understanding to the simple

Everyone should read this article from EO. I've been saying all along that translations like The Message or the Living Bible are from the devil. This article doesn't actually say that, but it makes a great point that there is something wrong with the simplification of the poetic word of God that is common among evangelical churches. In our desire to make the Word make sense to the lowest common denominator, we strip the Scriptures of their beauty (and often their meaning). We seem to lack trust in the Holy Spirit to make the Word make sense, and so we dumb it down for the flock.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: KJV, NKJV, NASB, and NRSV -- that's it. NIV, go to the back of the line.


and the sheep follow him because

A Sunday school class at our church is exploring the topic of "discipleship" for the next few weeks. This runs concurrent with a bigger discipleship ministry we're launching this year that I've been working with one of our associate pastors on. This past Sunday morning's class introduced the concept of being a true disciple of Christ, and explored the difference in merely being a believer, and being an actual disciple. To be sure, the differences are many, and difficult, and costly.

Which leads me to the question: why even try to be a disciple?

I mean, if being a believer is enough to get you into Heaven, why put all that extra effort into maturing and following Christ, knowing the inherent costs? One believer remarked that it was a matter of obedience -- there really were no other options. Another believer remarked that there was this holy fear that he would appear before the throne with much regret at having wasted moments of his life not impacting the world for the glory of God. I don't know if there's any one right answer. I think everyone has to answer that question for themselves.

Myself, I cling to something I wrote a while back about why I choose to follow the Lord. It is echoed by one of my fave verses in the Bible -- Phil3:7-8: "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord".


the ones who have heard

A few days ago, a brother and I discussed the topic of discipleship, and he showed me this chart that was a like a roadmap of spiritual maturity. It listed various aspects of our Christian walk, and defined the characteristics of that aspect into different levels of maturity. For example, Scripture-reading is a mark of discipleship. A beginner-level Christian will read the Word every now and then; a mature Christian will read lots of it every day, and memorize it. I like the concept of detailing the different stages of maturity, but what caught my eye was the inclusion of "Evangelism" in this chart.

This was not the first time the typical evangelical position on evangelism has rubbed me the wrong way. Several of the classes we offer on developing new Christians or veteran Christians includes a section on witnessing and how to spread the Gospel to others. I am in the clear minority when I say that it is wrong to encourage Christians to evangelize the way most churches encourage witnessing. It is even worse to track maturity by the number of testimonies delivered that month, or the number of souls won over by your ability to knock on doors and hand out tracts.

Evangelism is a gifting. Eph4:11 makes it clear that God made people different in their ability to spread the Gospel effectively. We cannot all be Billy Grahams based on the number of times we share our testimonies, or get bold with strangers and acquaintances. To measure spiritual maturity based on the number of spiritual discussions with people around us recently is ridiculous. You are either gifted with evangelism, or you are not. In the end, it is the Spirit of God who creates conversations, it is the Spirit of God who opens hearts, and it is the Spirit of God who wins souls. Churches ask you the asinine question, "Well imagine what would have happened if that person wasn't obedient to God and didn't share his testimony -- all those people wouldn't have gotten saved." Really? People are that indispensable to God's plans? These are the same people that hold to the doctrine of election -- if God chose the saved, they will be saved, your participation in the event notwithstanding.

I am not saying that mature Christians don't share their faith. All Christians should share their faith as they are prompted to do so by the Holy Spirit. I am also not saying that churches shouldn't encourage believers to share their faith. They most certainly should. I am saying that not all Christians will be given the opportunity to seriously witness, and I am saying that tying evangelism to maturity is improper. Some Christians will be given more chances to share testimonies than others. Some Christians might be beginner-level in their maturity, but gifted with the ability to win over souls; while other very mature Christians will never have a testimony that affects others. There are lots of aspects of the Christian walk that can and should be tied to every believer. Myself, I don't believe that evangelism belongs in that group.


