Continual First Step of Kingdom Advancement Part 2

I remember reading a story of a young American student who visited the Beethoven Museum in Bonn, Germany. The student became fascinated by Beethoven’s piano that was on display there.

It was a thrill to think that Beethoven had composed some of his greatest works on that piano! The student who fancied herself a good pianist who had played for years asked the museum guard if she might play a few notes on it. She offered him a little money on the side to let her play.  He agreed and the girl sat and played a tune.  As she finished she asked the guard, “I suppose all the great pianists who come here want to play on that piano.” To her surpise he said, “Paderewski, the famous Polish pianist was here a few years ago, and he said he wasn’t worthy to touch it.”  This story highlights  an important issue in God’s kingdom, humility (poverty of spirit).

As I wrote in my last post the idea of the “Kingdom of God” centers around His active rulership.  The best thing that can happen to any person on the face of the earth is for more of God’s loving rulership (Kingdom) taking over more of their life.  As that happens His Kingdom continually advances in and though our lives (Mat 13:31-32, Mk 4:30-32,  Luk 13:18-19).

“If you are wrapped up in yourself you will be a very small package.” Benjamin Franklin

The initial step, and continuing steps of receiving His Kingdom in any area of our lives is humility (poverty of spirit). When we abandon poverty of spirit we will prohibit the Kingdom from advancing in our lives.

It usually goes something like this; we become aware of an area of our lives, an attitude, or a reaction that is not under His rule.  As we are challenged about it by the Spirit, the Word, and often through His people, we are faced with a decision.  We humble ourselves (poverty of spirit), confess our sin, repent (turn away from it), and freshly yield ourselves to Jesus.  His restoration follows.

The opposite of poverty of spirit (pride) keeps us from this process.  That is why poverty of spirit is the first step, and continual first step of receiving His Kingdom.  I like what the great saint Augustine said about it, “It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility (poverty of spirit) that makes men as angels.”

Poverty of spirit is that sweet root from which all of God’s virtues will shoot.

Sheep and Goats

One of the analogies Jesus used about those who continually receive His kingdom and those who don’t are sheep and goats.  Sheep humbly receive;  goats proudly resist. Goats are famous for butting others.  That resistance is part of their nature.  We have all exhibited qualities of goats when we resist/butt others who are trying to help us receive His kingdom in various areas of our lives.

Here is a cue that we are acting more like a goat.  When we find ourselves resisting truth about our attitudes or actions by using the word “but”… but you don’t understand…but you did this…but I was having a bad day…but who are you etc., it should be a wake up call.  Sheep respond with yes Lord, while goats respond by butting.

Judas goat

Another problem with goats is their destructive influence on others.  Shepherds sometimes train a goat to associate with sheep to lead them to specific destinations, like to be corralled or slaughtered.  The name they aptly give for this goat is the Judas goat after the Biblical character.  Isn’t that an accurate spiritual metaphor of what happens with goats among sheep?  Goats possess a stubborn streak and resist directions they don’t like and God clearly shows us He doesn’t like it (Zechariah 10:3, Matthew 25:31-33).  They always end up leading sheep astray from God’s kingdom not just in what they say but in attitudes and actions.

When our desires, ideas, and will crosses His, we are faced with the issue “Who is in charge here?” Is Jesus ruling or are we?  Is His way the right way or ours?”  The poor in spirit yield; the goats resist.  Poverty of spirit is what makes us able to walk with God and the imperfect people He joins us to.

Here is a good poverty of spirit test:  

