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Archive for the ‘discipleship’ Category

If you haven’t heard, the Crystal Cathedral, long pastored by Robert H. Shuller and now pastored by his daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman, recently filed for bankruptcy—apparently more than 550 creditors are owed $50 to $100 million. This is not surprising, given that while the church was supposedly in the process of cutting back, the continued to build and continued to put on multimillion dollar productions. The Crystal Cathedral with its 10,000 glass panes now stands as a testament to the churches own opulence and failed trust in health, wealth, and prosperity principles.

I don’t mean to be overly harsh on the Crystal Cathedral, but I do often wonder how many missionaries or how many children in need could be fed for the price of those 10,000 glass panels of which the impressive structure is made. Further, Schuller is well known for preaching a comfortable gospel and denying essential tenants of the Christian faith. That is why I was surprised to read that only 3 miles away from the Crystal Cathedral, Bobby Schuller, grandson of Robert H. Schuller, is preaching at a church called The Gathering.

I found this interesting because in the LA Times article, young Bobby Schuller was articulating a far different vision for his church than his grandfather. He said he wants his church to be about community and something “messy people with messy lives” can relate to. Volunteers arrive before each service each Sunday and take down the chairs and tables that that afternoon. More than 90% of the church funds go toward social justice issues such as homelessness and domestic violence. Young Schuller has set up his office in his garage and drives a Toyota Camry with over 200,000 miles on it.

Schuller says in short, their goal is “to make big Christians, not big churches.” In so much as that is true, I commend Bobby and his church, The Gathering, as the church’s calling is to make disciples not build big buildings. Of course the job o f the pastor is to lead his church in disciple making by preaching God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2). I don’t know what young Schuller preaches—whether he preaches the Bible or not, I don’t know what he believes exactly, but I was encouraged to hear this story. Its encouraging to hear about churches giving more and concerned more about people than they are about numbers, big buildings and impressive productions.

So today, I prayed for Bobby Schuller, that he would preach the word, that he would continue to stand out from his father and his grandfather before him whose ministries, at least on the outside, did not always seem properly focused. I prayed that he would preach the word and I also prayed for my church. I prayed that we would be a church centered on the glory of God and focused on helping people trust wholeheartedly in a big God. I also prayed that God would help me be a more giving person and that God would make us a church known for giving to those in need.

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19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  (Hebrews 10:19-25).

I have been thinking a lot about the local church lately—partly because I have been teaching on it and partly because I am fascinated by what the New Testament has to say about it.  In Nicaragua, I had the privilege of teaching pastors on Biblical church discipline—the practice of caring for the souls of the congregation—the NT’s emphasis on church discipline tells us that God has designed the local church to be a testimony of God’s grace to the world and its members to exercise genuine care and watchfulness over each other’s souls.

There is absolutely nothing like the local church.  The church universal is God’s global display of his life transforming grace.  The church local is one of the most profound experiences of that grace this side of eternity.

Hebrews 10 informs us of the value of the local church–it is the training ground for the age to come.  In the local church, God’s people are to “stir one another up to love and good works  . . . all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (vv24-25).

If the local church is the believer’s training ground in which to prepare for the Lord’s return, we ought to think very carefully about how we “do life” together in the church.  A huge part of doing life together as the church local is simply showing up.  The writer of Hebrews says one of the ways we stir one another up to love and good works is by “not neglecting to meet together.”  Apparently meeting together is one of the primary ways in which we prepare for the age to come.  If that is true—we ought to make every effort to get the most out of our corporate worship as a local church and give the most to those who gather with us.

Given the value of the local church and the command to stir one another up, I have been thinking about how we can make the most of our Sunday morning gatherings.  With that in mind, I came up with four suggestions as to how we might do that:

