Who’s It For?

This little question may be the most important question on the Earth, especially where God is concerned. It is also the pivot point of spiritual growth. I can’t think of any decent discipling material that doesn’t end up here, reaching out/serving others, especially unbelievers. This is the condition of maturity. No wonder Jesus’ instructions were ultimately to “Go, make disciples.” And yet it’s amazing how few churches feel like they are for somebody besides themselves. I think I could count on one hand the churches that I have known that really equip us to function like this, and I have seen many churches in my short lifetime. And I can tell you from experience, many groups will not respond favorably to the question. We’re proud of our programs but have no vision for the changes that come with welcoming the world. Yet the closer Jesus got to his people, the more he sent them out to engage others.  (And the one sure outcome: persecution –  which just isn’t what we Americans consider a benefit.)  In my life, my family, my church – I am praying for the right answer to the question – Who’s it for?  I know I’ll never come to the right conclusion by virtue of my personality, I’m far too introverted,  but as far as what I build in my life, my values, my church, my business – anything I can impact – let it be for the right reasons.


What ever happened to holiness?

When I first became a Christian it seemed like it was all about holiness. Maybe that was because I didn’t have any. Having come in contact with Jesus-the not-dead, I knew without a doubt that I was made right in the eyes of God the Judge, there was no doubt in my mind. I could feel it. Unfortunately there were still things engraved in my human mind that were far from holy. You know, things that were at the other end of the values spectrum from Jesus. But I wanted to follow him. I wanted to follow Him close, I wanted to be right on his heels. Life became a series of conquests of the Grace of God over the sin-things that had become part of my life. Some of those things were difficult, some of them were easy, it was thrilling. Sometimes events and circumstances fell into to place that led me to a victory, sometimes the Holy Spirit, as I learned to recognize, did the work on the inside of me.  I am so thankful for a couple of guys who came into my life and were always there encouraging me to give up my own ideas to the Holy Spirit. When I became a Christian I was blessed to be part of a group of people, many new Christians like myself, who shared a passion to please an amazing God through whatever sacrifice. It wasn’t just church. In fact church was basically just a celebration about the busy-ness of God in every day.

The Bible I was reading said “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14 (NASB95) Alternatives notwithstanding, I want to see the Lord. I also realize that holiness, sanctification, is a very practical matter to God. I accepted this and as a new believer I did my best to pursue it. That word translated pursue is about going after it pushing the accelerator not the brake, there is a sense of extended effort and passion. In fact the word translated pursue in Heb 12:14 is often used in the context of persecution.

I can’t say that I have always pursued, there have definitely been seasons when I did not and there are oddly still challenges to holiness in me (Romans 7 – oi!). You can’t earn grace and shouldn’t confuse justification with sanctification in this sense, but as I think about the amazing things that God does to encourage this pursuit I can’t help but think that this is extremely important to God.

We often talk about the two parts of sanctification, our part and God’s part.

For our part we pursue (see Heb 12:14 NASB), strive ESV, try GNT, follow KJV, make every effort NIV, work at NLT holiness; holiness being things and behaviors that separate us from the world and make us special to God. Clearly there are things that we do that express or incarnate our being special for God, things like acts of worship, resisting temptation or giving to someone in need. Conversely there are things we will not do because they are unholiness, or that make us un-special to God, things like lying or worshiping something He created, things He has said “Don’t do”. It’s a fool’s errand to make an expanded list of things that fit into these categories, the Bible covers these things, just be honest with yourself – are you moving toward God or away from Him?

We can’t make ourselves sinless in the sense of being perfect, or justified, before God, Only God can do that through our faith in Christ, we’re “justified by faith”, and faith alone.

Also, God’s part in sanctification is something that only God does. Call it what you want, He pours out His Spirit or fills with or gives or anoints with the Holy Spirit – no need to obsess on the terms. Clearly God sanctifies by personally doing something to a person with the Holy Spirit. That is God’s part. To deny it is to disregard major parts of the New Testament not to mention thousands of years of human interaction with God. This pentecostal experience is something God will do, it seems to me, in response to your or my willingness to carry on with Christ. We shouldn’t miss the fact that the120 believers in Acts 2 were doing what Jesus told them to do.

