Trendy or Transcendent?

Christianity liteWe are called to advance God’s Kingdom.  We must identify the spirits of the age lest we become immersed in the culture and end up advance its agenda in the name of Christianity.   We are called to impact the culture not be impacted by it.  If we don’t see this distinction we will offer a form of “Christianity lite” in which we promote culture with a watered down version of Jesus.  If we are simply reflecting culture what is the point of our mission?

We are not called to offer a Christian version of culture to entertain people and get them to consume a cultural Christ.

We have already been discipled by culture as we grow up.  How about discipling the culture by the Kingdom and power of God? 

Salt and Light is Transcendent 

Mat 5:13-16 MKJV You are the salt of the earth,…(14) You are the light of the world.  A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden… (16) Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.

God’s call upon His people revealed throughout the Bible can be summed up with the phrase, “God’s family of Spirit filled disciples together on God’s mission.”  A central feature of this call is being salt and light.  The idea of salt and light has to do with our contact and influence on the world. In Biblical times salt made an impact by being directly applied on something, like meat, in order to slow down the deterioration process. Salt had a way of impacting and preserving.

The idea of light, as a city set on a hill, spoke of the distinct culture that gave testimony of a different way of living (God’s way). In our case it is the culture of heaven (as revealed through God’s word) demonstrated through the church. In that day cities were places of distinct culture and life. In our day as individuals walk among God’s community there is encouragement and reinforcement of His ways.  This helps all of us stay on track with God and provides a collective witness of Heaven’s culture lived out on earth.

Trendiness without Transcendence

In an effort to be both salt (able to be rubbed on unbelieving humanity) and light the ideacool Jesus of trendiness comes up. A while back I read of a church in England that unveiled a bronze statue dubbed “Jesus in jeans” depicting Christ as a man of the 21st century. One of the local leaders was quoted as saying, “You are always looking for new ways to enrich people in the experience of Christianity and it is good people can be open-minded to appreciate it.” The good side of this argument is portraying Jesus and Christianity as relevant to the 21st century. Obviously if Jesus walked the earth in physical form today He would probably wear blue jeans at some point. This is part of the idea of incarnation which is God coming in the form of common man.

One thing we must be careful of however,  is that we chase the idea of being trendy while neglecting the real impact of Jesus and the power of God which leads to transcendence. Many churches and Christians seem to always look for the newest, coolest, most trendy approach that comes out. This is great and important as long as we do not lose sight of the real foundation of Christ and Christianity that affects culture summed up with the idea of transcendence.

The salt and light are in the alternative life that is only in Jesus.  The transcendence is the powerful changes Jesus makes in the lives of people that have no earthy explanation.

It is the alternative way of living that originates and is sustained by the power of God. It is the change Jesus makes in every area of our lives. This has both the quality of salt and light in it.

Example of Transcendence in the Early Church

We can be trendy but not transcendent. All through the history of the church the thing that made impact was the transcendent lives that real Christians lived. Unbelievers noticed the changes, not by their cool clothes or trendy style, but by their changed lives.   There was an early letter written sometime around the year 100-150 AD called the letter to Diognetus who was a well respected pagan. It extolled the virtues of Christianity over paganism. In it you see that the thing that caused Christians to make great impact was their transcendent lives. Here is the letter.

If there is no transcendence among God’s people that demonstrates an alternative way of living by the power of God then we are just offering dead religion in contemporary clothes.

 “Christians are indistinguishable (cannot be distinguished) from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries (invented by the ingenuity or speculation of men) inspired by the curiosity of men.

Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine (nor do they advocate mere book learning). With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is  Greek or foreign. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them (practice infanticide). They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated.

 A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As  the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures.

Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments. Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the

Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.”

You can see that the world wasn’t impressed by Christian’s trendiness or contemporary “coolness.” It was the alternative way of live they lived out before an unbelieving world. Obviously this is why they were so persecuted in the first three centuries and also why they made such an impact as salt and light.

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Worth the Fight #3: Narcissistic or Kingdom Advancing Relationships

Everything exists for me

Everything exists for me

Author Rodney Clapp wrote, A noted western Philosopher introduced to the world in 1926 was one day sitting on a log when he heard a buzzing sound.  He was puzzled and fell to pondering.  As his leading chronicler remembers the event he reasoned along the following lines.  “If there is a buzzing noise somebody is making a buzzing noise, and the only reason for making a buzzing noise that I know of is because you’re a bee says the Poo.  Then he thought another long time and said, “And the only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey.  And then he got up and said, “And the only reason for making honey is so I can eat it.” 

Unfortunately Winnie the Poo’s attitude reflects how mankind often approaches their lives. Like Pooh they see “the only reason” things exist is for our personal likes, desires, and consumption.  It is a reflection of a narcissistic approach to life that is all too common today.

Narcissism is based on the Greek myth of Narcissus, the proud young man who saw his reflection in a pool and fell in love with it.  Narcissus was unable to break away from his own gaze, and eventually died by the side of the pool.  The psychological definition of Narcissism is an egotistical preoccupation with self, personal preferences, aspirations, needs, success, and how he/she is perceived by others.   

This is what the Bible calls “pride” which is the opposite of humility. C. S. Lewis aptly described humility as, “not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”


Pride and narcissism are bad in any arena but especially among the people of God. It will result in taking precious truths of the design of God and making them about our glory instead of His.  We can do this with something as important to our lives as relationships with God and others.  This is why Jesus was so clear in His calls to follow Him in which He clearly puts “self” in a secondary/denied place.  

Luk 9:23-24  And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  (24)  “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it (MSG Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self).

Mark 8:34-35  “If anyone wishes to come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it (See also: Matthew 10:39,  Luke 17:32-33, Matthew 16:24-25, Mar 10:21, Luk 18:22, Luk 14:33).   

In the church world “relationships” or “fellowship” conjures up images such as sitting around a living room, eating refreshments, talking about life, enjoying each other’s company, and doing fun things together.   Being around people who are interested in our life is a very appealing.   A good relational church can be imagined as a nice sheep pen in which the sheep are cozy with one another and the shepherds are constantly attending to their needs.  Even Biblical ideas such as “accountability” can be viewed narcissistically.

