Archive for the ‘“I’m just sayin”’ Category

Everybody Can Play

Everybody who follows Jesus has a mission and a destiny. Let’s break it down:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21, ESV)

Agency

We are ambassadors. We get to act on Christ’s behalf, “God making His appeal through us.” We can think of ourselves as agents of reconciliation. We are never defending the faith. We are demonstrating it, living it and distributing it by showing God’s kind intentions in acts of reconciliation.

So, What Does This Look Like?

Imagine peace and restoration. Imagine  hospitality. Imagine gifting. Imagine acts of reconciliation and kindness. It looks like demonstrating God’s love rather than just talking about it. It looks like bending our imagination, assets and energy to work with God toward restoration and reconciliation. It looks like good news.

We all do this wherever we are and whenever the opportunity arises. We do it all week and everywhere.

We all do this; every one of us.

  • Every one of us is a practitioner (disciple)
  • Every one of us is a priest
  • Every one of us was re-made for this (Eph 2:10)
  • Every one of us…

Can Play

Discipleship, The Craft of Following Christ

Christ calls us to an active and progressive life of growing, serving and becoming like Him.  Following Christ is a matter of becoming a “practitioner” of His form of living.  We become “apprentices” of Jesus.

 

Did you know that the name “Christian” was not a name we gave ourselves?  The Gentiles in Antioch called the disciples that in New Testament Times and it stuck.  It means “little Christ’s” or “Christ-people.”  It sounds a lot like the terms “Jesus People” and “Jesus freaks,” which were coined in the 1970’s.

 

Christians got this name because of the practice of learning and imitating Jesus.  They called themselves disciples—disciplined followers, learners or apprentices. A disciple is someone who dedicates his entire life to learning from, and becoming like, his teacher or master.

 

To follow Jesus, you must become His disciple.  Jesus gathered his disciples just before He left and told them to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing and teaching them to do all the things he taught” (Matt 28: 17-20).  He did not tell them get people to attend any kind of church or to agree to some four-point plan of salvation or to pray “the sinner’s prayer.”  He said to make disciples, that is, to teach people to follow Him just as they were taught.

 

Today, it is no different.  Attending a church doesn’t do it.  Associating with Jesus and agreeing to all the right theology will not help either.  Being a genuine Christian and getting the benefit of reconciliation to God has nothing to do with membership.  It is a matter of discipleship.

 

Jesus says to follow Him.  He tells his original disciples to go out into the whole world and “make disciples.”  There is no idea of accepting Him or going to church.  In fact, churches in any form did not exist until around the fourth century.  We don’t merely accept Him, we follow Him, obey Him, imitate Him, and learn from Him.

 

Discipleship, Part of the Package

 

Discipleship is not optional. It’s a part of the big upgrade you get when you are reconciled to God.  You not only get your moral guilt canceled, you get to be changed into something better than you are.

 

Jesus gives you the right to become a child of God.  These rights and privileges allow you to heal, grow, and mature into the kind of life He wants to give you—“abundant life.”

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12, ESV) [1]

 

When you believe in Him, you follow Him.  When you follow Him, you obey and learn from Him.  When you learn from Him, you grow to be like Him.

 

Following Jesus is what it is all about.  This is why Jesus calls His followers “disciples.” A disciple is a disciplined follower who learns and imitates his or her master or teacher.  It is like an apprentice, who learns a trade by being taught by his “journeyman” or “master;” he watches his journeyman and tries to do the work as he sees his teacher doing it.

If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. ” (John 12:26, ESV)

[1]

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”” (John 8:12, ESV)

 

This is not a new concept at all. It is, in fact, a very old one.

 

 The Dust of the Rabbi

 

Jesus’ disciples followed Him and tried to learn and do everything he did. They listened to Him teach and questioned Him in order to understand more.  They literally followed in the dust of His footsteps and stuck very close to Him and to one another.  It is not so different for us.

 

We follow Him, too.  We have the His teachings in the Bible.  We are connected to Him and have the Holy Spirit inside of us.  We are close to a community of fellow followers. Since we have so great a connection, we also follow in His dust.  We become like Him.

 

Following Jesus is not a seminar.  It is not a weekend retreat.  It is not what you do on Sunday.  You don’t have to “clock-out” or turn it off.  It is your life (if you intend to follow Him), and it is far easier than you may have thought.

 

In following Him and acting like Him, the scripture calls us “Christ’s Body” here on earth.

 

A Conspiracy of Little Jeususes

 

Becoming like Jesus has vast implications.  Imagine millions of people all over the world acting and thinking like Him in every culture, economy, and situation.  Imagine finding people loving and serving others as Jesus does; struggling for life and reconciliation, for all people, all the time.

