Friday, November 13, 2015

A Diminishing View of the Church and an Untethered Generation

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
                                                                                                                 Hebrews 10:25
And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—
                                                                                                                   Acts 2:44-46
2 Questions:
Since when has it become wrong, oppressive or inconvenient to expect believers to be at church worship, events and/or programming?
What is the real cost of low expectations of faith community members?
3 Points to Consider
· The early church naturally began to meet together, daily. Why? They wanted to, Surprise!! It was a source of encouragement and a socio-spiritual community that gave the participants a flesh and blood advocate in a sin-sick and troubled world. All believers are part of the church universal—but the universal church isn’t going to walk with you in your chemo-treatments, divorce, job loss, surgery or emotional melt down when you feel the weight of parenting. The local church is God’s instrument for Gospel advancement and equipping for ministry. Our adults, students and children should see the church as the core of their socio-spiritual life…families fade, break up and hide sick secrets--- the Church universal and the church particular are God’s family and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Worship, conferences, events, retreats, breakfasts, G3’s, small groups and programming all work together to connect a believer to the local church in sustaining and vibrant ways so that when doubts, discouragement and rebellion press against us we have a flesh and blood advocate to lean upon who is accountable for our souls. Teens are missing out when they are not plugged-in faithfully with a student ministry that integrates them into the body-life of the local church. Parents would do well to make some effort to nudge, push or entice themselves to be a part of something bigger. It is not legalism to expect your child to be at church or to make them come. It’s parental laziness, unconcern or misconception that must be overcome and a correct view of biblical authority and stewardship must be embraced. 
· The real cost of low expectations concerning church body life is a low-view of the church in the current generation and even lower in the generation to come. Students will be more connected to their traveling ball team than to the body of Christ (local, organized, baptized group of believers that meet for the purposes of worship, fellowship, discipleship, and mission) Get this straight--- Jesus died for the Church and He will present her without blemish at the throne of the Father one day--- this is not true for your family, not for America, not for the Moose Lodge, not for the KC Royals or any other organization. As much as I a love my family, sports, my “free-time” or school--- these are not the primary purveyors of God-ordained truth concerning redemption, authority, spiritual discipline, morality, authentic faith or Gospel-mission. There is a reason that even the misguided, man-centered philosophy of public education demands the full attention of the early years of the child’s life. God has postured a child’s heart and mind to accept and assimilate the data (taught and caught) from these early years in life. This data will ultimately shape their values, morals, disciplines, beliefs and purpose apart from the Gospel if there has been no ever-abiding place of central Gospel purpose where they are reconciling the shortsighted, self-centered notions of the world against the glory of God. Thus we have students (who have made professions of faith) that emerge as adults who have greater concern for the environment, sports, self, careers, happiness or whatever than the souls of men and women because they never learned to reconcile the self-serving and short-sighted data with the life-giving message of the Gospel and God’s purpose for their life. Ultimately, they embrace a very low view of the church and thus arrive at a place where they have no redemption-oriented, flesh and blood advocate in this world, untethered and left adrift. 
· I have had too many conversations lately with people that apparently think the early church must have been ridiculous. They believe that these early believers were trying to curry the favor of God by attending church or were compelled to assemble daily for fellowship and worship in order to stay saved or get someone saved. But alas, the biblical text makes it clear that they met, with joy, for discipleship and growth purposes. It was the by-product of the gospel-changed heart and a desire for those they love to embrace this same truth as well. We would be naïve to think that they didn’t have an internal struggle occasionally about going to another meeting. They had to overcome the same internal and external obstacles that we do but overwhelming joy caused them to push through it…because they needed it and they remembered the joy from the day before. Why didn’t they just stay at home and teach their children? It would have been easier than arguing with them about it. And besides they could have gotten some much-needed rest (Sabbath) instead of going to another meeting. But The New Testament has more to say about the assembly and discipleship practices of the church than the family. The church existed for the family not the family for the church. I’ve been a part of and witnessed enough misguided families that claim Gospel-centeredness but avoid the blessing and authority of the church that I could scream. Let me say without any equivocation--- In our Gospel-rich, church-saturated culture, with access to so many good resources (people, materials, mediums and space); it is a sin to not lead your family to be faithfully integrated into a local body of believers and expect the same of them. In North Carolina, God has richly blessed us with churches… marred, messed-up and disheartening as it is at times, it is still the bride of Christ, purveyor of God-ordained truth and the appointed socio-spiritual center of a believer’s community. “To whom much is given, much is required. “ Luke 12:48 
Avail yourself of a highly active, gospel-advancing local church that helps you and your spouse make sense of the lies they are told hundreds of times a day or lose your greatest flesh and blood advocate in the battle for your marriage.
Parents avail yourself of a highly active, gospel-advancing local church that helps your kids make sense of the lies they are told hundreds of times a day or lose to the influence of your greatest flesh and blood advocate in the battle for your child’s soul. 
It really is that simple. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Where Have All The Front Porches Gone?

Cana N.C., circa 1968—My grandmother and I would sit on her front porch and play the guessing game. We would hear a car coming up the road quite a ways off. When we heard it we had about twenty seconds to guess the color of the car before it came barreling by within thirty feet of the front porch on her old farmhouse. All the houses in Cana had large front porches. I have sat with a dozen or more while listening to bluegrass jam sessions on those front porches. Visited with Ruby, Mossa, Ray, Pee Wee, Boyce and Lucy for hours while perched in a swing on that front porch. I ate my mayonnaise sandwiches or toast with Karo syrup and honey for lunch on that front porch. I sat and watched Ab Hutchins mow the yard, plow the garden under, stack the firewood and bushhog the fields from that front porch. Grandma and I used to set up a community lemonade stand for the neighbors on hot days on the front porch. 