others of His disciples were together

"The Joy of Selflessness" {Phil2:1-11}
* Basis of Christian Unity (v1)
- Encouragement from being united w/ Christ
- Comfort from Christ's love
- Fellowship of the Spirit
- Affection & compassion
* Steps to Christian Unity (v2-4)
- Be like-minded (v2a)
- Have same love (v2b)
- Be one in spirit & purpose (v2c)
- Be unselfish & humble in all relationships (v3-4)
* Model to follow (v5-11)
- His unselfish behavior (v5-6)
- His unprecedented humility (v7)
- His sacrificial attitude (v8)
- His glorious exaltation (v9-11)
* Application
- I make unity my aim
- I consider others more important than myself
- I am unconcerned about personal position
- I make myself a servant
- I obey even when inconvenient


from your own steadfastness

"The Joy of Faithfulness for Christ" {Phil1:25-30}
* w/o faithfulness, enduring joy difficult to obtain
- Faithfulness most mentioned of all attributes
* Paul's confidence (v25-26)
- Convinced his work was continuing to minister to churches
- "No one is indispensable" -- Paul chooses to be obedient in God's chosen role for him.
- If not increasing in joy, not growing spiritually. "Joy is the surest sign of the presence of God."
- Chief end of man? To glorify God AND enjoy Him forever.
* Paul's challenge (v27-30)
- politeuesthe = good citizen/live worthily {v27a, Eph4:1, Col1:10}
- We are CHOSEN to be sons and daughters of God
- Stand firm in one spirit (v27b)
- Strive together in unity (v27c)
- Suffer gracefully for Christ (v28-30)
- Bible never hides the cost of faithfulness
- Impossible to do all this on own strength {Phil4:13}

in the place where He was

As an elder of the church, I spend a lot of my shepherding time listening to the frustrations of the flock. That inevitably means I spend a lot of time counseling others against looking for a new church. Some may find this counsel self-interested, but I assure you it is not. Whether or not church attendance waxes or wanes affects me personally not one whit. My counsel is never motivated by a desire to fill the pews and coffers. It is rooted in a fundamental view of the church.

At the end of Matt12 (v47-50), Jesus makes a stunning revelation. When asked about His mother and siblings, Christ stretches out His arms to the disciples and crowd and states that everyone was His sibling. In v50 Jesus says "whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother." Jesus makes the connection that fellow Christians are like a family.

In that vein, leaving churches should be like leaving one's family -- done only in very rare and extenuating circumstances. And while there is no singular verse where the Bible states "Don't ever leave your church", the family analogy is clear enough. And throughout the Pauline epistles, Paul preaches unity and oneness as he encourages splintered churches to stay united. He spent a lot of time, for example, discussing when divorce is acceptable; he never wrote up when leaving a church is acceptable. I think that's telling.

Here are the only acceptable reasons in my mind where leaving a church is not SIN:
- Moving away: Just like when two people get married and move out-of-state for a new job, taking them away from their families, it's permissible to leave a church when you're no longer in the area.
- Getting married: Two young people get married and decide to find their own identity and their own family. That often includes being separated from two home churches (or one common church) to be on their own.
- Church is preaching bad doctrine: If you're a Christian and your immediate family begins practicing paganism, you might leave to protect your faith. When your church begins preaching health&wealth or declaring homosexuality and abortion aren't sin, run run away.

That's the complete list. Every other reason is sin. Don't like a particular program? Tough luck. Stay and vent to the church leadership and call for change. Have an issue with another brother or sister? Tough luck. Stay and practice forgiveness. Want something cooler and shinier and new? Tough luck. Change your selfish heart. American culture has programmed us to believe in individual choice, where we can have things our way. And when our church doesn't behave how we want it, we change it like we change socks or restaurants. American culture is the WORST possible teacher as it concerns selflessness and humility and patience and loyalty and faithfulness. Trust me, when I hear about families leaving churches, it says far more to me about the deserters than it says about the church.


for many years to come

Yesterday we sang a modern adaptation of a familiar hymn. And while I was worshiping, I couldn't get the name "Ancient of Days" out of my head. It reminded me of a contemporary song I sang during college Christian gatherings.

