Christianity’s Image Problem!

-It Seemed Boring!

It seemed to me that Christianity had an image problem, back in the 70’s, when I came to faith as a Junior High Boy. Here’s what I mean—if you decided to trust Jesus, as your Savior, you’d get heaven when your life ended HERE; but, the rest of your life HERE would be boring and blasé. But, for me, the “tradeoff” certainly seemed worth it; so, I asked Jesus to be my Savior. I’ll take the 80 years of blasé; but, eternity in heaven vs. 80 years of fun & happiness; but, eternity in hell at the end! But, that didn’t “sell” real well with my friends! I had a difficult time convincing them that the tradeoff was worth it.

-Enduring The Christian Life!

I think many believers still suffer with some sever misconceptions about the “Christian life”, don’t you? It’s been my observation that many believers just ENDURE the Christian life! Secretly, they still pine for the pleasures & happiness they think the world enjoys. In their hearts, they’re earthly hedonists! Like the children of Israel, during the Exodus, still looking back with longing for the old life they left behind in Egypt. Somehow, we’ve come to this erroneous conclusion that life’s just not going to be fun or happy as a Christian; but, we put up with it because…. Well, we get heaven at the END!

-The Most Happiness Possible!

But, there’s a great text of Scripture that debunks the notion that the life that follows Christ & adheres to the Scriptures is a boring life. In fact, what this Psalm says is quite the opposite. The writer sets the record straight—we don’t just ENDURE the Christian life, putting in our time here, until we get to heaven & hangout with Jesus for ever and ever! No! This Psalm tells us that it’s the life that submits to God & His Word that provides us with the greatest fulfillment & the most happiness possible! This is a message that the Church desperately needs! You need this message! I need this message! Happiness & prosperity, in this life & the next, only follows the God-centered life. Here’s how I’d summarize the Psalmist’s big idea—We overcome the pleasures of the world by taking greater pleasure in the Word of God! A significant part of your spiritual growth involves the things in which you find pleasure & happiness! Don’t be surprised that God is concerned with your happiness!

-Here’s A Happy Man!

Listen to what He says: “1How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not survive the judgment, and sinners will not be in the community of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.” (Psalm 1) For some believers, it’s a debate over “JOY” & “HAPPINESS”! JOY is a fruit of the Spirit, they say; and, that’s what we should concern ourselves with! Not HAPPINESS! But, read that text again—it makes me HAPPY!

 

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God Makes You New (Part II)

-He Doesn’t Condemn You Anymore!

One of the most powerful Scriptures for a believer to hold onto is this:  “Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  God no longer condemns you if you’ve placed faith, for your salvation, in Jesus’ work on the cross! So, we need to quit condemning ourselves! When you mess up & sin, CONFESS it—that means you AGREE with God that what you did was sin! (1 John 1:8-10) But, after you confess it, thank Him for forgiveness; and, get back into fellowship with Him!

-You’re Part Of The Family!

God has adopted you into His family; and, no one is going to overpower Him and rip you away! You belong to Him! That’s your “identity”—it’s WHO you are! Until you live by faith, knowing who you are in Christ, you will struggle to experience spiritual growth! Unlike “JUSTIFICATION”—which is an instantaneous judicious act of pardon by God; and, a passing from death to life—”SANCTIFICATION” is a process that God begins IN YOU the moment you’ve been JUSTIFIED! God frees us from the power of sin as He SANCTIFIES us! The Apostle Paul, in Romans, speaks of our sin as DOMINATING us BEFORE “JUSTIFICATION”—i.e. we were chained to sin; and, we couldn’t help but sin! But, at the moment of our “JUSTIFICATION”, the Holy Spirit indwells us; and, empowers us in a battle to “mortify”—or, “put to death”—the deeds of our flesh; or, the “old man” Paul calls it!

-We’re Saved! And, Being Saved!

So, at “JUSTIFICATION” we WERE saved; and, “regenerated” or made alive! In our “SANCTIFICATION” we are BEING saved! Don’t be concerned by that! It’s a good thing! Theologically, we mean that God’s “SANCTIFICATION” work, in us, is PROGRESSIVE & ACTIVE! The Holy Spirit is not passive about purging sin from our lives! He’s aggressive! In the Spirit, we now have the power or the capacity to overcome sin; and, at the same time, a growing DESIRE to be rid of it! That is one of my greatest PASSIONS—to BEAT SIN! If you have no desire to overcome sin, your “salvation” is in question! Perhaps you’ve been deceived! It’s in the “SANCTIFICATION” process that you are progressively becoming MORE like Jesus; and, LESS like you! It’s a work that only God can do in you!

