Devoted To Church Community!

-But, Satan Opposes It!

Unity is always God’s will for His Church! Satan, on the other hand, is always working to sow seeds of “DISUNITY” among those individuals that comprise a local church community! Because Satan has been so successful—at promoting disunity—many believers have determined to live a life of “isolation” while still attending church; and, others have elected to “quit” church altogether! Listen believer: “God never intended for you to live your Christian life in a vacuum!” I am so sorry that you’ve been “wounded”! I truly am! The Christian life was never intended to be lived alone; but, in the context of a “community.”

-Is It Like Joining A Commune?

Now, I’ve noticed that all it takes for some of us to “check out” is to hear that word “community.” Your eyes kind of roll to the back of your head! You cross your fingers & hope we’ll quickly change the subject! It’s like you’re afraid I’m going to tell you to sell everything you own, join a commune, and, raise organic fruits & vegetables! If that’s what you think, it’s because you misunderstand what community means in the Biblical context of a local church. It’s something that, once you grasp it’s meaning,  you’ll never let go of it because of it’s relational beauty!

-Biblical Community Is Beautiful!

In our hearts, we all want Biblical community—it makes no difference your personality type! Whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert, or, socially awkward, all of us long for meaningful human relationships! That’s how God “wired” us—in HIS “image”—in the “community” of the Triune Godhead! He is, Himself, a “community” of 3 persons—ONE God existing in the perfect, loving, community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even those of us, who’ve been “wounded” by someone, still keep searching for deep, authentic, relationships. The word “community” is a compound word: “COM” meaning “with”; and, “UNITY” meaning… “unity.” So, it means to “be unified”; or, having “common union.” In the church it just means to share our common life “IN” Christ.  Now that’s a problem, in America, where the typical response is to look for a church where WE can “be fed”; where, our family can be ministered “unto.” That response is foreign in Scripture! It’s is an unbiblical, unhealthy, consumer-driven mindset that has hi-jacked Jesus Christ’s intended purpose for HIS CHURCH! It requires repentance!

-We’re Not Just Here For You!

The church—the followers of Jesus—is NOT made up of those who “minister”; and, those who are “ministered to”! Rather, ALL are to minister!  “And, let us (ALL of us!) consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). “Bear one another’s burdens; and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). More than 60 times the phrase “each other” or “one another” is found in the N.T. commanding the church in the ways they’re to minister & care for one another! Every person can say, “We’re not just here for you; you’re here for us also!” That’s the responsibility of everyone in the faith community! The church that fails in that is crippled; and, guilty of “man-centered” narcissistic consumerism!

The Church: Designed To Change Us!

The Local Church Community Sanctifies Us

Jesus never intended that we would “lone wolf” the Christian life as an individual! Rather, it was His plan to use the local church “community” to sanctify and change us! Read Paul’s letter to the Church of Ephesus; especially, chapter 4. It was clearly NOT his intent that we view “the Church” as some “universal body” out there somewhere! He spoke to the body of faith that made up the local Church of Ephesus.

The Body Ministers To The Body

In v.16 he tells this church that it’s the “WHOLE BODY” that ministers to the “WHOLE BODY” & spiritual growth happens in the corporate life of the church when all the individual members are working together properly— “In LOVE, building each other up!” Clearly, the “each other” referred to the believers in the Church of Ephesus; not, some “universal church” on the other side of planet earth—we can pray for believers on the other side of the planet; but, it’s simply impossible to build up believers with whom we have no contact!

Jesus Uses Other People To Change Us

Jesus intends to use all the different people, with their diverse personalities & traits, to change us! He uses the difficult people, the annoying people, the “special grace” people, and, the sinful people to smooth out our rough—and, sometimes sinful—edges! “From Him the whole (“local church”) body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the (“local church”) body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part (of the “local church”)” v.16.  It is by our unique, diverse, spiritual experiences, with God, that together—as a “local church”—we have the opportunity to provide rich counsel & support to each other! For the one struggling with alcohol addiction, there are believers, in the body, who’ve been delivered from it! For the one struggling with sexual sin, there are believers, in the body, who are winning that battle with the Spirit’s help! So, there’s someone who will stand with you & encourage you in the fight! For those who admit they are a gossip; or, a liar; or, have anger issues; or, a cursing tongue; or, they’re bitter—someone in the local church body has been there; or, they’re fighting the same battle; and, together there’s mutual support!

