Archive | August, 2016

God does not have an individual plan for your life

29 Aug

Image result for does god have a plan for me

Last week I introduced yesterday’s sermon about knowing and doing the will of God, by bringing up the idea of soulmates.  Does God have that one perfect person for you to be with for the rest of your life?

There are plenty of other areas that we could talk about when it comes to discerning God’s will.  Careers, houses, relationships, purchases.  Lots of big decisions.  And plenty of small ones too, right?  If we are serious about knowing and doing God’s will, we should want to follow it in the big and small choices of life, shouldn’t we?  So that could include which outfit you picked out to wear today.  It could be your choice of what you had for lunch.  We make loads of choices every day!  So how do we know what God wants us to choose?

Many people hold to the bull’s eye view.  The whole target represents our lives, and the bull’s eye is God’s perfect will. God’s best plan for your life is like hitting the bull’s eye.  I often hear that God has a specific unique plan for each person.  This plan is called “God’s will,” or sometimes called “God’s best.”  The implication of this bull’s eye view is two-fold:

  1. God communicates his perfect will to us. Some examples of how he does this is through a still small voice, an inner peace, an impression of the Holy Spirit, other people, his word and so on.
  1. We can miss his perfect will. God communicates his will so that you can know how to hit the bull’s eye, but if you’re not listening to him or if you sin or if you don’t study God’s word, you can miss the bull’s eye, and you’re life will end up in God’s second best or third best. For example, how do you know that the person you married is God’s best for you? Maybe it’s his hundredth best.  Maybe that’s why there’s so much divorce, because people have missed God’s best in their lives?

As we evaluate the bull’s eye theory, there is an important question we need to ask: is the bull’s eye theory of God’s will what God has taught us in the Bible?  There are many passages that refer to knowing and doing God’s will, and I urge you to study Garry Friesen’s book Decision-Making and the Will of God, as he surveys loads of them.  In fact, what I am writing here is based on Friesen’s observations.  It is an excellent study of the topic of God’s will.

One passage that Friesen looks at is Romans 12:1-2 where Paul talks about God’s “good, pleasing and perfect will.”  When you read the word “perfect” it sure seems like God’s best, doesn’t it?  It seems that Paul must be talking about the bull’s eye.  And people do try to use this passage to support the idea that the bull’s eye method of God’s will is true.

But there are some problems with using this passage and any others to support the bull’s eye theory.

  1. It’s not actually there! – Nowhere in Scripture does God tell us to expect to hear from him what his individual will for our lives should be! But what about all those passages? As Friesen shows us, they are actually talking about a different will of God, his moral will.  What is God’s moral will?  The knowledge of Right/Wrong or what is Sin/Not Sin.  God wants us to be very clear about what is right and wrong, but he never extends this to every decision in life.  I’ll talk about this more below.
  1. The bull’s eye doesn’t draw the line on choices – Do I have to ask God’s will and direction on what socks I should where? What about which pair of underwear I should put on?  What about which color car I should drive?  We all make tons of choices about non-commanded things all the time?  Are we sinful for not obtaining God’s best first before making all those choices?
  1. Impressions are too subjective – Advocates for the bull’s eye method suggest that one of the most prolific ways that God communicates in through inner impressions.  I regularly hear the phrase “Well, I just don’t have a peace about that.”  Usually that is the answer to a question about serving God in a way that is risky or requires sacrifice.  How do we know what is an inner impression or what is simply the result of eating too many hot wings at dinner the night before?  Michelle and I had wings this week, and I can tell you that I didn’t have peace the next morning.  It had nothing to do with God.

But you might be thinking at this point, what about when God so clearly spoke to many people in the Bible?  Obviously he can, and he did a lot.  I’ve been reading through Genesis, and almost every chapter God is talking in a voice to someone.  But is it the norm?  No.  God can and may still speak, but there is no command in the Bible that tells us to expect God’s supernatural guidance in our lives.

So what can we conclude?  The traditional bull’s eye view of God having one best plan for your life is faulty because it is not taught in the Bible and leads us to constant doubt.  We’re always wondering if perhaps we missed God’s best. That’s what someone told Michelle and me when we came home after a year as church-planting missionaries in Jamaica.  We thought we were going to be there for a lifetime.  So as we’re packing up our house, heading home feeling broken, like we failed, not sure what was next, we heard that maybe this happened because we missed God’s will for our lives.  If we had listened to God harder, if we had discerned his bull’s eye plan for us, we would have, supposedly, saved ourselves a lot of heartache.  I can tell you there was a lot of guilt heaped on us.

But thankfully, we chose not to let it pile up.  We hold to a different view of God’s will.  A view in which there is freedom!

