Tag Archives: Discipleship

How the scariest Bible story helped us create our Faith Church Growth Process

22 May

Image result for scary bibleWhat do you think is the scariest, most haunting passage in the Bible?  Maybe something about demons or hell or something?  Could be.

For me it is Matthew 7:13-29, and especially verses 21-23 where Jesus says this:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

For me as a pastor, it haunts me.  Why?  Because there are people that assumed, and even were convinced, that they were in good standing with Jesus, that they were going to enter heaven.  But they are dead wrong.  He says to them, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.”

You know why that haunts me?  Those people were convinced they were good to go.  They were sure they were doing what Jesus wanted them to do.  They presented their evidence to Jesus.  In their minds, they were guaranteed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

But they were totally wrong.  Jesus says “Nope, all that stuff you think is important is not important.”  Jesus says, “Many will say to me on that day.”  We’re not talking about a small group.  We’re talking about “many.”  This relates to the previous part of the passage, verses 13-14 where Jesus says a large group of people are headed the wrong way.  Instead a small group finds the road that leads to life.

See how that could be freaky? This large group of people who are headed the wrong way are deceiving themselves by their evidence. Their so convinced the have the golden ticket to heaven, the people try to reply to Jesus that they should be allowed into heaven.  They even have evidence: “prophesying in his name, driving out demons in his name, and performing miracles.”  It seems convincing.  I can hardly imagine anyone, except a true disciple, doing these things.  In fact, I would say all those pieces of evidence seem to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through those people.

But there is a problem.  What do you notice about their evidence?  It’s all outward.  We look at them and on the outside they seem to be true followers.  But Jesus’ shocking response shows us that they are not.

Jesus’ response is what led to creating our new church logo. Take a look at the logo:

Each part of the logo symbolizes something.

There are four green squares, each representing a major focus of our church: Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship, and Outreach.  The third box from the left is a darker green, indicating it is a special focus. We call the line down the middle the Matthew 7 line.  Finally, the cut-out in the middle two boxes draws an imaginary horizontal line across the middle vertical line, thus giving us the image of the cross.

Every part of the logo tells a story, and it is all based in Jesus’ shocking response to the people in Matthew 7:23.

We call this story our Growth Process, and that is why the squares are colored green, symbolizing growth.  But it is not about growing the church numerically.  That might happen, of course, but our Growth is about how we grow as disciples of Jesus and how we reach out so that more people can become disciples of Jesus.

At the end of our recent teaching series through 1st Timothy we looked at a couple of statements Paul made about eternal life, what he called “the life that is truly life.”  Paul tells Timothy to take hold of eternal life now.  Eternal life is not just something that happens after we die.  It is that for sure.  But it is also now.  Followers of Jesus take hold of the life that is truly life.  That true life, or that eternal life now, is the life that Jesus said those people in Matthew 7 did not have.  Those people in Matthew 7 looked good on the outside doing their religious duties, but they were missing something inside. They had not taken hold of the life that is truly life, they were not living eternal life now.

Our Growth Process story explains how to take hold of eternal life now.  We don’t want anyone in our church family to stand before God one day and hear him say “Away from, I never knew you.”  Instead we want everyone to have a growing relationship with Jesus.

Let’s take a look at the first square, then.  This square represents Worship.  It is first because most people start their connection with our church family by attending Sunday morning worship services.  Not everyone starts there, and of course they don’t have to start there, but most do.

Considering what it means to be a true follower of Jesus, can we say that a person is a true follower of Jesus if attending worship services is pretty much the sum total of their expression of faith?

No.  Very much like the people in Matthew 7:21-23, they might look worshipful on the outside, but Jesus calls his followers to so much more.

So we ask everyone to evaluate themselves.  Are you in that first square?  Are you primarily just a Sunday morning Christian?  If so, that is a wonderful start, and because we do not want you to hear Jesus say “Away from me, I never knew you” we encourage you to add Fellowship to your worship.

I use the word “add” very purposefully.  When you move from square to square in the Growth Process, you are not leaving the previous square behind.  You are adding something.  That is key.

