Tag Archives: Discipleship

How all Christians have a responsibility to be priests

6 Jul

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Christians, you are all priests!  All week long we have been looking at some unusual ways Peter describes Christians’ identity and responsibility.  A holy nation, living stones, and now priests!  Yesterday we talked about how Christians can understand their identity as priests.

Now let’s look at how Peter in 1 Peter 2:4-10 describes as our priestly responsibility.  What do priests do?  Peter lists two tasks:

The first task, Peter says in verse 5, is that we offer spiritual sacrifices.  Note that the sacrifices are spiritual.  Peter is talking about the spiritual realm here.  One illustration he mentions about how to make spiritual sacrifices is when he says in verse 9 that we, “declare the praises of God who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Have you ever heard the lines of the song: “we bring a sacrifice of praise”?  God desires us to praise him.  At first I thought, “Why does God want us to praise him?  Isn’t that a bit self-serving of him?”  It can seem like it.  But in the unexpected, upside-down way of God, praising him turns out to be the best possible way for us to live.

That is important.  Praising God is a lifestyle.  Praising him is not just singing songs during a worship gathering.  We try to emphasize this even about our worship services.  We would be wrong to say that they only part of our worship that is praising God is when we are singing songs.  The correct view is that all the parts of our worship service should be seen as and done as praise to God.

When we place our monetary gifts in the collection baskets, we do it with a heart of praise and thanks to God.

When we greet one another, we do so with a heart of praise to God, thanking him for placing us in a church family with all its variety.

When we share our stories of God’s work in our lives, as we pass around the microphone, we do so with praise and thanks to God.

When we study his Word during the sermon, or in our classes, we do so praising and thanking God that he still speaks.

Every part of our worship service is praise to God.  We emphasize that because we want that attitude of praise to spill out into the rest of our lives.  Drive your car, praising God.  Prepare food in your kitchen, praising God.  Go to work, praising God.  Work hard at work, praising God.  Interact with your friends and family, praising God.  Clean your house, praising God.

That’s how we priests bring a sacrifice of praise: we live lives of praise to God.

The next thing that Peter says holy royal priests do is in verse 12, live good lives. The actual text says, “live such good lives among the rest of the world that they too will see your good deeds and glorify God.”

Holy royal priest live good lives!  How do we live a good life?  I would suggest that Peter is talking about a life of following the way of Jesus.  The good life is how Jesus himself lived. Jesus calls his followers to live like he did.  How, then, did Jesus live?

Discover for yourself by reading the Gospels, the four accounts of Jesus’ life.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Open up space in your life to read about the life of Jesus. It is amazing material. But it will require time.  Netflix can wait.

Your kids can do this too.  Have them take a break from Minecraft or Fortnite.  Read to them the stories of Jesus.  Learn about how Jesus lived.

As you read, pray: “Lord Jesus help me learn how to live like you live.”  Make a bookmark with that prayer, and use it as a reminder to pray that prayer before you read.

What you will find is that the way Jesus lived was very odd.  And amazing. His way is so different from the way of the world.  As you read, discover how you can choose to live differently, and then ask the Holy Spirit to change you, to make you more like Jesus, to live like he did.  Then try it out.  Try to practice kindness and forgiveness when your heart feels anger.  Try to practice love when you have been hurt.  Spend time alone with God like Jesus did.  Invest in helping others like Jesus did.  Speak the word of God like Jesus did.  Practice patience and goodness and self-control.

That’s the good life of Jesus that he invites his holy royal priests to live!

The cause and cure for spiritually malnourished Christians

28 Jun

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

Hey there, Christians.  Quick question for you: are you spiritually mature?  Take a few minutes and think about that.  Pause reading the rest of this post, and really try to answer this question.

I am concerned that though Peter is very clear in 1 Peter 2:1-3 that we need to crave pure spiritual milk from God in order to mature spiritually, what we actually crave is far different.

Just like the difference between skim and raw milk, I am concerned that we are skim milk Christians, when we need to be raw milk Christians.  Is it possible that we have attempted to nurture Christians on skim milk for decades, teaching them that only a thin, weak commitment to growing in maturity is what is needed?