Friesen calls it The Way of Wisdom.  Basically he looks at what the Bible teaches about discerning God’s will and says this: God does not have a best plan for your life.  Yes he has a will, and it is simply this: obey his commands.  So when we think of letting go of the bull’s eye view, there are two things to remember:

  1. We’ve got to come to God with the right attitude (Romans 12:1,2).
  2. We cannot expect God to guide us into his will by communicating it to us supernaturally.

So how then do we know God’s will?  Before we answer that, we need to understand what the Bible says about what God’s will actually looks like.  He actually has more than one!

  1. God has a sovereign will – this is an overarching plan that cannot be overturned.  Some people have called it the metanarrative of the Bible: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation.  What do we know is true?  God will win in the end.  There is no doubt!  But in this post, I am not talking about God’s sovereign will.  People too often equate God’s sovereign will with a specific individual will (God’s best) for people.  So we have to move on.
  1. God has a moral will – this is a plan for what is right and wrong. This is what we read about in the Bible.  Good and Bad.  Sin and not sin.  For example: you don’t need to ask God if it is his will for you to try to undermine your boss’s authority and turn all your coworkers against him.  You already know that is against his will based on biblical principles.  This is why it is vital for us to be students of God’s Word, for there we can learn so much about his revealed moral will.  We learn who he is and what he desires, and we see that what he desires is in our best interest!

But what about gray areas or non-moral areas?  There are so many.

  1. Gray Areas – abortion, just war, and many, many other areas need to be addressed utilizing the principles of Christian Ethics. We’ll look into many of these later in the sermon series.
  2. Non-Moral Areas – This is what we’re dealing with in this post! Choices that are neither right or wrong.  Who do I marry?  Should I marry?  What career should I pursue?  Is God calling me to serve him somehow?  If so, how?

The principle we see in Scripture is this: In areas that are non-commanded, non-moral choices, God gives us freedom to use wisdom to decide.  Whether it is which clothing to put on in the morning or which person to marry, God gives us the wonderful gift of free will wisdom to decide.  And then he goes further by supporting whatever we decide.  If you are thinking that you would like to date one of three or four different people that you have met, and you can’t decide because they all have their pros and cons, you would much rather have God break out of the clouds one day and just tell you which one is his choice for you.  But he probably won’t do that.  He could.  Some people have said he did in their lives.  But we need to see that as the exception rather than the rule.  The rule for making choices is that if it is not a choice between sinning and not-sinning, then you can freely make whichever choice you want, using the wisdom God has given you, and God is supportive of whichever choice you make!

But is this way of wisdom from the Bible?  Yes!  Take a look through Acts 15 and you’ll see this is how the early church leaders decided to choose!

So while we should not expect God to communicate with us supernaturally, he still might.  But the normal expected way that God wants us to discern his will and make decisions it that God wants us to use our wisdom (found in his word and in godly people’s perspectives).

So how do we decide?  Take for example the question “What does God want me to do in the future?”

Remember, if we shouldn’t expect him to tell us what he wants us to do, we should pursue making a wise choice.  We first of all make sure the options are not sinful.  God would not want me to be in a profession or position where I would have to deal with the possibility of breaking his commands.

There are tons of non-sinful choices.  So then we look at our interests.  Do we have any that stick out to us? Subjects in school we really like?  Hobbies?  Extracurricular activities?

If there are many things that we like to do, or we’re just not sure if we could do these things for the rest of our lives, than I recommend getting experience doing many different kinds of things.

What we are trying to answer is, do I have a passion for something?  Does it seem that I have a talent or ability in an area that I really enjoy?  Pursue it.  Experience it.

Next, it is okay to change gears.  Most adults will tell you that they’ve changed directions or gotten into different responsibilities over the years.  If you’re in college, you can change your major.  It’s okay if it adds a year to your studies.  If you’re in 7th-12th grade you might feel the pressure to decide what you’ll do for the rest of your life.  Please don’t feel that.  The beauty of the USA, unlike much of the rest of the world, is that you have options.  Even if you have been in your career for years, it is okay to change gears. Are you feeling frustrated?  Are you feeling like you can’t imagine doing what you’re doing for the rest of your life?

When I was at the auto auction, I remember walking up and down the aisles of parked cars, counting them, checking my list to make sure they were listed correctly, in the right order for the sale.  Hundreds of cars.  It was legitimate, good work.  Another person might have felt fulfilled in that.  It might fit their personality and gifts.  But not me.  I was frustrated.  I could not imagine doing that work for much longer.  I was extremely thankful for the job, and I was also grateful when I was able to move on to something else.

So how do you make wise decisions?

  1. Pray for wisdom and discernment.
  2. Listen for God to speak. As I said, God can and does speak, but he does not tell us in Scripture that he always will. And he doesn’t tell us that we have to wait to make decisions until we hear from him.
  3. Ask your parents what they notice. Get input from them, from grandparents, from friends.  See if a trend emerges.
  4. Shoot for the best you can achieve. Avoid mediocrity.
  5. We need Christians in all fields. So you can look at any career as something where God would have purpose for you:  to impact his Kingdom in that area.

