True North: Pursuing Biblical Christianity

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

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

Crafted by Emily Peterson

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

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

We need to be Biblically courageous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Facebook To The Rescue

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

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

Can he help provide what the church used to provide?

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

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

Enigma in social media and connectedness

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

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

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

Important revelation and reaffirmation of the call on the church 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The church’s call

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proper Foundations Begin With The Gospel

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

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

 What are some of the incomplete versions of the gospel?

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

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

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

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

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

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When Did We Separate Being a Christian From Being a Disciple?

Acts 11:26…the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.  

When did God’s people get the permission to separate the idea of being a Christian and being a disciple?  If we consider the Great Commission Jesus gave His people in Matthew 28 the idea of discipleship is at its core.  Jesus’ call was to “make disciples who are learning to put into practice everything He said.”

Matthew 28:19-20  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,  (20)  teaching them to observe (put into practice) all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always.

Unfortunately, the church has substituted the idea of making disciples with making decisions.  The church has separated believing in Jesus from following Him as a disciple.  We tend to measure the success of any evangelistic effort, crusade, or event with the question, “how many decisions were made” or “how many people believed or attended?”  What about discipleship?

We must be careful that we are not substituting the idea of making a decision with becoming a disciple. Click To Tweet

What is a disciple?  Bible dictionaries define the word disciple with ideas like “a follower, learner, or an adherent.”  If you look at discipleship in light of the Great Commission it is following Jesus and learning how to put into practice everything He has said.   It is a way of life following and learning to obey Him. This is way different than simply deciding to believe in Jesus. Consider some of the Biblical statistics concerning discipleship.

  • Jesus called people to “follow Him” 25 times in the Gospels while calling them to “believe in Him” only 4 times.  The emphasis is clearly on being a disciple.  Even James despairingly says that “you believe God is one, that’s fine, but even the demons believe that and tremble” (James 2:18).  God’s people should have a little more faith than demons.
  • The New Testament refers to God’s people as “disciples” 269 times while it uses the designation “Christian” only 3 times.  One of the 3 says, “the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch” Acts 11:26.  The Biblical emphasis is clearly on discipleship.

All through the Bible God asked people questions to get at the root of false ideas they had embraced.  Here are some crucial questions we need to ask ourselves to get at the heart of God’s design for discipleship.

“Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”  Bonehoeffer

  1. When did we separate the Matthew 28 Commission into two completely separate parts, being baptized and being made a disciple who follows Him? 
  2. How did we arrive at a salvation that makes room for believing but not following and obeying? 
  3. How do we think that we can be servants of Jesus without following Him? Jn 12:26 “If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. 
  4. When did we allow for a state in which we believe in Jesus but do not continually follow and seek to put His word into practice?  Jesus seems to indicate that this produces false disciples instead of true ones.  John 8:30-32  As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him.  (31)  So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;  (32)  and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

Christianity that doesn’t follow Jesus

Over the past 200 years, American Christians have fostered a brand of Christianity centered around offering programs in order to attract people to a meeting.  The Sunday service is the main point of attraction.  This approach fosters a mentality that church is an audience of spectators and consumers rather than a group of people who are following Jesus and seeking to put His word into practice.

Attractional Christianity fosters a consumer mentality that is always looking for the best deal for personal interest.   Commitment is rare in this model.  The focus becomes the consumer’s needs, wants, and desires rather than Jesus’ desires.

…Christ did not appoint professors, but followers. Soren Kierkegaard

In the consumer model, people attend in order to have a better week, better life, better family, better finances, and more feelings of satisfaction and happiness.  They rarely live or serve in the sacrificial way that Jesus consistently called His people to.  He wasn’t looking for members who casually join an organization or attend meetings, but people who would “lay their life down to follow Him together with others.”

Mt 16:24-26 MSG Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to follow Me has to let Me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?( Mk 8:34-37 Lk 9:23-27)

We need a revolution of discipleship

One of the greatest Ameican theologians of the past 150 years, H Richard Niebuhr said something very important that we need to seek God for today.