  1. Come to Church.  Seriously—I know this sounds silly but if you are not here regularly, its very difficult to encourage and build up the body as the NT commands us to (Heb. 10:24-25; 1 Thess. 5:11; 1 Cor. 12:13-30).
  2. Sing—sing and sing loudly!  No one is going to fault you for your lack of pitch—even if you can’t sing well, when others hear you sing, they will hear you singing God’s praises and rejoice and sing along with you.  I have found when I sing loudly, other people sing louder, perhaps out of desire to drown out my poor vocals, but nonetheless our singing should have a corporate feel to it as the Bible commands us both to sing to God and to each other (Eph. 5:19)!
  3. Talk to people—its difficult to “stir each other up” when we are mere spectators at church and are not utilizing this time to build relationships.  Some of my very best friends are members of our church, but sometimes I have to make a point not to spend all my time talking to them at church.  At church, I want to make a point to talk to people who I do not know as well.  Those who I am very close to will still be my friend if I don’t spend all my time at church talking to them and there are many wonderful, mutually encouraging relationships that can be built in our church if we will just step out of our comfort zone and talk to the people we don’t know as well.  Our church is small but just big enough for folks to fall in the cracks and miss out on mutually encouraging relationships.  Be intentional in your communication with people when we gather for corporate worship.  Instead of blaming others for their lack of interaction with you—why not seek them out.  You will only get out of church what you are willing to put into it.
  4. Make a point to let your fellowship extend beyond our corporate gatherings—as valuable as it is for us to meet together on Sunday morning, it is not enough.  We are to continually be encouraging one another and building one another up—that means our relationships ought to extend beyond what the settings that the local church provides.  Sign up for a community group and make a point to eat with people in our church to do fun things with them—make plans to go to a football game or to have lunch, go run, walk, or bicycle, play games together, it doesn’t matter what it is, but build relationships!  Invite a family you don’t know over for dinner—it may be awkward asking them because you don’t know them that well, but God will bless it because he promises to bless our obedience with His grace!

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If you didn’t know, I recently returned from a productive and encouraging short-term mission trip to Nicaragua.  There are many stories I could tell you about Nicaragua that would encourage you—stories that may even impress you—stories of how our team members got to share the gospel with hundreds of children in the local schools and stories of the many difficult questions that I was asked at the Pastor’s Conference or stories from our door-to-door evangelism and how the Lord was working to convict people of their sin.  However, perhaps the most memorable experience I had while in Nicaragua happened at a small Baptist Church in the rural area of Los Cedros—it was an invaluable lesson learned from Pastor Adonis.

When we went out into the communities of the churches we were serving at in Nicaragua, the pastors of the churches went with us and even brought members of their churches along so that they might learn to do evangelism and so that he might be used of the Lord to disciple them.  Pastor Adonis has a passion for evangelism and for discipleship.  He understands that the only hope the lost people in his community have is Christ and he understands that the members of his church must be the ones that tell their lost neighbors about Jesus.  There can be no evangelism without discipleship—if people are not trained to reap the harvest, they will not go out into it.  There can be no discipleship without evangelism first preceding it.  You cannot disciple the lost, you must share the gospel with them first, then the process of teaching them everything that Christ commanded can begin (Matt. 28:18-20).  Pastor Adonis was doing both—teaching the members of his church to do evangelism and doing evangelism himself, going out into the community and delivering the good news to the lost.

While I was greatly encouraged to see a pastor leading by example and seeking to disciple men in his church, this is not what stuck out to me most about Pastor Adonis.  What stuck out most was what Pastor Adonis said to the members of his church who were not doing evangelism.  Thursday night was the last night that we would spend at Los Cedros Baptist Church and Eric Hixon preached a revival there that night.  At the end of the service, Pastor Adonis opened up the altar for people to come and pray and he challenged those in his church who were not doing evangelism in the community to come to the altar and repent for their sin.  About 15-20 adult members of the church came forward and knelt at the altar in prayer.

If evangelism is a command, then it follows that neglect of evangelism is sin.  This really convicted me because far too often I fall to the temptation to think of evangelism as an optional practice.  I felt like I should be at the altar praying—I wasn’t invited though, Pastor Adonis only invited the members of his church as they were the ones who had covenanted together as a body to hold each other accountable to seek the Lord.  Perhaps Pastor Adonis’ encouragement to his people to repent for not evangelizing seems harsh and perhaps it was, but it was sweet moment for me.  It did not feel bitter, it felt redemptive and loving—I got the feeling that Pastor Adonis was calling his flock to repentance because he loved them.  I hope that is the case—I am praying that God would develop such relationships in my church—ones were we can lovingly call each other to account and ones in which we take the gospel and evangelism seriously.