What this means is if you are making a non-moral choice, you can’t go wrong!  If it is not a choice between to sin or not to sin, you are making a choice that God approves!

Are you struggling with God’s will for your life?  Are you wrestling with how to apply wisdom to the choice you need to make?  I urge you to get Garry Friesen’s book.  And if you’d like, comment below, and perhaps we can talk further.

Soulmates? Really? (Is it possible to know God’s will for your life?)

26 Aug

Image result for soulmates

Have you ever felt like you wish God would just speak to you in an audible voice and tell you exactly what to do?  There are so many situations.  See if you have ever heard yourself thinking one of these:

  • What does God want me to do with my life?
  • Which boy or girl does God want to fall in love with?
  • Should I go to CTC or stay at high school and focus on academics?
  • What career path is right for me? Ministry? What kind? Writing? Novels? Journalism?  Where do I look for answers in the Bible?  How will God let me know?
  • Could God ever call you to be in the military?How do you know if you’re ready to pursue ministry or missions?
  • Where would God have me serve in the church?
  • Should I invest in more properties or give my extra money away?
  • Should I buy a new vehicle or keep fixing a new one?

This weekend we start a new sermon series that will last until Advent, studying Life in the United States.  We will talk about what everyone is talking about.  Some hot topics in the church.  Some hot topics in the culture.  War & Peace, gender, parenting, many different subjects.  These topics are gray areas, areas where Christians disagree about what to do.  Because of that my goal is not to give you the ONE CORRECT perspective.  Instead, the goal will be to look into the principles God has given us that we can apply to these various topics.

We start with God’s will.

What have you heard about God’s will for your life?  Does God have a plan for your life?  Does he have a unique plan for your life? (As in, God’s “best.”)  If so, how do you find it?

Think about this Case Study – Does God have ONE person that he wants you to marry?  We call that person the soulmate.   We hear it a lot in our society.  You need to find your soulmate, and if you do, life with your soulmate will be one, long unending explosion of romance.  Further, as the picture above suggests, soulmates will be together forever.  Really?  Here’s the problem.  There is no doubt that the idea of a soulmate is out there in our culture.  But the idea of a soulmate is not in the Bible.

So if there is no such thing as soulmates, how do we know who God wants us to marry?

As we answer that question, we’ll learn principles for discerning God’s will that we can apply to many situations.  We invite you to join us at Faith Church this week to learn more.  We’re excited because this weekend is Worship in the Park, 10am, at Community Park on Hobson Road.  Hope to see you there!

A Discussion Guide for Church Leaders and Followers!

22 Aug

A few weeks ago I started creating discussion guides that Faith Church’s small group leaders could use if they wanted to guide their group through a further consideration of a recent sermon.  Last week I introduced the sermon saying that the concept of “majority rules” could be good, but also really bad.  Faith Church is congregational, but that doesn’t mean the congregation votes to approve every decision in the life and ministry of our church.  Instead the congregation approves leaders, which I suspect is the case at your church too.  And that raises a lot of questions about the hows and whys of leadership.  Here is a discussion guide that you can use to study the concept of leadership in the church.

  1. What kind of person should become a leader in the church?
  • In the story in Acts 6:1-7 we realize that not anyone can be a leader in the church.  Instead there is a very specific criteria for who can be a leader.  In verse 3, the apostles give us the first description of what the next generation of leaders should be like.  Full of the Spirit and wisdom.  Next in verse 5 we learn another criteria for choosing these new leaders.  They had to be full of faith.  Paul would later further describe what kind of person can become a leader in the church when he wrote to two young pastors.  See 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. How are the lists in Acts 6 and Timothy/Titus similar or different?
  • Follow-up Question: Summarize the kind of person who can become a church leader in one phrase.  At Faith Church we synthesize the passages listed above by saying that church leaders must show beyond the shadow of a doubt that they are spiritually mature.
  1. How do you become a leader at Faith Church?
  • Back in Acts 6:1-7, the Apostles called a church congregational meeting and asked the church to select seven leaders based on the qualities we discussed above. Then it was up to the church to decide on selecting these seven.  At Faith Church our Nominating Committee administers a process of selecting leadership candidates through applications, interviews, prayer and discussion.  Once a candidate has proceeded through those steps, their name is placed on the congregational meeting ballot, and the congregation elects them by simple majority.  How does your church select leaders?  Is your congregation structure intentional about making sure only the spiritually mature can become leaders?
  • If you are a leader, how can this passage and process be a safeguard for you?
  • If you are not a leader, what can you learn about yourself and the possibility that God may have gifted you to be a leader? Read Romans 12:3-8 and discuss.
  1. How should church leaders lead?
  • What does the word deacon mean? The word deacon give us an important clue as what a leader should do. Deacon means servant.
  • Remember what Jesus told his disciples at the last supper? Peter was there that day.  When Jesus came to wash his feet, do you remember how Peter reacted? Read John 13:1-17.  What can we learn from this story about how leaders should lead?
  • It is possible Peter remembered the Last Supper when he wrote 1 Peter 5:1-5. Read that, and discuss what he says about how leaders should lead.
  • Leaders also set the example. Paul would say a couple times in 1 Corinthians, “imitate me” or “imitate me as I imitate Christ”.  Paul would also say to Timothy 4:12 “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and purity.”  Leaders, are you setting the example?
  1. How should non-leaders support leaders?
  • Read Hebrews 13:7 and 17. What principles does the author of Hebrews (we don’t know for certain who wrote it) say a congregation should apply when supporting leaders?
  • Remember what Peter said? In 1 Peter 5:1-5, pay special attention to verse 5.  What principles does Peter teach followers to adhere to?
  • How will you support your leaders when you disagree with them? There are some clear warnings in Scripture.  What cautions can we learn in the following two passages:  Proverbs 6:16-19, Matthew 13:24-43?
  • In Acts 15 there was a sharp disagreement in the church. What was the disagreement?  How did they respond to and solve the disagreement?  What principles can we learn from this?
  1. No matter if you are paid staff, volunteer leaders or non-leaders, all must be committed followers of Jesus. What will it look like for you to “deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow him”?

