Growing Up Spiritually In Community

The Greatest Commandment?

We’ve often pointed out that the world generally obsesses over the “self.” But, God, in the Scriptures, directs us to be “God-focused” and “others-focused”! When Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” He responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Love God supremely; and love others in the same way that you love yourself! That means looking out for their best interests in the same way we look out for our best interests.

“Self-Centeredness” In Our Churches

Unfortunately, this “self-centeredness” has trickled down into our churches; so, even our spiritual growth is seen as something accomplished as an “individual.” For many modern believers, here in the West, being part of a church or a “community of faith” is seen as “supplemental”, and not “essential”, to our spiritual growth. We believe the Scriptures debunk that individualistic mindset.  God uses our local church— our faith community— to grow us at a deeper & more intimate level than can be accomplished alone.

Build Up The Body

Paul often reminded the local churches (as he did the Church of Ephesus in ch.4:11-16) that they were to function as a “body” functions; not as a group of self-centered, self-absorbed individuals! The “work of the ministry” is to “build up the BODY”, he said. The spiritual growth God intends to accomplish in us individually happens in the context of the local church body. It’s NOT that we don’t grow as “individuals”; we do! But that growth comes, in part, through our interaction with others! God uses our fellowship & even our fights to sanctify us! He teaches us humility, forgiveness, and how to resolve conflicts. When we live an isolated life outside of the church we live as though we are autonomous!

Only God Is Autonomous

Only God, however, is truly autonomous! He alone answers to no one! We must give an account of our lives to God; and, He has devised the church body to keep us accountable! It’s His plan that by holding ourselves accountable to other believers we will be stretched & matured so that we might hear a “well done good & faithful servant” when we stand before Him! We are called to “bear one another’s burdens”; and, those burdens come in different shapes and sizes. Sometimes we are burdened by sin. At other times, our burden is physical or emotional; and, God intends to use our brothers & sisters, in Christ, to help mature us!

Why Are We Here?

Since making disciples is the main reason why a church exists, everything in the corporate body of the local church needs to be aligned in a way that funnels people toward these discipleship environments, the most notable of which is the relational small group”—from the chapter titled “Rethinking Our Practices” p.171 in Jim Putnam’s excellent book,  DiscipleShift.  Depending on the English translation of the Scriptures that you use, there are between 60-65 “each other” or “one another” admonitions in the New Testament. All of them relate to the interaction of believers in the body of a local church! I would conclude that it’s not even possible to obey those “each other” or “one another” commands unless we are part of a local community of faith! God uses even our “bad experiences” in the church to sanctify & grow each member!

Fishing For People

I Will Make You Fish For People

Growing up in central Wisconsin, fishing was a routine part of my life for me. Our property bordered a river we frequently fished; and, a great fishing lake was only 15 minutes away. It was not uncommon for us to catch 20-30 fish in one evening. But, when my young bride and I moved to Colorado in 1984, fishing became a frustration for me. Catching Brook Trout in Colorado was a lot more difficult than catching bass and crappies in Wisconsin! It was work! You had to sneak up on them! If they spotted you, on shore, they’d go into a crazy frenzy and stir up all the dirt & sand, at the bottom of the stream, so they couldn’t be seen.  In Matthew 4:18-22 we see Jesus calling His disciples to Himself; and, because many of them were fishermen by occupation, He uses it as a metaphor when He tells them, “I will make you fish for people.”

Sneaking Up On Sinners

Now, I’m guessing that, for many of you, the whole topic of evangelism & disciple-making conjures up images of my fishing experience in Colorado— sneaking up on sinners; throwing them a line w/ some kind of “spiritual bait” on it; and, trying to hook ‘em & reel ‘em in! But, with little success to show for it,  you’ve given up; you’ve quit fishing for people; and, declared that you must not have the “gift of evangelism.” I feel your pain! I’ve been there! But, I thank God; that, over the last 20 years, He’s helped me to see the process differently. Making disciples; or, fishing for people is not about our giftedness or our clever words! It’s Jesus who has all authority over the disciple-making process— because of His person; because He is God, He carries with Him all the authority that comes with being God!

All Authority Is In Jesus

In the words leading up to His Great Commission to the Church, Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” Matt. 28:18-20. When we fish for people we go, not in our own wisdom & authority; but, in the authority of God, the Son! And, we depend on the Holy Spirit to go ahead of us & lay the groundwork by “…convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment…” John 16:8.  The entire process is a spiritual work that Jesus oversees! When we believe it’s up to us to “win” people to Jesus, we’ve overstepped our responsibilities! We get in the way! In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” We are NOT the way to the Father! Only Jesus is the way to the Father!

What’s The Implication?

Jesus also taught that “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). It is the Holy Spirit who convicts, and the Father who draws! It’s because Jesus has all authority that He sends us by the power of His authority! We have no authority, over the disciple-making process, on our own! We “go” under the umbrella of His authority! Read Luke’s account in ch. 5:4-11 to fill in some of the details Matthew left out— when Jesus told them to cast their nets, Peter said, “…we’ve worked all night & haven’t caught a thing; but, because You told me to I’ll do it…” What happened? They caught so many fish that the nets began to tear! Jesus was teaching Peter— and us— that it’s not about our effort! When doing Jesus’ work it’s about His power & authority! We’re only called to be faithful to go share the gospel!