So if you have determined that you are primarily in the Worship square, we encourage you to add the Fellowship square.  Adding fellowship means going deeper, building relationships.  It might be joining one of our Sunday School classes.  It might be joining a small group.  It might be serving on a serve team.  It might be inviting people over for dinner, hanging out, etc.  It is anything that helps you build deep relationships with and care for others in the church family.

Again I ask you to evaluate yourself.  Would you say that your expression of faith in Jesus is in the Worship box, or maybe you have added Fellowship to Worship?

You know what though?  Attending worship services is important, and adding deep fellowship relationships to that is even better, but I’m convinced a person can do those things, and maybe even do them a lot, but still have primarily an outward appearance of faith.  That kind of person can still hear Jesus say “Away from me, I never knew you.”

That’s why the next part of our Growth Process story is the most important.  Crossing the Matthew 7 line.  We don’t want anyone to hear Jesus “Away from me, I never knew you.”  Instead we want everyone to experience his eternal life now, to hear him say “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into your rest.”  But how does that happen?

Jesus himself told us.  To cross over that Matthew 7 line, we need to learn to do what Jesus says in Matthew 7:21: those who enter the Kingdom of Heaven are the ones who do the will of his father in heaven.  What is the will of the father in Heaven?  Jesus would go on to tell his disciples precisely what he meant in Matthew 16:24, when he said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.”  That kind of full life commitment to Jesus means a person has had a deep inner change.  There are no hidden secrets, nothing held back.

He goes on in Matthew 16 to say “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”  We need to add discipleship to worship and fellowship.  The Discipleship box is a darker green color because it is the most important one.  Jesus later said to his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 that he gave them a mission, a mission of making disciples all over the whole world, teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded.  That is what God desires for us: deep inward change, to be his disciples, giving our lives completely to him, and seeking to help others become Jesus’ disciples as well.

Now for the scary, but all-important question. Those people back in Matthew 7:21-23 assumed that they had crossed the Matthew 7 line, they assumed that they were true disciples, and they were wrong!  Those people looked at their outward expression of faith and assumed that was what God wanted. They were wrong. Is it possible that any of us might be wrong?

We would do well to assume that it is at least possible.  Therefore we have to talk about this.  Our Leadership Team cares so much about each and every person in our church family.  We don’t want anyone to assume that they are disciples of Jesus, only to be shocked one day to hear Jesus say, “Away from me, I never knew you.”  We leaders of the church would have utterly failed you if that happens.  That’s why we are placing so much weight on this discipleship square.  But there is one more square after that.

When a disciple of Jesus adds fellowship to worship, then crosses the Matthew 7 line, adding discipleship to worship and fellowship, something very obvious will happen. Go back to Matthew 7 and see verse 15.  That’s where Jesus talked about false prophets, comparing them to trees.  A bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Only good trees can bear good fruit.  By your fruit you will know who is good or bad.  By your fruit you will know who has crossed over the Matthew 7 line into true discipleship.  True disciples will bear fruit.  Not raspberries or strawberries like in my garden, but the fruit of more people becoming disciples of Jesus.  That is why our logo has the final square.  A disciple is a worshipper, a fellowshipper, and finally a disciple reaches out.  It will be obvious.  Disciples make disciples.

And that is the story of our Growth Process.

That is the process that Jesus taught.  And that is the process that we want to see each and every one of you go through.

So how goes it with your soul?  Or, using the language of the Growth Process, what squares have you added to your life?  Have you crossed over the Matthew 7 line?  Are you a worshipper, a fellowshipper, a disciple, and reaching out?

How goes it with your soul? Our Leadership Team had a wonderful retreat last weekend, and we talked a lot about this Growth Process.  We feel the weight of leadership, and we feel convicted that our God-given role is to care for the spiritual growth of our entire church family.  To do that we are going to regularly start asking each of our church family a version of the question “How goes it with your soul?” because we care so much about everyone.  We don’t want anyone to hear Jesus say, “Away from me.”

So what will the Leadership Team do?  Each of them will be responsible to check in with people in the congregation.  They can not and will not try to force anything on anyone.