How “majority rules” can be so good and so bad

18 Aug

Do you believe that “majority rules?”  I am reminded of the game show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and their “Ask The Audience” tool.  If a contestant doesn’t know the answer to a trivia question, they have the option, one-time only, to ask the audience which answer the audience would choose.  Audience members then pick up a key pad and enter their answer to the multiple choice question.  The contestant then sees the results, hoping desperately that a large majority of the audience chose one answer.  Sometimes the audience does just that, making it easier for the contestant to go with the majority.  But sometimes, particularly on hard questions, the audience is not able to pick one answer with a large majority.  How often do you think the audience majority is right on Millionaire?

In the church we often think majority rules.  We often create a system of church governance based on majority rules.  We Americans especially love this because of our culture of voting.  Everyone gets one equal vote.  We all have a voice, an equally important voice.  So churches, particularly in America, have adopted at least a partially congregational form of governance.

Is a congregational style of church governance a mistake?  I suppose it would better to ask, Can we support a congregational approach with biblical teaching?  Yes, some will say.  No!, say others.  And still others, maybe.  Take a minute with me to think about this.

Faith Church is officially called Faith Evangelical Congregational Church.  Isn’t that a mouthful!  The Evangelical Congregational (EC) part of our name is a reference to our denomination, the EC Church.  (To my EC brethren, can we please consider shortening our name somehow? I say that with a smile on face, but I also consider it a legitimate concern.)   The EC in the EC Church is not just two really long words.  They mean something.  I dealt with that word “Evangelical” a few weeks ago (and why we’re removing it from our church sign), and now let’s look at the word “Congregational” (which, by the way, we’re also removing from our sign, but just because it is such a long word!).

Basically, the word “Congregational” speaks to our polity.  “Polity” is little word that refers to a form of government. You can see how it is related to the word “politics.”  People often complain that a church can get so political, insinuating that to be a bad thing.  But the reality is that all churches have some form of government, and thus by their very nature are political entities.

EC Churches are congregational in polity.  What that means, historically, is that we each own our property, and we are self-governing.  We voluntarily commit to and connect with the denomination.  Locally, we also see the will of the congregation as important.  We have an annual congregational meeting where all members can vote on things like who will fill leadership roles, our annual budget, large purchases, and any changes to our by-laws.

I suppose some congregational churches could try to be even more congregational than we are.  They might try to have a congregational meeting monthly or even weekly and vote on all kinds of matters.  We don’t do that.  Our congregation long ago decided that they wanted to turn over the administration of the ministry of the church to a smaller group comprised of members of the congregation.  That group is our Leadership Team.  In the Bible these people are called “elders”.

But even the Leadership Team, meeting every other month, cannot devote enough time to organizing the ministry of the church, so the congregation decided to create seven Serve Teams, one for each major ministry area of the church: worship, fellowship, discipleship, outreach, missions, stewardship (finances) and operations (physical plant). 5-7 volunteers from the congregation serve on each of those teams, and thus in the serve teams we see congregationalism as well.

But is this version of church polity a biblical one?

Sometimes, to reveal a bit of my thinking, I wonder about the value of congregationalism.  I see pros and cons.  On one hand, I think it is really good and important for as many people as possible to get involved and invested in the life and ministry of the church.  Giving, serving, praying, helping, leading, teaching, you name it.  But on the other hand, is it possible that congregationalism, at its root, is based on the assumption that majority rules?  Don’t get me wrong. I think Faith Church’s polity is very balanced.