But Peter says that if we want to grow up in our salvation, we are going to have to crave raw milk.  I’m concerned that we might be malnourished baby Christians.  In fact, it is entirely possible that people can be baby Christians for decades.  For their whole lives.  Staying in a state of immaturity because they are not craving pure spiritual milk.

Do you need to go deeper with Christ?  Evaluate how much time you give in life to receiving the nourishment of pure spiritual skim milk.  The Daily Bread is good, and the verse of the day app is good.  Nothing wrong with them.  Use them.  But they are spiritual skim milk.  We simply need to go deeper.

In order to mature as followers of Jesus, we need to take in lots of pure spiritual milk.  We talked about that yesterday.  So where does a Christian get this pure spiritual milk?  The Bible?  Is it from the Word of God?

Think about the Christians Peter is talking to in 1st Peter 2:1-3. How could they get this pure spiritual milk?  They did not have smart phones with the Bible app.  They did not have Christian bookstores where they could visit and choose from 100 different kinds of Bibles.  They didn’t have Amazon where they could go online and select from 1000 different kinds of Bibles.  This might be shocking, but those Christians Peter is writing to didn’t have any Bible at all.  So though the Bible is a source of spiritual nourishment from God, Peter is not talking about the Bible.

Where, then, could those early Christians get spiritual nourishment?  Well, they did have bits and pieces of the Bible.  They would get letters, like this one from Peter, and from guys like Paul.  Those letters were often copied and distributed.  But they didn’t have copying machines with cheap ink and paper like we have.  Each week at Faith Church we crank out paper bulletins at minimal cost.  To have one’s own copy of Peter’s letters would have been unthinkable for most Christians.  So they would gather together as a group, and they would listen to the letter read to them.  They would listen together as the apostles and pastors taught them.  They would gather in groups to encourage one another.  And of course they could grow their relationship with God through prayer, fasting and other spiritual disciplines.  Their church family was a treasure to them. That was how they could take in pure spiritual milk.

Their church families, therefore, were vital for spiritual growth.  Those first Christians were a small minority.  They did not and could not approach their faith in Jesus as something they did alone.  They were in this as a family.  That’s why Peter has to say “love one another deeply from the heart” and “get rid of” all the family killers.

They would have conceived of craving pure spiritual milk primarily as something they did together.  Look again at 1 Peter 2:1-3.  See all those times Peter uses the words “you” or “your”?  We can’t see it our English translations, but in the original language, those words are all plural.

If we were to capture his meaning in English we would have to add the word “all”.  Like this: “You all rid yourselves of all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind.  Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you all may grow up in your salvation, now that you all have tasted that the Lord is good.”

So craving pure spiritual milk is something we do together.  It is participating in worship, it is hearing the word of God preached, it is gathering in smaller groups and praying and discussing what it means to live as a follower of Jesus in the real world.

But it wasn’t only a group thing. Each person also has to receive spiritual nourishment.

What helps us get this spiritual nourishment?  I am convinced that spending time in spiritual disciplines is essential.  Spending time in prayer, contemplative prayer, silent prayer and studying God’s word.  And going deeper it in groups.  It requires time.  I learned that during sabbatical.  Prior to sabbatical I didn’t spend nearly enough time craving and drinking pure spiritual milk.  I was way too distracted, and figured “Well, at least I got the spiritual skim milk.”  That was an excuse to not actually drink pure spiritual milk.  I am so thankful for sabbatical.  And now in the three months that I have been back from sabbatical, I’ve made a change.  I spend time almost every day with God, particularly in contemplative prayer.

The next keep step is putting action to what we learn.  And this is where the group can be so important.  For accountability.  Telling someone what you are learning and what action you think it might be requiring.  Pure spiritual milk always leads to action. It is not simply knowledge.  And it is so much more effective when we do this with others.  That’s the plural “you” that Peter is talking about.