Despite the fact that I got to spend three days teaching Pastor Adonis and several other Nicaraguan pastors, it goes without saying that I feel I gained much more from Pastor Adonis’ example and care for his flock.

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I am not a big fan of “church signs.”  I put that in quotations because of course I don’t have a problem with signs that inform people of church services or church locations etc.  What I do have a problem with is the trivializing of serious biblical truths that can be found on church billboard such as “Hell is hot, come on in we are prayer-conditioned.”  Despite my disdain for some of the sillier signs, every once in a while, I will come across one that I really like, this happened to me recently on the way home from running. The sign that I saw said this, “COMING SOON:  Jesus!”  I read that and I thought, “YES, my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ is coming again and he is going to raise me up to be with Him forever!”

Are you excited about the Lord’s return?  This is how the Bible ends:

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. (Revelation 22:20-21).

When John received the promise and vision of Christ’s glorious return to finally and fully redeem his children, he got excited.  He said, “Amen” which literally means “truly” or in more modern terms, “YES!”  “Come, Lord Jesus!”  Paul was excited about it too, when Paul wrote the Philippians, he was in prison and wasn’t sure if and when he would be executed, he said, “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.  Yet which shall I choose I cannot tell.  I am hard pressed between the two.  My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:22-23).  In other words, Paul is saying, if I got what I wanted, I would go to be with Christ.  Paul is saying here, “I want to be with Jesus, I long to be with Him for eternity!”  If you read on, Paul admits that it seems that God has more ministry in mind for Paul (thus he indeed live on in the flesh) and he submits himself to God’s will in that regard—there is no morbid longing to die in Paul, just a longing to be with Christ in a fuller way than he currently is.

This is a great question to ask yourself to gauge where you are spiritually—“do you long for Jesus to return?”  If not, what is keeping you from longing for that?  What is it that you want in this life that is keeping you from longing for Christ?  What do you want to experience this side of eternity that is keeping you from longing for Christ supremely?

When I was in high school and newly converted, I started dating a girl (neither of us were mature enough in our faith to be dating but that is another story) who from time to time would make comments like, “I hope Christ doesn’t come back before I have the opportunity to get married and have a family.”  At the time I suppose I sympathized with the sentiment, but I was also devouring the Bible at the time and Paul’s words, to “be with Christ is far better” seemed to contradict her sentiments.  So from time to time, I ask myself—is there anything keeping me from longing for Jesus to come back?  Are there things I think I would miss if Jesus came back now?  Those questions have helped me to identify idols in my life that are keeping me from delighting supremely in Christ.

If your heart’s desire is not, “come Lord Jesus,” why not?  Answering that question could be key in removing tremendous road blocks to growth in your walk with Christ.

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I had a groundbreaking conversation with a close friend a month ago, and he talked about how Joseph, in the final chapters of Genesis was a blessing to nearly every group he ran into. He was a blessing to the slave traders. He was a blessing to Potiphar. He was a blessing to the inmates in his jail. He was a blessing to Pharaoh. He was a blessing to the world—the pagan world—and a blessing to his brothers. God saved 70 people (Jacob’s family) by saving the pagan world (from the famine). It is a mind blowing thing to think about.

One interesting thing to apply to that is our natural desire to be blessed by others. We love to be blessed by others. But, if others are not really like us, we often do not want them to receive the same blessing as us. Joseph, I believe, went through all of those extraordinarily difficult circumstances so that God could show that in saving the 70, he would also save the world. I think the challenge for us is to root out our unwillingness to be a blessing to others—unless we already like and love them—and see that God wants us to live the way Joseph lived his life. Joseph understood that, because you see that in his reply to his brothers that whatever they meant for evil, God meant it for good, and for the saving of many people. It is easy to take the first part of that verse and skim over the second part. God did what he did through Joseph; although Joseph suffered along the way, he was a blessing to all of those people because God had plans for them.