There’s An App For That

Jesus designed the Church to be that community, or family, that meets one another’s needs! Someone, in the local church family, has either overcome the sin your struggling with; and, can offer support; or, someone is fighting the same battle & together you can keep each other accountable & see God do a sanctification work in your lives!  In summary, here’s what Paul is telling the local Church of Ephesus: God makes us stronger “collectively” than we will ever be “individually.” It’s the lone ranger sheep, not engaged in the community life of the Church, that the wolf goes after! He’s easy prey! Now, perhaps your wondering where you can find this kind of church! I’m afraid they are few; and, far between! Pray! Ask God’s Spirit to direct you! Search out this kind of church; and, BE that kind of church member! God Bless!

 

 

I Am Not The Church! We Are!

-Jesus Sanctifies Us Through His Church!

Jesus uses His Church as a significant means to produce His intended changes in our lives.  Now, for many professed believers, in America, that is dissident because the Western Church has been such a huge disappointment & embarrassment. The problem has never been with Jesus’ Church; but,  with the human operation of His Church! We’ve “institutionalized” it when Jesus created it to be “communal.”

-What The Church Should Look Like

The Apostle Paul sets up what the Church should look like in his letter to the Church of Ephesus—I think we forget that this is written to a specific, local Church! He writes to “…the faithful saints in Christ Jesus at Ephesus…”; and, 9 times in 6 short chapters he refers to them as the “Church”—“ekklesia” is the original Greek word; and, it literally means a “called out assembly.” God calls out His Church of Jesus-Followers from the people of the world; and, the point of their being “called out” is to “assemble” in “community”; or, “communally” like a family; and, to meet each other’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

-The Church Does Life Together

Just take the time to read through ch. 4 of Ephesians; and, don’t read it through the glasses of your “American Church culture.” The “you’s” are NOT to be read as individual “you’s”—it’s “YOU”, the CHURCH, the community of believers doing life together! “I urge YOU (the Church of Ephesus),” Paul says, “to walk worthy of the calling YOU (the Church of Ephesus) have received…” It’s a corporate calling—YOU, the Church of Ephesus, have this calling TOGETHER! Paul says they ought to be so entrenched in their calling, TOGETHER, that the fruit of the Spirit is evident in the way they do ministry as a BODY—v.2 “with…humility…gentleness…patience & love…”; v.3 there should be unity in their community that’s Holy Spirit driven “…with a peace that binds US.”

-The Local Church Is One Body

Read it in context—the “US” is the Church of Ephesus! And, the Church of Ephesus is ONE BODY (v.4); and, Paul doesn’t break the body down to it’s “individual” parts until we get to v.7, “…now grace was given to each one of us…” And, this “grace” came to each individual—in the Church of Ephesus—in the form of a GIFT (v.8) from Jesus, our Messiah & Savior, to build up their local Church in Ephesus!

-Jesus’ Goal For His Church

In ch.4, v.13, of Paul’s letter to the Church of Ephesus he writes, “…that we (the Church of Ephesus) reach unity in the faith and the knowledge of Jesus growing in maturity…” Because of our “American Church Culture” we read into that our “individual” walk with Christ; but, that’s NOT the context of Paul’s words! Their individual spiritual maturity was not to be a “solo” act! Paul is saying that the goal was a spiritually mature “Church community”—a Church no longer resembling a bunch of immature little brats (v.14); but, mature believers speaking the truth to each other in love (v.15).  In the next verse, Paul tells them it’s the “whole body” (the Church of Ephesus) that ministers to their “whole body.” So, here’s the application—Jesus intends to use our local churches to sanctify us as individuals! We grow spiritually in the BODY!

 

God’s Plan For World Evangelism

-We’re Insulated From The Real World!

There’s something about living in America that insulates us from the real world. When we see pictures of some of the horrors that choke the rest of the world, they seem so far away that they’re almost surreal! Well, Church, we need to awaken from our slumber; and, we need to see the world through the lens of Scripture. We need to face some realities—at best, 1/3rd of the world knows Christ if you count everyone who claims to be a Christian! Even if we give them the benefit of the doubt, that still means that 4.5 billion people are, by their own admission, non-followers of Christ. They remain eternally separated from the God of creation at this moment!

-We’ve Failed The Rest Of The World!