“The great Christian revolutions came not by the discovery of something that was not there before. They happen when someone takes radically something that has always been there.”  H Richard Niebuhr

As I have studied church history for almost 40 years I have seen this played out over and over among God’s people.  One generation discovers something in a fresh way that had previously been neglected and God brings about great advancement through it.   I believe we are in need of a fresh revolution of discipleship.  Without  God’s design for discipleship being in the fabric of the church then Great Commission will become the great omission that leaves discipleship out. The 21st-century church desperately needs a restoration of God’s calling for everyone to be disciples.

What would the church look like if all of its members were following Jesus and seeking to put into practice everything He said?  This may sound like a pipe dream but it really is God’s design!  What would the church look like?  Just like what Jesus said it would, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a city set on a hill that radiates the glory of God.

 

 

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Online Comparisons

“I I was shocked to hear they had separated!  All the way up until the time I found out her Facebook page indicated that they had a wonderful life, marriage, and family.  How could she publically put out that appearance when it wasn’t what was really going on?”  With bewilderment, she was referring to a college friend who lived in another city that she was close to and a godparent of one of her children.

Hungarian Proverb “If you keep wanting to be someone else who will be you?”

 

In our day and age, an online presence can become more influential than our real presence.  It is our current cultural platform through which we communicate.   It has spawned worldwide communication and opened great possibilities to share your life worldwide.  Like any other thing, it can be good or bad.  For God’s people, the good thing is to stay in touch with friends and highlight the good things God is doing in your life.

Unfortunately, It can also be a means of portraying a false online life that isn’t rooted in reality.  I have heard it referred to as people becoming curators of the display of self.  It can also provoke people to comparisons that can lead to something very harmful to all of us, jealousy and envy.

  • “Look at where they got to go on vacation…we have never gone to a place like that.  How do they do it?”
  • “Look at how nice their new house is…How did they manage that?”
  •  “Their kids seem to have no problems.  They are so cute, happy, and obedient.  What’s wrong with mine?”

It can even carry over into our life in Christ.

  • “We had 15 people baptized in the past 2 weeks.”
  • “I had 3 international trips in the past 3 months and am reaching the ends of the earth”
  • “I am preaching to the Alive Conference tonight with 6000 people; please pray for this humble servant of God (of course posted with pictures of the amazing meeting).
  • “Our new building is advancing rapidly and the money is pouring in.”
  • “I was asked to speak at the …(famous, big, and slick)… conference. Hope to see you there!”

Google the phrase “Facebook envy” and you will get 24,000,000 hits.  Google the phrase “Facebook depression” and you will get 91,900,000 hits.  These are growing trends.

Paul speaks of the danger of comparisons.

2 Corinthians 10:12-13  For we will not make comparison of ourselves with some of those who say good things about themselves: but these, measuring themselves by themselves, and making a comparison of themselves with themselves, are not wise.  (13)  We will not give glory to ourselves in over-great measure, but after the measure of the rule which God has given us, a measure which comes even to you.

When we start the comparison game we automatically fall into the trap of pursuing the wrong kind of glory.  We pursue a glory (even God’s glory) to give validation to ourselves.  The great problem for followers of Jesus is that it is validation from sources other than God.   Paul speaks of this as well.

Galatians 1:10-11 GNB  Does this sound as if I am trying to win human approval? No indeed! What I want is God’s approval! Am I trying to be popular with people? If I were still trying to do so, I would not be a servant of Christ.  (11)  Let me tell you, my friends, that the gospel I preach is not of human origin.

1 Thessalonians 2:4 GNB  Instead, we always speak as God wants us to, because he has judged us worthy to be entrusted with the Good News. We do not try to please people, but to please God, who tests our motives.

Ephesians 6:6-7  Do this not only when they are watching you, because you want to gain their approval; but with all your heart do what God wants, as slaves of Christ.  (7)  Do your work as slaves cheerfully, as though you served the Lord, and not merely human beings.