 

That is us, the disciples. We care for each other, and anybody else we encounter at the Lord’s direction.  We love each other, as well as the not-yet-reconciled, as Jesus loves us. What can be more beautiful than that?

 

Priesthood and Discipleship

 

In time, we will talk about something called “the priesthood of all believers.”  For now, I will just introduce the concept to you because it is a big part of what discipleship is.

 

When God led Israel out of Egypt, He took them to Mount Sinai.  There, He laid out the parameters of His relationship with them as a nation. This covenant, or contract, contained the laws governing them as a group, but it also had an interesting declaration.

‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. ‘Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ the sons of Israel.” ” (Exodus 19:4-6, NASB95)

 

He said that if they obeyed Him, and held up the agreement, they would not only be His people, but also a “kingdom of priests.”

 

God’s promise was not just for Moses’ time.   Later on, the apostle Peter says the same thing in a letter to the followers of Jesus in his day.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. ” (1 Peter 2:9-10, NASB95)

[1]

 

Now, keep in mind that Peter is not talking to Jews, but gentiles.  They are ex-pagans who now follow Jesus.  They are disciples just like us.

 

This “chosen race and royal priesthood” is who you are and what you are becoming.  Discipleship is the practice of following Jesus.  There is nothing passive or overtly religious about it. But there is one last thing to mention here.

 

A New Look at the Man Behind the Pulpit

 

As we saw before, Discipleship knows no limits and we are deep in the life of serving Jesus.  We are a kingdom of priests.  We are not here to sit and watch while someone else does the serving.  We do not bring people to “church” to hear the Gospel.  We are the Church and we bring the Gospel to the world.  We are the ministers and we are all missionaries.

 

Every disciple is engaged in ministry.  The man behind the pulpit is not the only “minister;” but he serves a very important function for the rest of us.  The pulpit people are gifts for us for our work.  Their teaching equips us to do our jobs, just as it says in Paul’s letter to the disciples in Ephesians chapter 4.

 

Paul explains that Jesus conquered that which separated us from God.  Jesus takes all those things captive in a great triumph and then gives “the spoils” to us.  These gifts are listed in vs. 11.

 

You see, the people are the gift.  The gifts are not “offices” or professions.  They are people who God gave us to help us.

 

  • Apostles: plant communities where none existed and get them started
  • Prophets: Speak as God directs keeping us informed and corrected
  • Evangelists: Grow our numbers, giving us new disciples to mentor
  • Pastors: Guide us in our work and life
  • Teachers: Instruct and mentor us in God’s word and God’s ways

 

Think of your service to God as a car race.  These guys are your pit crew, and God is your sponsor.  God put His stickers all over your car and He put you behind the wheel; and, He gave you this pit crew to keep you on the track and in the race.

 

So, Now What?

 

Discipleship is not an option, it is the option.  You no longer need to think of following Christ as a passive, once-a-week act of religious devotion.

 

As a Disciple, you have something to do, rather than a list of things to avoid.  You get to grow and practice new ways of living.  You get to live a new life—not just talk about it, but actually live it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Re Thinking “church”

Why Do We Gather?

The whole church-as-event experience seems to isolate us from people each other and from our mission as followers of Christ. For most of us, this is the big weekly thing. We come, get separated by age and interest groups and then re-united for the “big service.” After about an hour of so of that, everyone rushes back to their own homes until next week. But there is something more; something that is ancient, beautiful, scriptural and fun.

Jesus give us a mission. That mission defines what we do.

Our mission is to be agents of Christ in the world. We are a movement of people who act like the Son of God. We have a practice, and a destiny. We live and act like God to bring love, reconciliation, hope and healing wherever we are at all times. In his letter to the Corinthian community, Paul says that anyone follows Christ works to reconcile people to God Just the way Jesus did (2Cor 5:17-21). This is the mission of the people who follow Christ (called Saints in Scripture). Together, all of these  people who are called “The Church,” or “The Body of Christ.”

You would think that this fact would define everything that we call Christianity, but a culture has been built around this fact and things have changed. The work and fellowship of the people called “The Church” were crammed into a weekly event called “church.”

One of the saddest things about this “event” is that the “Body of Christ” doesn’t really get to interact in a healthy and productive way. We sit and watch a group on the stage or a man behind a lectern. We do not get to share our experiences, insights, and encouragement with each other. We don’t get to plan together or work together. We just share “the event” we call church. All the saints come, sit shoulder to shoulder and watch an event. Granted, we stand up, sit down and sing when required but we have no real part in it. The “church service” reduces us to spectators. We are not required to do anything but come and watch.