  • Do I live with a constant awareness that I am dependent on God, or do I think I have enough ability, strength, and wisdom to manage my life?
  • Am I anxious about my life and future?  Humbly trusting God leads to peace.
  • Am I consistently self-conscious?  Am I overly concerned about what people think about me or replay in my mind how I looked in various situations?
  • Do I have a fear of man more than a fear of God? Am I afraid to take stands or make decisions because of what others think?
  • Am I easily embarrassed and often feel insecure?
  • Am I always comparing myself to others?
  • Do I desire to receive credit and recognition for things and feel slighted when I don’t?
  • Am I deceptive about myself in front of others in order to preserve my reputation?
  • Am I selfishly ambitious and/or overly competitive?
  • Am I easily inconvenienced when asking to sacrifice or serve?
  • Do I feel a sense of favor when I help others succeed and I get no credit for it?
  • Do I feel better than others?
  • Do I make it hard for people to challenge me without attacking them or what they are saying?
  • Do I tend to see myself as more gifted and talented than others?
  • Do I feel deserving of things or entitled rather than seeing them as a gift?
  • Do I wallow in self-pity or am I overly consumed with how I am treated?
  • Am I jealous or envious of others abilities, possessions, positions, or accomplishments?
  • Do I tend to be a know it all?
  • Do I find it easy to reveal my own mind and have answers for practically every situation?
  • Do I have a hard time getting things out of teachings because I usually think of someone else who needs to hear them?
  • Is it hard for me to admit I am wrong?
  • Do I encourage people to correct me, but then make them feel uncomfortable in doing it?
  • Am I stubborn?
  • Is it easy for me to find things to criticize others about?
  • Is it hard for me to point to any one I am submitted to in a real way?

If these things look familiar run to the good shepherd and He will work His nature in you (Phil 2:11-13)..

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An Important Element in God’s Atmosphere of Discipleship

If I had only one sermon to preach it would be a sermon against pride.-GK Chesterton

How dare they bring that up? Who are they to point that out to me? I thought we were friends.  I bet I could come up with hundreds of things that they are doing wrong. As a matter of fact what about that issue we had to bring up with them a few months ago? Jesus wasn’t even in the picture of their life then. How about the continual things they struggle with?  They bring this up to me, no way!

All of us who live around the house of the Lord have probably had thoughts like this cross our minds or have heard them from others when we are challenged about something. This is especially true if you live around a church environment that is serious about spiritual maturity.

One of the things we know about God’s design for his house is that there should be an atmosphere of growth and maturity. None are perfect, but we are all in the same boat.  Jesus is working in us to bring about a mature bride (Eph 5:26-27).  Hebrews 13:20-21 God equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ..

A Family of Disciples

The church is God’s House and it is to have a family atmosphere, but we must not lose sight of another important aspect of that atmosphere.  We are a family of disciples.  The clear call of the Matthew 28 Great Commission is, “go and make disciples… teaching them to observe everything I’ve commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). Our calling is to both make, and be made disciples (followers are learning to obey Jesus).  If we are moving in that calling the church will have an environment of discipleship in the context of family.

We see this very clearly in the church at Antioch. Acts 11:26  And they were with the church there for a year, teaching the people; and the disciples were first given the name of Christians in AntiochThe church was a family of disciples who were given the name Christian.  God’s family is not just a family of Christians, it’s a family of disciples. If this is embraced as a important foundation, then an overriding characteristic among it’s members is a motivation grow up to please Jesus in every aspect of life.

The church should be known for discipleship in the context of family.  This has a wonderful side of it in which we are encouraged, affirmed, loved, and valued.  We have the wonderful security of a family that accepts us and loves us for who we are in spite of our many imperfections.

The other aspect, that is just as important, is that there are fellow family members who walk beside us and sometimes bring faithful challenges. This is what the Bible says Proverbs 27:6  Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.  Many great men and women of God in the Bible where the recipients of this side of God’s grace through fellow family members such as the 12 disciples from Jesus, David from Nathan, and Peter from Paul. 

Many times in my own life I have been challenged by the fellow family members in areas that I initially found unpleasant yet necessary.  Why does God choose to do it that way?  Why can’t it be just between me and Jesus?  After all I have a real personal relationship with God.  Why does someone else have to get involved? 

An Important Thing God is after in Relational Challenging

It was pride that changed angels into devils–Augustine

There is something very important that needs to get cemented in our mind that will help us be more open to embrace the challenges from friends.  One of the deadly traits that was created in the heart of Satan when he was part of God’s family was called “pride.”  Pride was the thing that caused him to be removed. “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee” (Ezek. 28:15). This beautiful, powerful, intelligent, and gifted being fell from his perfect state when his heart was lifted up (aka pride) because of his own beauty and brightness (v. 17). No longer was he willing to be a servant to the Creator. Staggering pride in the heart (the propensity towards “I will”) was to blame for the tragedy in heaven. “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! … For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne … I will sit also upon the mount … I will ascend above the heights…I will be like the most High” (Isa. 14:12-14).