Parenting Adult Children

-The Sinful Nature I Passed On

All the struggles & mistakes & rebellions of my adult children can be attributed, in large part, to the sinful nature I passed on to them! Bad parenting begets bad parenting! The answer is NOT to try harder to fix them! Your adult children will resent your “meddling” in their lives! The answer is NOT to read the newest “self-help” book on the subject, either! The Old Testament book of Genesis contains the sordid story of Jacob & Rachel and their dysfunctional family. Pick it up; and, read it all over again!  Especially read chapter 37.

-A Pattern Of Sin

What you will see is a pattern of sin learned from the previous generation. When Jacob’s sons deceived him with a robe covered in goat’s blood, they convinced him that their brother,  Joseph, had been killed. They learned to lie & deceive from their father, Jacob, and their grandmother, Rebekah, who hatched up a scheme to deceive her husband, Isaac, to bless Jacob instead of his older brother, Esau! Where did Isaac & Rebekah learn to deceive? From Isaac’s parents, Abraham & Sarah, who cooked up a story that Sarah was his sister (Genesis 20) over fear that a king would kill Abraham to obtain Sarah for his wife!

-God Alone Can Fix This

You’ll also find “favoritism”, “passive parenting”, “jealousy”,  and “hate”— all being passed on from one generation to the next! “The apple never falls far from the tree!” The answer to the dysfunction in our homes— and all of our homes ARE dysfunctional— is the Gospel! The “good news” of the Gospel says, “I cannot; but, God can!” I can’t save myself; but, God can save me! I cannot overcome my hurts, habits & hangups; but, God’s Spirit can help me overcome them! I cannot fix the dysfunction in my relationships with my children; nor, can I fix the dysfunction they’ve brought into their marriages & families! But, God can— that’s the hope we have in the Gospel! God alone can help us overcome the sinful dysfunction we all bring into our homes! Jesus took all our sins, our guilt, and our shame with Him to the cross & He paid for it all! His work atones for even our bad parenting if we’ll humble ourselves & confess to Him that we’re incapable of fixing it! Extend grace to your adult kids as God did to you!

-Don’t Become Their Judges

I’ve known of Christian parents who have “disowned” their children because they’re caught up in some sinful lifestyle! But, let’s think that through! Is that how God responds to us? I don’t think so! God is always extending a loving, merciful, gracious hand! He’s always there to forgive when we humble ourselves before Him and confess our sins! If we’re going to be faithful “image bearers” we need to represent God in our relationships with our adult children! It’s easy to become judgmental when it seems they don’t want to hear our opinions anymore. Maybe we need to listen more & talk less! If we don’t change the way we parent, as they become adults, relational tension will develop between us. If you desire to be a blessing to your adult children, begin by confessing your brokenness to them & God. Then, pray relentlessly for the Spirit to work on you & your adult children! Trust God to do the Spirit’s work that you cannot do. When you act like the Holy Spirit in their life, all they’ll hear is nagging! Give them over to God! They are His!

How Important Should Politics Be?

-The Reaping & Sowing Principle

In my last post I talked about the Church’s well-intended; but, disastrous decision, to exchange Jesus’ commission to “make disciples” in the hope that their political clout— as a “Moral Majority”— could change our country, for the better, by electing the right individuals to office & through legislation.  Five decades later, we’ve discovered the accuracy of God’s word in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” It’s the reaping & sowing principle!

-A Biblical Theology Of Politics

The Church has severely shrunk in size; and, for the most part, the strategy of the “Moral Majority” of the 1970s and 80s, has failed to elect God-Honoring public servants or pass God-Honoring legislation. However, let us NOT get back on the pendulum; and, swing it to the other extreme, making government & politics of no importance! That’s reactionary, and it’s not a Biblically acceptable response either! What we need is a Biblical Theology of the “Christian & Politics.” Our Theology; and our Doctrine always have to begin with God! He’s the starting place for everything.

-Government Was God’s Idea

The earth is the LORD’S and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” Psalm 24:1.  “For the earth is the Lord’s, and everything that is in it” 1 Cor. 10:26.  Government was God’s idea! He created it—  “Submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God…the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves” Rom 13:1,2.  The principle in Scripture is that God is Sovereign over human governments; and, uses them to advance His ultimate plans (Prov. 21:1;  Dan. 2:21; 2 Chron. 20:6).  At the same time, God blesses the nation that chooses Him (Psa. 9:17; 33:12; Isa. 60:12; Prov. 14:34).  There’s an element of man’s free will involved.

-Personal Responsibility Required

He’s made us a free moral agent; and so, people often get the government they’ve “chosen.” There seems to be some personal responsibility required; especially, if we have the freedom to choose our public officials as we do here in the United States of America. If we’re given the opportunity to choose good governments that exalt God, that’s what we’re called to do! Paul told Timothy to pray for good governments— “…for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity that provide a peaceful atmosphere for us to do the Lord’s work…” (1 Tim. 2:1,2).

-Balancing The Tension

In Philippians 3:20, Paul puts government & politics in its proper perspective—“But our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter says to “…conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your temporary residence here” 1 Pet. 1:17. It’s ultimately a matter of “identity.” I must view my identity as a “citizen of heaven” and a “temporary resident” of this world and my home country!  The moment I lose sight of that I’ve made my nation an “idol”! As one whose identity is “in Christ”, my goal must always be to pursue Christ as the prize! At the same time, we’ve been blessed with the privilege and responsibility to vote! And we must vote our conscience, based on our understanding of Scripture! But, then we leave it there! We leave the results in the hands of our Sovereign God! No anger or rudeness toward leaders that God has installed for His eternal purpose! Now we pray for those leaders!