It also seems very possible that the concept of majority rules is faulty when it comes to church polity.  Should we ever make any decisions just because the majority says so?  As Nelson Mandela famously said, sometimes the people are wrong.

In those moments, we need leaders to step out and lead, even if our leadership is unpopular.

The concept of “majority rules,” and therefore congregationalism, is not always best.  In fact there are some wonderful biblical passages we will look at to delve into this further.  Just as the congregation is not always right, because sometimes people have the wrong ideas, people should not all have equal footing to impact decisions.  Before you think I am being discriminatory, let me explain.  In our society, we are right to consider all people equal.  But aren’t there really limits to that?  Not all are equal when it comes to performing heart surgery, right?  You don’t want just anyone managing your 401K, do you?  Furthermore, not everyone should be teaching our kids, should they?  So let’s look at congregationalism and leadership a bit further.

Some people want to be leaders and some don’t.  Some people who want to be leaders have no business being leaders.  Some people who don’t want to be leaders would be great at it.

Is it wrong to want to be a leader?  Does wanting to be a leader automatically disqualify you from being a candidate for leadership?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

What are the factors going on behind the scenes in a decision like this?  Who should be a leader?  Why should they be a leader?  And how should we select them to become a leader?

Once they become a leader, how should they lead?

And for those of that are not leaders, what posture should we have toward our leaders?

As you can imagine, this coming Sunday I will be preaching on leaders and leadership, and to an extent, followership also.  My spell-checker doesn’t like that word “followership”.  It underlines “followership” with a squiggly red line to alert me that it might be a typo.  I double-check, and it is not a typo.  So my computer has not heard of followership before.  It should have.  Have you heard of it?  You should have also!  A few in the church will become leaders.  Most will be followers.  So just as leaders should learn the art of godly leadership, followers need to learn the art of godly followership.

Join us at Faith Church on Sunday as we talk about leadership and followership in the church.

When Christians should stop inviting people to church

15 Aug

stop invitingI appreciate a good provocative title.  My wife says if I use them too much, people will become callous to them.  She’s right.  But I really am serious about the title of this blog post.  At first I titled it “WHY Christians should stop inviting people to church.”  But that was a smidge misleading, and I could be accused of manipulating the truth when I really just want to grab your attention.  I don’t want to be manipulative, so I changed it to what you see above.  “When” rather than “Why.”  “Why” could give the impression that Christians should never invite people to church, and that is not what I intend to communicate here.   I do, however, think there are times when a Christian should not invite a friend to church.  But when?  I’ll get to that in a minute.

Let me set the stage for that discussion first.  I’ve been preaching through what we are calling Faith Church’s Growth Process.  It is a process we believe that followers of Jesus should be going through as they seek to live like Jesus lived.  You can check out the previous sermons in this series by searching this blog site for “growth process”.  To summarize, the Growth Process suggests that most people start as worshipers, move on to fellowship with a local church, but most importantly of all, should cross the Matthew 7 line and move on to discipleship to Jesus.  Today we see that there is a natural outflow to disciples of Jesus.

One of the best examples of Jesus’ teaching on what this outflow should look like is found in Matthew 25:31-46, a story often called The Sheep and the Goats.

Did you hear what Jesus said?  Just believe in him and pray the sinner’s prayer?  Nope.  Just answer an invitation an evangelist or pastor gives to walk forward to the front?  Nope.  Go to church?  No.  Worship?  No.  He said that we are distinguished by what how we live out our faith!  There should be an outflow.  We show that we trust in him by obeying what he taught.  We actually do something! God wants his abundant life to take deep root in our lives, so that it flows out of us into the lives of those in need around us.

This is why our church has a passionate outreach with CVCCS.  We are seeking to help the Conestoga Valley community reach those in need.  Many people from our congregation volunteer at CVCCS, give donations, and serve clients.  This aspect of outreach is vital.  Throughout the Bible in the Old Testament and New, we see God’s heart for the poor, the oppressed, those in need.  We Christians speak the Gospel incredibly clearly and faithfully by reaching out to those in need.

Then we also reach out 1 on 1 to the people in your life, as Jesus said that one of his disciples’ primary mission goals was to make more disciples.  I’ve heard numerous times over the years that people have a desire to reach out to their family and friends, but they don’t know how, or they are really concerned that people will reject them if they start talking about Jesus.

So the conclusion that people have come to is that actions speak louder than words.  Or as St. Francis of Assisi suggested: “share the Gospel at all times, and only if necessary use words.”

People have said others will look at Christians living out the abundant life of Jesus and think “Wow, they are different.  They have something I don’t have.  I want what they have.  Peace.  Joy.  Even in the midst of difficulty, they seem like they are grounded.”  And then those people will come up ask the Christian “you are different.  I want what you have.  Why are you different?”  “And then the Christian will be able to say “I’m different because of Jesus.”  And they Christian will have the opportunity to share Christ.

