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!

Politics Is Like A Skunk

-The “Moral Majority” Years

That’s what a pastor friend of mine told me once:  “Politics is like a skunk: Touch it and that’s all anyone will notice about you for a long while.” Now that another election has come to an end, I thought it might do us well to talk a little bit about politics. When I was in my 20’s and 30’s I was very much involved in the political scene. I was part of the “Moral Majority” back in the ‘70s and listened religiously to political talk shows during the ‘80s and ‘90s. 

-Perspective Is A Great Thing

But, “perspective” is a great thing! It’s the only great thing about growing older! Perspective is “the ability to see all the relevant data in a meaningful relationship to one another.” Over the last 20+ years, I’ve gained a different perspective on the Church’s level of involvement in politics during the “Moral Majority” years. From my perspective, the Church exchanged Christ’s commission to “make disciples” for the hope that their political clout (because of their “majority” status) could change our country, for the better, by electing the right individuals to office who would see to it that God-Honoring legislation would be passed. 

-We’ve Reaped What We Sowed

Almost 5 decades later, we’ve “reaped what we sowed.” Because we backed away from our calling to “make disciples” the Church has severely shrunk in size. Some of the most recent statistics I’ve seen reveal that 9 out of every 10 churches in America are in decline.  And, only 1 new church is starting for every 2-3 that are closing! We’re no longer a “moral majority”! So, we’ve— for the most part— failed to elect God-Honoring public servants; and, we’ve failed in the battle to pass God-Honoring legislation. We’ve lost the “Culture Wars”! We’ve paid a great price for our disobedience, Church! And, I’m pointing fingers at this guy at the same time I’m calling out the rest of the Church! I’ve been disobedient to my calling! There, I said it! Will you admit it?

-God Is Still Sovereign

But, wait! This is not a message of hopelessness! All is not lost! God is still Sovereign! He’s still on the throne! He still listens & is moved by the repentant prayers of His Children! He continues to raise up “modern day prophets” who call the Church back to God; to brokenness & humility; to return to our calling; to fulfill our Lord’s Great Commission to “make disciples” as we “go” about doing life! We must remember that that is our calling! Jesus did not commission the church to “go” and make a “Christian nation.” Our core theology & doctrinal beliefs must be based on Scripture! We can’t make stuff up just because it would help us feel better or safer!

-Know What You’re Responsible For

Like most of you, I’m sick to death of all the negative campaign advertising! Glad it’s over for another couple of years! It would be really easy, for me, to just walk away from the political process altogether! I’d have no problem finding something else to do on election day & I’m sure many of you feel the same way. But, we can’t! Based on Scriptural principle, there is simply no way that I can—in good conscience—recommend that you stop voting. Just because politics is less important doesn’t mean that it’s not important! There’s tension there! It’s all about being a good & faithful steward! We need to know what we’re responsible for! As citizens, of this nation, we’ve been given the responsibility & privilege to vote! And vote our conscience, based on our understanding of Scripture, we must! But, then we leave it there! We leave the results in the hands of the Sovereign God! No anger or rudeness! Now we pray for our leaders!

Lead Like Jesus!

-Not Like Rockstars!

The more I read the Gospel accounts about Jesus’ interactions, with His disciples, the more convinced I am that the prevailing world view, of His day, was really not much different than that of our own. The disciples all wanted to be “ROCKSTARS.” That’s why they followed Jesus at the start! He was popular! They thought He was going to be king over Israel & deliver their people from the Romans. Who wouldn’t want to latch onto that star, if given a chance, and, ride it as far as it would go? If ever they were going to be His disciples, Jesus would have to retrain & reteach them! His kingdom was not of this world, He told them!

-Jesus’ Kingdom Way!

The way of Jesus’ kingdom was entirely different from the kingdoms of this world. Listen to what Jesus told them, as recorded in Mark’s Gospel:  “Jesus called them over and said to them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.  In essence, Jesus is teaching them to live their lives out in the hidden places of service rather than the public places of being noticed. One of my favorite pastors & authors challenges us to make that our prayer! We’ll have to pray that God changes our heart & makes us a servant; because we’ll never choose the place of obscure service in our flesh.

-Jesus Is Attractive To Many!

You see, Jesus & His Gospel have been misrepresented by much of the western church! So many self-identified “Christians” live such a selfish, mean-spirited, ugly way of life that our unbelieving neighbors want nothing to do with whatever it is they’re peddling! But, many unbelievers do find Jesus attractive! And, many find the true church— that strives to follow Jesus & His teachings— to be attractive like Him! Just think about it church—Jesus won us over because He served us at our deepest need! He loved us in spite of our sinful brokenness! Our cities & our neighbors will begin to pay attention to the church again when we serve them, in their need, like Jesus served us! When we love them like Jesus loved us!

-Jesus’ Model Of Greatness!

That’s how Jesus discipled His followers, according to Mark’s text. This is what true greatness looks like, in Jesus’ kingdom! Don’t steal the world’s model for greatness because it doesn’t look anything like greatness in God’s realm! True greatness, in God’s kingdom, is counter-intuitive to this world’s standard. The “…rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them…” If you’re going to rule or lead, in the Gentile world— or, among unbelievers— you have to dominate them! You have to show ‘em who’s in charge! Like the former Russian Communist leader, Lenin, once said: “One man with a gun can control 100 without one.” That’s worldly leadership! It’s not Jesus’ way!