-Trying Harder Doesn’t Work!

Unfortunately, it’s pretty typical for believers to try hard, do good & FAIL. That didn’t work; so, try HARDER, do BETTER & FAIL again! Until they stop trying so hard; and, just give in and FAKE IT. Can you relate to that? I know I can!  Listen, God’s “SANCTIFICATION” process tells us to take off the masks & quit pretending we’ve reached perfection! We’re all broken! We all need to be made complete in Christ! So, make yourselves accountable to each other to strengthen the Spirit’s effort to crucify your flesh! And, finally one day we will all become who we already are “positionally” in Christ—we’ll be “GLORIFIED”; and, set FREE from the very PRESENCE of sin! We’ll be like Jesus, Amen! No more corruption! No more sin!

 

God Makes You New (Part I)

-You Need To Know This Stuff!

If you’re a believer, in Jesus Christ, you’re no longer the OLD you! You’ve become—and, you are becoming— a NEW you; a work that God promises to finish once our lives end here! I love how the Amplified Bible renders 2 Corinthians 5:17—“Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, all things have become new [because spiritual awakening brings a new life].” Throughout his writings, the Apostle Paul breaks down our salvation into 3 parts; and, understanding this is VITAL to your spiritual growth & to your spiritual sanity!

-3 Big Theological Words!

He uses 3 big theological words—our “JUSTIFICATION”; our “SANCTIFICATION”; and, our “GLORIFICATION.” Now, don’t start snoring on me! Give me a chance to help you understand. You need this; because, it’s all about your “identity” as a disciple of Jesus Christ. If you ever struggle in your faith, it’s because you don’t understand how your faith works—your “JUSTIFICATION” is all about the “WAS” of your salvation; your “SANCTIFICATION” is all about the “IS” of your faith right now; and, your “GLORIFICATION” is all about the “IS TO COME” part of your salvation! Paul explains it like this in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14— “But we must always thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, so that you might obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

-Write This Down In Your Bible!

In your Bible, write down “JUSTIFICATION” next to “…belief in the truth…”  At the moment you believed, in Christ, you were JUSTIFIED by God; and, set free from the “PENALTY” of sin—ALL of it! As far as God is concerned, it’s just as if you’d never sinned because Jesus already paid the price for ALL the sin of ALL humanity for ALL time when He died, as a substitutionary atonement, on the cross! I’ve known believers who struggle with that truth—they believe all their sin, up to their salvation, was forgiven; but, they think they have to keep asking for forgiveness of future sins!

-How Far Is The East From The West?

But, that’s faulty thinking; because, ALL of our sin was “FUTURE” sin when Jesus died on the cross 2000 years ago! When God saves us, He tells us that He’s removed our sin “…as far as the east is from the west…” (Psalm 103:12). He says He “…buries them in the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19); and, my favorite is that He “…chooses to remember our sins no more” (Heb 10:17). ALL our sins—past, present & future—are GONE! That’s what it means to be JUSTIFIED! Satan doesn’t want you to know that! He wants you to grovel in your sin & your inadequacies! Every time you stumble & fall he wants to accuse you; but, don’t listen to his lies! God no longer condemns you—Romans 8:1. (Next Week: Part II)

 

More Like Jesus & Less Like You!

-So, How Are You Doing Spiritually?

At a recent Small Group meeting I asked this series of questions: “How are you doing Spiritually? And, on what criteria do you base your answer? How are you measuring your walk with Christ?” I’ve found when I just ask the 1st question—“How are you doing spiritually?”—that everyone says, “Good! Good!” Have you noticed that? I mean, that’s MY typical response to that question! It’s a question that needs qualifying! It needs those follow-up questions. On what basis can I say, “Good! Good!” when someone asks me how I’m doing spiritually?

-Is It About What We Do?

Do we measure our spiritual progress by the things we DO? Be careful! Don’t quickly dismiss the things we DO & say that, “…it’s only what’s in the HEART that matters.” If our HEART is right with God it WILL impact the things we DO, right? Jesus said: “If you love Me, you WILL KEEP my commandments.” At the same time, we can DO all the RIGHT things for the WRONG reasons, can’t we? We can do things to be SEEN of men; and, Jesus called that hypocrisy!