The term appears three times in the Book of Daniel (all in ch7) as he describes a vision he sees of God Almighty. And the term refers to the eternality of God. No matter how far back we can imagine time, or how far forward we can project it, God was and is and is to come. It reminds me of one of my favorite verses in John (ch8). The Pharisees accuse Jesus of having a demon, and then ask Him if He thinks He's greater than Father Abraham. When Christ tells them that Abe rejoiced to see His day, they laugh and point that Jesus is younger than fifty, and He thinks He's seen Abe? Jesus responds "Before Abraham was born, I AM."

Scientists foolishly chase after the age of the earth, as if by pointing out it's 4 million years old says something more than if it's 4000 years old. And then relatedly what does that say about God? Make it 4 zillion years old. That God you keep mocking is still beyond your reckoning.


and to die is gain

"The Joy of Serving Christ in Spite of Troubles" {Phil1:12-24}
* Background
- Paul the author (approx. 61 AD)
- Written from Roman prison
- Philippi site of first European church founded by Paul {Acts16}
* "Joy is a supernatural delight in the person, purposes, & people of God"
- Joy a gift to believers from God
- Joy experienced most fully when we are obedient
* Not losing my joy because of circumstances (v12-14)
- Paul's imprisonment served to advance Gospel (v12)
- Advance = military term used to describe pioneer front-running
- Chains gave courage to fellow believers ("blood of Christians is seed of the church")
* Not losing my joy because of critics (v15-18a)
- More important than others' opinion of you? Preaching of the Gospel of Christ
* Not losing my joy because of possible death (v18b-24)
- v23: "depart" = take down tent and move on
* Application
- Choose to focus on God's purpose at present
- Choose to remember God's overall plan
- Choose to live to honor Christ
- Choose to view death from God's perspective


indeed the Savior of the

Much has been made about the death of NFL star Steve McNair. At today's funeral, Vince Young -- a quarterback whom McNair has mentored since high school -- said an interesting thing: "Steve was like a hero to me, and heroes are not supposed to die." Moving? Yes. Correct? No.

"Hero" is one of the most overused words in the English language. We use it to describe people that inspire us, or people who do great things. A hero is someone who gives his life for the life of another, and by that definition, the greatest hero who ever walked the earth was Jesus Christ, whose life was given for the life of all who ever lived and all who ever will live. Death was not some unnatural end to His heroism; it was the natural conclusion.

Friend, most heroes are recognized by the ones they saved out of the depths of their gratitude. Have you done that today for yours?


fixing our eyes on Jesus

My church is considering simplifying its vision statement, and at a meeting last night, we discussed various iterations of the phrase "Love God. Love One Another. Love the World." Unsurprisingly, if you google the phrase, a multitude of churches with some variation on this tri-fold motto appears. Be clear that I support simplifying our current mission statement. I also support the intent of the phrase above since its basis is Biblical, rooted in Jesus's condensing of all the commandments into but two.

But my support of the phrase ends there. At last month's meeting, a wise brother remarked that the phrase lacked Christ, and that a unitarian church could hold the same motto. And that insight has affected me greatly over the past few weeks, to the extent that I made my voice clear that I wouldn't support any new vision that was not Christ-centered. The far, far better motto is "Love Christ. Love One Another. Love the World."

Do you know how many of my friends would claim they love God because they are spiritual and love people? Do you know how many of those same people I'm praying for their salvation? That overlap is almost 100%. If I raise my children to love God and people and the world, they will still burn in fire in eternity if they do not love Christ. Acts4:12 refers to Jesus and says "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." Christ is the difference-maker. The whole point of the existence of ANY church is to bring men to Christ, not to God. If we're going to be using any short phrase to put on banners and wristbands and mugs and bulletins, one of those words has to be Christ. I'd argue that if you really want to simplify the vision, you could cut out the last six words and just go with "Love Christ."