Frankly, in 41 years as a pew-sitting-nobody, I have never seen this work. The “church as event” idea only leaves Christians passive, inactive, guilt ridden, weak and confused. That Mission I mentioned before becomes a distant dream or the dreamy reality of distant professional missionaries.

Wanna try something new?

Our work can never be accomplished by gathering once a week to sit shoulder to shoulder watching an event. We need to gather face to face to unite in our mission. We need to network, share meals, encourage one another and take care of each other. You can keep “going to church,” but there are so many other things you get to do. Try this, and you might have a lot more to celebrate on Sunday.

Come on and get some!

  • Link up with other committed Christ followers in your neighborhood. Do not restrict this to people from your church. Unite with as many as you can find in your neighborhood.
  • Have meals together. Talk over this “mission” of ours. Pray together and get to know each other. Don’t restrict your gatherings to “mini-church-services.” Try to focus on who Jesus is and what He does. Then, work together to do the same. Think of yourselves as a “conspiracy of little jesuses. It’s fun.
  • Assess the needs in your community and plan acts of kindness and restoration. Don’t make people come to you. Go and do your good works as a gift and a statement of God’s love and concern. Be the hands and voice of the Son of God. That’s fun too.
  • Get to know your neighbors. Make friends and show them what God thinks of them. Have meals. Invite them over for a night of Wii, or movies, or anything fun. Don’t control things and don’t preach. You are the message. You will earn your opportunity to explain later. Remember, this is supposed to be fun. You want to see them again for more fun.
  • Did I mention having  fun?
  • Get involved in community activities and causes that interest you. Instead of forming a “Christian” group, join the groups that already exist and get to know people. Imagine your neighborhood transformed from a “bedroom community” to a home where your friends are and where celebrations happen.

As we care for each other, we expand our care outside our group. We begin to engage people outside of “church” and heal the world. This can never happen if we do things that isolate us from each other and from those we were destined to help.

Tell your story

I want to hear how you do with this. I suspect that some readers are already doing it. Please post your stories so participate with you.

If you like this article, please feel free to re-post it.

Oh, and in case I have not mentioned it yet; have fun!

Statements of Faith

Recently, one of my students, a professed Christian, told me:

“I’m a Christian. I believe what they tell me.”

This was his “statement of faith.” In essence, he was saying, “I am a Christian, but the my leaders define what that is, so I can’t really say.” It was a remarkable statement, and completely meaningless.

After three straight days of interaction, I knew him well enough. His profession had no meaning because his words and actions did not square with it. Professions don’t define us, actions do.

I think that the only valid statement of faith is words and deeds caused by that faith. Ticking off a list of theological propositions which do not fuel your actions or interests is totally irrelevant. Ticking off a list which you contradict in life and action is even worse.

It’s not what you profess. It’s what you produce.

The Apostle John puts it simply in his first letter:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.
Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,
but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:
whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.  1Jn 2:3-6

I think that most of us Christians forget that we are not in this for ourselves. We are followers of Christ. We do as He does. We say as He says. We are ourselves, but we do not represent ourselves.

We are in transition. We are being transformed. The process is “walking as He walked.” This biblical metaphor of “walking” means you practice what He did and live like Him. You can see from what John says above, it’s not optional. You either do it, or you are a fake.

There is no need for shame, but if you profess “Christianity” and find it difficult to explain you actions, you need to learn how to walk.

Better Than “Revival”

Is “Revival” Overrated?

It’s an integral part of the Protestant culture and story. “Revival” is the spark of excitement after a long patch of dull “business-as-usual” church life. It’s a cycle that plays out over and over again in recent history in the West. Revivals usually don’t last long (less than a generation) and are usually gone within about a decade.

Revival creates a positive peak in a sort of “sine wave” of church activity. After many years of stagnation, the church explodes in a flurry of excitement and activity. In some revivals, the church engages its community and culture in a meaningful and redemptive way. Then, it slides back into its semi-conscious prior state.

This same pattern appears in the Bible in the book of Judges. Israel soars to ecstatic heights of prosperity and close communion with God. Then they forget these practices and spiral down to crisis. Next, they cry out to God. A leader is sent and they get back to the things they were doing at the peak. Then, after a little time goes by, they spiral back down into crisis, and so it goes. And I have to ask, is this what God had in mind? I think not.