-Practicing The Spiritual Disciplines

Several months back I received a call from a young man who got saved in my youth group, in Colorado, several years ago. He asked if he could interview me for a seminary class he was taking. The interview included a line of questions based on how I lived my life according to the so-called “Spiritual Disciplines”—or, practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth. They’re habits of devotion—like prayer, fasting, public & private worship, meditation, making disciples—and, they’re all activities that Jesus’ followers are commanded to do! In fact, Jesus practiced most of them Himself! In answering the question, for the interview, I prefaced my answer with this caution—we are NOT godly just because we practice certain spiritual disciplines!

-The Error Of The Pharisees

That was the great error of the Pharisees, wasn’t it? They believed that they were godly BECAUSE they practiced certain things!  You cannot separate what you’re doing on the OUTSIDE by who you ARE on the INSIDE. What you DO matters! But, who you ARE matters even more! Here’s what I’m trying to say—Spiritual growth happens, in your life, as you become MORE like Jesus & LESS like you! That’s what’s expected if you’re truly His disciple!

-Where Spiritual Growth Happens

Based on several NT passages, I believe that our spiritual development occurs BEST in the context of a “faith community”; or, a church! Being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something WE do; but, with something that Christ DID! That’s the Gospel! He redeemed our broken relationship with the Father by His substitutionary atonement on the cross! He took away our sin! He paid the penalty we should have paid so that the Father might grant us forgiveness, grace, mercy & love! He adopts us into His “family”; and, it’s His family that makes up the church!  That becomes our new identity! We’re no longer citizens of this world; rather, Scripture says we’re “temporary residents” here! And, it’s within the “family” atmosphere, of the “church”, that God prunes us so that He might accomplish our sanctification!

 

Sustaining Spiritual Momentum Part III

-Why The Church Is Declining!

“The number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that members attend with less frequency than they did just a few years ago”—quote from author & church consultant Thom S. Rainer on his website http://www.thomrainer.com. So, it would seem—if that statement is true—that much of the blame for declining attendance, in 9 out of 10 churches in America, must be laid at the feet of the Church itself! Mr. Rainer explained it like this: “If the frequency of attendance changes, then attendance will respond accordingly. For example, if 200 members attend every week the average attendance is, obviously, 200. But if 1/2 of those members miss only 1 out of 4 weeks, the attendance drops to 175. ..attendance declined over 12% because half the members changed their attendance behavior slightly.”

-Finding Reasons To Miss!

Believers are finding reasons to “miss” the Sunday gatherings! And, unfortunately, this isn’t the first time, in the history of the Church, that this has happened! The last couple posts we’ve looked at Hebrews 10:24-25, which reads: “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our gatherings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Previously, we considered what the author said about “love” and “good works.” And, in context, it seems quite clear that the writer is calling out some “absent” believers; and, challenging them to be concerned about one another by being present whenever the Church gathers!

-Show Concern By Being Present!

That word translated “gatherings” is a specific word—in the original language—that’s used only here & 2 Thessalonians 2:1 which refers to “…the GATHERING together of the elect to Christ at His coming…” Nothing too subtle about that! The writer likens our “gatherings” as a local Church body with the “gathering” of ALL the saints in Christ! None of us want to miss that! So, the message seems quite clear—“don’t just ‘blow off’ your regular Church meetings either.” Let me also suggest that the text doesn’t limit the meaning to Sunday services! A specific day of the week is not even mentioned! Rather, it carries the idea that “whenever” your church gathers, be there!

-The Early Church Met Daily!

In the context of the early Church in Acts, they met DAILY! The writer says that some were staying away from the gatherings; and, he REBUKES them for it! That rebuke falls on the Church today; and, confession & repentance must follow if we hope to sustain any kind of spiritual momentum! How will new believers learn to obey God’s Word, about “gatherings”, if the believers discipling them are disobedient? The writer says to do this all the more, “…as you see THE DAY approaching.” “THE DAY” is a Biblical term that refers to Jesus’ 2nd Coming & the Judgment Seat of Christ.  He’s saying that he wants us all to stand approved before Jesus! This is REAL! He wants his readers to hear Jesus say: “WELL done, GOOD & FAITHFUL servant.” So, Church—let us “make disciples” who “make disciples” who come to the “gatherings”!

 

 

Sustaining Spiritual Momentum Part II

-It’s Not By Human Effort!

Let’s say you’re part of a church that’s bucking that trend we’re seeing, in America, where 9 out of 10 churches are experiencing decline! God has blessed you with a core of leaders who are faithful disciple makers! How do you sustain that spiritual momentum? This post is “Part II” in my attempt to answer that question! And, let me be clear that it’s NOT something that can be sustained by human effort! The salvation of souls is a work that is exclusively God’s work—“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” Jesus said. I concede that regeneration is a supernatural act of God on a human life!