Make the time to bring others into your walk with God.  We Americans talk a lot about our “personal relationship” with God.  And God does love us each personally.  He cares about our individual lives, needs, concerns.  But community is where the power of nourishment from raw milk comes can really grow us.

Our church family is where we have to work through things in our lives, where we can be about doing things for the Kingdom together, as His church.  Do what Jesus did.  He had plenty of personal time alone with God. He went away to quiet places to spend time with Him.  But he also then came back to his earthly family, the 12 disciples, and he helped them understand how to live life.

So let us crave pure spiritual milk.  That almost certainly means our lives will have to change in some way.  Stopping the wrong habits and starting new ones takes work, it means establishing new patterns. It can take time.  What do you need to change?  What will it take for you to invest the time to change and grow in that area?  Do you need a mentor?  Find someone to be your guide!

Why the bizarre Christian teaching to be strangers and fearful actually makes a lot of sense

14 Jun

Photo by Grant Whitty on Unsplash

“Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.”  I love that phrase.  It even rhymes.  You know where it is from?  It is from the biblical book of 1st Peter, chapter 1 verse 17.  I’ve been posting all week about being strangers.  You can read the previous posts (here, here and here) to see why this guy Peter was telling Christians that they were strangers in the first century Roman Empire.  Now he says that that should live as strangers in reverent fear.  What is reverent fear?  In the original language that Peter wrote, Greek, this is just one word: “Fear”.  In fact Peter uses the standard word for “fear” which you would use if you were scared or afraid.  So why does the New International Version, which is the English version of the Bible we use at Faith Church, use two words to translate one word?  “Reverent fear”.  They could have just used the word “fear”.  It is because in this context, the translators who were writing the New International Version felt that this use of fear was not the scared or terror kind of fear, but the fear of respect and awe.  Reverence for God.

The most literal translation of this phrase is “conduct yourselves in fear during your sojourn on earth.”  There you can see how the NIV is trying to help English readers understand what Peter was saying when he said, “live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.”  I like “sojourn” a bit better than “live your lives.”  A sojourn is commonly understood as a temporary stay.  It is not permanent.  Peter wants us to remember that we are temporarily here on earth.  This earth is not our true home.

Peter explains this further in verses 18-20.  Why should they live not as citizens of an earthly nation, but as citizens of heaven? Because of the costly price paid to save them (Jesus’ gave his blood, his life for us!).  This is an oft-repeated New Testament teaching.  Paul once said in 1 Corinthians, “You are not your own.  You were bought with a price.”  Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection were an incalculable price paid to rescue you.  Therefore, we have a wonderful, deep reason to live our lives as strangers here in reverent fear.  We have an allegiance to a new master, to his new country: the Kingdom of God.

And so, not only on Ash Wednesday when many churches write the cross in ash on people’s foreheads, but at all times, we live our lives under the sign of the cross.

Peter describes this allegiance to Jesus further by saying,”We were redeemed.”  Redeemed is a slavery word.  Slavery was a huge part of their society.  Those ancient Christians would have understood what it meany to be bought and sold, to be redeemed.  You paid money to buy slaves.  A slave in the Greco-Roman era could even do this for themselves.  So slavery was different then from what we know of slavery in our American past.  Peter says it was not with money that we were set free from the empty way of life.  We couldn’t pay for it ourselves. It had to be and only could be through the blood of Christ.  The crucifixion of Jesus is pictured here.  What a huge price was paid for our redemption.

Notice that Peter says even more about this.  We were redeemed FROM the empty way of life.  The empty way is the way of following selfish or sinful desires.  Another word for the old kind of life is “futile.” One author says, it is a way of life that is “useless on the basis of being futile and lacking in content.”[1]  That’s a pretty strong statement.

But in our culture, we can see this as true, can’t we?  How many people pursue an empty way of life?  Think about the many problems in our society.  Broken families.  Drug addiction.  Sexual predation. Racism.  Gender inequality.  Greed. Celebrity worship.  Screen time. Video game, sports, and entertainment addiction. Obesity.  I could go on and on.  These kinds of things were going on 2000 years ago in the Roman Empire when Peter was writing this letter.  He nails it all in one phrase: An empty way of life.