What is God’s will for these? “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9.  It’s not God’s will that any of these would perish? So, why are many of them dying without ever hearing the Gospel? It’s because we—Christ’s Church—have failed them! And, we are without excuse! It is God who empowers us to be His witnesses to the whole world! We can’t ratchet up enough strength to follow through on the Great Commission. Jesus told His disciples, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you…” Acts 1:8. His Spirit has come; and, He indwells each of us! God commands us to embrace the lostness of the whole world—”…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

-Jesus Didn’t Just Die For “US”; Or, The “U.S.”!

We need to face a humbling truth that Jesus didn’t just die for US! We may not say it; but, we live like we think God is an American! But, John 3:16 doesn’t say that “God loves ME so much He sent Jesus to die for ME.” The message of Biblical Christianity is that God loves me so that I might make HIM known among ALL the NATIONS! It’s about the LOSTNESS of the whole world before God; and, reconciliation by the work of Christ! The total depravity of the world requires our faithful witness to the Gospel’s work on behalf of sinners!

-The Gospel Is Intended For All Ethnic Groups!

He says, “…YOU will be MY witnesses…” We are witnesses of the Gospel work He has done in us! In Christ’s commission— “Go and make disciples of all NATIONS…”—that word, “nations”, is “ethnos” in the original Greek. It’s the word we get “ethnic” from in English. So, it’s “ethnic” groups or “people groups.” And, in Matthew 24:14, Jesus says, “…this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the NATIONS, and then the end will come.” Same word! So, it seems that God intends for all people groups to hear the Gospel before the end comes! Let’s be faithful to our calling

 

Growing Up Spiritually In Community

While The World Obsesses Over The “Self”

We’ve often pointed out that the world generally obsesses over the “self”;  while, God—in the Scriptures—directs us to be “God-focused” and “others-focused”! Unfortunately, this “self-centeredness” has trickled down into our churches; so, that, even our spiritual growth is seen as something accomplished as an “individual.” The community of faith is recognized as “supplemental”, not “essential”, to our spiritual growth. We believe the Scriptures debunk that individualistic mindset.

Build Up The Body

God uses our local church—our faith community—to grow us “at a deeper & more intimate level than can be accomplished alone.” 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” was 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 our interaction with other believers!

Isolation Welcomes Spiritual Defeat

When we live an isolated life on the outside of the church we live as though we are autonomous! Only God, however, is truly autonomous! He answers to no one! We, however, will ultimately give account to God for our lives; 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 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.

 

 

Is Church Missions Biblical?

Does It Fit With Jesus’ Plan?

What does the Bible say about “missions”; and, how does it fit with Jesus’ plan for His Church? Let me say, at the start, that I don’t find the term “missions” to be very helpful! In fact, I don’t find it anywhere in Scripture & neither will you!

Confusion Over Missions

Unfortunately, it seems, in my 40 years of ministry involvement, that the term “missions” has created a kind of dichotomy in our thinking when it comes to sharing the Gospel—there’s “our church” evangelism effort at home here in America; and, then there’s “missions” or our evangelism effort outside our borders. But, let’s revisit Jesus’ Great Commission to the Church in Matthew 28:19,20.

One Verbal Imperative

Go, and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus said, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” Now, there is only one verbal imperative; or, one single action word; and, it’s NOT the word “GO” as I’ve often heard preached! It’s “make disciples”; or, literally “disciple.” Just “disciple”— “…disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father…” Jesus’ plan was & always has been all-world encompassing! It’s not an either-or-proposition; that we have either a strong evangelism effort here at home; or, we have a reputation for being missions minded! Both are the unacceptable extremes of Jesus’ plan for His Church; rather, it’s “BOTH-AND”!

Jesus Died For The World

Jesus’ death on the cross was for the world! God loves the world! Someday, in the eternal state, there will be those from “…every tribe & every nation gathered ‘round the throne of God…” in worship & praise to the Lamb of God. I much prefer the term “making disciples” to “missions.” It’s Biblical! It’s what Jesus called it! So, do you want to be a “world changer”? If you really want to impact the world…be a disciple maker for God. Ultimately, it’s not a “missions program” we need; but, Holy Spirit power to disciple His Church!

The Power We Need

What is the single most important factor in our disciple making efforts? Some might say “love for God” or “love for others”; but, I would argue that that is our motivation to disciple! The most important factor is probably Holy Spirit “power”— “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Everywhere in the world—when there is “much” Holy Spirit power there’s effective disciple making happening! Where there is “little” Holy Spirit power there is very little disciple making going on. Holy Spirit power is essential to being an effective disciple maker! More important than knowledge! More important than choosing the right words! Holy Spirit power is critical to how effective we are at sharing the Gospel!