Actor Stephen Baldwin tells the story of his nanny.  She was like that.  Always joyful.  It got under Baldwin’s skin, and finally got to the point where he asked “What is going on with you?”  And she was able to share Christ with him, and he became a Christian.

Can I be honest though?

How many of you have actually encountered this situation in your life?  I don’t know that I ever have.  If you haven’t had someone come up to you and ask “why are you different?”, is it possible that you are not different?  Is it possible that there is no or very little evidence that people can point in your life that speaks that you are a disciple of Jesus?

Or maybe it is because you’ve said arrogantly, self-righteously, “Well, I’m a Christian, so I don’t do _______!”  That kind of harsh statement only divides, creates a barrier.  We need to be gracious and loving about our decision to follow the way of Jesus.

Because Christians have behaved badly like this, we all need to examine our lives and invite others to examine us as well, others who will speak the hard truth to us.  Is it possible that that the Gospel we have been preaching with our actions has not been good news?  Is it possible that people around us have not seen much off the Fruit of the Spirit flowing from us?

Or maybe people don’t ask that question because the premise of the question is faulty.  We think that is what should happen, that they are so lacking something in their lives, that something feels missing and deep down they are not at peace, can’t be at peace, and they are longing for hope, for joy, for peace.  We call this the god-shaped hole, and some people have said that God created all of us with a god-shaped hole in our lives.  A longing to be in relationship with God.  An inner ache, an inner emptiness that only a relationship with God can fulfill.

And yet plenty of people give the impression that they don’t feel that way at all.

What should we do when people are expressing no or little interest?  In our day and age, there are more and more people that simply have no desire, no interest. What should we do?  My recommendation is to avoid the gimmicks.  Avoid the events.  Invitations to church?  They might help, but I think there is a much better way.  A much more down to earth approach.

  • Pray for people.
  • Be available.
  • Love. Genuine friendship.
  • Be ready to share the words of the Good News when people give you permission.

Seriously evaluate the idea of inviting people to church.  The simplest form of evangelism might not be to invite people to church.  In fact, it might be the wrong choice for some people.  They might have had a bad experience with church, and the wound could still be open.  They might not be into organized, institutional religious approaches, and let’s call a spade a spade, what we do in our churches on Sunday is an organized, institutional approach.  We’re used to it. We like it.  But we can blind to the fact that not everyone, and in fact few people, might have a willingness to try it out.  Instead it will likely seem extremely odd to many people.  Where else in our society do you go into a room where people sit in rows, sing songs, and listen to a lecture?  And why would they do it with a group of people they don’t know?  Just go ahead and start asking people who don’t go to church, or who have no background with church, what they think about worship services.  You might learn a thing or two about how other people view this pretty unique thing we do on Sunday.  That doesn’t make them wrong, by the way.

It is also not wrong for we followers of Jesus to enjoy worship services and hold worship services.  But we would do well to remember that it is okay if other people think differently from us.

So if there is a person in your life for whom inviting them to church might not be a good choice, or if you have invited them already and they have said “no,” then you’re likely going to have to change your approach about to introducing them to Jesus.   So pray for them.  Love them in genuine friendship.

One author says it is extremely important that we listen to people.  He says “Mission should be done with the posture of humility and compassion. A tangible way of doing this is actively listening to what people are saying. Knowing a person’s story will allow for a more faithful contextualization of the gospel.”

And when people give us permission to talk about Jesus, what should we say?  Don’t stop praying at this point.  Pray inwardly that the Holy Spirit will help you know what to say.  Jesus taught that the Spirit would help us.

The same author I quoted above said this “So what should we tell people about God? How should we do it? A good place to start is with the presenting of the overarching story of the Bible. By doing this we’ll be able to proclaim that Jesus is King, that he is working to right every wrong, and that he is restoring every broken part of this earth! Now that is good news! To me, this is much better news than the individualized gospel of Jesus hiding in our hearts.  The reality, is that most of the anxieties that come from evangelism stem from Christians not believing the gospel themselves. Or even worse, they don’t believe that the gospel is good news. When sharing the gospel, tell of the powerful, all knowing God who is on a rescue mission to redeem His world.”

What in the world is Christian “outreach”?

12 Aug

It has been a few years, but for a long time every fall Faith Church held a Harvest Bazaar.  Before that it was called a Christmas Bazaar.  Many people in our congregation would cook up a storm in their kitchens, creating delicacies for the bake shop.  Others would staff the snack shop, making amazing chicken soup.  Still others would be hard at work crafting and donating and volunteering and we would have numerous rooms in our church building filled with items that people could buy as Christmas gifts.  And buy they did!  We would often raise $2500 or more from the Bazaar.  But why would we do this?  It was a lot of work!