Why even talk about it? I wonder if we don’t forget the first part of that equation. I wonder if we haven’t convinced ourselves that God really doesn’t care about any of the personal action stuff. Truly one of the most breathtaking things about God, who is holy, is His endless compassion and kindness. His attitude towards messed up, broken, train wreck people like myself is an attitude of love and acceptance. And His one never-ending goal for us is our sanctification. However, collectively it seems like we forget this. The last few church experiences I have had make me think so. It was almost like church existed to comfort us because we wanted to belong to God without challenging or changing anything about ourselves. Maybe that was because we thought that disciple making could take place in our one hour worship setting on Sunday morning. This is a delusion I have never ascribed to. When I became a Christian there was a group of people with a passion to please an amazing God who was both holy and loving and they sought to do it through any means available.  It wasn’t just Sunday Worship or home Bible studies, although there was plenty of all that as well, but the real changes were taking place in every-day activity in which we pursued God. Maybe it’s because of those folks, but I have always thought that walking with God should be big and exciting. It wasn’t perfect and weathered some abuses, but I kind of miss those days. I know we can’t go back, but can’t we be revived?

It’s all about the street

Or better, it’s all about the man on the street. This is the front line where Christlikeness stands or falls. I believe, like most Christian people, that I should be actively reaching people outside of my own community of believers. And yet sometimes the things I am most passionate about have the effect of isolating me from the very people I could help the most.

“I’ve got enough headaches without all that,” was a response I once got from a man who presumed that we (church) were on a crusade to stop abortion doctors, expel gays, impeach a president .. whatever. You’ve probably had similar conversations. Even though most of us, including my friend and I, are very engaged in issues like these, the tragedy is that he and many like him think that Christianity defines itself solely by what’s wrong with the world. And his interactions with Christians left him feeling like we were all angry and defensive about it. And, possibly, angry at him. Unlike Jesus who was open straightforward, and lovingly engaged with the riff raff on the street.

David Kinnaman made this observation about the generation we call the Millenials: “Going into this three-year project, I assumed that people’s perceptions were generally soft, based on misinformation, and would gradually morph into more traditional views. But then, as we probed why young people had come to such conclusions, I was surprised how much their perceptions were rooted in specific stories and personal interactions with Christians and in churches. When they labeled Christians as judgmental this was not merely spiritual defensiveness. It was frequently the result of truly ‘unChristian’ experiences. We discovered that the descriptions that young people offered of Christianity were more thoughtful, nuanced, and experiential than expected.”

Ouch. They think we suck.

Group’s recent poll found churches fall behind bars and homes on the friendliness scale. No surprise there, I mean come on, go get a buzz with friends or go to church and try to keep your kid quiet? Ministers, on the other hand fell in line with our hairstylists and grocery clerks. Which isn’t so bad when you think about it. Unless, of course, we think we’re at the top of the list with Jesus himself.

I think if church is going to win the Millenials were are going to have to put much more heart into engaging outsiders with attitudes that are open and  honest. You can’t really lead someone you’ve isolated yourself from. Some of us will have to reconfigure our church culture’s to be more respectful of people we don’t exactly agree with. We wil have to lead our groups into becoming the “only institution that exists solely for the benefit of nonmembers.” (G.K. Chesterson)   This value will have to be as deeply embedded in our culture as are our doctrines.There has never been a time when we need to be clearer about what we believe and why. Which is exactly why is so important that we should be open to others, wherever they are coming from. What is encouraging is that there is a movement underfoot that is about taking personal responsibility for how the watching world sees Jesus’ followers. It is a movement about doing our best to model love like Jesus’ did. I get the feeling that any religious group that does not love the man on the street is not going to accomplish much with the Millenials. Like the hippies always said, why can’t we just get along?

You shine

There are a lot of awesome people in the world and you guys are my favorites. The experience of discipling each other is hard to even describe. We are really blessed.
Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.”Hebrews 10:23-25 (The Message)

