Thy Kingdom Come!

Thy Kingdom Come!

It’s been a few months now since the reelection of Barak Obama to the presidency of the United States of America. Since that time it seems that the imagination and attention of us who live in this nation has been captured by one manufactured crisis after another. There is no clear path and many I talk to are despairing of the future. It may well be (even though I hope not) that the America we have known is quickly becoming something we will have a hard time recognizing in the years to come. We would do well to remember that our God is over all, nothing escapes His notice and His precious and magnificent promises are true and sure.

As people of God, our mandate is to follow Christ. Many people mean many things when they use those words. I believe Jesus wants each of us to connect with Him in a personal and profound way. He wants us to know Him, talk to Him and always to submit to Him. We can’t do this if we are pursuing our own desires. We must learn to put what He wants first. The kingdom of God exists whenever a child of God submits to the rule of God. If you want to enter that kingdom, you start by surrendering everything you have and everything you are and everything you hope for to Him. Then you present your body to Him as a living sacrifice. Considering what He’s done for you, this is the only reasonable course of action any human being should take.

At the time of the election, some German friends, Wolfgang and Merci Simpson, sent a couple of open letters to believers in the U.S. I have found these messages to be insightful and think that all Christians, not just American Christians would do well to seriously consider the thoughts they shared.

Perhaps you saw these letters when they first arrived. Now that we are a little further down the road I would encourage you to take another look. If you didn’t see them in November then dig in for the first time. Interact with the content… disagree and argue with it, this is how we learn and form convictions. Then share what you’ve found with others. It is time for the will of God to be done in and through His people! Amen!

Our Dear America (PDF)

Follow Up to Our Dear America (PDF)

February 25, 2013Permalink 1 Comment

Engaging Jesus!

Engaging Jesus!

thoughts on church leadership

Its All About Disciples!!!

In my last blog post on church leadership, I highlighted the difference between management and engagement. In discussions with various church leaders, I’ve found that the concept of engagement is often hard to grasp, not because it’s difficult but because we often think we already get it. So, if you already get it, great! But if not, maybe this excerpt from Church Transfusion, a book I wrote with Neil Cole, will help. I’m pretty sure it can’t hurt. So read on…

We believe that the essence of discipleship is a vital personal relationship with Christ. This personal ongoing encounter with the Creator is the cornerstone of what it means to be a Christ follower.

Imagine that you lived next door to Kobe Bryant. (We’re both Laker fans, so this illustration works for us. Any notable person of interest will do.) As you watch out your window, you see him coming and going. You know what kind of car he drives, what sort of clothes he wears, what his schedule is like, and other little details about his life. You might even overhear conversations between him and his wife, his children, and others he might know. You would probably make sure all of your friends knew about your special connection to Kobe, wouldn’t you? You’d tell them all the little secrets you know (especially if you heard him and his wife fighting) and remind them that, after all, you do live next door.

In this scenario you know a lot of things about Kobe Bryant, but you don’t really know Kobe. To get to know him, you would have to engage him. You’d have to go out your door and talk directly to him. And once wouldn’t be good enough. You’d have to spend some time with him. Maybe talking over the fence or in the driveway or inviting him over for dinner. The more time you spent with him, the more you would get to know him. You’d discover his likes and dislikes, his personality quirks, and maybe even his dreams and aspirations. One thing is for sure: none of this is possible if you never get out of your house and engage him in a personal way.

We believe that many Christians find themselves in a similar position. They listen to stories about Jesus on the radio or in sermons. They might read the Bible and therefore see Him from a somewhat closer vantage point, but unfortunately, this is as close as they ever get. Seeing Christ in the Scriptures is not good enough. Believers must be challenged to engage the living Jesus in an intimate personal way every day. We are only truly followers of Jesus when we look to Him for direction and do what He tells us.