Accountability can be twisted to simply cause us to be a little more open and honest.  We may share more about our struggles and challenges if we know others have imperfections like we do but where does it lead us?  Instead of motivation to change it becomes almost therapeutically comforting to know we are all imperfect, and God loves us just they way we are.  What about growth, change and progress in pleasing Jesus? 

This type of relational life seems very safe, sanitized, tame, but also self serving. It can seem like a “nice” effort designed to produce “nice” people that feel better about themselves.  While these things have their place, if this is the extent of fellowship then we are missing something very important.  God joins people together for His purpose, not ours.  The church is not to be a narcissistic body consumed with itself.  It is a body designed for a purpose beyond itself. 

Eph 1:22-23  Msg…The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

God isn’t about simply filling the confines of the church with cozy groups of fellowship.  He wants to fill the whole earth with people expressing His life.

Kingdom Relationships Should Stimulate Zeal for God

An important element that is often missing in “church relationships” is seen in Hebrews. Heb 10:23-25  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;  (24)  and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,  (25)  not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

The word “stimulate” one another is a very interesting word.  It is far from the safe and sanitized form of relationships.  The word “stimulate” means “incitement, provoke unto, contention.”  It means such things as “to call into action; to arouse; to excite; to provoke anger or wrath; to provoke war; to excite or challenge; to stir up or arouse.”  It means to incite to action with a zeal for God.

This isn’t a tame word!  There is an element of danger and forward action in it.  As the church goes forward and “fills everything with His presence,” darkness is destroyed.   It is the idea Jesus declared when He said in Matthew 16 “I will build my church and the gates of hell can’t stop its forward advance.”   When our relationships stimulate us to go forward, the fire of God moves through us to destroy the works of the enemy in every square inch of our lives and God’s earth.

The prophet Zechariah spoke of these types of relationships among God’s people.  Zec 12:5-6 “Then the clans (social units) of Judah will say in their hearts, ‘A strong support for us are the inhabitants of Jerusalem through the LORD of hosts, their God.’  6  “In that day I will make the clans of Judah like a firepot among pieces of wood and a flaming torch among sheaves, so they will consume on the right hand and on the left all the surrounding peoples, while the inhabitants of Jerusalem again dwell on their own sites in Jerusalem. 

Like Samson, Jesus gathers His people around His fire

Like Samson, Jesus gathers His people around His fire

A great Old Testament story that depicts these types of relationships comes from Samson.  Their enemy, the Philistines, had planted crops on God’s land.  Samson, who was a judge God raised up to deliver His people and advance His purpose, did something very interesting.  He caught 300 foxes, put a torch between every pair of them, and tied their tails to that torch.  He then set the torch on fire and sent each pair throughout the enemy’s crops.  This resulted in the crops that the enemy had planted to be burnt down.

Jdg 15:4-5 NASB  Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took torches, and turned the foxes tail to tail and put one torch in the middle between two tails.  5  When he had set fire to the torches, he released the foxes into the standing grain of the Philistines, thus burning up both the shocks and the standing grain, along with the vineyards and groves.

What a story to show us what this type of Biblical fellowship is like!  God’s sets His fire (Holy Spirit) among us, and ties us together with Him and each other.  If we are on fire for God as we move out, “two by two,” we end up spreading a fire that destroys the work of the enemy.  This is what Peter and John did when they went together to pray in the temple.  They encountered a beggar and out of the Spirit filled fire among them they prayed for him and he was healed.

Our relationships should “stimulate” us to action and Kingdom advancement.  They should work to light the torch of the Spirit among us.  They should produce a zeal for God and change in us. These type of relationships destroy the enemies crops in our lives and in the lives of others.   This is far from sitting around a living room having coffee and therapeutically focusing on ourselves.    Let us seek the type of relationships that “stimulate one another” by the fire of God to overcome the work of the enemy.   

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Worth the Fight #2: Myth of the Self-Made Man

Self-Made-ManOne of the most celebrated American holidays is Independence Day.  One of America’s most revered documents is the Declaration of Independence.  Independence in these examples was set in the context of a corporate nation yet as a culture we have morphed the idea more towards personal independence rather than corporate.  Unfortunately the church has often followed in culture’s wake rather than God’s design.

Independence can be a problem when people begin to follow Jesus.   The very nature of Jesus and the Godhead is that they live and move together as One.  They are Three perfectly in sync with each other.  They are part of each other’s lives.  Jesus only did what He saw His Father doing (John 5, 8, 15:15).  At the same time Father and Holy Spirit were moving to glorify Jesus (John 8:54, 16:14, 17:5).  

In Jesus’ last prayer on earth He prayed 3 times that His people would have the same type of relational oneness with each other that He has with the Godhead (Jn 17:11, 21, 22).  We also know that when people take up the call to follow Jesus He immediately puts them in connection with others who follow Him.   It isn’t based on their personal preference but His.

1 Corinthians 12:13-18  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit….18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.

Rom 12:1-11…4  MSG In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. (Amp mutually dependent on one another).

Ephesians 4:25  And so, putting away false words, let everyone say what is true to his neighbour: for we are parts one of another.

 His call is not based on our personal preference but His design and destiny.

Jesus didn’t allow His first disciples to make the choice on who they would follow Him with.   He placed them as Paul said, “in the body, just as He desired.”  He placed the 12 with others that they would not have liked very well outside of following Him. He put tax-gatherers and zealots, rich and poor, and physicians and fishermen together.  Tax-gatherers and zealots were people from two groups in Palestine who would have hated each other and wished them dead.

As we follow Jesus with those He joins us to they become part of our life and destiny. Click To Tweet

Myth of the “Self-Made Man

Read any biography of a successful entrepreneur, CEO, or media personality and self-made manit will have the familiar ring of the “self-made man.” It usually goes something like this; from humble beginnings, or a disadvantaged situation, _______ refused to give in to the odds stacked against him or her. They didn’t give up but they got up and made something great of themselves.

This isn’t completely true in anyone’s life! Consider someone’s relational biography. Do your own. A relational biography describes people God has used to get others where they are today. If it is done in an objective manner we will be amazed how the influence of other people over the years has been essential to us getting where we are.

Think of your life. You owe your life to a lot to people. People are the main source of supply God used in your life (Eph 4:16, Col 2:19). Think about your natural family or others who helped raise you. Someone had to provide things for you that you couldn’t on your own. Someone provided food for you and changed your diapers when you couldn’t do it yourself. While those same people may have hurt you or let you down in various ways they did provided something for you that you couldn’t do yourself.