Praise the Lord, though, Peter is saying, we have been redeemed from that way of life.  We have been set free!  Those that life their lives as strangers here in reverent fear have been set free from the empty way of life, and follow a new way, the way of Jesus, the way of the Kingdom of God.  Peter, earlier in the letter described this new way of living by using the word “holiness”.  That’s another way of saying, “Allow Jesus to be the new master of your life, to follow his way.”  It doesn’t mean that every follower of Jesus will become instantly perfect.  Instead this reverent fear is a life of respect for God that desires to know him ever more deeply and seek to make his ways our ways.  In other words, we learn from Jesus how to live because his Spirit has given us new birth, redemption, freedom, to pursue a new full life.

Want to learn how to get started? Comment below!  And check back in tomorrow as we’ll see Peter describe another way to live our lives as strangers here in reverent fear.

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 624. Print.

Why being “born again” might not be as crazy as it sounds

22 May

It is cringe-worthy. I admit it. Being born again?  It just sounds weird, not to mention the baggage associated with “Born Againers” in our society.  My guess is that most people don’t know what it means to be born again.  Or they believe born-againers are fundamentalistic, and therefore, mean, jugdmental and harsh.

But being born again is none of that.  In fact, please read on, because what being born again really is just might surprise you.

Last week I started preaching through the book of the Bible called 1st Peter.  It is actually a letter the Apostle Peter wrote to Christians around the Roman Empire in 1st Century AD when they were being persecuted.  This past Sunday, we looked at 1 Peter 1:3-5.

In verse 3, Peter exclaims, “Praise be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ!”  When you’re reading the Bible, you pretty much expect a phrase like this, right?  “Praise God!” sounds like a really biblical thing to say because it is a really biblical thing to say.  But why does Peter praise God?  Is he bursting with praise, just because?  Nope.  He has a reason.  There is something causing him to praise God.

Peter praises God for his great mercy.  God, Peter says, does not give us what we deserve.  As people who so often choose to rebel against God, whether in big ways or in tiny little ways, what we deserve is punishment of being separated from God.

But that’s where God’s mercy enters the scene. He could separate us from himself, but he chooses not to do that.

Instead, Peter says, God has mercy on us in that he has given us new birth!

New birth is a very Christianese sounding idea.  Here’s the thing though, Peter and other Christians didn’t make it up.  Jesus did.  Peter is just using words that Jesus taught him.  In John 3 we read the story when Jesus taught this.

Let me set the scene a bit.  The religious establishment guys were constantly on Jesus’ case?  They were called Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the Jewish law, and Jesus often had run-ins with these guys.  The religious establishment guys were the power-brokers in the land of Israel.  What they said was law.  If you didn’t follow what they said, watch out.  The problem is that they had stacked law upon law upon law so that it was incredibly difficult for the regular person to have any hope that they, the regular Joes, could truly enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus could not stand for that lie, and he undermined their false system every chance he could get.  As you can imagine, the average Joes loved him for it, and the leaders hated him for it, and the leaders looked for ways to take Jesus down.

But not all of them.  Some of the leaders were curious about this Jesus guy.  They had never encountered someone with his gifts and abilities and teaching and miracles.  As hard as they tried to defeat him, those miracles were hard to argue with.  So at least one of the Pharisees was really intrigued by Jesus and knew he needed to meet with Jesus.  But it had to be in secret, under cover of night.  This Pharisee could not risk being found out by his Pharisee pals that he was going to talk with Jesus.

That is where John 3 picks up. Before you continue this post, read John 3:1-10 or so.

Did you read where Jesus says to Nicodemus the Pharisee in John 3 that no one can see the Kingdom of God, unless they are born again?  That’s where the common Christian phrase “new birth” or “born again” comes from. Jesus himself!

Well, this confused Nicodemus greatly.  Born again? You can’t be born again. It’s obvious, Jesus.