The difference between the proposed vision and the revised vision is but one word. But that word is THE most important word in the whole universe.


and your heart will rejoice, and

"I Choose Joy" {Philippians}
* Difference twixt happiness & joy
- Difference mirrors temporal v eternal
- Happiness short-lived & fleeting
- Joy doesn't come as quickly, but longer lasting (a conviction)
- "Joy has as its core: hope"
- Happiness directs itself at objects/people; joy directs itself at God
- 12 refs to joy in Phil
* Three reasons for Paul's joy
- Gratefulness to God (right soil for joy to grow in)
- Faith in future
- Affection for others (brotherly love) -- love & joy are linked


because I was with you

One of the most amazing people who knew the Lord was Elijah. You look at the miracles Moses did (plagues, Red Sea, manna from Heaven, et al) and you think no one else could bring about such wonders. And then here comes Elijah and you're reminded of the fact that it was never the prophet who had the power, but rather the God in whom he had placed his trust. And if you're called to be a prophet, you can bet that Lord won't forsake you, who called you.

In 2Kings2, Elijah goes up in fire and horses and wind and Elisha is left there with only a worn cloak as consolation. Fortunately, Elisha had wisely asked Elijah before he left for his spirit rather than riches or some other wasted gift. And upon the fiery departure of his mentor, Elisha walks back to a river in which his mentor had just recently performed a miracle. And right away, he decides to utilize his new-found power. But interestingly, as he repeats his mentor's miracle, there seems to be some small instance of doubt. Rather than a bold command for waters to part, Elisha asks aloud -- as if he's checking, just in case -- "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" And God answers with a definitive miracle, as if He were replying to that question "with you, just as I was with Elijah".

Everyone at times finds themselves feeling distant from God. And they play this game of spiritual chicken where they maybe will start praying, mentally asking God to return. More often than not, they do nothing and wait for Him to show Himself strong before they recommit to Him. But 2Kings2 serves as a powerful reminder that if we are honest in seeking His spirit, and wishing to be obedient to His calling, that it requires us to step forward in faith -- even if it's a faith with a little bit of doubt in it -- and that we just need to ask where He is, and if we're honest and obedient and faithful, that answer will come back a resounding "Right here, with you, my child."


My people of their rights

From something a few years ago:

"[On July 4th], this country celebrates independence; it celebrates freedom. It reserves a day to honor freedom won by the sacrifices made by others. My friend, the greatest freedom ever won for you was won by sacrifice on the Cross of Calvary two thousand years ago: freedom from sin, freedom from death for all eternity."

Do you know true freedom? You don't know if you don't know Jesus Christ.


they, after worshiping Him, returned

Hey, Kris. Want to know why you won? Maybe related to His blessings for you because of this:


your good behavior in Christ will be

At a conference this week, and heard a very good speaker this afternoon who does amazing things with his kids each year. Aside from the purposefully heart-twisting videos of his kids (along with a live performance), the speaker mentioned the six stages of moral development that he leads his kids through over the course of the year. The higher the stage, the more mature the character.

Stage 1: the student is good because he fears punishment
Stage 2: the student is good because he gets a reward for doing so
Stage 3: the student is good to impress others
Stage 4: the student is good because it is the rule to be good
Stage 5: the student is good because he understands he has a social contract with others and wants to treat them the way he wishes to be treated
Stage 6: the student is good because he is good

There is a very clear parallel here to our spiritual maturity. A believer with an immature or new faith obeys God out of fear of His punishment. He then moves to being obedient because he thinks it earns him favor with God. Then he is obedient so that other believers see him as obedient. Then he is obedient because he understands God wants him to be obedient. Then he is obedient because he expects all believers to be obedient. But best of all is when he is obedient because he is a true believer and simply has an obedient heart.

Hear that Randy Alcorn and JBC? Rewards for obedience should not be your primary driver of behavior. You act the way you act because that is who you are in Christ. Keep your precious crowns. I'll keep my loving obedience.