Since that event he has tried to generate his nature of pride inside of everyone. This made angels into devils (Rev 12:3-9).  Pride is the root nature of the Satan, and the root nature of every sin.   It is the direct opposite of the root nature of God’s kingdom that Jesus says is humility.  “Blessed are the humble for theirs is the kingdom” (Mt 5:3).  This is why God clearly says He hates, and is opposed to pride in every form.

  • Proverbs 8:13  To fear the LORD is to hate evil. I hate pride, arrogance, evil behavior, and twisted speech.
  • Proverbs 6:16-17  Six things are hated by the Lord…  (17)  Eyes of pride
  • James 4:6  Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” (1 Pet 5:5).

When God sends his faithful challenge through fellow family members, besides the issue there is a corresponding challenge to any pride that has gotten inside of us. There is a degree of humility we have to embrace to receive the challenge and not react in a childish, self-centered, and prideful way. The nature of pride is self exalting competitiveness with others. In the faithful challenging of family members God is both correcting behavior and challenging pride.

In the faithful challenging of His family members God is both correcting behavior and challenging… Click To Tweet

Local churches are to live out a discipleship environment in the context of family.  It is a good thing to remember when you receive both the encouragement and the challenge of friends that God is not only correcting things, but also rooting out the nature of enemy, pride.  We are the body of Christ and as such we are to display the nature of Jesus through our lives.

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Identity, Expectations, and Experience

Jesus wasn’t looking for members to casually join an organization. He was looking for people who would “lay their life down to follow Him together with others.”  He wanted imitators not admires,  followers not consumers, fellow family members on mission, not casual meeting attenders.

Our identity affects both our expectation and experience.  Legend has recorded a story about Alexander the Great, one of the greatest military generals who ever lived. One alexandernight during a campaign, he couldn’t sleep and left his tent to walk around the campgrounds.  As he was walking he came across a soldier asleep on guard duty – a serious offense. The penalty for falling asleep on guard duty was, in some cases, instant death; the commanding officer sometimes poured kerosene on the sleeping soldier and lit it. 

The soldier began to wake up as Alexander the Great approached him.  Recognizing who was standing in front of him, the young man feared for his life. “Do you know what the penalty is for falling asleep on guard duty?” Alexander asked the soldier. “Yes, sir,” the soldier responded in a quivering voice. “Soldier, what’s your name?” demanded Alexander. “Alexander, sir.”

Alexander repeated the question: “What is your name?” “My name is Alexander, sir,” the soldier repeated.  A third time and more loudly Alexander the Great asked, “What is your name?”  A third time the soldier meekly said, “My name is Alexander, sir.” Alexander then looked the young soldier straight in the eye. “Soldier,” he said with intensity, “either change your name or change your conduct.”

A Two-Tiered System

Colossians 2:6 You have accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord. Now keep on following Him.

Unfortunately under the umbrella of Christianity we have created a divide between salvation and discipleship.  Yet the Great Commission calling of Matthew 28:18-19  was to “make disciples (followers), teaching them to practice everything I have commanded.”  Being saved without following Jesus is a completely foreign idea in the New Testament.

“All who are called to salvation are called to discipleship, no exceptions, no excuses!”
Bill Hull

This can create alternative (not Biblical) categories of Christians.  One in which people decide to believe and receive Jesus as savior which guarantees heaven when they die. The hope is that later before they pass on they submit to Him with their whole life. The second is people who receive Him as “both Lord and Savior” (Acts 2:36) and begin to follow and obey Him. The first group is casually waiting for heaven while the second is serious about their faith as they follow Jesus. 