Frankly, it is almost silly to me that Nicodemus even brought that up in verse 4.  It is so obvious that Jesus is speaking figuratively here.  You almost want to shake your head at Nicodemus, like we do nowadays and say, “Really?  Really?!  You think he wants you to get back inside a womb?”

Of course not, Jesus explains, what he means is that you must be born of water (which is natural birth) and spirit (which is the new birth).   Nicodemus is still confused, and in verse 10, I love how honest Jesus is. Can you imagine the twinkle in Jesus’ eye when he says, “You are Israel’s teacher, and do you not understand these things?”

That’s Jesus saying, “Come on, man, do I have to really spell it out for you?  When I say you have to be born again, I’m not talking about taking you to the hospital so the surgeons can cram you back inside a womb!”

Look at verse 5 where Jesus explains what he means.  The Spirit of God must change us!  We must be born of the Spirit from the inside out.  That is the “born again” that Jesus is talking about.  But how are we born again by the Spirit?

Jesus goes on to say that it starts with believing in him.  Look further down at verses 16-18.  Being born again, means that we have a spiritual rebirth which starts by believing in Jesus, and a change takes place within us, a real change.  This is symbolized in our practice of baptism.  We go under the water to symbolize that we have died to our old selves, and we rise up out of the water to symbolize the spiritual rebirth, that we have new life in Christ.

Let me say something very important about belief.  It is not intellectual or mental assent.  Intellectual or mental assent is just saying, “Yeah, I believe that.  I would say that is true.”  But mental assent does not impact your life.  Jesus is not looking for intellectual assent.  Jesus is not interested in people just believing a fact about him.  I have quoted our Bishop Bruce many times throughout the years, when he says, “Jesus doesn’t want believers.”

That phrase might sound ludicrous when you are reading John 3:16 (“whosever believes in him”).  But Bishop Bruce is right on the money.  Jesus doesn’t want us to just agree to factual data about him.  He wants us to be his disciples.  He wants belief to lead to action.  How do we know this?

In James 2, we read that even the demons believe!  In other words, you can believe the right things about Jesus, but not have been born again into the new life of Jesus.  What Jesus wants, Bishop Bruce says, is disciples. A disciple believes and follows Jesus, learning from Jesus how to live out the principles and the way of the Kingdom of God right here and right now.  A disciples actually changes.  Jesus once taught “by their fruits you will know them.”  You can tell who is reborn, because the new things of the Spirit flow out of their lives.  The evidence of the Spirit changing us from the inside out is what is called the fruit of the Spirit.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control.   That’s what it means to have new birth.

And that is not so strange, is it?

Why I am Going on a Three-month Sabbatical

3 Jan

I started sabbatical January 1st.  For the first three months of 2018 I will put my pastoral duties on pause.

I have so much gratitude to Faith Church for allowing this, and for facilitating it.  Over the last few years, as the church considered and planned for the sabbatical, there have been numerous people in the congregation who have invested much time and energy to make it a reality, and I deeply appreciate it.  Now, as I begin my sabbatical, I look at how many people in our church family are serving in new and different ways just so I can go on sabbatical.  That is incredibly meaningful to me.

As I start the sabbatical, I am keenly aware that most people don’t get a sabbatical and could never dream of one.  Sabbaticals seem most common in the educational realm, especially in higher education.  But in my congregation, filled with hard-working professionals, a sabbatical is unheard of for most.  So I’ve wrestled a lot with whether or not I should even want one in the first place.  When so many people in my church family work in fields that don’t offer sabbaticals, maybe I shouldn’t get one either.  Like me, they work long hours in sometimes difficult jobs.  What makes me different?

In most ways, I’m not different.  In other ways, very different.  For example, my denomination recommends that pastors receive a sabbatical from their church every 7 years of ministry.  I started full-time at Faith Church as Youth/Associate Pastor in October 2002.  Then in July 2008 I became Senior Pastor.  I started talking about sabbatical in 2009 when I hit the seven-year mark of full-time ministry.  But having just become senior pastor the year before, my wife and I decided to hold off on that discussion.  Once I reached seven years as senior pastor, I brought it up again.  So I am within denominational recommendations for taking a sabbatical.  But again, I question, should I?

