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat, and  Reddit at the same time we are more socially isolated.  As a matter of fact, online connectedness without physical connectedness can tend to increase feelings of aloneness.  Research over the past 5+ years seems to confirm this.

Google the phrase Facebook isolation and 83,100,000 results will appear.  Google Facebook depression and you will get 91,900,000 hits.  These feelings of aloneness and isolation have corresponding effects on depression and suicide.   Aaron Kheriaty director of the Medical Ethics Program at Cal-Irvine writes in First Things (https://www.firstthings.com/article/2017/08/dying-of-despair), “the suicide crisis in America has reached epidemic proportions. Rates are growing coast to coast, in rural and urban areas, among the poor and the rich, the young and the old. What in the world is going on, and what do we do about it?”

While many factors are listed as causes of depression and suicide such as social fragmentation and an overall decrease in religious involvement, Kheriatly boils the problem down to despair.  Kheriaty also notes from research that, “prayer, religious faith, participation in a religious community, and practices like cultivating gratitude, forgiveness, and other virtues can reduce the risk of depression [and], lower the risk of suicide… One study of 89,000 people showed that those ‘who attend any religious service once a week or more were five times less likely to commit suicide’ than those who don’t.”  It highlights the component of real, not just online connectedness with faith communities.

Important revelation and reaffirmation of the call on the church 

God can heal depression and mental illness and it may need medical or psychological assistance.  The aloneness and isolation that often contributes to it can be helped by God’s people living in His design for real community

These trends and revelations show us something important for the church.  God can heal depression and mental illness and it may need medical or psychological assistance.  The aloneness and isolation that often contributes to it can be helped by God’s people living in His design for real community.  As we do we show the world a light that is found in Christ and among His people.  Matthew 5:13-16  “You are the salt of the earth… (14)  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;  (15)  nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  (16)  “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Aloneness is curable in Jesus and His house!   Ps 68:6 “God makes a home for the lonely in His house.”  

Aloneness is curable!  God confirmed the need to cure aloneness, and He showed us how to do it at creation.  The only thing in His creation order that He said was “not good” was “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18).  God then moved to begin the process to cure it, the creation of His family.

Jesus echoed this by revealing His design and cure for aloneness in His church.  Mark 10:29-30  Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake,  (30)  but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.

Jesus obviously knew what the Psalmist said about God’s house centuries earlier.  Psalms 68:5-6  A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, Is God in His holy habitation.  (6)  God makes a home for the lonely.

God’s people need to stand up (on their everyday mission trips), wave their arms, and say “over here, come here, join us, Jesus has a family you can be part of!”  The cure for aloneness is in Jesus and among His people!  Like Andrew we need to bring people to Jesus (Jn 1:41-43), who will lift their despair, “come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and you will find rest in your soul” (Mt 11:28), and to His family were aloneness is healed (Ps 68:6).

The church’s call

We can’t fulfill this call by simply going to church.   Instead, we must be the church every day and everywhere we are.  When Jesus says, “Come follow me,” He isn’t calling us to start a class or offer a program but to follow Him and open our hearts to others.

Aloneness is curable in Jesus and His house! Click To Tweet

Practical ways to help call people out of loneliness through Jesus.

  1. Welcome everyone you meet. Jesus welcomed strangers and marginalized people (Luke 19:1-10). In the same way that Zacchaeus was a “son of Abraham” and worthy of Jesus’ time, the marginalized and lonely people that you interact with are loved by God and worthy of your time too. Extend a kind word to everyone you meet, but also seek ways to share your time, energy and life with them.
  2. Engage people.We are not just inviting people to programs or services (Rom 12:13-20). It is a personal connection we offer.
  3. Consider ways to share meals/hospitality. In the whole gospel of Luke, Jesus is either at a meal, going to a meal, or just finishing a meal.  In Biblical culture, meals were the main means of interacting and showing hospitality.
  4. Pay attention. Jesus told the disciples as they were busy serving Him, “lift up your eyes and look on the fields they are white with harvest” (Jn 4:35). An uplifting word or kind action may begin a process of God to change a life.  We have to look at people in order to see them.

Online connections can help but they cannot replace the real thing.

 

 

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Pursuing God’s Culture of Discipleship (Pt 2 The Gospel)

 “Let us always remember that Christ calls men and women not only to trust Him as Savior, but also to follow Him as Lord. That call to discipleship must be part of our message if we are to be faithful to Him.” Billy Graham

If we want to personally embrace, and help guide people towards Jesus’ call of discipleship, it must touch our identity.  We have to first see ourselves and our calling to both become and help make disciples.  If this identity isn’t in our foundation, any attempts at discipleship will become another dead religious work.  It will be going through motions without an inward Spiritual drive motivating them.  A dead work can be defined as doing religious things without real ongoing connection with, and direction from Christ.