Is Every Believer A Disciple?

-What Does Scripture Teach?

The Church, here in the west, has often made a distinction between a “believer” in Jesus Christ & a “disciple” of Jesus Christ! It’s a distinction, however, that Scripture fails to make— that you can be a saved “believer” & just live your entire life for yourself! That, if you desire, you can become a “disciple” and live out your days as a “super saint” for Jesus. No where, in Scripture, does Jesus say anything even close to that! If you abide, in Jesus, you will produce the fruit of a disciple! That’s the outcome of genuine faith!

-Grape Vines Produce Grapes!

There will always be fruit where there is genuine faith. It’s as natural as a grape vine producing grapes. That’s what grape vines do! And, there is fruit that is naturally produced, by God’s Spirit, in the life of every genuine believer who abides in Jesus! In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus says! Fruitfulness is the proof that you’re a “believer” & “disciple.” “If anyone does not abide in Me,” Jesus said, “he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” John 15:6-8.  We bring glory to God when our lives produce fruit because it PROVES that He’s saved us! The PROOF is in the FRUIT!

-Love, Joy & Obedience!

Then, Jesus expands, on that, in the next several verses (v. 9-17). Fruitfulness, He says, is measured by our love, by our obedience, and, by our joy! “This is My commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” Loving others isn’t an option for anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus! If there’s no love, it’s because there is no spiritual life. Where there’s no love, there’s no “abiding in Jesus.” “You are my friends,” He said, “if you do what I command you.” We cannot pick and choose what we’re going to obey in God’s Word. Disobedience isn’t an option! If we truly abide, in Christ, we’ll repent when we disobey & realign our life accordingly with the Scriptures. And, there’ll be joy in your life— “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may full.” Our joy is linked to a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ! It’s not circumstantial!

-Even When Life Is Hard!

Abiding in Christ produces joy! Even when the rest of life derails, our joy is centered In Jesus. All those grumpy, mean-spirited, haters out there who claim to be followers of Jesus must have missed that Scripture! Or… they don’t really abide in Christ! This text presents a clear case that God, the Father, won’t stand idle while His children act up! He will prune— “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” John 17:2. He will discipline His own! He will spank! But, He doesn’t spank the Devil’s kids! Our response, to His discipline, will either confirm or deny that our “faith” is legitimate! We will confess sin & let His Spirit clean house!

Is Your God Too Small?

-Are You Too Big?

40 some years ago, J.B. Phillips wrote, what turned into a Christian classic, Your God Is Too Small. It’s a great book! I highly recommend it! Phillips does a great job of capturing the struggle, that we humans have, of seeing how big God really is! We tend to see God as much smaller & less awesome than He is; and, we see ourselves as much bigger & more significant than we really are!

-Superman Don’t Need No Airplane!

I love the story about former heavy weight boxing champ, Muhammad Ali, who loved to boast, in jest, about being the greatest! It was part of his shtick & show! Once, while flying on a commercial flight, the stewardess told him to fasten his seatbelt just before takeoff. “Superman don’t need no seatbelt,” Ali replied; and, the stewardess shot back, “Superman don’t need no airplane, either.” That pretty much epitomizes the attitude the “health, wealth & prosperity FALSE gospel” has spawned here in the western church! The image of God has been distorted!

-He’s No “Genie In A Bottle”!

Much, of the Church, has turned God into a wimpy “Genie in the bottle” kind of God who grants OUR wishes; and, somehow NEEDS us to feel significant! Rather, than the self-sufficient, self-sustaining Sovereign God, that He is, who needs nothing & is the KING of kings & LORD of lords! I love how Paul addresses this subject in his letter to the Roman believers:  “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Or who has ever first given to Him, and has to be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever.  Amen” Romans 11:33-36.

-Glory In God’s Wisdom!

That’s another one of those rich texts, of Scripture, that magnifies & lifts up our Awesome God! Paul is like caught up in the wonder & the mystery of who He is! He seems to be promoting the underlying thought that good or bad, big or small, whatever comes our way, let us give God Glory for everything that happens in life! Notice, he challenges the church to give God Glory for His “…wisdom and knowledge…” Whatever comes, give God Glory because of His wisdom & knowledge. He knows what He’s doing!

-Is God Foolish?

There’s another great verse that Paul included, in his letter, to the Church of Corinth: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” 1 Cor 1:25. Don’t you just love that? Mind you, Paul is NOT saying that God has a foolish side to Him. On the contrary, He’s pointing out how foolish we are when we think we’re really wise & smart. IF God had a foolish side—and, He DOESN’T—He would still be wiser than you and me! He’s “omniscient.” That means He knows everything! Anything that’s knowable, He already knows it; and, He’s known it for all eternity! He knows everything you & I have forgotten; but, He still knows it! And, He knows everything that you & I will never know! Only God knows why He allows the wickedness, in the world, to enjoy temporary victories! Trust His wisdom!