You didn’t educate yourself.  You had teachers and schools. There were people in your life who warned you to stay away from harmful things which probably spared you a lot of mistakes and grief. Others protected you at times when you didn’t even know it. Even in the choosing of your career someone probably influenced you with an example of a field of work that was appealing. Someone probably told you about the job your currently have or at least was involved in getting your application to someone who hired you.

If you are a Christian, someone, or several someone’s, helped you get to the place you are in God. They brought the message of Christ to you, helped you develop a walk with Christ, and provided instruction and example of how to live for Him. It reminds me of a quote from the angel Clarence to George Bailey from my favorite movie It’s a Wonderful Life, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” 

Destiny Carriers

My walk with Jesus continues to be shaped, influenced, and aided by the people God has joined me to. There has been so much revelation, example, and even correction from His people in my life. They have also opened doors for me to move in His destiny. This highlights an important Biblical concept that we all have ‘Destiny Carriers’ that help us come into the place He has for us.

All through the Scripture we see examples of people coming into their destiny through relationships. There are potentials in each person and the relationships He joins them to that hold a key to help unlock them.

Joshua had Moses, Ruth had Naomi, David had Jonathan, Elisha had Elijah, Jesus had Mary, Joseph, and John the Baptist, Paul had Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Titus, as well as others, and they had Paul.  The list goes on and on.

Most good things of God flow through relationships (His body). That is how He designed it. We were made in His image and as it says in the Genesis account of creation it was the image of the Trinity “let Us make man in Our image” (Gen 1:26). The Trinity are mutually dependent on each other for their continued place of existence.

This is why the people who prosper in God tend to be planted among relationships. This is why it is so sad when Christians fail to commit over the long haul to walk with people God joins them to.  

Psa 92:12-14 The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree,…(13) Planted in the house of the LORD, They will flourish in the courts of our God. (14) They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and very green,

The proper response of any true disciple of Jesus is a similar posture the prodigal son had when returning to his father, “make me” (Lk 15:19).  He is the Potter and we are the clay (Jer 18 etc.). God uses people that we walk together with as tools that shape/make us as we follow Him. 

I am not the same man I was before I was joined with my wife.  In the context of walking together we both have become something different, better, and more than what we would have been on our own.  The same is true as we walk together with those He joins us to in the church.  There are no “self-made men/women” in the Kingdom of God.   We should thank God for those He uses to shape our life in Him through both the good times and the bad and the easy as well as the challenging.  

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Worth the Fight

worth the fightWe live in a culture that is committed to relational convenience.  The remote control and the friend/unfriend button are metaphors for our current view of relationships. Friendships can be made or abandoned with the simple click of a button. Many growing up today have felt the sting of this disposable approach to relationships. The security of committed family relationships was either never formed  or quickly abandoned in pursuit of happiness by those who should have been there for them.

In the wake of this, people still desire authentic relationships that have permanence and security.  Everyone was made in the image of God and family is the essence of who He is.  The very thing that has held the relational life of the Godhead together for eternity, “faithfulness and covenant,” is what everyone hungers for deep down inside.

Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep his commandments…

Faithfulness and covenant do not come easy.   They are always tested.  That is why most marriage vows contain certain phrases, “for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”  There are challenging times and for the sake of happiness it sometimes seems easier to walk away.  Unfortunately this is true, even among God’s people.  I read an article from a pastor’s son who spoke of this happening over and over as he grew up in the church.

As a pastor’s son, I know how frustrating that can be when it seems like people are constantly looking for something that makes them happy.  At the same time, my Dad cared about true spiritual life being given in the body of Christ.”  He echoed the hurt when God’s people walked away.

Worth the Fight

Caleb kept fighting for it till the end Josh 11

Caleb kept fighting for it till the end Josh 14

If somebody is 85 years old the last thing they are probably thinking about is mustering up enough strength and determination to engage in a fight with enemies who are bigger and stronger than they are.  Yet we find Caleb doing exactly that in Joshua 14:11-15.

He was requesting with great anticipation and zeal for Joshua to let him have “Hebron” as a possession.   He wanted to take on several enemy giants who lived there.  Why would a guy in the latter years of his life want another fight?  He had just spent several years helping others fight for their inheritance.  Most people at 85 are thinking of kicking back, getting an RV, and going around the country to look at things.  What was it about Hebron that caused such a response?

In the Old Testament names meant something.  Places and people were often named because of something God did, was going to do, or in honor of success or failure.   You can say it like this, there is a nature in the name.

Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines “Hebron” as  “A community, alliance, or league.”  It is a relational definition that contains the idea of covenant and faithfulness which are part of God’s nature.  The relational idea of Hebron played out through the history of God’s people.   It was the place Abram dwelt and built an altar to God after separating from Lot in Gen 13:18.   Isn’t it interesting that after Abram endured relational infighting between his servants and Lots (his relative), as well as a separation because of it, he “moved his tent” to the place of community/relationships and built an altar to God there.   Most people who had just experienced relational turmoil would have moved away from anything  having to do with relationships, but Abram moved toward them.

Hebron was the place where Abram was prophetically anointed by God with a name change to Abraham which means the “father of a multitude of nations” (a relational family term) Gen 17:5.

Hebron was the place where David and his men fled when Saul turned against him.  Again it was someone going to the place of community/relationships in response to relational breakdowns.

Later when an enemy attacked and took all of David’s possessions (and his men’s), his own men spoke of killing him.   He got his stuff back then went back to Hebron the place of community/relationships  1Sa 30:31 He didn’t let any work of the enemy causing relational breakdowns keep him from that important place.

Hebron is also the place where David was anointed King by Judah 2 Sam 2:1-11, and later the tribes of Israel  2 Sam 5:1-10.   Leadership, like it is in the Godhead, is to be set among community/family life.  It is where God’s blessings flow.  Psa 133:1-3 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!  (2)  It is like the precious oil upon the head, Coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard (leadership), Coming down upon the edge of his robes.  (3)  It is like the dew of Hermon Coming down upon the mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing–life forever.

In His last prayer on earth (John 17) Jesus prayed three times that the family/relational life that the Godhead experiences would be among His people.  