Forgiveness, Sometimes It’s A Write Off

When you think about it, it’s amazing how often being a Christian is a cake walk. In our culture that is a lot of the time. But then there are those times when being a believer is anything but easy. You know, those times when what we say we believe has to play out in real life with real sacrifices, like when we have to admit a mistake or forgive an injustice?
Some of us in this local fellowship are passing through one of those tough times, and forgiveness may be the very issue we are contending with. I know that there is a sense of injustice hanging over some of our heads and I am praying that all of us can find the liberty of forgiveness.
It has been an odd situation, to say the least, no one is responsible for the decision that has brought this on, and yet the decision was made. Go figure. A word to the wise, it is historically the way this particular church family has handled difficulty. And it is typical of a vision for preservation and attendance growth. Truly it is sobering when a body gives something this obvious a pass. I would expect the body to hold value standards a little higher, especially for the leaders, but it is what it is. I think that is why this hurts so bad. It’s just not going to be easy to move on when the offense, and the hurt, is still hanging out there, and I know that some of you guys are having a hard time.
I want to encourage us all to keep our attitudes in the right place. Jesus is our King. Maybe this will cause us to delve deeper into the depths of forgiveness.
Some make the mistake of thinking forgiveness is a mental eraser, and then feel like we can’t forgive because we can’t forget. Understand, when God says he “will remember your offenses no more” He is not saying that He will give Himself a divine lobotomy, that His memory will become limited. He is saying he will not require us to correct our wrong. And that meaning has not changed when He tells you and I we must forgive as He forgave us (Matt 6). The very word “forgive” comes from a family of words connected to the concept of dismissing someone or something, leaving it behind, letting it go. Freedom over bondage. Sometimes you just have to look at it like a write-off. There will be no collecting of debt, no repayment, just clear the books.
Sometimes it drives us crazy to see something that looks like injustice get a pass, especially when it hurts others. But this gets close to wanting vengeance. Certainly there are times when civil justice is called for, and wanting justice is honorable enough until it becomes selfish or defensive of the wrong things. I think we can all say that there are times when the issue is mostly about our personal feelings. God said “It is mine to avenge,” which the Bible (Ro. 12) quotes in the context of our personal relationships. Leaving it behind, in God’s hands, is the point. It’s not always easy, but it is liberating. Instead of thinking in terms of what should take place so that a restitution is made, let’s try to think in terms of what we have learned and then move on. And, with God’s help, lets pray that we can learn something about ourselves. We can come out of this better than we went in!
Forgiving is an agent of healing. There is nothing more self injurious than a vengeful heart, it torments and twists until we have almost forgotten our point. When we let a sense of vengeance grow in our hearts it becomes like a video that loops over and over and robs us of our joy. At times like that we really need to throw ourselves on God’s grace, and have confidence in the Spirit he has given us. It does not mean we cease from speaking the truth. That would nullify the whole counsel of God. It is important to be clear, straightforward and honest, to be sure, speak the truth in love. Then look to the God.

It means we do not carry a grudge.
This is not always easy – unless you live in a bubble. It is hard enough when the other party listens and admits wrong. It is a little different when the other party reacts with untruths. Still, though, Jesus calls upon us to forgive. Some of the stuff Jesus said about forgiveness is almost scary. He spoke with a near equivalence between our relationship with others and our relationship with God when he talked about forgiveness. I have a feeling some of our discussions in the near future will revolve around the difficulty of forgiving.
Onward and upward.

When God chooses.

Out of control. It just sounds bad. For most of us it just feels all wrong. Most of us are not control freaks, but most of us equate a little control with safety, if not survival. I feel it about my kids sometimes, “they might get hurt if I don’t control… ” – A lot of us feel it about our self -“I might get hurt if I’m not in control of…”, both true.
But what if God was in control? What would that feel like. We all say we would like that (after all we are good Christians) but do we really want a God coming out of nowhere and taking over stuff? Our stuff. What if God said “I’m going this way, change direction and follow me.” What if he said “I want to change the way you think about being a believer,” or “I want you to quit spending so much time at work” or “take lunch to that drunk” or “Your church life is a drag, lets change it”.
God is changing things. God is bringing together a ragtag bunch of spiritual warriors who will have done with all the usual distractions and enter the rhythm of prayer and power – and strongholds will come down. We are laying aside all other motives, honorable or not, and deferring to God’s call for our lives and our city.
“It’s a frightening thing when you blink and discover that you’re in a speeding car but no longer driving. It’s scary to realize that God is moving and you are somehow caught up in something much bigger than you could possibly have known.” (Red Moon Rising, Greig/Roberts)
There are people all around you that are beginning to welcome this reality into their lives. God is calling people to turn over the controls and people are responding.
Doesn’t look like church? “A revival is something that can only be explained by the direct action and intervention of God…these events belong to the order of things that men cannot produce…and if you can explain what is happening…then it is not revival.” – Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

New day

I woke to new day #4 feeling a little heavy, mostly just because of my concerns for the needs of my family and the unknowns of how I will be providing for them.  Then I started reading…. where Paul told the body to be devoted to prayer, watchful and thankful. Col 4:2

Keep reading.  When he mentioned his (and his ministry partners) personal needs it was all about an “open door for our message” and his ability to proclaim it clearly. You know what it’s like when the Holy Spirit comes in the room and settles in to counsel with you? The hair is still standing on the back of my neck.

This is what Janelle and I have always believed our calling to be about, and if so then why wouldn’t we welcome God to make everything in our life supportive of this purpose. Oh sure, it was easier when we were twenty and we could live in our car, but the only thing that has changed is us. The call of God is still the same, and the need for it is greater. Maybe the situation we were in before was a closed door for the message … and God is answering our prayer right now.

My heart is so full of worship. What an amazing God.