You could say in response that you don’t want to be involved in this.  We will honor that. But we encourage you to give yourself to this kind of important accountability.  I know “accountability” can sound like a scary word.  Maybe it sounds harsh.  I guarantee you that our leaders are not interested in being harsh or forcing anything on anyone. There was a unanimous agreement among our leaders that they simply want to care for each of you.

Also let me clarify something specific.  The leader is not there to be your mentor.  That kind of discipling/mentor relationship might happen between a leader and a person in the congregation, but that is not the purpose of the Growth Process.  Instead, the purpose is to have the leadership team intentionally supporting and encouraging people to be moving along the growth process.  If you agree together that you need a discipleship mentor, more than likely the Leadership Team member will direct you to another person in the congregation who can be that mentor for you, who can encourage your spiritual growth,

How many of you would want to be encouraged like that?

So we want everyone in our church family to begin a self-evaluation.  Where are you on the Growth Process?  Are you in the worship block?  Have you added the fellowship block?  Be very honest as you evaluate yourself.

Do that eval so that when the Leadership team contacts you, you’ll be ready to discuss this further.  Your self-eval will facilitate the conversation.  Remember that this will be confidential.

When you are in conversation with the Leadership Team, you may say to them that you want to move forward in the Growth Process, but you don’t know how to add the next block?  You might not know how to move from Worship to Fellowship.  You might not know how to cross the Matthew 7 line.  And that is where our Leadership Teams and Serve Teams are working hard to give you resources to help you.  For example, when you are conversing with the Leadership Team member, you might say that you are not sure you have crossed over into the Discipleship square, but you want to.  You want to be a true follower of Jesus.  That Leadership team member will be able to give you practical suggestions for next steps to take.  It might be getting you teamed up with a discipleship mentor.

We encourage you to take time to evaluate yourself, to take this Growth Process story in prayer to the Lord.  Ask him to give you wisdom and clarity about where you are on the process. Ask him to give you wisdom about how to move forward, growing as a disciple of Jesus.

If you have any questions, please contact anyone on the Leadership Team.

How you can experience eternal life before you die (and why waiting till after you die is foolish)

9 May

Image result for eternal life now

Do you feel like following Jesus is difficult?  I sometimes think that I must be doing it wrong, because following Jesus seems like it should be easy, but I can struggle with it.  Is it is struggle for you too?  And what do we do when following Jesus seems too difficult?  We so often flee pain, trouble, hardship, and we pursue ease, comfort, entertainment.

In our continuing series on 1st Timothy, we have come to chapter 6, verses 11-16, and Paul talks about what it is like to follow Jesus.  As you can imagine, Paul does not tell Timothy to flee the pain and pursue ease.  In verse 12 he says this comforting phrase to Timothy: “Fight the good fight of faith.”

Fight is a brutal word.  When we hear “fight”, we think of boxing.  We think of pushing and shoving and punching and maybe even yelling and pulling hair.  Maybe we think of a sword fight or a gun fight or a bull fight.

But the word Paul uses is not necessarily that kind of fight.   It is defined as “to strive to do something with great intensity and effort—‘to make every effort, to do everything possible, to strain oneself.’”[1]

Surely that definition could relate to a fight.  But it could also be a noncombatant striving, a struggling.  And it is intense.  It involves great effort. We generally don’t like to hear that.  How would you react to the following”

“If you sign up to be a volunteer on the booster club, it is going to be really hard!  You’ll have to struggle and put in a lot of work and effort.”

Or, “Please sign up for to be one of our children’s ministry teachers, it is super hard!  It will require a lot of you. You will have to be committed in time and energy.  It will be exhausting.”

Or “follow Jesus, be his disciple, die to yourself.”

Not a very compelling marketing scheme is it?

How many advertisers do you see that market their experience or product as being a really difficult, challenging, hard experience?  Barely any.  Maybe the military.  Many an elite school.

“Buy this mattress and it will be so awful you’ll have a horrible night’s sleep!”  They don’t do that.