God lives and works among relational family life because it most reflects His nature.

 

Why Caleb Wanted to Fight For It

Why was Caleb so intent on going after the enemy at Hebron?  It has something to do with his personal experience.  Caleb was one of the twelve spies who were sent into the land of  promise to see how they were to take it.  The giants that discouraged the ten spies, and later the people, lived in Hebron.  Num 13:17-30…Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan…(22)  When they had gone up into the Negev, they came to Hebron where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak were (the giants). …(25)  When they returned from spying out the land…they brought back word to them and to all the congregation and showed them the fruit of the land.  (27)  Thus they told him, and said, “We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.  (28)  “Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak (giants) there... (30)  Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.”

I think there is a spiritual parallel today.  It seems that the biggest enemies live in the place of community/relationships.  They cause failure and discouragement that keeps God’s people from pursuing their inheritance.   I have heard it said, and it has been my personal experience in over 38 years of church life, that over 90% of church problems are not theological but relational.  Even the theological issues or other problems have underlying relational components to them.   What usually happens is that people have a hard time getting over relational hurts or challenges.  Later when theological or directional issues come up,  people’s unresolved relational issues get mixed in with them causing a much bigger problem that destroys or separates.

This is why so much attention is given in Scripture about how to walk together relationally. About 44% of the instruction in the NT letters is about how God wants us to treat one another and resolve relational conflict.  Even in the important Last Supper dialogue (John 13-17),  75% of the instruction is about walking in friendship/association with God and one another.

I have seen many people over the years see the relational aspects of the church and Kingdom and agree that it is God’s way.  Some even get excited about it and attempt to build that way only to face the biggest giants of opposition.  People end up faltering, disappointment sets in, and they abandon Hebron.

Others don’t even attempt it because they feel it will only cause pain and heartache.  But then there are those like Caleb, who won’t give up on Hebron because it is God’s possession for His people.  Like David, even after relational challenges, they keep moving their tents (their dwelling place) there.   Like Caleb, even in their old age, they are still going  after the giants that attempt to keep God’s people from community/relational life.  They know it is where God’s people should live.

One leader summed it up well, “God’s family can be a huge painful annoying mess.  Yet I will love His family, commit to His family, serve His family, and do everything I can to see it become all He intends it to be.”

 

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Authentic Leaders Living Credible Lives Among God’s People

false teachersUnfortunately, both in the history of the Bible as well as our contemporary scene, there are examples of both good and bad leadership in the House of God.  In this past season I have personally come across the amazing contrast of both.  It has caused me to freshly realize some important aspects of God’s design for leadership that we must not lose sight of.  

On the good side I was recently at a service in which a man from the congregation brought up the eldership team and had the congregation pray over them as they were heading on a retreat.  It was very touching as he cited the passage in Hebrews 13 about local church leadership.  Hebrews 13:7-17  Remember those leading you, who have spoken to you the Word of God, whose faith follow, considering the end of their conduct… (17)  Yield to those leading you, and be submissive, for they watch for your souls, as those who must give account, that they may do it with joy and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you.

With tears in his voice he said, “We know these men, we know their lives, they have laid down their lives for this church, and we want to live in a way that the Bible says ‘that they could serve us with joy and not grief.’  Let us honor and pray for them as they go to this retreat.”  This was both touching and a fresh revelation of what Paul said was an important part of leadership, “Know (to perceive with the eye) those who labor among you and have charge over you in the Lord, and give you instruction that you esteem them very highly” (1 Thes 5:12-13).

With the rise of the online avenues and social media there has never been a time in which teachings and ideas from both God ordained, as well as self-proclaimed leaders, reaches far beyond people personally “knowing” their lives.  With over 550 million Christian based web and blog sites along with an unknown greater number of Christian social media sites, good and bad spiritual ideas are being perpetuated by both good and bad leaders.  We have an internet smorgasbord of just about any theology you like coming from people that you don’t really know.   

When it comes to leadership and teaching in the house of God the fruit of leaders’ lives is to be connected to what they teach. 

Jesus tells us when He speaks about false leaders that the fruit of their lives is the most accurate indicator of their authenticity.  Matthew 7:15-16  “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  (16)  “You will know them by their fruits….  Paul says similar things when he is contrasting false apostles in Corinth who were trying to discredit him (2 Cor 10-11).  He appealed to what they knew about his own life when He lived among  them.

Paul makes an appeal to the Thessalonians mentioned earlier, that knowing leaders’ lives who are over them in the Lord is essential (1 Thes 5:12-13).   The idea of knowing is to know their lives not just what they teach.  He tells Timothy “show yourself an example” with his life as he “prescribes and teaches things” (1 Tim 4:11-12).   John commended the Ephesians who measured leaders and found some to be false, obviously not only because of their teaching but also because of their lives (Rev 2:1-3).

This is one of the challenges of the online world when it comes to leaders, teachers, and receiving from them.  The fruit of their lives should confirm the ideas they speak.  We must remember that what we really believe should affect our behavior.  Our theology determines our practice.  Just because one can preach or write well doesn’t mean they are living well!  When you look at Biblical maturity and authenticity it is seen in the closest relationships the leader has.  It is in the real fruit of their real lives that should be observable (usually in their closest relationships) that is the platform for any messages they want to proclaim.  I like to sum up the Biblical fruit as “if it doesn’t work in your own house, don’t try to preach it in the Lord’s house!”   

Leaders’ real lives are the authentic platforms from which they speak

One reason I was touched with the previously mentioned example was the contrast it revealed to some recent leadership scandals I have been following with leaders of worldwide, online influence.   Recently one popular megachurch leader who was a consistent preacher of certain applications of grace to the exclusion of other truths fell severely.  He inherited a popular internationally known church and began to lead it forward.  He published several books on grace and even formed an network designed to focus and facilitate the wonderful message of  “God’s inexhaustible grace.”  I read some of his books and other writings.  While he has some very good things to say about grace, seldom did he mention walking or growing in grace.  Rarely did He mention any challenging aspects of God’s nature.

It seems that his perspective on grace caused him to live carelessly and he ended up with unfortunate falls to immorality.  Marital problems and carelessness resulted in he and his wife having affairs that were uncovered and in June of 2015 he stepped down from that church.  