Expectation usually affects experience.  This two-tiered system leaves room for a group that will never bear any real fruit of following Jesus or multiply thirty, sixty, or a hundred fold (Mt 13:19-23).  With that expectation churches create various programs in hopes that Christians will eventually take steps towards discipleship.  If churches too strongly appeal to be involved in discipleship activitities like studying the Bible, praying, obeying Jesus, walking in real relationship among His people, or serving, it can be interpreted as legalism so they tone down expectations to avoid the stigma.   

Contrary to toning down expectations, Jesus was very clear about following Him as disciples. 

  • Joh 12:26  “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.
  • Jesus called people to “follow Him” 25 times in the Gospels while calling them to “believe in Him” only 4 times.  Even James despairingly says that “you believe God is one, that’s fine, but even the demons believe that and tremble” Jas 2:18.
  • In the 25 calls to follow He includes the expectation that we deny ourself and forsake other things in order to follow Him.  (Mark 8:35, Matthew 10:39, Luke 9:24, Luke 14:33, Luke 17:32-33, Luke 18:22 Matthew 16:25, Mar 10:21, John 12:24-27, John 13:37-38 John 21:17-25, John 15:12-14)
  • 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 identity and expectation is clearly discipleship.

Maybe what Alexander said would help in both the expectations and experiences of God’s people. What if instead of asking or answering “are you saved” or “are you going to heaven,” the question was, “are you following Jesus?” What about using the Biblical terms used to describe His people “followers, disciples, slaves, co laborer, and servants of Christ?”  Maybe a change of identity will change expectations and experience.

Colossians 2:6 CEV You have accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord. Now keep on following Him.

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Freedom Only Comes In Following

“All who are called to salvation are called to discipleship, no exceptions, no excuses!”
Bill Hull

One of the greatest benefits of the Gospel of Jesus lies in the area of freedom.

Gal 5:1-13  MSG Christ has set us free to live a free life therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.

There is a universal craving inside of every human being to be free.  No one wants to be in slavery or bondage.  Our nations Declaration of Independence states ” “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men…are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty (feedom), and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  For those who are in Christ there is a freedom from the devil and the power of sin.  As Paul said it isn’t a freedom to sin, but from sin (Gal 5:1-13, 1 Pet 2:16, 2 Pet 2:19 etc.). 

Herein lies a dilemma.  If Christ has set people free why is there still so much bondage to sin and its destructive effects?  Why do marriages, families, and relationships continue to break down?  Why do people get delivered from all kinds of destructive maladies only to return to them and be overcome by them?  I am talking about God’s people.  The old bumper sticker, “Try Jesus” is often scratched out with the experience of people who write over it, “I tried Christianity/Jesus and it didn’t work.”yo-yo

I have seen it work like the yo-yos we played with when we were kids.  People get delivered out of the hand of the 
enemy/sin only to progress for a while then get sucked right back into the hand of what they were delivered from.  How does a yo-yo get completely free? The string has to be cut, and it has to be tied to another hand.  This is the only way of freedom.

Freedom in Following

Colossians 2:6 CEV You have accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord. Now keep on following Him.

This is where discipleship comes into play.  When Jesus made His famous statement, “if the Son sets you free you will be really free” (Jn 8:36), it was in the context of the truth He was trying to get across about how His freedom works.  He was speaking to people who were beginning to believe in Him.  

Disciples of Jesus are people who do not just profess certain views as their own but apply their growing understanding of life in the Kingdom…to every aspect of their life on earth.” Dallas Willard

John 8:31-36  MSG Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this (continue in My word), living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”…So if the Son sets you free, you are free through and through.

In the Gospels 25 times Jesus called people to follow Him, only 4 times does He say to believe in Him.  The clear emphasis is on discipleship (a follower, learner, and an adherent).  One reason there is so much bondage upon people who believe is that they don’t continue to follow.  As the call of the Great Commission states, “make disciples (followers) teaching them to obey everything I commanded” (Mt 28:18-19).