Instead, when marketers advertise to us, they want to make their product as accessible as possible.  So they generally tell us how incredible and helpful and easy and fun and comfortable their product is.

Jesus apparently didn’t go to marketing school.  His call to discipleship is hard.  Paul’s charge to Timothy is hard.  “Fight the Good Fight.”  It is a fight.  Fights are hard.  They hurt.

There is one word in that phrase I haven’t mentioned yet: “Good.”

Paul says “Fight”, but it is a good fight.  It is a good fight of the faith.

What you are fighting for, what you are working for, what you are striving for makes all the difference, doesn’t it?  If the cause is just and good, you are much more likely to put in the long hours, to take a pay cut, to exercise, to practice, to make sacrifices.  Though it is hard, though it can feel like a fight, and though you might be exhausted, you can continue on because you know what you are fighting for is good.

Finishing a college degree might feel that way.

Raising children might feel that way.

Following an exercise or diet plan feels that way.

Paul is talking to a pastor, so yes, ministry can feel that way.

But all these are good things!  In fact, they are very good.  While they can feel like a fight at times, while they might inflict bodily damage on you just like a fight does, they are good, and remembering that they are good is so important.

If we are honest with ourselves, though, and I will be honest about ministry, there are moments of doubt.  We start to question, is it worth it?  How many of you have been there before, when you are involved in something hard?  You start to ask “Why did I get into this?”

I’ll never forget the marathons that I have run, having those thoughts, those questions pounding in my mind.  In the picture below, see the “FULL” back plate?

Image result for baltimore marathon back bib "full"

In the Baltimore Marathon, the race organizers asked us to pin that to the back of ours shirt because we were running simultaneously with half-marathoners for the last 10+ miles of the marathon.  I’m not sure why they asked us to do this.  Maybe it was simply so that runners on the course could know and encourage one another.  And they did.  I was very encouraged when some half-marathoners told me how impressed they were with the marathoners like me.

But at about mile 21 or 22, my body experienced a deep kind of exhaustion that I had never felt before.  In training, the most I ran at one time was 20 miles.  Now I was beyond that.  And I still had 4-5 miles to go.  I was cramping, scared something was wrong and this 18 week process was falling apart.  I entertained the possibility of quitting, of not finishing.  Worse yet, I still had hills to climb.  I started thinking to myself “Why in the world did I ever do this?  This was so foolish!  I’ll never do it again.”

The “full” sign really ought to say this: 

Have you ever doubted your abilities?  Have you felt foolish?

Maybe you have doubted our parenting abilities.  Maybe you wonder if you are smart enough to finish school.  We can doubt ourselves in the middle of the fight.

Have you ever doubted whether you can make it as a disciple of Jesus?  Do you ever feel like Christianity, discipleship to Jesus, feels like a fight?  Why does it feel like a fight?  What are you fighting against?  I think we followers of Jesus fight against at least three things.

First, we fight against ourselves.  We have free will.  When it comes to following Jesus, we freely chose to follow him.  Free will, though, means that we can freely choose the right thing, just as much as we can freely choose the wrong thing.  We have a tendency to make bad choices, think bad thoughts, and harbor bad attitudes don’t we?  Following the way of Jesus can feel like a fight because we ourselves have a free will struggle with our lack of self-control.

 

The second thing that can make discipleship to Jesus difficult is culture.  It is not like our culture has a goal of promoting discipleship to Jesus.  I think it is absolutely possible to live as gracious, compelling disciples of Jesus in our culture.  But it can be hard.  Are there elements of our culture that you find make it hard for you to follow Jesus?

The third thing that can make the good fight feel like a fight is opposition.  There is a very real enemy force in the world that would love to see us fail.  Satan.

Even though these three things work against, remember that it is a good fight!