Only three months later in September 2015, he was picked up by another church (to the surprise of many) and continued to impart his ideas about grace to the online world.  He continued to promote a perspective on grace that “God doesn’t even see our sin.” His previous sin almost seemed to cause him to highlight his understanding of grace even more.   He continued to write and tweet things like the following which have truth in them but when ignoring other aspects of God’s truth they can be taken to promote careless living, deception, or a cover for practicing sin.  

  • “God’s ability to clean things up is infinitely greater than our ability to mess things up.” 
  • “God’s capacity to forgive is greater than our capacity to sin; while our sin reaches far, God’s grace reaches farther.”
  • “God is a good Father, and because we’re with Jesus, God’s affection for us is unchanging and His approval of us is forever.” 
  • “So grateful God is a bottom feeder.”

Five months later it was revealed that he had hidden previous affairs in addition to the one that was uncovered.  He was removed from his position at the new megachurch.  Now other attitudes are beginning to come to light.  The network he helped start to promote their perspective on God’s grace finally had to shut down as most of the board members resigned seeing the problem with proclaiming God’s grace in a way that facilitated and covered immorality.   What leaders teach should be connected to how they live.

I did come upon his last social media post that gave cause for hope that he is repenting.  The words he was saying seemed to be in contrast to and helped to correct some of his previous extreme teachings. 

“I hope and pray that the events in my own life over the past couple years serve as a warning to all who, like I did, believe they are standing firm.  Sin is deep.  It is real. It destroys. It deceives. May this be an opportunity for all of us to examine our own hearts and beg God for the mercy and forgiveness we all need.”

Credible leaders are known by credible lives that are lived out among God's people. Click To Tweet Another example was the leader of Europe’s third largest church and popular grace/prosperity preacher.  After posting a video on his blog, “Sexual Sin is Not Enough to Take You to Hell” (should have been a warning), many female parishioners began to come forward and speak of affairs and sexual abuse with this international leader.  

My pastor, who serves in many different nations, has given warnings about this man for a while.  Here is one of the biggest problems with this preacher.  While secretly stepping down for a “Sabbatical” he continues to run online sites as well as a Facebook and blog site that some of my Facebook friends subscribe to.

While we continue to have wonderful online social media tools to proclaim God’s truth beyond our borders we must keep the Bible’s perspective that credible leaders are known by credible lives lived out among God’s people

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Good Habits for Everyday Missions

Life on missionBiblical Christianity is not just about a belief or a meeting. Its is a life that we live following Jesus.  A motto we have adopted that encompasses an important theme of the Bible (beginning with the Garden of Eden Genesis 1-3, and culminating at the great end time family event “the Marriage Supper of the Lamb Rev 19:7-10, 21:9) is,  “God’s Spirit filled family together on His mission.” Christianity is not just about a belief or a meeting. It is a life that we live following Jesus. Click To Tweet

When we understand that Christianity and church isn’t a meeting or organization but a way of life (with God’s and His family) it affects the way we engage in everyday mission. Missions and evangelism isn’t a program or event but an everyday life’s journey.  It’s to be a way of life not an optional add on.  

We need to see God come into our everyday patterns of life that we already live.  What are the areas of life that everyone engages in?  Rest, Eating, Work, Leisure, and Celebrations.  Celebrations are things like holidays, birthdays, and weddings etc. (Jesus first miracle was at a wedding).  Leisure can be vacations, recreation, and sports etc.  Work is self explanatory whether it be work around the house or your job site.  Physical and emotional rest is something everyone needs.

Rather than missions and evangelism being a program added on to our already busy life, what if it really became part of our everyday life patterns/rhythms?  We either invite others into ours or we join them in theirs. 

Building Everyday Missional Habits among God’s People Missional Habits

Like any area of life good habits help us to develop and walk in beneficial endeavors. Here are two acronyms I have heard that contain ideas in developing good habits for everyday missions and evangelism.

VISA (Visit, Invite, Serve, Ask):  All foreign missionaries have to get a visa to go to their mission field.  

  • Visit – visit with your friends and neighbors showing interest, friendship, and offer to pray for them.
  • Invite  open your homes and lives to show hospitality (making people feel welcome and valued).  Invite friends and neighbors over for a meal, dessert, or conversation etc. Jesus did quite of a bit of His mission around meals.  Almost all of the book of Luke records accounts of Jesus going to a meal, eating at a meal, or coming from a meal.  Conversations around meals can be openings to talk about deeper things.
  • Serve  look for ways to practically serve neighbors or people in the community.  We are looking for ways to show the love of God through serving and caring.   
  • Ask – we are looking for ways to ask God for them.  Pray for them, and with them when you can to release the presence and power of God.  

BELLS (Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, Serve):

  • BLESS – Bless means “to speak well of or to praise.” Later the meaning shifted toward “pronounce or make happy.”  Today Christians use the word “bless” in a variety ways. Even blessing someone who has just sneezed is an expression of goodwill and a desire for continued health.  In blessing someone we want to bring encouragement and help lift the burden of life even for a few moments.   How can we bless someone?

Words of Affirmation  This is the simplest way to bless someone.  Speak or send people words of affirmation or encouragement through a note, an email, or a text.  Let them know you’ve noticed something valuable about them. This isn’t flattery, but something God helps you notice to bring His light on.   I’ve heard it said that a word of encouragement is like oxygen to the soul.

Mark Twain, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” 

Acts of Kindness  Who doesn’t feel blessed when someone does them a favor or provides some kind of practical support? Cutting someone’s lawn. Babysitting an exhausted couple’s kids. Helping a neighbor move. These acts of kindness lift up and bring strength to others.

Gifts  There is a thoughtful element behind giving a small gift that shows we value and care for someone.  

  • EAT – Eating was an important part of life and ministry with Jesus, the disciples, and others.  Much Kingdom activity in the Gospels happened around meals.  We need to see eating missionally.  Eating is a normal rhythm of life. You won’t need to add a great deal into your already busy schedule. You already eat 3 times a day. That’s 21 meals a week. We simply want to see people come around some of those 21 meals.  

The table is the great equalizer in relationships.  When you sit across the table from people it is easier to open up.  When we eat together we rediscover the value of people. We share stories, hopes, fears, and disappointments. People open up, and we can open up to them to share things, including our faith in Jesus.