Our congregation initiated the Bazaar decades ago as a fundraiser to pay off the debt we owed on our building.  Eventually we did pay off the debt.  I still remember the mortgage burning ceremony.  We have had memorable experiences with fire in our sanctuary, such as when the Advent wreath caught fire!  But I’m talking about the time when we had paid off the mortgage to the most recent expansion to the building, and we celebrating by burning the mortgage documents in a bowl during a worship service.

Though the mortgage was paid off, we kept having the Bazaar for a number of years.  Now we decided that the proceeds of the Bazaar would be directed to the Building Fund and to support missionaries.  Both good causes.  And yet there was discussion about whether or not we should keep having the Bazaar.  Was its purpose completed?  People had numerous points of view, both pros and cons.  It took a lot of work, and people were getting burned out.  So we eventually slowed down our pace to holding the Bazaar every other year.  The last time we held a Bazaar was three or four years ago, and we have no plans for another.

At one point there was a suggestion made in favor of continuing the Bazaar saying that the Bazaar was an outreach.  How was it an outreach?  Well, didn’t it bring people from the community into our building?  It did.  That is true.  Probably hundreds of people in the community would stop in, look over items, eat food, and buy stuff.  But just because they came into the building could we say that qualifies as outreach?

We’ve heard this before about the Youth Chicken BBQ we hold every spring.  People say that not only does the BBQ raise money for our youth group, it also has an outreach element to it.  We’ve heard this about pretty much anything we do that brings people into the building.  By holding an event or program for which they walk through the doors of the church building, it is reasoned, we are reaching out to them.  We have done this quite a bit over the years:  Ballroom Dance Classes, Vacation Bible School, Trunk or Treat, Concerts, Breakfasts and now most recently Summer Lunch Club.

In our recent history this approach is how we have thought about outreach.  Is that outreach?  What should outreach be?  And before we can answer those questions, should we not ask the questions behind the question?  Why do we do outreach?  Should we do outreach at all?  We should have solid reasons for why or how we do outreach before we start outreach.  But do we have solid reasons?

Join us at Faith Church this Sunday August 14 as we seek to answer these questions.

The extremely important teaching of Jesus that Google (and maybe your church) is missing

8 Aug

Today while writing this post, I googled “the one thing Jesus taught us to do.”  I was looking for an image to illustrate the reflection that I usually write about the jesus teachprevious Sunday’s sermon.  The results of my image search were very interesting.  Can you predict which result was the most frequent?  Prayer.  I guess the algorithm guiding the search keyed in on the famous verses where the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray and he taught them the Lord’s Prayer.

But that’s not what I was looking for.   I guess my search was misleading.  As I thought about it, I realized that there was not just one thing that Jesus taught his disciples.  So I rewrote my search terms to “the most important thing Jesus taught us.”  Guess what happened?  A lot more images of prayer.  There was more variety this time, though.  The first image in the list said “serve others.”   I thought for sure “Love one another” would be there.   Or “Love the Lord your God”.  But those phrases were not there, or maybe they were buried so far down the list, that I stopped looking before I scrolled to them.

I do searches like this every week trying to find the right image for blog posts and PowerPoint shows to illustrate sermons.  It is most often a matter of word-smithing the search phrase in such a way that the results return what I’m looking for.  But this time I was curious as to what Google’s algorithms would come up with in regard to Jesus’ teachings.  Those results could be said to be a representation of what people believe to be Jesus’ most important teachings.  Therefore the internet is saying that Jesus’ most important teaching is about prayer.

Before you think this is a post about prayer, let me also point out that it was noteworthy what was missing from the search results.  This is not actually a post about prayer.   While I think prayer is very important, there is another teaching that Jesus gave his disciples that should be at the top of the list.  Why did it not show up on Google’s image search?  Perhaps it is an indication that we American Christians have not placed proper importance on this one extremely important teaching of Jesus.

Last week I suggested that there are two things that Jesus did NOT tell us to do, but that we do a lot of, and there is there is one thing he DID tell us to do that we don’t do.  The two things we do a lot are (1) the building of church buildings and (2) holding Sunday worship services in them.  Neither are bad activities, but they can consume our focus, whereas Jesus asked us to focus on something else.

What was the one thing Jesus told us to do?

We often call it the Great Commission.  Make disciples.  Jesus made disciples and he asked his disciples to make more disciples. 

Jesus did not say “I want you to make believers.”

Instead he said that if anyone would be his disciple, that person must deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow Jesus.

So when Jesus says that we are to make disciples, he is saying that he wants us to interact with people in such a way that they, too, deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him.  He does not want believers who keep their thoughts about him in their minds.  He wants disciples whose lives are transformed so that they look more and like him, so their lives look more and more like the way he lived his life.  That means when people get connected to the family of Faith Church, we do not want them to just be Sunday morning worshipers and fellowshippers, we want them to be people of whom it can be said, they are denying themselves, taking up their cross and following him.

