Biblical Churches Are Always Uncomfortable Places

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In our Western culture, it seems that being comfortable is of utmost importance to us. Just watch TV commercials. Many of them are working to convince us that we need some kind of product in order to make our lives a bit more “comfortable” or “easy.”

This is particularly true when it comes to commercials about technology. I find the new Samsung Galaxy commercial especially interesting. The bottom line of the commercial is that Samsung’s tablet can do what no one else’s can. Need to do two things at once? Samsung makes it happen. Need more pixels? Samsung has it! Need better apps? Samsung has them. Apparently, Samsung makes life much easier and enjoyable.

Now, I’m not against Samsung or any technology for that matter. I enjoy technology and use it daily if not hourly. I’m glad for what it provides and the many ways it makes it easier to be productive.

And I’m also not against comfort per se. I enjoy and am thankful for the conveniences that I have. However, I do think that we need to be careful not to make personal ease our chief end. I realize this can be somewhat difficult for us as our culture does a pretty good job of discipling us in pursuing that which brings the most comfort.

The reason comfort can be a danger is that, according to Ajith Fernando in his book Jesus-Driven Ministry, it can have an effect upon Biblical wholeness. He writes:

We are seeing more and more people today who are moving to churches “where they feel more comfortable.” When did comfort become such a high value in ministry and church life? Was it when we left the path of biblical Christianity? The gospel is too radical and the needs of the world too urgent for us to ever be comfortable! But many Christians today have come to think that a major goal of the church is to entertain people and supply them with services that they want, such as a good youth program or music program. In such an environment, we are going to see people moving to churches where they are comfortable. The result will be that churches are going to miss out on some vital sources of enrichment through discomfort. They will become unhealthy by missing out on biblical wholeness. Biblical churches always are uncomfortable places because they are always looking for biblical wholeness.

No doubt these are some fairly stern words. In reading them it might help to know that Fernando has a different ministry context than those of us in the West. Fernando has worked with Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka for over 35 years and as a result, has witnessed and experienced much discomfort during his ministry.

Sacrifice is a key component in the Christian life. It is the way of the cross. Following Christ and staying committed to one another in a local church is not always comfortable or easy. At times it can be quite a struggle.

But according to Fernando, if we are going to develop “Biblical wholeness,” which I will have to say leads to ultimate joy, then the sacrifice of personal comfort will have to be part of the journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greatest Need In The Church Today

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What is the most urgent need in the church of the Western world today?

Improved evangelism programs?

More missional awareness?

Revived worship?

Growing social ministries (feeding homeless, etc…)?

Stronger age-group ministries (children, youth, etc…)?

No doubt, all of these are important and many would say they are urgent needs. But according to D. A. Carson, the church in the West has a greater need.  What is it? Carson writes:

We need to know God! We think rather little of what he is like, what he expects of us, what he seeks in us. We are not captured by his holiness and his love; his thoughts and words capture too little of our imagination, too little of our discourse, too few of our priorities.

David Wells, research professor at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, appears to agree with Carson’s assessment. He writes that God is now weightless.

It is one of the defining marks our Our Time that God is now weightless. I do not mean by this that he is ethereal but rather that he has become unimportant. He rests upon the world so inconsequentially as not to be noticeable. He has lost his saliency for human life. Those who assure the pollsters of their belief in Gods existence may nonetheless consider him less interesting than television, his commands less authoritative than their appetites for affluence and influence, his judgments no more awe-inspiring than the evening news, and his truth less compelling than the advertisers’ sweet fog of flattery and lies. It is a condition we have assigned him after having nudged him out to the periphery of our secularized lives.

Wells writes further that because God rests lightly upon us, we will eventually find him uninteresting. “A  God with whom we are on such easy terms and whose reality is little different from our own–a God who is merely there to satisfy our needs–has no real authority to compel and will soon begin to bore us.”

If Wells and Carson are correct, then we must seek to become churches who long to know God. Our desire must be as that of the Apostle Paul when he wrote: I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (Phil 3:10).

For Paul, “to know Christ was the overarching and unfolding ambition of [his] life–a longing for an ever-deepening, ever-widening, personal knowledge of the Son.” It was his “passion to know [Christ] that energized [his] dogged devotion and his epic quest to take the gospel to the ends of the earth” (see Kent Hughes commentary on Philippians).

Could it be therefore, that the more we as the people of God know Christ the more all other needs in today’s church are met? Could it be that the compulsion to go deeper into the world with missions and evangelism springs from our intimacy with Christ?

Perhaps the prayer we need to pray for ourselves and for the church today needs to be based on Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe (Eph 1:17-19).

 

How Jesus Led His “Small Group”

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In Christian circles, when one mentions a “small group,” we immediately know what he/she is talking about. It’s a group of 4-12 people who meet together to share life and study the Bible.