Some will say that Jesus has spoken to us in His Word and that’s all we need. In contrast to just hearing the Scriptures, God states that, “in these last days, He has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1: 2). And “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him” (Mark 9: 7). And “My sheep, hear My voice and follow Me” (John 10: 27). We could go on. Christ’s promises to dwell with us, always be with us, and never leave or forsake us are further testament to the intimacy necessary if we are to experience His power and presence in the accomplishment of the mission He has given us. Think about it. Has He commissioned us to make disciples of all the nations and then left us to our own devices to accomplish the task? Absolutely not! As Paul says again, “It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2: 20). If we are to make disciples, true followers of Jesus, then we must help them, first and always, connect with Him. He must become their teacher, and they must become His student. They must learn to hear His voice and follow Him and Him alone.

Getting those who have become used to depending on human leadership for direction to transfer that allegiance to Christ is a tall order. Once people are set in their patterns, it’s difficult for them to change. Don’t, however, fall into the trap of believing that it’s impossible. What is impossible for humans is in no way impossible for God. Our whole thesis comes down to the belief that the Almighty God is present and at work in His children. Miguel Labrador of Missional Outreach Network has said, “We don’t establish the DNA of a disciple in the making of disciples. If indeed they are a disciple of Christ, He already did that. We help them to unveil, understand, and unleash their genetic potential.”

God has a vested interest in seeing His children fully matured and doing His bidding in this world. We believe that if we help each and every believer see this truth, it will have a profound impact on the church and the world. After all, it’s His command through the pen of Paul: I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. [Rom. 12: 1– 2]

The choice to surrender to the will of God is a choice every believer must make. It is the task of leadership to clear the way so that decision can and will be made. May the Lord, Himself, bring every believer to yield his or her heart completely to Him and to His good, acceptable, and perfect will. Amen.

From me to you…

You’ve Gotta Die if You Want to Live

You’ve Gotta Die if You Want to Live

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” When Jesus spoke these words, He laid out a prerequisite for being one of His followers. Those who lived in first century Palestine were quite familiar with crucifixion. Criminals were regularly hung on crosses erected along busy thoroughfares to die a painful death in the sight of all. Just as Jesus carried His own cross, those who were condemned to death did so as well. The imagery couldn’t be clearer – if we wish to follow Jesus, we must be willing to die.

Die how? You might ask. The answer lies in the phrase “he must deny himself.” Christ’s expectation is that the one who wishes to follow Him will make a choice every day to put aside his or her own hopes, dreams, aspirations, and desires and live their life for the will of God. We must choose what God would choose and want what God would want. Jesus set the example. “Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something

He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner’” (John 5:19).

There are two steps necessary to follow Christ by following His example. First, we must choose to let go of our own stuff. That’s dying to self, taking up our cross, and losing our lives. And second, we must seek direction from the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as to what our desires and actions should be. We replace one with the other.

Think about what the cross meant to Jesus. “No one has taken it (His life) away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10:18). Even for Jesus, death was the path to life. The power of the Christian life lies in the resurrection!

When we lose our life, we find it. When we choose to live for Jesus, or more accurately, to allow Jesus to live through us, we find the life we were meant to have, a life full of meaning and purpose and power, a life that does good and brings good into the world. Paul echoes these thoughts when he proclaims his highest aspiration to be, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11). And again when he urges us to make this choice by saying, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1). This is the normal Christian life. Unfortunately it’s not the normal life of the Christian. We each have the power to change that. We simply must choose to do so.

My friend, Dezi Baker, is known to say, “The Christian life is nothing if not an exercise in willingness.” I think He’s absolutely right. Let’s choose to put our lives in the hands of our loving heavenly Father and trust that the life He will give us in return will be far more beautiful and fruitful than the life we would make for ourselves. Follow Jesus! Choose it or lose it!

Listen Closely!

Listen Closely!

 

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow Me.”

It is a blessed truth that the life we have in Christ is at its core life with Christ. This wonderful gift of an everlasting relationship with our ever present Savior is the reality to which we’ve been called. The creator and sustainer of the universe and all it contains, knows you. Yes, you, personally!  How awesome is that?