God’s freedom only comes through following.  It isn’t just a decision to believe that leads to freedom it is a decision to follow Jesus and put into practice His way of living.  Christianity isn’t a decision, it is a journey following Christ.  As we turn away from patterns of thinking, feeling, and behavior that destroys (puts us in bondage), and we walk with Him who gives us power to live it out, we become free.  It is a progressive freedom.  It is a roadway of freedom.  We may occasionally trip and stumble, but if we keep following we continue to experience more and more Proverbs 4:18-19  The road the righteous travel is like the sunrise, getting brighter and brighter until full daylight has come.  (19)  The road of the wicked, however, is dark as night. They fall, but cannot see what they have stumbled over.  God's Freedom only comes though Following Click To Tweet

Essential aspects to walking with Him and His truth which leads to freedom

  • God’s word must become your objective basis of faith and practice.  Psalm 119:105  Thy word is a lamp (small lamp) to my feet, and a light (sunlight) to my path.  His word clearly shows us what leads to life and freedom as well as destruction and bondage.  If His word says it and that settles it, end of story!   
  •  We must continually get His word in us through reading, studying, and listening to it. There are a great host of online Bible materials and easy to read and understand Bible translations.   
  • We must commit to let the word measure our attitudes, thinking, and actions.  Our feelings and desires may be real but that doesn’t make them right.  We turn to Jesus and turn away from those He clearly tells us to forsake and avoid
  • You must commit to put His word into practice, not just listen to it (James 1:22-23).    If it doesn’t affect your attitudes and behavior it isn’t really affecting you.  

    The level of our obedience is most often determined by the behavior standard of other Christians around us. –Jerry Bridges

  • Walk with people who will help us hear and obey God’s word in the everyday issues of real life. The Bible calls it “fellowship.”  Biblical friendship is being around people who will communicate and help reinforce God’s truth in every area of life.  It is real fiends who will tell us what we need to hear not just what we want to hear.   Eph 4:14-15  As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;  (15)  but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, (Zechariah 8:1-16).

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Revolution of Discipleship

Making decisions or Making Disciples

Making decisions or Making Disciples

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 all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always.

Two of the biggest lacks in the 21st century Gospel is a lack of receiving Jesus as Lord (both Lord or our lives as well a Lord of the universe), and not following Him as disciples.

Colossians 2:6 CEV You have accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord. Now keep on following Him.

I read a quote from H. Richard Niebuhr who was considered one of the most important American theologians of the 20th century, ” 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.”

It is hard to be a follower of Jesus if you are not following Him. Click To Tweet

We need a revolution of discipleship

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 has been previously neglected and God brings about great advancement through it.   I believe we are in need of a fresh revolution of something that has been neglected for years, discipleship.

If we consider the post resurrection commissions Jesus gave His church Matthew 28 is often misunderstood and misapplied.  The call is to “make disciples…teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded.”  Unfortunately the church, even the evangelical church, has substituted the idea of making disciples with “making decisions.”  We tend to measure the success of any evangelistic effort, crusade, or church plant with the questions, “how many decisions were made” or “how many people attend.”

We must be careful that we are not substituting the idea of making decisions with making disciples.

Bible dictionaries define the word “disciple” with ideas like “a follower, learner, or an adherent.”  This is way different than simply deciding to believe in Jesus.  It means both following and learning to obey Him. 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.  Even James despairingly says that “you believe God is one, that’s fine, but even the demons believe that and tremble” Jas 2:18.
  • 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.

Jesus clear call is to follow Him and learn to obey Him.  It is hard to follow Him if you are not following Him.  We have to consider a couple of important questions.

  • When did we separate the Matthew 28 commission into two completely separate parts, believing and/or following? 
  • How did we arrive at a salvation that makes room for believing but not “following” or “leaning to obey?”

Christianity that doesn’t follow Jesus

Over the past 200 years American Christians have fostered a brand of Christianity in which we develop 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 or consumers of Christian products rather than a group of people following Jesus together on His mission.

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

Yet this was the master strategy of Jesus with His first church, the 12.  He called them to “be with Him” and engage in His mission.  Mark 3:14  And He ordained twelve, that they should be with Him, and that He might send them out.

Attractional Christianity fosters a Wal-Mart mentality, the best value and the lowest price.  Commitment is rare in this model.  The focus becomes the consumers needs, wants, and desires rather than following Jesus and being first concerned with His wants and desires.