Here’s why I pursued the sabbatical.  We Americans tend to have a very individualistic mindest, and with that, we’re loathe to admit weakness.  I often succumb to both of these tendencies.  I just don’t think of it as a succumbing. Instead, and maybe you think this way too, when I am successful as a lone ranger, I can feel so affirmed. I did what I was supposed to do. I was responsible and accomplished and strong. It’s easy to become prideful, under a guise of being responsible.  But the reality is that deep within, I feel much less certain, individually strong and accomplished than I might give off.  To reveal more of what actually goes on inside my mind, I need this sabbatical.

Pastoral ministry is difficult, and yet as I type that, I hate to admit that.  On one hand I’m concerned about coming across as saying “my job is harder than your job.”  There are many jobs that require a lot from people.  Pastoral ministry is not alone in that regard.  But I do think it is fair to say that pastoral ministry is a difficult profession.  Plenty has been written about the rigors of being a pastor.  Here is an example.  And another.  (Furthermore, being a pastor’s wife is a uniquely difficult role.)

As I have served for 15 years, I see the value in my denomination’s recommendation that pastors take a sabbatical every 7 years.  I am ready for this sabbatical.  I feel the strain of those 15 years deep within, and I feel it bubble up to the surface, all too regularly.  Don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful to God for bringing us to Faith Church, and I love my church family. I am very much looking forward to many more years pursuing the mission of God’s Kingdom together.  And I am convinced that this sabbatical, and another one in seven years, and another in seven more years beyond that, and so on, will enable us to have a healthy future serving the Lord.

I recently read an article saying that the pastor can be the greatest hindrance to the church’s growth.  Those words “church growth” can mean many different things to people.  The kind of church growth I am talking about is not more bodies, buildings and bigger budgets.  Instead I am talking about people experiencing transformation in Jesus.  That transformation looks like people stopping a selfish sinful life and learning from Jesus how to live what he called the abundant life, and after having been changed, helping more people get transformed too (which we call discipleship). I’ve written about that elsewhere on this blog.

Deep down I worry that, in my role as pastor of Faith Church, I can be the greatest hindrance to people in my church family actually experiencing that kind of transformation. I wonder if my personality, preaching and leading abilities (or lack thereof…in all three areas) are the biggest hindrance to the church’s growth.  At various times I think I don’t pray enough, visit enough, sacrifice enough.  The balance to all those concerns is that no one is perfect, and I do work on personal growth in all those areas, and know I have much learning to do.  Surely I can be a hindrance to the cause of discipleship to Jesus, because of these areas.

But that is not what the article was talking about.  The article was talking about how pastors too often do the work of ministry for the people.  In the church family people do serve and give quite a lot.  But there exists a line where that serving stops.  When people get to that line (and the line is different for every pastor), the people think “I’ve done what I can do, and now I’ll hand it off to the pastor, because it is his or her job to do the rest.”  I suspect you know what that line is for your church and your pastor.  You know what the result of the line is?  The pastor feels fulfilled because he has pastoral work to do, but the people never grow beyond the line.  If the pastor always takes over at the line, the people will only grow up to that point.

What if Jesus has transformative work he wants to do in people’s lives, but it will require them to go beyond the line of pastoral ministry?  I am convinced that Jesus does have that kind of work he wants to do, and by maintaining that line, we pastors hinder the growth of our people.

So during my sabbatical the line at Faith Church is about to be crossed.  People in the church family will be stepping across the line to do nearly everything that the pastor does.  I’m nervous about that, and I’m excited about that.