Glory Hounds

C.S.Lewis Mere Christianity “Pride is essentially competitive…Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more if it than the next man.  We say people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good looking, but they are not.  They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.”   

Constant comparison is fueled by one thing, pride.  It can be toxic spiritually because it has cousins called jealousy and envy that will always move in to stay.  When we constantly compare ourselves it becomes about our glory rather than His.  Even when Peter admonishes us to use our unique gifts that aim was “His glory” not ours.

1 Pet 4:10-11 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 

Three important things from Peter that helps avoid comparisons.

  • We all have gifts and value. Everyone is special and needful in God’s economy.
  • The purpose of these gifts is to serve His body so she reveals His glory (Eph 1:22-23 3:10-11). Gifts are not about boosting our ego.  We are to use our unique giftings and wiring so the church can flourish and God gets the glory.   
  • The ultimate goal of everything is so God is glorified through Jesus…forever and ever.

Chasing our own glory through comparisons leads to futility.  Jesus frees us from that futility as we “lay our lives down for His sake.”   Remember the more self-focused you are the more you will care about comparisons and the less self-focused you are the less you will care about these comparisons.

Remember the more self-focused you are the more you will care about comparisons and the less self-focused you are the less you will care about these comparisons.. Click To Tweet

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God Apologizes For His Word

God’s truth is eternal.  While His revelation came into the earth in various cultural contexts, His truth is transcultural, and transgenerational (involving more than one culture and generation).  His truth affects every culture across the generations.  We understand that much of the New Testament was written in the context of a first century Palestine and Roman culture. God’s goal is not to try to replicate that culture, but to see His eternal truth transform our culture.

Some of the cultural advancement from our perspective may be cultural decline from God’s perspective

We know civilization advances.  While we are not trying to see a return to first-century customs and civilization, we must beware of cultural arrogance. We never want to try to make God’s truth submit to any culture or civilization, including ours.  God doesn’t follow current culture.  Jesus and His truth stand outside of culture in order to affect it.

When we seek to apply God’s truth in any cultural context or generation it is good to keep in mind the fact that God chose when to send Jesus into the earth.  He chose what culture Jesus came into.  It is what the Bible calls the “fullness of times.”

  • Gal 4:4 NASB  But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,

God doesn’t yield to any culture, He works to influence all cultures.

God could have chosen any culture or time to bring Jesus and the revelation of the New Testament into the earth, but He chose that one.  There can be a current cultural arrogance in which we try to superimpose our culture on the Bible (believing our culture is superior to the one in which the Bible was written).  We must be careful with this!  No culture is “the truth.”  He is the truth!  Some of what we consider cultural advancement may be cultural deterioration!  God doesn’t yield to any culture, including ours.

Here is a witty article with a hint of sarcasm that shows the absurdity of trying to make God yield His truth to our current culture.

God Apologizes For Gendered Language In Bible

November 15, 2016

HEAVEN—Remorseful for using terms that fly in the face of contemporary progressive sensibilities, God Almighty issued an apology Tuesday for the gendered language found throughout His Word, the Holy Bible.

“The fact that gendered language has been non-offensive for millennia is no excuse, since through my omniscience I knew that by the time the 21st Century rolled around it would no longer be considered acceptable,” the statement, miraculously delivered through a heavenly messenger, read in part.

“Please accept my deepest and most sincere apologies for using such offensive terminology when describing humankind and myself throughout the pages of Scripture, and feel free to edit the eternal Word of God so that it aligns more closely with your current, advanced understanding of the nature of things,” he continued, adding that it was never His intention to advance the agenda of the patriarchy.

“My choices were unfortunate and regrettable, and I have no intention of trying to mansplain them away. I will do better.”

Bible publishers worldwide reportedly began work Tuesday on new translations of the Holy Scriptures, removing any pronouns or phrases which specify a gender either directly or by implication.

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