  • LISTEN – We listen for Holy Spirit’s voice and promptings over our neighbors and friends.  It may be a direction or an throught God wants you to share with them in a wise, discreet way. 
  • LEARN – We can learn from the life of Jesus about how He did things.  We do this by studying the person and work of Jesus in the gospels as well as reading good books about Him.  I have done a systematic study of how Jesus engaged in mission on earth in a fresh way going though all the gospels.  I am finding that He tended to do 3 things throughout the gospels.  He indiscriminately blessing and healed people.  He gave clear calls to follow Him.  He challenged people who took comfort in their own ability to please Him.
  • SENT – We need the identity of a missionary everyday.  Missions is everyone, everywhere, all the time.  Everyday missionaries, like Jesus and the disciples, alert people to God’s reign/kingdom through acts of love and kindness as well as releasing God’s supernatural power.  

Let’s incorporate good missionary habits in our everyday life.

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On Mission Everyday All The Time

MissionalJoh 1:14  MSG The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

When I see people heading  for the parking lot after services on Sundays I wonder if they see any connection between the service they just attended and the other 98% of their waking hours?  Do they see any connection of the Kingdom of God they just touched in the meeting to the same Kingdom within and around them everyday?  Will they see God’s mission in their everyday life? Will they look for a week of opportunities as  His missionaries at their workplace, school, neighborhood, and marketplace?

We put a slogan up over the main exit of our church building, “You are entering  your mission field” as a reminder that we are called to God’s mission everyday all the time.

Contrary to contemporary missional ideas, Christians do not need to move to a Third World  country to make a significant contribution in the mission field.  They don’t have to go overseas to participate in the fulfilling of the great commission. Many times the most significant mission field is right under our nose.

I have heard estimates that America is probably the fourth largest non-Christian nation in the world. Some report that there are 235 million non-Christians in America.  Europe and other nations have similar statistics.

Every Christian spends about 65% of their waking moments at work, school, their neighborhood,  or the marketplace.  There is a strategic nature of these places in the plan of God.

The early church advanced in the first century not primarily by preachers, teachers, debaters, and evangelist. It was the nameless thousands of people who brought Jesus into their everyday life and reached out as His ambassadors. Men and women shared to gospel with their friends, colleagues, customers, and others in their everyday course of life.

Think what would happen if the vast majority of people in Christians became serious about their calling to their personal mission field Monday through Saturday. Here are a three things to remember in order to keep a Godly perspective on moving in our everyday mission field.

  • Remember that God is at work in the earth.  We need to look for His hand at work and join Him.  

We are not on our own as we move in our everyday mission field. This was the secret to Jesus working. Joh 5:19-20…”Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.

Jesus spoke this just after the encounter with the woman at the well in John 4. In the midst of His ordinary day in which He was tired and hungry He sat and spoke to the woman at the well. As He engaged her He saw signs of the Father working and He joined Him in the process.

We are not called to force spiritual conversations on reluctant strangers. None of us, especially introverts, aspire to be Christian telemarketers and high-pressure Spiritual salespersons. It isn’t about cornering and converting them. He wants us to be alert to ways in which He is working or has already broken ground, then join Him in the process.

As Peter tells us, as we live our life out loud we are more apt to respond to questions about why we are living the way we are or why we believe what we do. We respond, not if a rude way, but in an up front, honest and courteous way. 1 Peter 3:15 MSG Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.

  • Remember that evangelism is often a process not just an event.

Joh 4:35-38 “Do you not say…, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. (36) “Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. (37) “For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ (38) “I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”
1Co 3:7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Often people take small steps and make small decision that lead to the big decision of giving their life completely to Jesus. God wants to use ordinary followers of Jesus to erode the barriers in their hearts and minds. Like any form of erosion it can take time. It happens through the course of interaction, caring relationships, meaningful conversations, and thought provoking presentations of the truth.

One evangelist, Glenn Middleton uses the analogy of warming the soil. Sometimes we are planting seeds and other times we are warming the soil. The soil has to get to a certain temperature to cause the seed to sprout. No effort is wasted.  The Biblical metaphors of agricultural work in the harvest show us the process of evangelism. Every farmer knows the harvest is hard work, clearing the land, cultivating the soil, planning seeds, watering, and fertilizing, always precedes the joy of harvest.

  • Remember that what we do and who we are is just as important as what we say.

Simple efforts to serve others, express care, and live out the Christian life has as much of a positive impact as our talking points. While we need to speak up, just because we don’t speak at times doesn’t mean how we live isn’t communicating something in the hearts of people.

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Summertime Missions

summer missionsJohn 17:18-21  “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world…(21)  that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (3 times in this prayer Jesus asked that His people would have the same type of relational life as the Godhead and with the Godhead).  This prayer can be summed up with the motto “God’s family joined together on God’s mission.”

Joh 20:21as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

We are sent by Jesus into the world which is the heart of all missions.  Missions and evangelism isn’t an event.  It is not some add-on program to an already busy life.   It is our life!  It is to be a way of life among God’s people.  “Go and make disciples…Let you speech always be seasoned with salt…be prepared to give a defense for your hope” (Mt 28:18-19, Col 4:6, 1 Pet 3:15) is what we are to naturally live out in everyday life.  It is living with gospel and missional intentionality.

Gospel and Missional Intentionality

Gospel and missional intentionality in everyday life is what Jesus encouraged in the account of the woman at the well (John 4).  He was tired and hungry.  He sat down to drink and sent the disciples to get food (everyday life things).  He encountered the woman and shared the things of God with her causing her to go in to town and bring a bunch of other people to meet Him. When the disciples returned (from doing everyday life things) Jesus told them to “lift up your eyes and look on the fields” (Jn 4:35).  Lifting up our eyes and looking on the harvest field all around us is the idea of missional and gospel intentionality.

The summer months are a unique time for living everyday life with gospel and missional intentionality.  It is warmer and more people are engaged in outdoor activities.  Because of this it is easier to see people and be seen by people.    It sometimes helps to have some practical ideas to prime our creative/Spiritual pumps. Often the profound is in the simple! The normal everyday things that many people are already doing can be engage with intentionality.