If you say “Well, I believe in Jesus,” you should not be assured that you are actually a disciple.  If you say “Well, I believe in Jesus,” and you look at your life and you see that your relationship with Jesus is focused on attending Sunday morning worship and fellowship, you should not be assured that you are actually a disciple.

What does it mean to be his disciple?  His central teaching was that to be his disciple, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.

What is taking up your cross?  How do we do that in 2016?

Jesus taught that discipleship was a life of learning from him.  To be his apprentice.  To learn from him how to live.  Gradually he molded his disciples into the men and women who could take over the mission of God’s Kingdom for him.

We need to address what taking up your cross is NOT.  We hear the phrase in our culture: “that’s my cross to bear”.  Is that what Jesus is talking about?  Not necessarily.  People can say “that’s my cross to bear” for all sorts of reasons.

“Well, I have to take care of my elderly parents.  It’s my cross to bear.”

“My boss is a jerk.  It’s my cross to bear.”

All kinds of situations can be our cross to bear.  But that’s not what Jesus meant. Usually we say that phrase as a “poor me”.

Instead a disciple carries his cross daily and follows Jesus.  Jesus meant that his way, his life becomes our focus.  We learn to do what he did.  Even if it is difficult.  Even if it is putting your life at risk for Jesus and the advancement of his Kingdom.  Even if it means you don’t get to experience the pleasures of this world, like you see your friends and neighbors and co-workers doing.

Jesus described it perfectly when he said that taking up your cross starts with denying yourself.

Taking up your cross is a figurative picture of giving up everything to follow Jesus! It is saying to Jesus, “I give you permission to do what you want with me.  I give you permission to have control of every area of my life.”  And then actually changing whatever areas of your lives he wants to change.

But how do you do that?

  1. An extremely important way to begin is to humbly and teachably read his word and ask the Spirit of God to convict you of any sin in your life that needs to be changed.
  2. The next step is to share this with people who will speak honestly with you.  Invite people who are also disciples of Jesus to speak the truth in love to you.  To hold you accountable to make the changes you know God wants you to make.
  3. Finally continue in this until you are making changes that God wants you to make so that you can see you are being transformed.

Before you start thinking that I’m describing a pretty horrible way to live, let’s look at what this life is actually like.  All this talk of self-denial and being changed and letting Jesus control you can sound really bizarre.  Until you look at Jesus’ actual life.  I urge you to do that.  Read one of the stories of his life: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Decide for yourself.  I would submit that if you are not that familiar with Jesus’ pattern of life, you will be astounded by the grace, the joy, the peace, the attractiveness, the mercy and the love that flows from him.  His way of life was the happiest, best way of life.  A disciple is learning from Jesus how to live.

One aspect of being Jesus’ disciple, therefore, is putting off the old selfish way, and putting on the new way of Jesus.  The apostle Paul used that image in Romans 13:14 when he said “Clothe yourselves with Christ.”

It is like clothing.  I go out to mow the grass, work in the garden or split and stack wood.  I get very sweaty and dirty.  Those dirty sweaty clothes represent the old way of life, the selfish way, where certain sins reside in our lives.

I come inside, cool off, get a shower, put on new clean clothes.  Those clean clothes, Paul says, represent the new way of Jesus.  His way is the way of a transformed heart and life.  Paul calls it the Fruit of the Spirit, where the good things of Jesus are growing inside us, and those good things naturally come out.

Jesus taught us, “By their fruit you will know them.”  I look at my berry bushes and I know what kind they are.  The ones on the left have black berries and the ones on the right have red berries.  Then there are also plants with similar leaves growing up in the middle of the berries.  But those plants, though they look similar, have no berries.  They are weeds.

You know a person by his or her fruit too.  If you find within yourself, or if others tell you, that you are regularly grumpy, complaining, angry, upset, selfish, hiding away, escaping to fantasy, manipulative, lying, hurting others’ feelings, rough, harsh, talking too much, having to be the center of attention, then those are the fruits that are coming out of your life.

Here’s the thing though: so often they are coming out of our lives but we are more than willing to let ourselves off the hook and say “Well, I’m not so bad.”  Or “Tough, that’s just me.”  “Deal with it, that’s how God made me.”  If you ever hear phrases like that coming out of your mouth, or even if you think them, you should be very concerned about yourself.  You need people to confront you, to tell you the true story of who you are, and you need to listen to them.

So while a relationship with Jesus begins by believing, by trusting in him, it will not be a relationship very long if the trusting and believing is not followed by obeying.

“Trust and obey,” goes a classic song that we teach our children, “for there’s no other way.”  Or as James says in James 2, “faith without works is dead.”  Even Satan and the demons have faith, James reminds us.  They know Jesus is the truth, but of course they do not obey him.  That’s where a true disciple is different; a true disciple not only believes and trusts in Jesus, they also give their lives over to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him.

So are a you a true disciple of Jesus?  What does it look like for you to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him?