What is your personal fight?  Here are some personal struggles that people often talk about:

Fear of what other people will say or do to you.  Mine is speaking the truth in love. Specifically the truth part.  I will often skip the truth part because I am afraid of offending. Perhaps the fight is the busyness in life.  Or is it that you feel loneliness, without much support? Our world certainly seems to pressure us to have material comforts. Are you hoping to climb the corporate ladder to the extent you are tempted to let other things go? Why?  To get more money, more prestige at work, or to get Power.  You can perhaps get all these things, but what will it cost you to get them ?  You’ll have to work long hours, and the resultant stress and anxiety will come at the cost of your personal time, sanity, and maybe your family or ministry time.

So Paul says to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of the faith.”  If we are to pursue righteousness and godliness, know that it could be hard.  But it is good!

In fact, Paul says next in verse 12 that it is not just a mediocre good.  Paul says it is a fight to take hold of eternal life.  It is that good!

He says that Timothy should, “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”

Wait a minute! Eternal life?  Is Paul talking about getting saved?  Isn’t Timothy already saved and going to heaven when he dies?   That’s how we talk about eternal life, right?  You have your present life now, then you die, and after you die, you will go on to eternal life in heaven.

But think about this passage with me a minute.  It would be very strange if Paul thought Timothy wasn’t yet saved, considering that Paul already installed him as pastor of the church at Ephesus.  It would be very strange if Paul thought Timothy was not going to have eternal life in heaven, as if Timothy had to now accept Jesus as his savior and become a follower of Jesus.  Paul would never have allowed Timothy pastor this church that Paul loved if he, Paul, wasn’t certain that Timothy was a true follower of Jesus who was going to have eternal life in heaven.

You what that means?  Whatever Paul is saying here, this cannot be a statement about eternal life in heaven after you die.

Paul is saying that Timothy should take hold of eternal life now.  One of my favorite writers on the Christian life, Dallas Willard, says this:

What Willard says fits perfectly with this passage.  How do we know this?  See the phrase in verse 12: “Take hold”?  It is an imperative tense, which means that Paul is commanding Timothy to do this right now.

Later on in verse 14 he even calls it a command.  What that means is that this command, “Take hold of eternal life”, is really important.  Paul is serious about this.  He is saying, “Make no mistake about it, you have to do this, Timothy.”

Live an eternal life right now.  Or as Willard put it, learn how to live in the Kingdom of Heaven now.

This is another passage to ask ourselves, “How am I doing in my life? What is important to me?  Am I fighting the good fight of the faith to take hold of eternal life now?”

We recently had the season of Lent.  Lent is the 7 weeks prior to Easter, and it is a season where people spiritually prepare themselves for Easter.  The spiritual preparation in Lent features fasting.  The question “what are you giving up for Lent?” refers to this.

I gave up phone games for Lent.  I can’t tell you the amount of time I wasted playing games on my phone.

How about you?  How are you wasting time?  Is what you are doing necessary?

It is good to first ask these questions between you and Lord.  Ask him to evaluate you.  Ask the Holy Spirit to evaluate you.  David in Psalm 139 says:

 

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. 

But you can compound the effectiveness of the evaluation by asking godly, wise people to evaluate you, to speak the truth to you.  One of one or in a small group, ask for accountability.

You know what the result of all this fighting the good fight, and taking hold of eternal life, will be?

We can live eternal life now!  That is so amazing to consider.

We so often feel desperation and frustration in life, and we think “I can’t wait for heaven and eternal life when all this pain will be gone.”  But in so doing, are we enabling ourselves to continue living in the muck of life?  Are we allowing ourselves to stay stuck in our bad habits, stuck in sin, feeling distant from God, feeling powerless to change?

Remember that Paul says “you can experience eternal life now!”  And actually he goes farther than that.  He commands it.  He is saying you must live eternal life now!  Take hold of it!

What an awesome privilege we have.  Following the way of Jesus might feel like a fight, but remember it is a good fight, because it means that we can take hold of eternal life right now.

I love the illustration at the top of the article because it shows how physical life and eternal life overlap.  We can and should experience eternal life now.  In fact, that is what God wants.  He wants the eternal life of his Kingdom to radically impact our lives, our world now, so that we and our world are being transformed now.