As the popularity of these groups has risen and as they have become an elemental part of church life, I continue to think through how Jesus’ led his small group of disciples. (I think small groups have always played a significant role in churches though we may not have officially organized them or labeled them “small groups”).

There has been no greater resource in helping me reflect upon how Jesus’ led his disciples than The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman. The value in this book is not just “how” Jesus’ led his disciples, but “why?”

Jesus’ led his group based upon what God was doing in the world. For Jesus’, this group was bigger than just meeting for personal piety. Jesus called these guys together to change the world. They had purpose. He was leading them to become “fishers of men.”

Coleman points out 8 characteristics of Jesus’ leadership over his disciples. I find them helpful in thinking through leading a small group with the purpose of engaging in the mission of God.

1. Selection
  • Men were his method.
  • Concentrated upon a few.
  • “Everything that is done with the few is for the salvation of the multitudes.”
2. Association
  • Jesus stayed with them and was the model for them.
  • It takes time.
  • “When will the church learn the lesson? Building and growing people is not that easy.”
3. Consecration
  • Jesus required obedience.
  • Count the cost.
  • Where is the obedience of the cross?
4. Impartation
  • The giving of the Spirit.
  • “We must have Christ’s life in us by the Spirit if we are to do His work and practice His teaching. Any evangelistic work without this is as lifeless as it is meaningless. Only as they Spirit of Christ in us exalts the Son are men drawn unto the Father.”
5. Demonstration
  • Jesus showed them how to live.
  • Jesus showed them how to pray.
  • Class was always in session.
6. Delegation
  • Jesus assigned them work to do.
  • He gave them practical assignments.
7. Supervision
  • Jesus kept check on them.
  • Patience was required.

8. Reproduction

  • “The criteria upon which a church should measure its success is not how many new names are added to the roll nor how much the budget is increased, but rather how many Christians are actively winning souls and training them to win the multitudes.”

So, if you are a small group leader, or are in a small group, should your group not have the same focus of Jesus’ group? Shouldn’t the group’s focus be upon becoming involved in the mission of God? Shouldn’t your group be developing disciples who make disciples who make disciples and so on and so on?

I realize these are some tough questions, but they are ones I continue to ask myself in relation to why I do small groups.

Any thoughts?

Let Me Learn By Paradox

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LORD, HIGH AND HOLY, MEEK AND LOWLY,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee
in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin
I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross it to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen
from the deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells
the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

taken from The Valley of Vision

What is The Gospel?

 

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What is the gospel? Check out these definitions below…

The gospel is the announcement that God has reconciled us to Himself by sending His Son Jesus to die as a substitute for our sins, and that all who repent and believe have eternal life in Him. The gospel is not only the means by which you get into heaven, but as the driving force behind every single moment of your life.

J.D. Greear in Gospel

The good news is that God would claim, clean, and craft for himself a people who would live the cruciform life of loving God and others as it is required in his Law. He would forgive them for living a me-first life and give them a new heart and the power of his Spirit to live the you-first life they were made to live.

Jimmy Davis in Cruciform

The good news is news about something that actually, literally happened in real life. The good news is that eternal life is possible because Jesus died to forgive sins and came back to life to conquer death

Jared C. Wilson in Gospel Wakefulness

The gospel is the announcement that God’s kingdom has come in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord and Messiah, in fulfillment of Israel’s Scriptures. The gospel evokes faith, repentance, and discipleship; its accompanying effects include salvation and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Michael Bird in Evangelical Theology

The heart of Christianity is Good News. It comes not as a task for us to fulfill, a mission for us to accomplish, a game plan for us to follow with the help of life coaches, but as a report that someone else has already fulfilled, accomplished, followed, and achieved everything for us. Good advice may help us in daily direction; the Good News concerning Jesus Christ saves us from sin’s guilt and tyranny over our lives and the fear of death. It’s Good News because it does not depend on us. It is about God and his faithfulness to his own purposes and promises.

Michael Horton in The Gospel Driven-Life

The essence of other religions is advice; Christianity is essentially news. Other religions say, “This is what you have to do in order to connect to God forever; this is how you have to live in order to earn your way to God.” But the gospel says, “This is what has been done in history. This is how Jesus lived and died to earn the way to God for you.” Christianity is completely different. It’s joyful news.

Tim Keller in Jesus The King

One way to summarize God’ message to the worn out and weary is like this–God’s demand: “be righteous”; God’s diagnosis: “no one is righteous”; God’s deliverance: “Jesus is our righteousness.”

Tullian Tchividjian in One Way Love

 

Around The Web

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I Love My Black Letter Bible – It’s foolish to downplay the Bible’s black-lettered pages if for no other reason than they’re fulfilling a red-lettered promise.

Heaven is Scary…For Real – Yes, the Bible teaches that heaven is a place of ultimate comfort, with “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4). But it is also a place where the reality of God’s unbridled majesty reigns supreme – and that’s scary.