-We’re God’s Ambassadors!

But, I also understand that God enables us to be His ambassadors in reconciling unconverted individuals to Himself! So, what’s our part in sustaining spiritual momentum? In my last post, we opened up our Bibles to Hebrews 10:24,25—“And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” The 1st thing that stands out, to me, is the writers admonition, as inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, to “…be CONCERNED about ONE ANOTHER…” This is one of the most attractive; but, often overlooked behaviors of a sanctified local church community of faith! Do not underestimate how enticing that kind of behavior appears when set side by side with the rest of our narcissistic, self-absorbed world. Any group or community that shows genuine concern, for others, will stand out!

-Focus On Others!

So, if we are to sustain the spiritual momentum necessary to make disciples who make disciples we have to continue to focus on others more than ourselves. God calls us to look after one another; to, think about one another; to, be occupied with one another! But, notice that the writer says to “…be concerned about one another in order to promote love…” The command here is NOT to love one another—although there are plenty of Scriptures that tell us to love one another—but, to PROMOTE love! Some translations say, “…to stimulate one another to love…”; or, to “…stir up one another to love…” In other words, we’re accountable—NOT just to love each other—but, to promote love within the body!

-That’s Not Natural!

That implies that THAT kind of love doesn’t come natural to us! We have to work at it with the Spirit’s help. Notice, also, that the writer is concerned that the church promote “…good works…” Just like his command to promote love, the writer is not telling the church to DO good works—though Scripture commands us many times to do good works—but, to PROMOTE good works! To stimulate each other; and, to stir up one another to good works! Again, it’s about keeping each other accountable; to, look for every opportunity to do good works wherever you find yourself! For others! For relationships! Get the focus off of ourselves! That’s, in part, how we sustain the spiritual momentum to make disciples who make disciples! (NEXT Week… Part III)

 

Sustaining Spiritual Momentum Part I

-The Old Way Isn’t Working!

There’s a saying; and, I’m sure most of you have heard it—that, “Insanity Is Doing The Same Thing Over & Over And Expecting Different Results.” In other words, if you’re looking for different results, you’ve got to change the way you’re doing things! The American church is desperately in need of a “paradigm shift” in the way we do things! The old way isn’t working! It’s broken! You’ve heard the statistics—9 out of 10 churches, in America, are in decline! And, of that 1 in 10 experiencing growth (many are “Mega Churches”), 9 out of 10 have grown—NOT by adding new converts—but, by TRANSFER growth; or, people leaving the 9 out of 10 churches in decline!

-No More Sorry Excuses!

As for me, I’m unwilling to accept some sorry excuse that people just aren’t seeking God these days! The same God, who worked the sweeping revivals in the book of Acts, is alive and well today! The Bible offers us hope! And, there is a grass roots movement that is effecting change in the Church across our land. God is raising up modern day “prophets” who refuse to preach the pragmatic “self-help gospel” with it’s self-absorbed, man-centered appeal to consumerism—that false gospel will not endure the coming persecution! It’s a movement that’s slowly building, gaining momentum, and, returning to “ground zero”—to where Jesus said, “I will build My church.”

-Empowered By His Spirit!

He would build His Church—NOT by appealing to the fleshly lusts of the world & the unregenerate heart; but—on the WEAKNESS of man & the POWER of God! “Not by man’s might or power; but, by MY Spirit, says the Lord” (Zech. 4:6).  Jesus built that early church, in the book of Acts, out of broken men who were empowered by HIS Holy Spirit to simply obey His “commission” to make disciples! This post is about sustaining the spiritual momentum necessary to continue making new disciples.  In Hebrews 10:24-25, the writer is addressing a falling away of some of the believers. Somehow, the momentum of the early church, in Acts, had stalled! Earlier, in the letter, the writer had warned them that they needed to learn, all over again, some of the elementary truths of faith—so, this is basic stuff! If it was a class it would be “Basic Discipleship 101.”

-Don’t Do Life Without It!

The text says, “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our gatherings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  If you had only 2 words to summarize those verses, they would be “relationships” & “gatherings”; and, that’s Church!  The writer is saying, “Church: Don’t try to do the Christian life without it!” And, his 1st point is to “be concerned about one another.” If the Church is to sustain the momentum necessary to make disciples who make disciples we have to quit making Church about ourselves! God calls us to look after one another! That Church is attractive to unbelievers! Can you  point me to one like that?