God meant for us to be a light in the word. I don’t think he had a blinking light in mind when He said this. We have been equipped for constant and continuous service. Discipleship is not part time, or when we feel inspired, it is the source of our inspiration and our constant desire. In it, we transform ourselves and the world. Living out Christ in the community is not something you have to wait for. It’s something that you get to do all the time with all the creativity, fun and heart you can put into it.

You don’t have to wait for some fire-brand pastor or evangelist to lead you into this. Your leader is the Son of God Himself, and He has given all of us what we need. We can do far better than “revival.”  We are the people we have been waiting for.

Take a look at the following passages and think this over:

We were made to do good things

Look at Ephesians 2:1-8 (emphasis and conclusion on vs. 8.)

He Gave Us Everything We Need

There are many passages about this, but Check out 2Peter 1:1-15. The practice of discipleship is progressive and transformative. Everything you need, you have.

I know for a lot of us this is tough to believe, but practice these thing and you will begin to see what these passages mean.

Practice Makes Permanent

It’s not the teaching that you get, It’s what you do with it that makes a difference. You learn by practice. Look at Hebrews 5:11-6:3. This is a bit of a rebuke from the writer to his readers. Look for the emphasis in 5:14. No matter how good the teaching, you only learn and mature through practice of what you are taught.

Disclaimer

Do not look for personal guilt or failure when you explore these passages. This is about what you were re-born for. It’s yours, and you get to do this. Forget the “dead works” and get into the good stuff.

If we all practice discipleship together, gifting each other and the world with actions based on God’s kind intentions we  can do much better than the revival “spasms” of the past. We will create massive Jesus movements bringing hope, kindness, reconciliation and rescue. And we can start right here and right now.

Discipleship, and the “American Dream.”

Ancient idol to Baal with some 21st century upgrades

All my life I have heard this verbal icon “The American Dream.” I hear it more often now than ever. You can’t go through an account of the recent fraud and corruption which brought the down our economy without hearing someone invoking that well worn phrase “The American Dream.” But what is “The American Dream” to a disciple of Jesus?
There is no “official” definition, but the phrase invokes the idea of home ownership, comfort and security, and an increasing ability to acquire money and possessions.
Dr. Francis Schaeffer describes this as “Impoverished values” of our culture. He calls these values “personal peace and affluence.”

Personal peace means just to be let alone, not to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world or across the city–to live one’s life with minimal possibilities of being personally disturbed. Personal peace means wanting to have my personal life pattern undisturbed in my lifetime, regardless of what the result will be in the lifetimes of my children and grandchildren. Affluence means and overwhelming and ever-increasing prosperity –a life made up of things, things, and more things–a success judged by an ever-higher level of material abundance. (Francis Schaeffer: How Should We Then Live , Ch 11).

What does all this have to do with following Jesus as His disciple? Absolutely nothing. Where does that put “The American Dream” for a disciple? Off the map and out of the question. We don’t need to live for ourselves in such a way. Unfortunately, however, our entire culture is driven by this principle. Nowadays, we call it Consumerism and we are all up to our eyeballs in it.

We must step away from these practices and live differently. This is one of the most radical steps a Christ follower has to make in order to practice discipleship. She or He will have to learn new ways to live and new practices to align God’s ways and get off the consumer treadmill. Here are some suggestions:

  • Get together with fellow Christ followers as often as you can. Support each other in practicing discipleship. Read and discuss scripture together (avoid pre-published pre-recorded studies). Work with knowledgeable people that you know who want to help you get stronger.
  • Get out of debt. Buy only what you need. Repair what can be repaired. Borrow things or rent. Check Craigslist, Ebay and other resources  before you go making big purchases. Never shop when you are bored or depressed or tired.
  • Do an inventory and see how many things you bought that you are not using. Is it wise to buy a $300 chainsaw on credit only to store it after using it on one or two trees?
  • Wisdom, understanding and knowledge…get some…get lots of it. Consumerism thrives on your ignorance. It promotes quick fix solutions that you buy without thinking. Know what you are doing and why. Take the time to make good decisions. You can’t buy success.
  • Cut down on your entertainment. You will live longer and better sitting in front of friends than in front of a screen.
  • Use the Internet to learn and grow. Search and research. Use social networks to promote real friendships and genuine connections. Use Skype more.
  • Practice generosity. Shop for somebody else. Shop for needs. Lend or give to those who need. Do this as a group if you can.
  • Practice community. Consumerism isolates us into individuals buying only for ourselves and tending to our own needs. Community is a far more effective way of dealing with the rough spots in life and it is exactly what Jesus tells us to do.

These are Just a few ideas to get us started. The main thing is this: If we are going to “walk in Christ,” then we have to step away from some of the values of our culture. Living free of consumerism is the best way to deal with it. Practice is better than protest.