Foundations are so important. The way people come into Christ and the church usually determine how they will walk once they are there. What are they committed to by being there? Are their lives actually being transformed by Jesus? A. W. Tozer said it well, “We can know the right words yet never be changed. This is the difference between information and transformation.”

” We can know the right words yet never be changed. This is the difference between information and transformation.”

Biblical traits that will be found among people who are following Him as disciples.

  • Following Jesus and being led by the Spirit (Romans 8).
  • Bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5).
  • Pursuing and exhibiting the mind of Christ (Philippians 2).
  • Living out the characteristics of Love according to God’s definition (Jn 3:16, 1 Jn 3:16, 1 Cor. 13 and 1 John 4).
  • Pursuing the Biblical practice “putting off the old person and putting on the new, Jesus” (Colossians 3, Romans 13:8-14).
  • Engaging in His mission every day, everywhere, all the time as we are sent out by Jesus  (Jn 17:18, 20:21).
  • Continual pursuit of a Spirit filled life through which we make progress and move in His power (John 7:37:38, Acts 1:8, Ephesians 5:18).

Proper Foundations Begin With The Gospel

Shallow or incomplete presentations of the gospel will produce shallow Christians. A wrong perspective of what Christianity is all about will affect discipleship. Progress is often blocked because it is tied by the background assumption of what people believe the gospel is about and their understanding of what it is to be a Christian.

Often Christianity and salvation are reduced to confessing your belief that Jesus died on your behalf. That is all there is to it. Salvation is free and nothing else needs to happen but accept it. Is that really all the gospel is? We tend to treat the experience of conversion as something entirely separate from the process of following Him as a disciple (Mt 28:18-29).

 What are some of the incomplete versions of the gospel?

  • The prosperity and affluence gospel.  In this gospel, the right to prosperity and happiness IS the cause. The things of God exist for me to have the best life now in terms of personal dream fulfillment and an affluent lifestyle.  The great quest for our lives is to develop our faith in order to claim our rights to prosperity and affluence.  It produces an entitlement mentality and a subtle motivation of managing the things of God towards personal ends.
  • The forgiveness for heaven gospel.  This tends to foster a type of person that is much like the old vampire movies I watched as a young unbeliever.  People aren’t that concerned about a real relationship. Like the vampires, they just relate enough to get the effect of the blood in their lives.   Once they get the effect of His blood in them they want little more to do with Jesus until they get to heaven.  This tends to create Christians who are not disciples.  The message is “be forgiven.”  Following Christ is optional.
  • Liberal gospel of moral therapeutic deism.  Conversion is about improving the quality of your life by feeling better about yourself, doing good works, becoming a better person, working for justice, and helping needy people.  Absolute truth and clear standards are optional.  The goal is to have a better feeling about our life and its meaning.  In this gospel, instead of following Jesus and exhibiting the culture of heaven, there is more of an accommodation of the earth’s culture to stay relevant and appealing.
  • The consumer gospel.  God exists to fulfill our lives in a variety of areas and give us a sense of personal self-worth and fulfillment.  The church and religious programs are simple means to get what we need to make our dreams come true.  God is happy if we are happy. It promises to provide everything a person on the go needs: convenience, speed, sound-bite theology, and instant results.  Since impatience is the besetting sin in the west, the consumer gospel replaces the slow and difficult path of authentic spiritual maturity with methods and programs that give fast and easy results.  Our sins are taken off the table and the deeper life of discipleship is optional, something we can pursue if we have time.  This gospel creates people who become finicky consumers who shop for churches and programs that quickly and efficiently meet their needs. If they can find an easier or better one they go to that one.
  • The religious rightness gospel.  This gospel tends to prioritize correct doctrine, adherence to a narrow behavioral and moral code, and an exclusiveness of truth. The goal is that we become more right than everyone else so we feel better about our faith.  It forms a mentality that we are better than others, like the Pharisees.  Why, because we have THE truth.
  • The gospel of the Kingdom.  This is the Biblical gospel (Mt 4:23, 9:35, 24:14, Lk 16:16).  It is the proclamation of the loving rule and reign of Christ over all of life.  Through Jesus’ incarnation, perfect life, death (bearing our sin and suffering God’s wrath for us in order to justify), and His resurrection triumph, we have the opportunity to live in Him.  We are accepted by God, set free from sin and wrath, and brought under the loving Lordship of Jesus.  This was the first message that the early church proclaimed, “God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:38-42).