Will I be out of a job when I get back?  I don’t think so.  What I hope, though, is that perhaps I’ll need to change my job description. Maybe I have been preserving the line, when I should be pulling people over it.  I can’t say for sure.  My sabbatical has just begun.  I don’t know where it will lead.  I do have some goals.  One is to learn to recognize the voice of the Lord.  Some other goals are to read a lot, write a lot, and get away to quiet.  I’ve already deactivated my Facebook account.  Weeks before that I deleted all the video games from my phone and my laptop.  I want to learn to be more present.  I want to learn to not be hurried.  That one I learned from Carey Nieuwhof’s podcast interview with John Ortberg (it is episode 168), who was very close with Dallas Willard.  Ortberg said Willard was wholly unhurried.  That amazes me.  I’m always hurried. Always checking the notifications on my phone.  Always wanting to do not just one thing, but usually trying to do two things at the same time.  “Redeem the time” can be an excuse for all sorts of poor use of time.  I want to learn all these lessons so that they are not just for sabbatical, but so they can flow into whatever pastoral ministry will look like starting April 1st.  (Which is Easter, by the way.  I know it is April Fool’s Day too, but I have a feeling Easter is going to take precedence.  And on Easter, we talk about new life!  Very interesting juxtaposition of themes for this sabbatical.)

So this will be my final post until April 2018.  I wish I could write about Psalm 148, which was the text for my final sermon before going on sabbatical. It is so joyful, and needed after four weeks of lament.  Just read it and you’ll see.

How parents and grandparents can bring revival to our land

20 Sep

Image result for parents and grandparents

There’s a scary reality we need to bring up.

Though we are studying Deuteronomy, jump ahead to Judges 2:10, which takes place maybe 40-50 years after Deuteronomy.  By this time Joshua has taken over for Moses as leader of Israel, guiding Israel as  they take possession of the Promised Land and settle down.  Then Joshua dies.  What happened to Israel, then, one generation removed?  We read in Judges 2:10 that they totally forgot the Lord.

That freaks me out a bit.  Can this happen to us?  Can we totally forget the Lord?  Let us never think, “No way, that will never happen.” It sure can happen.  But how?  Just like it did for Israel in Judges 2. One generation that knows the Lord does not pass on the faith to the next generation.

Now let’s travel back to Deuteronomy 4, and I’ll explain why we took this little trip into Israel’s future.  Yesterday I mentioned that God is odd.  He really is, but in a good way!

Look at Deuteronomy 4, verses 10-14. Moses is reminding the people of Israel of a famous story in their history, a time the previous generation heard the voice of the Lord, and God gave them the Ten Commandments.  Moses is about to review those Ten Commandments next in chapter 5.  For now, he has a different purpose. He wants the people to remember their odd God.  Their God wasn’t like the Canaanite gods which were mute idol statues made of stone or wood.  No, Israel’s God, Yahweh, could speak!  Moses then tells the story of when God dramatically spoke in an audible voice to the people many years before, a story you can read in Exodus chapters 19 and 20.

What is the significance of this?  Why does Moses bring this up?  He knows how quickly we forget.  He knows that one generation can have an amazing connection to God, but sadly that generation is unable to pass on that connection to their kids and grandkids.  So Moses describes what the parents and grandparents are to do.  He says, “Teach your children and their children who God is, how he works, and what is Word is all about.”

How many of us are teaching our kids and grandkids what God is like? Are you teaching your kids the story of God?  It is crucial that we parents and grandparents take an active role in passing on the faith to our kids and grandkids.

Tell them God is so different from other gods.  Definitely this practice of teaching the next generation should include teaching them Bible stories.  But what about also telling them stories of how God has shown himself to be alive and well to you personally, to your family? Do you remember?  How has God been faithful, how he has answered prayer?

You know what the Psalmist says in Psalm 71:18? This is a great reminder for older people who have kids and grandkids:“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.

So parents and grandparents, invest in the spiritual welfare of your kids. Disciple them to be true followers of Jesus.  Don’t depend on the church to do this for you.  Have dinner together, and talk about the Lord.  Have family devotions.  Memorize Scripture together.  Then tell the stories of God at work in your lives.  Go on mission trips together, serve together.

Keep faith alive in the next generation.  Help the next generation learn what discipleship is all about.  Teach them how to advance in the unending cycle of being disciples who make disciples.