Please reply and give us some more ideas on the matter.

Orthodoxy Overrated

For so many years, I thought that the more correct your theology is, the better you are. I used to think that teaching was the most important thing to go for and I always went to churches I thought had the best and most dynamic teaching.

But I learned something. And I got over it. Here is what I learned.

You can fill your time and your head with all the teaching you can find. You can gather mp3s from the best of the best. You can build a tremendous and complex system of beliefs, but it will not help you.

Your theology must lead to action. When all is said and done, your statement of faith is your life.

The writer of the letter of Hebrews, at one, point was chastising his readers at one point. He told them that they should be well aware of what he is trying to say, but they were immature. He said that the were constantly re-learning the basics and not moving on. He called them infants, needing milk and unable to take solid food. then he said something remarkable:

Heb 5:14  But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.  ESV

I had it so wrong for so long! Mature Christ followers become mature by constant practice of what they have learned. Their powers of discernment are developed by constant practice. Once they are clear on “good and evil,” they know what to do.

Going to the right church or hearing the best teaching or having the right list of “beliefs.” won’t help us. We study, not to form a system of beliefs, but to know Christ and transform ourselves. And in transforming ourselves we help reconcile the world. This is the process of discipleship.

Discipleship is where “orthodoxy” (correct belief) ignites and fuels “orthopraxy” (correct actions). Without this, orthodoxy becomes toxic, or a religious bludgeon to beat each other over the head with.

The key to this is imitation:

Eph 5:1  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.

I urge you to consider this and please comment.

Bondage to “Disciplines”

In the process of living out Jesus’ life, there are things we need to do. Notice, I said need.

Looking at shoes

I am convinced that Christians have created a shame-based culture when it comes to growth and discipleship. I see it all the time. We are constantly criticizing our performance. Sometimes I have heard questions in discussion groups which do this.  Without fail in Bible studies or discussion groups, the first question out the gate is something like “How do you/we fail at this.?” Everybody ends up looking down at their shoes, of course.

How can we expect to unpack these vital, powerful and beautiful things when the discussion begins with “Tell everyone how much you suck.” No wonder I see silence and shoe gazing. I think this approach is wrong headed, and it focuses far too much on us and not on God.

When Paul says in one of his letters “follow me as I follow Christ,” our first question should be,  “what was Paul’s example and how do we emulate it in our time?” This results in meaningful study and action. Not looking at your shoes.

The scripture was not given to us to shame us. It was given to equip and inform us. There is no reason to fashion God’s word into a paddle to spank ourselves with. Too much of that makes Bible study feel like punishment, don’t you think?

A different take on the disciplines

We have often described things like prayer, meditation, study and other things we do as disciplines. But in a culture of shame it just becomes another thing to fail at. This is not good, because the disciplines are good. Perhaps we can look at this a different way.

Think of the disciplines as your practices. These are things that you get to do. You don’t have to think in terms of shame. You can think in terms of working on your skills. Think of it terms of a craftsman, or athlete doing his or her thing and getting better and better at it. What craftsman, athlete, or artist hates what he or she is doing? Don’t they work at it passionately because it’s good and fulfiling and, dare I say, fun?

Paul uses that very image of an athlete himself in one of his letters to Timothy. So think of yourselves as working on your skills. Think of this as your practice. This is you transforming into the image of Jesus in the context of your life and circumstances. In other words, this is you being a disciple.

If this is what you want, you can’t fail at it. The only thing you can do to fail is quit trying. Shame is the main thing that can cause this.

Keep striving. Make your course corrections and personal adjustments in hope and anticipation, not shame. The only thing that can hold you back is what you choose to cling to. God is working in you and with you. Shame is not on the menu.

Php 2:12  Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
Php 2:13  for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

From Passive to Practitioner

Being a Christian is not about beliefs. It’s about acting on beliefs. It’s about trusting Christ to the point of acting as He acts and doing as He does. It’s about learning and growing by doing.

In the letter from James, he tells us to be doers of the word, not merely hearers. In Hebrews, that writer says that the mature become so by practice.
In another part of that same letter, the writer details the examples of several people who believed God and then acted on that belief. He would say “by faith, so-and-so did such-and such .”

The point is that following Jesus is, by nature, active. Yet modern Christian culture has reduced it to going to church, ascribing to a list of beliefs, adopting the “proper” political and cultural norms, fighting sin and boredom, and wearing a good disguise when that fight isn’t going so well.

It’s time to walk away from that life and walk with Christ. It’s time to learn and grow by doing.

Do not be afraid.