As we confess Him as Lord and come under His loving rule we are delivered from the bondage and power of sin. As we believe, follow, and begin to obey (put into practice) His word, we are progressively set free from the damaging effects of sin and enjoy life in Him.  The entrance has always been the same. Jesus is the door (entrance) to the Kingdom (Jn 10:7-9).

As we continue to follow and obey, we continue to be set free  John 8:31-36 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;  (32)  and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free…(36) who the Son sets free is free indeed.

Unfortunately, we can cheapen the gospel to the point people buy in without selling out to Jesus. 

Sin at its core is selfishness.  It is enthroning you, your desires, your needs, and your plans, then worshipping them.  Unfortunately, we can cheapen the gospel to the point people buy in without selling out to Jesus.  It becomes believing without following.  It is comfortable, convenient, and me-centric.  It becomes more about Him following us to fulfill our desires rather than us following Him in order to fulfill His desires.  This is not the gospel.  This type of gospel will not have the effect of people following Him, being truly set free, and living for His sake.

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God’s People Pursuing A Culture of Discipleship (Pt 1)

Discipleship isn’t learning more information about Jesus. It is knowing and following Him in the context of His people as we progressively put His commandments into practice while pursuing His mission.

John 15:8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.

3 John 1:4 I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.

Many churches and leaders believe that they are succeeding if they can produce a Sunday morning service which both appeals to people and motivates them to attend. What about the people who sit in the audience week after week? What about their ongoing motivation in following Jesus and maturing? Meeting attendees are often left to themselves when it comes to following Jesus, growth, and maturity.

The things we experience on Sunday morning should produce a change on Monday Morning.

There is often little motivation in the cultural atmosphere of the church for people to go forward and make progress. For those serious enough to want to go further there are Bible studies and various other groups provided for “discipleship,” but what about the motivational atmosphere in the church culture? Is there an atmosphere that motivates people to follow Jesus, put His words into practice, and live as a family of disciples on His mission?

Having quality Sunday morning services are important but those gatherings can never take the place of people walking together in real everyday life following Jesus, and helping each other put His words into practice while pursing His mission. This is essential to becoming and making disciples who progressing towards maturity (Eph 4:16, Col 2:19).

Gods people are not called to merely attend services. They are called to follow Jesus They are called to become and help make disciples.  Matthew 28:18-20, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (19) “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe (put into practice) all that I commanded you.

This was how the early Christians lived. So much so that they were labeled disciples way more than Christians. Acts 11:26…the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. The designation of “disciple” was used 269 times in the New Testament while the designation “Christian” was used only 3 times (Acts 11:26, 26:28, 1Pet 4:16)

What does the term “disciple” mean? According to Bible dictionaries, a disciple is “a follower, learner, and an adherent.” The Biblical idea is increasingly loving, following, and obeying Jesus in all areas of life.  We are called to both become and help others become disciples who follow Him and put his words into practice.

We need more than discipleship programs in the church. We need to see a discipleship culture. If discipleship doesn’t reside in the culture of a church then the Great Commission becomes a great option leading to the great omission.

We need more than discipleship programs in the church. We need to see a discipleship culture. If discipleship doesn’t reside in the culture of a church then the Great Commission becomes a great option leading to the great omission.

What would it be like if we had a church culture where becoming and making disciples was a natural part of what everyone did? What if discipleship wasn’t just a program or strategic plan but a culture involving shared values, language, vision, and a common life centered around helping people walk as disciples of Jesus.

We need to be intentional and have a passion for becoming and making disciples. We need a Spiritual inward drive and a cultural motivation in the church to see God’s people live as a relational family of disciples walking together on God’s mission. It is a culture where every person is involved in the process of helping each other as God’s family on God’s mission.

Cultural change starts with the gospel we embrace and proclaim.

The way people come into Christ and the church usually determines how they will walk. What are they committed to by being there? What participation do they exhibit that leads to what the Bible considers growth and maturity? Are their lives actually being transformed by Jesus? AW Tozer said it well, “We can know the right words yet never be changed. This is the difference between information and transformation.”

” We can know the right words yet never be changed. This is the difference between information and transformation.”

Are these Biblical traits of maturity being developed among God’s people?

  • Are people following Jesus, being led by the Spirit (Romans 8)?
  • Are people bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5)?
  • Are people exhibiting the mind of Christ (Philippians 2)?
  • Are people actually taking on the character of love according to God’s definition (Jn 3:16, 1 Jn 3:16, 1 Cor. 13 and 1 John 4)?
  • Are people pursuing “putting off the old person and putting on the new, Jesus” (Colossians 3, Romans 13:8-14)?
  • Are people engaging His mission as they are sent out every day, everywhere, all the time (Jn 17:18, 20:21)?