What’s Wrong With Producing A “Worship Experience?” – Is it problematic that churches produce worship experiences?

Celebration Influences Destination – Churches become what they celebrate, so churches must examine both what they celebrate and what they want to become.

Nifty graft on discovering your calling – I’m looking for the sweet spot where God wants me to be. 

China on course to become ‘world’s most Christian nation’ within 15 years. – The number of Christians in Communist China is growing so steadily that it by 2030 it could have more churchgoers than America.

A must watch if you grew up in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, or 80’s.

 

WIIFM Syndrome

Unknown We all struggle with it. Some say we are born with it. Others say we learn it. Regardless, there is no getting around it.

It affects how we spend our time. It affects how we spend our money. And it affects our daily decisions.

What is WIIFM? It’s “What’s In It For Me?” It’s our absorption with self. It’s our “It’s all about me” attitude.

In The Beginning

It started at the beginning. Adam and Eve, in the garden, were deceived into thinking that God, by not letting them eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was holding out on them.

The serpent told Eve, God knows that when you eat of [this tree] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (Gen. 3:5). Eve, you need to think about your self!

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (Gen 3:6-7). 

And with that bite of the fruit, WIIFM syndrome entered the world.    Adam and Eve made themselves the center of the universe instead of God. And they thought it might work out. But it didn’t. Just read Genesis 4-11.

It’s Not Getting Any Better

To this day, we still believe the serpent’s lie. “Do you really think you can be fulfilled by being obedient to God?” “Serving others without thinking about yourself? Are you kidding? If you don’t look out for you, who will?”

Sometimes we even disguise our WIIFM syndrome. As Christians, we like to serve others, but sometimes, by serving others we are only serving ourselves.

Tim Keller writes, “When you say, ‘I’ll serve, as long as I’m getting benefits from it,’ that’s not actually serving people; it’s serving yourself through them. It’s using others by getting them to orbit around you.”

Sometimes we seek friends that can advance our careers or benefit our social standing. We give money to ministries in order to look charitable (and the tax break doesn’t hurt either). It’s hard to get away from WIIFM.

Enter Jesus

Jesus said, For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). And oh how we need rescuing!

Paul wrote, Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8).

Christ did not ask “What’s in it for me?” but “How can I glorify my Father?” And as a result, he took up the cross, died for our sins and rose again.

So now, as we trust and believe in Christ’s work on the cross, we are being saved from the idolatry of self. We are being transformed into his image. And hopefully, we are discovering the joy found in asking not “What’s in it for me?” but “How can I glorify God and bless those around me?”

It is the gospel that pushes us to LOOK AWAY from ourselves and to LOOK UP to Christ in order to LOOK OUT to our neighbors. This is true spirituality.

Growing Spiritually? How Do You Know?

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Question: How do I know if I am growing spiritually?

Answer: I stop asking myself this question. 

I know this might sound a bit crazy, but I want you to think with me about this for a moment. First, I want you to recognize that WE, in our world where we are told it is okay to be self-absorbed, might have a problem with understanding true spirituality. Isn’t it bigger than just self-reflection? Isn’t it more than just thinking about our own personal piety?

Second, do you remember when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was? In Matthew 22:37-40 you find his answer:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

According to Jesus, everything hinges on loving God and loving others. You can’t get any more concise or basic than this.

Third, I want you to think about the gospel. What is it and what does it do? Does it not save us and change us? And what do you suppose it transforms us to be and do? Do you think Matthew 22:37-40 gives us an indication?

Could it be that the gospel pushes us to LOOK AWAY from ourselves and to LOOK UP to Christ in order to LOOK OUT to our neighbors? Is it possible that real spirituality doesn’t take us deeper into ourselves, but away from ourselves?

I have found the thoughts of Tullian Tchividjian (Billy Graham’s grandson) helpful as I have thought through what it means to be a person who is growing spiritually. Tullian writes:

The gospel causes us to look up to Christ and what he did, out to our neighbor and what they need, not in to ourselves and how we’re doing. There’s nothing about the gospel that fixes my eyes on me. Any version of Christianity, therefore, that encourages you to think mostly about you is detrimental to your faith–whether it’s your failures or your successes; your good works or your bad works; your strengths or your weaknesses; your obedience or your disobedience.

I think that true spiritual growth is to become so inwardly conformed by the gospel (see the irony there) that we become upwardly focused on Christ and outwardly focused on our neighbor.

True spiritual growth, therefore, cannot be gauged by self-inspection. Or perhaps it’s more correct to say that it won’t be evaluated that way. Why? Because the deeper one goes into the gospel, the more one looks out and away. Out towards Christ and his crediting to us righteousness by his death on the cross, and away to our neighbor because we know what love is, that he [Jesus] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers (1 John 3:16).

As I continue to wrestle with these ideas, I’d love to hear, or rather see, any thoughts you might have.