Simple Summertime Missional Ideas

It is easy after a long day of work to go indoors and sit in front of a computer, phone, or television screen surfing the internet or watching programs.  Force yourself to get up and get out in public.  You can visit a friend, neighbor, hang out in a coffee shop, park, tropical snow (flavored shaved ice shop), or ice cream shop.

  • Go for a walk or better yet go for a walk with family (church family). Walking is one of the best ways to be seen and engage people in your neighborhood, parks, campus, and other public places.  It is good to be seen and known in your neighborhood. Have the mindset to go with gospel intentionality meeting people, saying hello, and striking up conversations with those you don’t know.  It is simply loving and taking an interest in people.  Ask questions, serve, show the love of God, pray for people, and bring up Jesus (the good news).   Make friends.  Get out of your house and get into the stream of people.
  • Prayer walking is a good thing to do as well (discretely, no shouting, wild praising, or spiritual dancing).  As you walk and pray you will often get insight by the Spirit as you are onsite praying.  This helps in God directed prayer for people, places, businesses, and yourself to have God’s heart for people.
  • Have an idea of taking one evening a week or month to serve neighbors.  Mow the neighbor’s yard, weed eat, weed their garden, or pick up trash in your neighborhood. People often move in warmer weather.  Offer to lend a hand to someone moving in our out.  Try to do it things like this with others for your church following the pattern of Jesus as He sent out the 12 and 70 in pairs on mission (Mt 9-11 and Luke 9-10).   This is both for mutual support and it sometimes makes it easier to talk with others.
  • Eat with someone.  There are three ways the New Testament completes the sentence, “The Son of Man came…”  “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many ” (Mark 10:45); “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10); ” The Son of Man has come eating and drinking …” (Luke 7:34).  The first two are statements of purpose. The third is a statement that is descriptive. How did Jesus come? He came eating and drinking.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Jesus mission strategy seen primarily in Luke often included a long meal stretching into the evening. He did evangelism and discipleship around a table or the fire.  The whole book of Luke seems to be about Jesus going to, eating, or coming from a meal.  We all eat 3 meals a day.  That’s 21 opportunities for church and mission.   In the Bible meals were a powerful place of hospitality.  You can express the welcome of God as you eat with gospel intentionality.  Summer cookouts are easy to do with others in public or home spaces. [/pullquote]

  • Adopt a local park, coffee shop, or ice cream shop you visit regularly with missional and gospel intentionality. You will become known as a regular.
  • Have meetings, study, and read in public spaces like coffee shops and parks. It will naturally help you engage the culture around you. You may do so with fellow church members and you discussions can be overheard.  You will be surprised at who and what Holy Spirit will bring across your path.
  • Look for things you already enjoy doing, find a group that shares that passion, and get involved with missional and gospel intentionality.  Softball leagues, fishing, work out groups, golf or swimming groups etc.  You can be missional and have fun at the same time.

 

 

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Is Grace a Work Free Zone?

Is Grace a Work Free Zone?

Is Grace a Work Free Zone?

The Bible often presents truths that seem somewhat contradictory but are really truths in tension.  God is completely sovereign yet gives man free will.  Jesus was fully God and fully man.  God is trinity Father, Son, Holy Spirit, yet God is One.  We are justified by faith apart from works according to Paul but James says faith without works is useless.

I remember when I first began to study the history about the origins of controversial doctrines.  The great teachers like Calvin would indicate when presenting an extreme position based on certain passages an acknowledgement of other ones in tension.   They would use phrases like “I’m saying this” based on a passage, “but I am not saying this” based on other passages.  Authentic teachers have a humility and a fear of the Lord that is reflected in Ecclesiastes 7:18. 

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Ecclesiastes 7:18 “It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.”[/pullquote]

This is what Paul exhibited in passages like Romans 6 in speaking about salvation through grace alone when he twice said, “shall we continue to sin that grace will increase, GOD FORBID! (Romans 6:1, 15).   I find this humility and fear of God often missing in some of the extreme teachings today. 

Today more than ever we live in world of sound bites that people use to spin ideas in certain ways in accordance with their own views and desires.   Both conservative and liberal news sites use quotes and sound bites from the same speeches and interviews then spin them in completely different directions.  They obviously have a perspective they believe to be true and look for bits of speeches to use to reinforce their narrative.   In doing these types of things they completely miss the context of the view the people speaking intended. 

We live in a marketplace of spiritual messages.  There are well over 550 million Christian based web sites along with multiple times that number of social media sites.  We must remember that there are 3 things at work when it comes to God’s word.

  1. His truth.
  2. What we believe to be true.
  3. What we want to be true. 

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]What we believe to be true should always be a result of pursuing what is true, not what we want to be true. [/pullquote]

When what we believe is guided more by what we want to be true we will do what Paul warned against, (which is easy to do with all the online marketplaces of spiritual messages) find “teachers in accordance with our own desires.”  2 Timothy 4:3  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,

This can be very true when it comes to the idea of grace wand works.  You can Google “grace and works” and find over 152 million responses.  You find catchy slogans like “Grace +  works = legalism, Grace – works = salvation.”   Is grace a work-free zone?

Philippians 2:12-13  So then, my beloved… work out your salvation with fear and trembling;  (13)  for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Anything good that we do in our lives is only a result of God’s wonderful working by grace.   Our works apart from Him were unable to earn His approval.  What we couldn’t do on our own God did in sending Jesus.  Salvation is God’s free gift beyond our works.  God liberated us from a works based salvation but did He liberate us from works? Ephesians 2:8-9“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; (9) not as a result of works, that no one should boast….  

Unfortunately people often stop at verse 9 and forget the completion of Paul’s thought in Ephesians 2:10  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.  We are never working to earn acceptance by God but that doesn’t mean we are not working.  Some people interpret the idea of God’s grace as a “work-free zone.”  Nothing is further from the truth. 

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Dallas Willard said it well, “Grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning. Paul writes in Philippians to “work out our salvation” but he isn’t telling us to earn it, but rather, to “live it out.”[/pullquote]

People do a similar thing with what Paul said in Titus 3:4-7  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared,  (5)  not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,  (6)  whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior,  (7)  that being justified by His grace, we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life

Again people stop there (use that sound bite) and make bold assertions regarding grace and freedom from work but again we must allow Paul to complete his thoughts.   Titus 2:8 This is a trustworthy statement, I desire that you strongly affirm that those believing God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable…

Self-Generated or Spirit-Generated works

While God has liberated us from self-generated religious works that earn our salvation He does come to dwell in us to inspire and enable good works.   When we are saved Holy Spirit becomes a living reality in our lives.  He both inspires and directs.  This will result in works, Spirit inspired ones.   This is what Paul was saying in Philippians 2 “work out your salvation…for God is at work in you, both to will and work for His good pleasure.”  