Growing In Church Community:

Called To Be Rugged Individualists?

We live in a culture where “rugged individualism” is heralded as a good thing! The individual “self” is celebrated! The Apostle Peter—by divine inspiration—seems to offer an alternative view for the follower of Jesus: “Coming to Him (to Jesus) a living stone—rejected by men but chosen and valuable to God—you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 2:4-5.

Who Are You?

He’s talking about our “identity”! This is “who” we are in Christ! First, we are “living stones.” By coming to Jesus, THE “living stone”, we become “living stones”, Peter says. Second, as “living stones” we are “being built into a spiritual house.” We were like dead rocks until Jesus saved us! But, now we’re “living stones”; and, becoming more like Jesus, THE “living stone.” And, He’s building a “spiritual house” with us! This is the coolest picture because it establishes our “identity” as “individuals” & as “community.” It confirms the prominence of “community” in our “individual” lives!

Conformed To His Image In Community

If you don’t “get” this, than you don’t “get” Jesus’ Church! This “building” process is how He sanctifies us; and, He uses the rest of the individual “living stones” who make up the Church—specifically, those in our individual “local” churches—to conform us to the image of Christ! He doesn’t build us, or sanctify us, in isolation! He uses the rest of the body, the “living stones”, to mature our faith! Practically, that means personal conflicts must not be viewed as a reason for leaving your local church; but, as God’s means to alter our own behavior for the unity of the body! Only then do we become a “holy priesthood”; and, a faith community that intercedes between Holy God & sinful man! Only then can we serve our nation; and, our cities as God’s mediators; and, faithful disciple makers! Only then do we become a city, set on a hill, that cannot be hid; a light that draws unbelievers away from the darkness of this broken world!

The Church Is Not Brick & Mortar

We are “living stones” that God is building into a living community of saints; a, spiritual house full of “priests.” We’re not a passive building, church! Don’t GO to Church; BE the Church! God indwells—not a building—but, a “people.” We will only find our true “identity” as Jesus builds us & adds us into His Church; this, spiritual house! When we know who we are, relationships will be birthed that will stand the test of time! We’ll take our ministry seriously—as a sacrifice of praise—with a sense of urgency! Our worship together will be sweet because Jesus is infinitely precious to us!

 

 

A Biblical Case For Social Media!

Social Media Is Here To Stay

Like it, or not, Social Media is hard-wired into our culture. Some social experts predict that in less than 10 years it will be nearly impossible to interact in the culture without being engaged in social media. In a practical sense, what does that mean for us as followers of Jesus?

The Gospel Requires Us To Interact With People

If we’re unable to interact with our culture, we’ll be unable to share the Gospel! If we can’t share the Gospel we’ll be incapable of fulfilling Jesus’ commission to His Church! That’s how serious it is!

Adapting To Our Culture!

When Hudson Taylor went to China, as a missionary, he was a pioneer when it came to cultural adaptation. At the time, the Church criticized him for adapting Chinese dress & for eating Chinese food with Chinese instruments & for living in Chinese housing & for observing the local customs and etiquette. Those methods seem only natural to us today, don’t they? We assume that a missionary will adapt to the culture; and, use every non-sinful method necessary to disciple people for Christ. But, what about our own context here in America? Should we respond any different to our own culture? Or, is that just for foreign missionaries? No! It’s not! We enter the “Mission Field” every time we leave our homes; and, every time we leave our churches! We have the same Biblical responsibility that Hudson Taylor had to embrace the non-sinful elements of our culture with the goal of winning as many as possible to Jesus.

Outdated & Irrelevant

When we’re “outdated” we become culturally irrelevant; and, an impediment to Gospel penetration in our society! The stakes are too high to reject the current culture just because it’s unfamiliar or uncomfortable to us! The “principle” from Scripture is quite clear—God values the sharing of the Gospel above cultural distinctives! If social media offers me a wider platform for sharing the Gospel, in the current culture, than I’m “enslaved” to do so! See the Apostle Paul!

Paul’s Heavy Words

Here’s what Paul says about cultural relevance: “I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win those under the law. To those who are without that law, like one without the law—not being without God’s law but within Christ’s law—to win those without the law. To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. Now I do all this because of the gospel” -1 Corinthians 9:19-23

 

Best Investment Advice!