Shallow or incomplete presentations of the gospel will produce shallow Christians. A wrong perspective on what Christianity is all about will affect discipleship. Progress is often blocked because it is tied by the background assumption of what people believe the gospel is about and their understanding of what it is to be a Christian.

Often Christianity and salvation are reduced to confessing your belief that Jesus died on your behalf. That is all there is to it. Salvation is free and nothing else needs to happen but accept it. Is that really all the gospel is? We tend to treat the experience of conversion as something entirely separate from the process of following Him as a disciple (Mt 28:18-29).  More next time.

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Discipleship in the Midst of Busy Lives

discipleshipEveryone serving Jesus is called to both become and help make disciples.  This is the Great Commission.  Matthew 28:19-20  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,  (20)  teaching them to observe (put into practice) all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always.

Becoming and making disciples of the Lord is different than making decisions for the Lord.  It is more than simply deciding to believe that Jesus died for our sins.  Even the demons believe that (James 2:19). Disciples are those who follow Jesus and are learning to obey (put into practice) His word in every area of their lives.   Discipleship isn’t simply gaining information about Jesus but learning how to put into practice all that He said in our everyday life.

How can we really do that in the midst of lives that are already too busy?   We live in a fast-paced world where we can hardly find time for God or our families.  We can barely get everything done before collapsing in bed at the end of an overwhelming day.

It is helpful to consider the way Jesus did it.  Making disciples wasn’t a program. Discipleship was a relational way of living.   His grand strategy was simple.  In the course of living everyday life and facing everyday situations, He modeled, taught, spoke about the Kingdom, and helped shape God’s life in the people who were around Him. As he shared life with them God’s word rubbed off on those who followed Him. Unplanned events were often Diving opportunities to learn how God’s Kingdom works in everyday life.

Jesus’ strategy for discipleship wasn’t classroom or curriculum-based, it was relational based.

American Christianity often thinks of discipleship in terms of programs (“Discipleship Training Night, Discipleship Class, Discipleship Huddle Groups etc.), but Jesus did it in the midst of everyday life.   Mark 3:14  And He ordained twelve, that they should be with Him, and that He might send them out. Jesus’ strategy for discipleship wasn’t classroom or curriculum-based, it was relational based.  It was mostly unplanned opportunities that came up in the everyday rhythms of life that became the impetus for “teaching them to obey” God’s commands.

Jesus' strategy for discipleship wasn't classroom or curriculum-based, it was relational based. Click To Tweet

Here are some important things to keep in mind so we don’t see discipleship as a program or another busy chore in the midst of lives that are too busy.

  • Opportunities for discipleship are everywhere and anytime.

The way Jesus lived among His disciples included both planned and unplanned opportunities for discipleship.  In the course of everyday life serving God together, unplanned people and events came along and Jesus was able to bring God’s Kingdom perspective in them.

  • Discipleship is relational.

People aren’t projects they are friends.  Discipleship is about helping our friends learn to follow and obey what Jesus said.  It takes living life among people.  It is about being who we are and showing the Kingdom perspective in every area of life.

  • Include people in your everyday life.

It is having people join you, or you join them in real life stuff instead of just a meeting or a program.   The best way to help people put into practice His word in everyday life is to have examples from everyday life.  If you have to run an errand or work on something around the house include people in it.  If you have to go serve someone take them with you.

  • To learn how to obey Jesus in real life we have to live real life.

We aren’t rushing off to a discipleship class or program.  It is people being around us in the course of real life. It is where people see our successes, failures, and responses to challenges in the everyday life of being a husband, wife, son, daughter, employee, and steward of our resources.   Learning how to confess sins, repent, and restore relationships when we falter is an important part of discipleship.  I like how Jesus said in Matthew 11.  The MSG translation uses the term “unforced rhythms of grace.”  This takes the pressure off in the midst of busyness.  Mt 11:28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

  • Learn how to work from rest, not always striving to rest from work.

When we work from rest we actually find life in God’s work. This is how Jesus, in the midst of physical exhaustion, engaged with the woman at the well and found God’s life in the midst of it.  Out of rest He joined the Father in His work finding fresh life to which He replied to His disciples when they returned from getting food for Him,  John 4:34 Jesus *said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work. We actually gain life when we work with what God is doing instead of feeling a burden of trying to produce it ourselves.

If we approach discipleship from a place of rest then it isn’t more work we need to do.  It is a life-giving thing we get to do.    Hebrews 4:10-11  For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.  (11) Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest.

 

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