Paul had no concept of a lazy grace that would result in a work-free zone.  He considered that posture “receiving grace in vain (empty, futile, without purpose)

1 Corinthians 15:10  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.

2 Corinthians 6:1  Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.

Over the years I have noticed that people that are the most emphatic about grace not being about works are often the ones that work the least.  They tend to be the least sacrificially serving and the most self-serving.  They consistently justify behaviors that the Bible frowns upon playing the grace card when challenged.  Right behavior will never justify us before God but if we are truly justified it will result in right behavior.  

Living in Christ will result in God-inspired ideas, Spirit enabled actions, and God motivated serving, flowing through our lives.  We will also see exhibited what Paul said in Romans 8:13 if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. His inner working will ultimately affect every area of our lives and will result in good works   These are the “good works” that God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  Eph 2:10.  God’s grace isn’t a work-free zone but works that result from Him working in us. 

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If Grace is about a Relationship then Relate

prayer in secretHave you every heard any of these ideas?

  • “Legalism is about rules, God is about relationship.”  
  • “You need to get out of religion and come into grace.”  
  • “The reason I can do this is grace.”  
  • “The reason you can’t do it is you are bound by legalism.”

Often when I hear people bringing up the idea of grace they immediately associated with a behavior that was previously thought of as sin, but is now allowable.  It often has self-justification at its core.  Just like the legalist brings up their list of do’s and don’ts as a means of justification others bring up their “belief” or “understanding” about grace as their justification. 

Grace isn’t a thing disconnected from a person.  God’s grace is in Jesus Christ. 

2 Corinthians 13:14  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.  I think Judah Smith sums it up well,

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”We shudder at the term grace because it has been so maligned, so abused, so misrepresented. We see grace as the get out of jail free card. “Oh yeah, I love me some grace man. I get my jiggy on in the weekend then I come back on Sunday and get me my grace on.” No, that’s not grace. You’ve met a concept, not a Person.”[/pullquote]

Any time there is an immediate connection of grace to behavior we can get away with instead of  walking with Jesus it is a distortion of grace. 

Romans 5:1-2…having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  (2)  through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand…

If God and grace is about a relationship with Jesus then it should be evident in a relationship with Jesus. Jesus Himself said abiding in Him connected with prayer is essential.   John 15:1-2  “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing...“If you abide in Me…ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

When I speak with people who shout the loudest about grace and relationship not  rules and religion their “actual prayer life” defies their belief. 

How to consistently abide with Jesus in prayer

God has designed us in such a way that our ongoing relationship with Him is sustained through regular prayer.    Many Christians would admit that they struggle with consistency in their everyday personal prayer life.  It is something that everyone knows they need to do, but often struggle with consistency. 

I remember how difficult it seemed in my early years of serving Jesus to gain a consistent prayer life.  I remember a book by Andrew Murray called “The Prayer Life” as well as other books on prayer that really helped me reach the tipping point in going from an inconsistent to a consistent prayer life.   You can read Murray’s book “prayer life” free online at http://www.onread.com/reader/1145974.

Prayer is a spiritual experience and a spiritual discipline. 1 Timothy 4:7…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.  Here are some essential tips if we are going to be more effective in consistent prayer.

Tips for the prayer closet

  • It needs to be regular and consistent.  Jesus said “when you pray” not if you pray (Mt 6:6).   It is good to set a consistent time every day and get into the habit.  In doing so we fit our life around prayer rather than trying to fit prayer into our life.  Trying to fit prayer into our life rarely works. The Bible puts a premium on Morning Prayer.  It is a first-fruit time in which we are the clearest before the day begins.  If you can’t do Morning Prayer make sure you set another time (that works in your schedule) that is a priority you attend to every day 
  • Real language, not religious eloquence, is the language of prayer.  Prayer is above all communication with God.  Jesus always seemed to frown on religious language but wanted real communication from our heart.
  • Find a private place where you can be alone and undistracted with God.  This is what Jesus met by the “inner room.”  It can be a literal room or someplace where you can have undistracted communication
  • Thanksgiving, praise, and worship are essential to entering God’s presence and staying alert there.  These things work to draw us to God and keep us alert in His presence. 
  • Psa 100:4  Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
  • Col 4:2  Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving;
  • Shouting/lifting our voice is a good way to create alertness and focus.  Shouting is by far the most common expression of praise and interacting with God in the Scripture.  It is used 265 times, silence is the least mentioned. Only 4 times is silence mentioned towards God.  The word meditate is used about 13 times in regard to God most of which are meditating on His word and His ways.  Shouting brings our foggy mind to a sense of focus and alertness. 
  • Psalms 95:1-2  us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.  (2)  Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. Psa 77:1  My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud; My voice rises to God, and He will hear me.
  • Psa 142:1 I cry aloud with my voice to the LORD; I make supplication with my voice to the LORD.
  • It is good to alternate praying/singing in the Spirit (praying in tongues) with praying/singing in your understanding.  The helps cultivate a Spiritual atmosphere and engages us with the Spirit of God. 
  • 1 Corinthians 14:15…I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
  • Use Scriptural Prayers as a pattern and example.  I have all the prayers of the Bible recorded on my computer and I regularly pull them up and pray them.  It is part of Jesus’ instruction about His word abiding in us as we pray in John 15.  
  • The biggest thing is to just do it.  Prayer is not just a good intention or a good concept.  It is a practice.  The only way to develop a consistent prayer life is to consistently pray!  There is not magic prayer pills.  Nike launched one of their most successful advertising campaigns that had a tag line which expresses the foundation of consistent prayer, “Just Do It.”  

If grace is about a relationship not rules then cultivating that relationship through regular communication/prayer is a must.  It will also help with behavior because light dispels darkness.  If you are doing something in which you can’t connect with Jesus while doing it there may be a problem with what you are doing!

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