I say that to say that one of the challenges of healthy church community is to see the important role every member, and every family, and every volunteer plays in what God is doing. You are important to the ministry at your local church, and Jesus really wants you to be a part of it. God has given you gifts—and they are not just limited to your talents—others may look up to you; others may listen to you; others may want to hang out with you. I also feed off of the energy of other believers who are excited about Jesus, and want to see what God can do in their lives, and in what we are doing. I even love to hang out with those who can get obnoxious about it. So, I desire to be a blessing to my fellow members at my church, and I hope and pray that you will be encouraged to be a blessing to your church and the ministries you are involved in too. I want to be a discipler in the lives of those God has placed in my path. I want to be a friend and a mentor who they can talk hard things with, who will listen to them, knowing that not all hard questions have an easy answer to dig out.

That is part of what it means to have church community. You want to be blessed; so ask God how you can also bless others.

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In James 2:21-23, James brings up the story of Abraham and Isaac from Genesis 22. You know the story: God tests Abraham’s faith in verse 2, saying, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering.”

What a test it was! Abraham, as the story goes, trusted God and obeyed the tough command. On the way up to the mountain, Isaac noticed the lamb was missing, and he asked his father, “My Father! Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said to his son, “God will provide for himself a lamb.” Abraham believed God himself would provide a lamb to replace Isaac. The Bible says they went “both of them together” on the mountaintop, and there the angel of the Lord intervened, saying, “Do not lay your hand on the boy,” and, “For now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” You see, Abraham’s “saying” faith was tested in the story and his “works” showed his belief to be a “living” and “saving” faith.

So in Genesis 22:13 it says, “Abraham lifted up his eyes, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns.” When Abraham obeyed God with Isaac, James says that his faith was put to work, and his works (i.e. his obedience) showed that his faith was real, not merely a faith in name only.

You know, James wants our faith to be a real faith. He, as a pastor, wants your faith to be a living and saving faith that “works.” The theme in James 2:14-26 is the same as what he talks about at the end of chapter one. If you are a real hearer of the word, you will do what it says. If you are hearer of the word only, and not a doer of the word, you are deceiving yourself. To hear the word and not to do it is really to not hear the word at all.

It seems there is another lesson to consider here too. Abraham’s example is a tough example for us, is it not? How many times do we say that we believe God, and will follow him wherever he wants us to go, and will do whatever he wants us to do, but we only mean that when it is something that takes no living faith at all? I admit I find it hardest to do what God wants me to do when it requires the hardest stretching of my faith.

Yet James would encourage me, and you as well, to take notice of Abraham’s faith in Genesis 22. Abraham’s faith was so alive that “he was called a friend of God.” I want to be called a friend of God, and I do not think James illustrates living faith with the example of Abraham just to make us feel guilty. I believe James would encourage me, and you, to stake our belief on God who is able to overcome weak faith, and who is able to grow a “saying” faith into a saving faith, like Abraham’s.

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Marriage exists to help us make much of Christ.  I have been striving to define marriage this way in the last two newsletters that I have written.  First I made the argument that you are what is wrong with your marriage.  I wasn’t trying to be mean or judgmental but simply wanted to point out that marital problems are not primarily circumstantial but rather they arise because in every case, marriage is a covenant entered into by two sinners.  Sin comes from within the human heart, not from without (Mark 7:20-23).  If we want our marriages to improve, we need God to change our hearts not our circumstances. In my second article, I argued that Dr. Phil can’t fix your marriage or mine.  The reason being that much of the marital advice given by secular marriage experts is based on compromise between two people of differing mindsets and passions.  I therefore argued that what our marriages need is not a healthy dose of compromise but a common vision and goal.  Husbands and wives, to have a healthy relationship, need to be going in the same direction.  They need to be pursuing something together, namely Jesus Christ and conformity to Him.

When I read Ephesians 5:22-33, I think we see the purpose of marriage very clearly.  God designed marriage to make us holy—to make us more and more like Christ and thus to magnify Christ in greater and greater degree during our sojourn here on earth.  Does that mean that single people are less holy?  No not at all (1 Cor. 7:6-7), it just means that God has designed marriage in a unique way such that it provides special opportunities to image Christ to the world.

So how can your marriage display the glory of Christ more clearly?  How has God designed your marriage as a means to holiness?  I can think of at least three ways:

Marriage is a means to holiness by . . .