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 called people to as they follow Him.

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)

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

Jesus wasn’t looking for members to casually join an organization. He was looking for people who would “lay their life down to follow Him together with others.”  He wanted imitators not admires, followers not consumers, fellow family members on mission not casual meeting attenders.

As Niebuher indicates we do need a revolution, a revolution of discipleship.  Without this calling of discipleship being clearly before us the great commission will become the great omission that leaves it out.




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Spiritual Theater or a Spiritual Gym

Iwarfare.1up.qxdJohn 6:26-28 MSG Jesus answered, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free. (27) “Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.” (28) To that they said, “Well, what do we do then to get in on God’s works?”(29) Jesus said, “Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.”

Eventhough Jesus cared for people, healed them, and fed them He was never big on leaving them in some sort of consumer relationship.  The kind of authentic Christian life Jesus sacrificed to bring into existence is not living as a finicky spiritual consumer picking and choosing the best God deal at the lowest cost. It really is living a life consumed by Him (a people for His own possession).  Titus 2:13-14  looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,  (14)  who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.

Not long ago the wife of popular leader stood in front of their large congregation on a Sunday morning and sent shock waves of controversy with a statement she made about serving God.

“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God—I mean, that’s one way to look at it—we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. So, I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?” (The congregation applauds.)

It triggered quite a bit of debate about this mentality that critics referred to as a propagation of cheap me centered Christianity. Even at the time the story was breaking it was hard to rectify God’s main goal of “God wants you to be happy because when you are happy that what makes God happy” with other headlines about Christians being martyred in Iraq and Syria.  Those losing their lives obviously didn’t get the message from the leader’s wife about God’s goal of happiness.   

Is church to be like a movie theater or a gym?

These types of issues bring up the whole idea of consumer Christianity versus the call to gym“make disciples (those who lay down their lives for His sake in order to follow Him) who obey everything Jesus commanded” (Mt 28:18-19).  When the goal of the Gospel and the church is about making us happy then “going to church” becomes more like going to the movies rather than going to the gym.  Why do we go to the movies?  Primarily to be entertained.  They even have movies that offer more entertainment and comfort with reclining chairs and bottomless appetizers.  You go there to watch with the goal of being entertained and happy.

We were never called to be watching stones but living stones actively working to see His house become what He intends her to be       1 Peter 2:1-4.

The gym on the other hand has different goals.  Ultimately happiness is part of those goals but it is a happiness that comes from becoming healthy.  You go there to be active, not to watch.  You sacrifice, sweat, and become uncomfortable, but those sacrifices ultimately cause health which in the end truly satisfies.

The most important issue for disciples is that they become like Jesus which leads to eternal happiness beginning now.  There is an exercising of faith that is part of the process.  In becoming like Jesus there is often a denial of selfish interest for a greater purpose, being with Him, and becoming like Him.  Paul says that was a main aim in Jesus’ death.   

2 Corinthians 5:14-17   For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died;  (15)  and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf…(17)  Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

When churches appeal to consumer instincts in the way they practice church it sends mixed messages.  The highest good is being happy.  Following anything that would make us happy is never to be questioned. They can say God wants us to be like Jesus but the subtle message is only if you feel like it, it makes you happy, and it requires no self denial. This can present a relationship with Jesus that is really more of a no-obligation relationship.  You can have a relationship with Jesus as long as you feel like it … and if not, that’s totally okay. Come and go as you wish.

I remember a marketing campaign for multiple services that a church put forth in advertising it’s services, “Because Christians should have choices.”  I have seen other churches over the years launch marketing campaigns for their openings with letters, phone calls, and post cards appealing to this same consumerist nature. These things can be good in getting the word out about a new church.  The problem comes with the subtle but often clear message, we will give you what you want.  One church offered, “energetic music with fresh hot Starbucks coffee waiting for you at the front door!”

God’s purpose through Christ isn’t about Christians as consumers getting what they want.  It is about God’s design and getting what we need that should reign supreme.

Consumerism turns the God of mercy into a god at our mercy who lives to satisfy our wants and desires.

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