Because we’re created in the image of God, we are relational beings. Our lives in this world are largely defined by our connections to others. Those we touch and those who touch us shape our perceptions of ourselves and the world and fill our lives with joy, purpose and sometimes pain. The pain is there because of sin and selfishness and will one day be done away with but the laughter, the hope, the love and the joy, it’s these things that make life worthwhile. I think it would be enough if life was simply defined by our human relationships but it doesn’t stop there. Our Creator made us not only to relate to each other but to relate to Him as well.

Consider these statements made by Jesus. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” and “I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you and your joy might be made full.” And consider these made by others. “In Your presence is fullness of joy” and “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’ and “we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”

Jesus knows us. We must seek to know Him. The life He offers is not just a life of duration but a life of elation, a life through which our personal knowledge of the God who loves us is ever increasing.

Jesus is calling. He’s calling to you. Do you hear His voice? Will you follow Him? Listen closely and align your heart with the heart of the psalmist. “When you said to me, seek My face; my heart said to you, Your face, Lord, will I seek.

From me to you…

Are You a Christ Follower?

Are You a Christ Follower?

It has become commonplace to hear believers refer to themselves as Christ-followers. What does following Christ actually entail? For many, following Christ means following those they see as His designated leaders. It’s as though Christ has delegated His authority to others and all one must do to follow Him is follow the direction these other leaders provide. Since Jesus made it clear that His kingdom doesn’t operate that way, why do we let people go on thinking this is right?  To be a Christ-follower, one must follow Christ. Seems simple enough doesn’t it?  But simple it is not.

Many understand following Jesus to be synonymous with knowing His Word. In many churches the one who knows the most about theology is considered to be the best disciple. The knowledge of the scriptures is a necessary ingredient in the discipleship process but to equate knowledge with discipleship is a huge mistake. When we do this, we forget that Jesus did not command us to teach them all He has commanded us but to teach them to obey all that He has commanded us. Most dedicated Christians are educated way beyond their obedience. Any form of discipleship that doesn’t focus on helping others to live out their faith in real terms is not discipleship at all. Even those who seem to understand this truth, sometimes fall into the trap of acquiring the requisite obedience by using outside pressure. This too results in producing an anemic follower of Jesus.

The temptation is to teach people to look to the scriptures for instructions on how to live a good life. The Bible is the truth, the inerrant and infallible word of God, but when people search the scriptures for rules to live by they settle for a life that is much less than it could be.

It’s clear from the gospel accounts that Jesus lived His life for the will of His Father. You will find Him saying things like, “I only do the things I see the Father doing” and “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak… the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.”  And again, “I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me.”  Jesus lived His life in constant connection with His Father. “I and the Father are one.”  He was perpetually obedient, even to the point of death on a cross. Jesus came to fulfill a specific mission. How is it that we seem to think that a life of generic good works is all God wants from us?

1 Corinthians 12 further supports this thinking. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. And each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  Isn’t it obvious that this infinite variety of gifts, ministries, and results is indicative of an infinite variety of works God intends to accomplish through His children?  Leaders often take it upon themselves to prescribe the work to be done by each individual and most individuals are happy to let them?  Jesus is the Head of His Body and He must be allowed to direct each member as He sees fit.

The scriptures have much to say about God, life, and the principles they contain. When these principles are observed and practiced can be of infinite value. But to substitute a relationship with the Bible for a relationship with Jesus is a fatal mistake. Paul makes it clear in his letter to the churches of Galatia that to live by an outside standard or set of rules is to seek a gospel other than the grace of Christ. Jesus, in a comment to the religious leaders of His day agrees, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life but it’s these that testify of me.” The scriptures are meant to bring us to Jesus so that He can write His words on our hearts.

The essence of discipleship is a vital personal relationship with Christ. This personal ongoing encounter with the Creator is the cornerstone of what it means to be a Christ-follower. Commit yourself to following Jesus and helping others to do the same. If you make this the cornerstone of your life, you will find that God will use you to further the fulfillment of the great commission.

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