The Connection Between Our Faith & Our Finances

No one offers better “investment advice” than Jesus does in His “Parable Of The Unjust Steward” in Luke 16:1-13.  In v.11 He makes a significant connection between our faith and the way we handle our financial resources: “…if you have not been faithful with the unrighteous money, who will trust you with what is genuine?” Seek after the “genuine” spiritual wealth & riches of a God-focused life; NOT, the temporal wealth of this world! If you cannot be trusted with the temporary wealth of this world, how can God trust you with the true riches of a deep relationship with Him? As long as your passion is the stuff of this world, you’ll never grow deep in your faith and your walk with the Lord!

The Problem With Earthly Treasures

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus put it like this:  “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal.” Jesus offers additional “investment advice” when He uses the unjust steward to remind us that one day we’ll be “…called in to give an account…” (v.2) Every year I hire the services of an accountant to prepare my taxes for the day I must “give an account”—April 15th.  In the parable, the Master—the real owner—calls in the steward to “give an account” of the way he had managed his Master’s resources. “If you have not been faithful with what belongs to someone else, who will give you what is your own?” Jesus asks (v.12)

Managing God’s Stuff

The Apostle Paul warned the believers in Corinth, “ We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may give an account for what he has done in the body, whether good or worthless” (2 Cor 5:10) So, spend your Master’s resources as one who must “give an account”; not, as autonomous! If you see yourself as an owner you’ll live as though you’re autonomous; that, you have the freedom to do with your stuff as you please; like, you’re the Sovereign! The judgment seat of Christ will determine how faithful you were in the management of all the stuff God gave you to steward for Him!

Whose Slave Are You?

Jesus concludes the “Parable Of The Unjust Servant” like this: “…you can’t be slaves to both God and money.” v.13 You will choose one or the other! Everyone does! And, the judgment will reveal it— “good stewards” or “worthless stewards”? Enslaved to money & stuff? Be a worthless steward to God! Or, make God your Master & leverage the money & stuff for His kingdom purposes! We need to regularly, intentionally give everything back to God! Tell yourself, “I need to emotionally pry my fingers off everything I own…God, this is Your house…Your car…Your job…Your 401k; How do You want me to manage it for You?”

 

Actually, God Does Own Your Stuff!

How Much Do We Have To Give?

The “tithing” question almost always revolves around “how much do we have to give?” Do we still have to give 10%? Isn’t that just in the Old Testament? I’ve heard people argue that it’s their money and they’ll give to causes or projects that they believe in; while, others claim they don’t give because churches & pastors have misused church offerings and can’t be trusted! Some have told me that they can’t tithe because they can’t afford it— “There’s always too much month left at the end of our money,” they say. Others say that they’re afraid to tithe— “What happens if we fall on hard times & we’ve given all that money to the church?”

It’s All About Your Heart

In counseling people about their finances, I’ve found that it’s ultimately not a “tithing” question; but, a “heart” issue! Where is your heart? God addresses money matters so frequently—it’s estimated there are over 2000 verses speaking on money—because our financial interests have a way of stealing our heart more than anything else in life! I’ll just admit right now that I probably won’t satisfy your curiosity about tithing in this post. If we just focus on whether to tithe or not to tithe it can quickly turn into legalism and a fulfilling of the letter of the law. I’ll just say this much: I believe there is Scriptural support that if O.T. giving was a tenth under law, that nothing less than that would be the starting point under grace!

Are You A Steward Or An Owner?

In Luke 16, Jesus unpacks some financial principles in His parable about the unjust steward. I’ll only deal with one of those principles here—Jesus teaches us to think like a steward of our stuff; not an owner! God is like the rich man in the story & we’re the steward! The reason the steward was unjust? Because he handled his master’s money as though it were his own! The psalmist wrote:  “The earth is the LORD’S, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to Him” Psalm 24:1. See also Psalm 50:10 & 1 Corinthians 4:7. This is bigger than a tithing question! God says it’s not 10% His and 90 % ours! It’s ALL HIS! ALL of it! We’re just managing God’s stuff? Are you acting like a steward over your stuff or an owner?

Faithful In Little; Faithful In Much

Take a look at v.10 in that Luke 16 passage—Jesus teaches us to also be content with the stuff He’s given us to manage, not covetous!Whoever is faithful in very little is faithful in much.” I’ve heard people say they can’t tithe because they don’t make enough money. That’s backward thinking! The tithe comes 1st— “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops” Prov. 3:9. Jesus is ultimately saying here that if you don’t tithe with your current income you wouldn’t if you made twice as much— if you’re unrighteous in little you’ll be unrighteous in much! And, I’ve seen that played out way too often!