Paul is right, that might feel like a fight sometimes.  Anytime we go through transformation, it is usually hard.  But consider what transformation means: it is a good fight that means we are being changed to look and act more like Jesus.  It means that the list in verse 11, all those qualities of eternal life, are more and more are part of our lives.

So Paul finishes with a wonderful benediction in verse 13-16, charging Timothy to keep this command, and thus it is a charge to us as well, to flee evil, pursue Jesus, fight the good fight, take hold of eternal life now, until such time as Jesus returns or God takes us to be with him.

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 662. Print.

Why does following the way of Jesus seem so difficult?

5 May

For those of you that are followers of Jesus, have you ever thought that that following the way of Jesus is difficult?  I think life itself can feel difficult.  But then add following Jesus, and there is another layer of effort, right?

Ever think thoughts like this?

I hear Jesus say “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” and sometimes I think “What?  Jesus, following your way of life is frustrating and complex!”

The process of life transformation that God wants to work in our lives is not always an easy one.  In fact it might be more accurate to say that it is often difficult.

And that can make us frustrated, can’t it?  Whether it is a habit we’re trying to change, a relationship we’re trying to mend, a ministry we are involved in or a sin that we’re trying to repent of, following the way of Jesus can feel heavy.

How many of you think “I just want a break!”?

I often wish following Jesus were easier.  In fact that raises a question in my mind.  Should following Jesus be easier than it seems?  If we think that following Jesus is hard, maybe the way we are following him is wrong?  Is it our fault that following Jesus can be difficult?  If you feel frustrated as a disciple of Jesus, what is going on?

This coming Sunday as our family of Faith Church gathers for worship, we continue our study through 1st Timothy and we’re going to read some comments that Paul gives to Timothy about following Jesus.

You can preview it at 1st Timothy 6:11-16.  Then we hope you’ll join us at 9:00am to hear more!

How to stop the drama in your life

16 Jan

Image result for how to stop dramaAre you a drama magnet?  A drama queen?  None of us likes to admit it, so maybe I should ask “Has anyone ever told you that you are a drama queen?”  Have you ever looked at your life and thought, “Why does drama seem to follow me around?”  In my post last week, I shared some suggestions for determining if you are a drama magnet.  The first step is to open your mind to the possibility.  Would you do that?  Would you open your mind to the possibility?  Read the post to learn more.

Even if you still conclude that you are not a drama magnet, I would venture a guess that most of us on this planet feel like we have too much drama in our lives.  We’d like to deal with it.  We’d like to remove it from our lives.  Know this, it is possible to stop the drama.

Yesterday, we continued our teaching series through the Apostle Paul’s letter to a young pastor Timothy, which is why the letter is called 1st Timothy.  Last Sunday we looked at the introduction, and yesterday we studied Paul’s first instructions, which you can read in 1st Timothy 1:3-11.  He has a command for Timothy.  Simply put, the command is “Timothy, I’ve been hearing about the drama queens in the church, and you must stop them.”

That might sound harsh, but we must remember that Paul started this church.  He knew these people well, as he had spent nearly three years with them.  He loved them, and he wanted them to thrive as a church.  When he hears about the drama, he knows that is not in their best interest, and worse, it has a strong chance of ruining the life-changing work that God wants to do in their town.  The drama has to stop.

But how?

In this passage Paul reminds Timothy that the people in the church need to have a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith, which will lead to love.  Basically Paul is saying that we need to be transformed within, because what is inside us what matters. These qualities turn our lives into fertile soil from which love grows.

As Jesus said, “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”  We need to remove the junk from inside and place goodness within.  Then love will flow from our lives rather than controversy.  We’ll notice that we are starting drama much less as we love more. And when drama enters into our lives, as it almost surely will, we will be prepared to respond to it with love rather than more drama.

Paul teaches Timothy a powerful principle about Christian faith.  Disciples of Jesus stop the drama because they have been inwardly transformed.  Disciples of Jesus have a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith, all of which work together to build a solid foundation of love in their lives.  It is a foundation that cannot be shaken by controversy and drama that so often seeks to throw us off kilter.