  1. Its very nature.  God created marriage to be a “one flesh” union (Gen. 2:23-24; Eph. 5:31).  In the Old Testament, “flesh” more often than not is synonymous with “person.”  In other words the idea of sinful flesh or the flesh being synonymous with the sinful nature is a not what is intended by marriage being a “one flesh” union.  For example, in Genesis 6:12, just before the flood, we learn that “God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”  Clearly here, God means that all people corrupted their way on the earth.  Thus in being one flesh, a husband and a wife are no longer two people but one.  This idea of “one flesh” certainly carries a sexual aspect but it is much bigger than that.  Inside of marriage, you can no longer think of yourself as an autonomous individual.  Marriage by its very nature attacks selfishness and self-worship.  What is at the heart of your marital squabbles?  If you are honest before God, is not selfishness at the root?  As a follower of Christ, God has graced you with a spouse to reveal your own selfishness to you so that you might repent from it and He will uproot it out of you and make you more like Jesus.  That is good news and God has designed your marriage to do that on a regular basis. Marriage shows us our sin so that we might hate it and repent from it and thus image Christ more clearly.
  1. Its roles.  Wives and husbands are clearly equal in Scripture (Gal. 3:28-29; Gen. 1:26-28; 1 Peter 3:7), but Ephesians 5:22-33 clearly gives them different commands.  God commands wives to “submit to their husbands as to the Lord” (v22) and husbands to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v25).  In the curses pronounced upon Adam and Eve in the fall, we see that there is going to conflict inside of marriage because they will struggle to keep these commands (Gen. 3:16).  We could probably all attest to the fact that husbands get frustrated when they feel they are not respected and wives get frustrated when they don’t feel loved.  The headship of the husband is not all about making all the big decisions, let’s not forget that the husband and wife are now “one flesh”  In fact, the husbands headship is primarily spiritually directed.  The primary way in which husbands are to lead their wives is toward Christ (Eph. 5:25-27).  Husbands lead primarily through love—loving in a self-sacrificial, Christ-like way that frees the wife to grow in her relationship to Christ because she is receiving the kind of love that God intended for her inside of marriage.  Similarly, wives point their husbands to Christ by submitting to them as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22).  This doesn’t mean that wives are to blindly do whatever their husbands say, it means they strive to respect their husbands and submit to their humble headship out of love for Christ.

Husbands its worth noting at this point, that the Bible actually doesn’t say anything about you taking the back seat when it comes to keeping house and raising the children.  In fact you are to be the lead discipler of your children (Eph. 6:1-3) and are to love your wife in a self-sacrificial way (Eph. 5:25).  The Bible tells us more about who we are supposed to be in marriage than it does about exactly what we are supposed to do.  It is clear, you are to love your wife to such an extent that you would give your life for her—that may mean swallowing your pride, turning off the TV and helping her around the house.  Similarly, wives when you do not feel loved there is a very discouraging and disrespectful way to express that which will crush your husband.  Strive to respect him—even when you disagree with him.  Work to communicate your frustrations and disagreements in a way that values and respects your husband.  Husbands when you love your wives like Christ loves the church, they will find joy in submitting to your Christ-like leadership.  Wives when you respect your husbands, they will find joy in loving you self-sacrificially.  When we live faithfully inside the roles God created for marriage, we display the glory of Christ in our marriages.

  1. By its evangelism.  Marriage is a mighty tool in the hands of God to take the gospel to the world.  When we live within the roles God created to be exercised in marriage, a godly marriage then naturally displays the gospel–husbands are showing the love of Christ for the church by giving of themselves for the good of their wives and wives are submitting to them out of love for Christ.  Godly marriages are grace-centered, deep hurts can be overcome inside of Christian marriages because they are grounded in the gospel that tells us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11-12).

There is a call inside of Christian marriage to invite unbelievers into our lives, to let them see the way we live and be challenged by it.  If we are living the way that God calls us to live in marriage, we will display the grace of Christ in the gospel—we will stick out from the secular marriages around us that are treading through the muddled waters of compromise.  God has designed Christian marriage to be a display of Christ’s redemptive love for the church—thus your marriage is a mighty tool to draw both your neighbors and the nations to himself!

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