Will your life’s work be a waste? (3 Lessons from Moses to make sure it won’t)

14 Sep

Image result for moses commissions joshua

Are you investing in people to take over for you?  Or will your efforts stop with you?  It might be a volunteer position in your church.  It might be a job at work.  It might be a leadership role in your family or on your sports team.  You’ve served and worked and given much of yourself.  What will happen when you are gone?  Will it all fall apart?

Our final installment of Deuteronomy chapter 3 is found in verses 21-29, and there we find Moses in the very position I describe above.  Moses has invested his life leading this group of people, the nation of Israel, to their new home.  He knows his tenure is about to finish.  Will the 40+ years he has given be worth it?  I wonder how much Moses reflects on the fact that he grew up a prince of Egypt.  I wonder if he thinks “Man, I had it good there.  And I gave it all up for this?”  I wonder if he ever fears that his life’s work will be wasted.  Will Israel survive without Moses leading them?

Moses is about transfer leadership to Joshua.  As we read Moses’ conversation with God about this transfer of leadership, we’ll find some concepts very applicable to followers of Jesus and the task he has given us, to make disciples.  Do you remember that task God has given those of you who are his followers? Many times Jesus said things like “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” or “Go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  Is it possible that can we learn about the task of making disciples from Moses and his relationship with Joshua, even though Moses lived more than a thousand years before Jesus?

I see at least three discipleship principles we can learn from Moses’ in Deuteronomy 3:21-29.  I believe we apply these principles to our own lives, as we seek to make disciples as Jesus commanded us.

First, Moses reminds Joshua of what God has done.  This is a way to build Joshua’s faith for the conquest to come.  Notice the personal words: “God will fight for you.”  Moses wants Joshua to place his faith in the Lord.  He wants Joshua to know the personal relationship with God that he has known.

Second, Moses reviews his own failings, perhaps as a warning to Joshua.  Moses is called the most humble man who ever lived in Numbers 12:3.  I think Moses’ willingness to publicly review his faults is one way he shows he is humble.  So in Deuteronomy 3:23-27 Moses discusses his sin and punishment, possibly because he does not want Joshua to fall into the same trap.  Here Moses is not only demonstrating for Joshua that a leader can be vulnerable and honest, but also that a leader needs to avoid pride, practicing humility, and giving God the praise and glory for everything.

Third he commissions Joshua, encouraging him in front of the whole nation.  Here is Moses telling the people what God said, so all the people knew that Joshua was going to be the next leader.  Moses is managing this significant transition that is about to take place.  He is leading the people to buy in to this transition, to take the trust they have placed in Moses, and give Joshua that same trust.

Moses led the people for 40+ years.  Will the people trust Joshua?  Will this transition work?  It is incredibly difficult to have a revered leader transition to a new guy.  Even if the new leader is familiar and known to congregation.

It seems to me that most of the Israelite nation would have expected Joshua to take over.  I highly doubt it would have been a surprise.  Given nepotism, and how prevalent that can be in some societies, perhaps people wondered if Moses’ children or family were going to be the next leaders of Israel.  The fact of the matter is that Joshua had been at Moses’ side for a long time, and the people knew that.

You know what, though, even if the vast majority assumed that Joshua was going to be the next leader, the transition can still be hard. I suspect not everyone was pleased.  In nearly any leadership transition, people can be downright upset, and they leave.  Those people feel little to no connection to the new guy.

So Moses needs to prepare the people, and he needs to invest in Joshua.

How are you investing in the lives of those around you?

And who are you investing in?  Who is going to take over for you?  This could be in your business, sports team, volunteer organization, family, church?  This applies in many ways.  As we think about Jesus call to make disciples, we his followers can look at these three principles and apply them to the task of discipleship.

Be intentional.  Invest your life in the lives of others, so that more and more people come to know Jesus, and be his disciples who make more disciples.

You are Moses.  Who is your Joshua? 

And also consider that you are Joshua.  Who is your Moses?  Who is investing in you?