The question, then, is this: how do we change from the inside?  How do we transform a dirty heart into a pure heart, an faulty conscience into a good one, weak faith into sincere faith?

We had a good discussion about this very question at sermon discussion group yesterday.  Let’s keep that discussion going in the comments below!  Please share your practical suggestions for how to change your inner life.

I have a few suggestions that I believe are basic.  When I played soccer in college, our coach required us to start every practice with 10-15 minutes of working on basic ball control skills.  You’d think that a college-level player should be way beyond that, right?  You’d think that in college we had the basics mastered long ago, so we could spend time on advanced skills and tactics.

My coach was on to something important, though.  We should see the basics as important all the time.  Just as practicing the basics is vital in sports, in music, it is in faith.  So I recommend that if you want to move on to a more sincere faith, if you want to move on to a purer heart and good conscience, then first ask yourself how you are doing with the basic habits of faith?

Basic Habit #1 – Prayer.  Are you praying that God will change you?  How often are you praying?  How can you go deeper in prayer, spend more time in prayer?  Will you need to get someone to help you pray?  Will you need to stop doing something, like watching TV, in order to make more room in your life to pray?

Basic Habit #2 – Study.  Are you reading the Bible?  Are you thinking about what you read?  How often do you read the Bible?  And when you read, how much do you read?  Do you need to get someone to help you understand what you are reading?  Most importantly of all, are applying what you read to your life?

Basic Habit #3 – Accountability.  Are you talking about your inner life with anyone?  Are you isolated?  Who can you talk to about the purity level of your heart?  Who can you talk to about your conscience?  About how to have a more sincere faith?  Disciples of Jesus are not meant to go it alone.  Instead we grow through relationship.  Just like Paul is staying in touch with Timothy through this letter, we need people in our lives to help us grow. This is also why a church family is so important.

What are other habits have you used that help you grow?

 

 

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.”

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?

Listen to the whole sermon here.

Could a church worship service be a bad thing?

15 Jul

Did you have a security blanket as a kid?  Maybe it was a special stuffed animal or a pacifier.  Or did you suck your thumb?

I had a blanket as a child.  My own kids had a variety of security items, which got progressively bizarre.  Child #1 carried around a blanket, which we had snugly wrapped him in as an infant.  Child #2 had a stuffed lamb named Lamby (whose ear got wrapped over this particular child’s nose, held in place with the forefinger while sucking the thumb).  Child #3 also had a special stuffed pet, an elephant named Ellie.  But this child did not suck on his thumb.  Instead he sucked on the trunk of the elephant, which got very disgusting.  Not to mention that said child would regularly walk around and play with a stuffed elephant hanging out of his mouth.  Child #4 reverted quite a bit, as she just had a pacifier.

Did you know that adults have security items?  Ours tend to be a bit more socially acceptable, but if left unchecked they can become rather bizarre as well, and sometimes destructive.  Security items keep us from experiencing some part of life, usually the painful parts.  A bottle of alcohol can protect us from experiencing the stress of finances.  Netflix can help us escape from the pain of parenting or work.  Or there might be an addiction that we use to cope with the horrible memories of our past awful experience.  Do you have a security item?

Is it possible that a church worship service might be a security item?  Peter Rollins, in his book Insurrection, suggests that worship services could actually be keeping us from worship.  Sound impossible?

This past Sunday I started a summer sermon series called Our Growth Process, which will look at how Faith Church understands biblical teaching about how disciples of Jesus can grow to be more like him.  Last week I suggested that the foundation to this sermon is to learn to focus on the Kingdom of God.  We have for too long focused on church, on church buildings and systems, whereas Jesus taught about his Kingdom.  People who want to grow as disciples of Jesus focus their lives on Kingdom of God, and how it enters our lives and world, transforming them.  So where do we begin?  With worship.

But what if the way we do worship is focused on the church rather than the Kingdom?  What if worship is actually keeping us from the transformation that God wants to bring in our lives?  Rollins thinks it could be.  But why?  And is he right?  I encourage you to read the book, but I also invite you to join us at Faith Church tomorrow at 9:30am where we are going to look at what Rollins has to say.