Where are the front porches? I live in a house with a large back porch and absolutely no front porch. Sociologists have noted the shift in our relational means and manners. The front porch was toward the street, interacting with the community-an invitation to stop by, catch-up and have a glass of lemonade. The architectural shift to a large, secluded back porch and a tiny front stoop says something about our collective and individual communal state of mind. The front porch not only welcomed people into our lives, it invited people into our lives.  The apostle Paul had a “front porch” quality to his discipleship. He welcomed people and invited people. This means that his sense of mission compelled him to welcome the curious and needy (Timothy) and invite (Silas, Barnabas) some others.

Our effort to make disciples begins with guessing the color of the next car alongside a friend, fresh-made lemonade, mayonnaise sandwiches and watching Ab Hutchings mow. No bible studies necessarily, no discipleship programming and no revival services just a welcoming swing on a visible and inviting front porch where good conversation takes place, relationships are forged and the Gospel is observed.   

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Gospel Distortion Stirred Paul's Ire and Angst

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.”                                                         Gal. 2:11-13 ESV

            Paul’s gospel-ness moved him to challenge, push and confront his peers for disciplemaking purposes.  In Galatia, Peter’s behavior had brought reproach upon the gospel message and, perhaps worse, buttressed the legalism of the Judaizers. Paul could not and would not sit in silence as a brother engaged in hypocrisy that crippled the advancement of the gospel and damaged disciples. In Peter’s case, he had shunned the Gentiles that he once fellowshipped with, in order to preserve his standing among Jewish peers. We naturally gravitate to ethnic, racial and socio-economic peer groups. A gospel-informed identity transcends such temporal matters.Peter may or may not have been purposeful in his hypocrisy but that did not dismiss him from a guilty standing by his behavior. Paul knew Peter well. He had every reason to expect more from Peter as a leader. Peter’s miscue had led other Jews astray, misrepresented the gospel and had caused Paul’s protégé Barnabas to stumble. Paul was jealous for disciples that had been entrusted to his care.  Any hint of a gospel distortion stirred Paul’s ire and angst, to the point of correction and confronting others that could be held accountable. But all of it is to be carried for the purpose of reconciliation not rejection. Thus Paul would write in Gal. 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” None are exempt from temptation and failure, therefore none are exempt from being opposed by a brother, but let it be done in humility worthy of the gospel and motivated by a passion for gospel clarity and advancement. 
         From the moment I was born-again, I was taken under wing by a a few 'Paul's." They made themselves available and vulnerable which set for me an example of how the gospel should work in our lives as spouses, parents, children, co-workers and the larger community. In a seemingly trivial incident one of these men resolutely opposed me to my face. In an attempt to be humorous I had referenced an ethnic stereotype in his presence. He waited until the next time we would see each other then he lovingly but firmly corrected me. He asserted that the gospel message sets us free from the need to feel superior and engaging in humor at the expense of another's dignity. It distorts the gospel, don't do it-- and don't let me do it without correction. What about Barnabas? Why didn't Paul confront him?  What do you think?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Do others believe that we believe God has a good plan for His people?

For years I used a discipleship curriculum that was process oriented. It was a series of little books that moved the student from basic matters to weightier subjects. I have had a few students that stayed the course and worked their way through every book. And it served them well as they moved forward in their faith. However, to a person, every person that completed the series of books worked alongside me in some capacity.  They ate at my table, spent Saturday evenings with me, went visiting with me, assisted me in working for others, went to meetings with me, watched me parent my children and relate to my wife. They could do this because I  (and my family)  invited them in my life. I am hesitant to let everyone into my life this close. Hesitant because I do not trust everyone to the same degree. Some people are teachable, like-minded and eager to learn. Others are obstinate and spiritually fragile. This determines the degree to which one would benefit from such close proximity with me. 

My willingness to allow them in is essential to my growth as a follower of Christ. It keeps me accountable by reminding me to be intentional about advancing the Gospel. To make disciples is to be a disciple--- Scripture affirms how critical Paul’s disciples were to his joy, refreshment and encouragement as he traveled an otherwise difficult path in life. Paul allowed them inside—they had full access to Paul’s mission, method, circumstances and attitudes. He could not have been more “laid bare.” Some of these even forsook or betrayed Paul such as Demas and others who drifted away when Paul became a liability to a favorable future for them. This is the course that Jesus established for us as well. Vulnerability to the point of being defrauded, misunderstood or betrayed. Let the sin be placed to another man’s charge but not ours as we walk according to good doctrine or rather the doctrine of a good God who has a favorable future in mind for His people. Others will know we believe in the goodness of God when they see us transcend maddening injustices and chaotic disappointments with joy, compassion and an aggressive missional mind concerning advancing the Gospel. Do we believe God is good and He has a good plan for His people? The disciplemaking question is: Do others believe that we believe God has a good plan for His people?

 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.[Heb 11:14-16 ESV]

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Paul Says Don't Become a Better You, Become More Like Jesus

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us with a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began. 

                                                                                                                        2 Timothy 1:8-9

            Paul knew what Timothy would face in the future. He had no misgivings about leading Timothy to be a devout man who followed hard after Christ. Paul also knew that this was no primrose path to walk in this world. There would be a cost- a price paid at the expense of comfort, safety, relationships and dreams for the future. Timothy would be better equipped for the struggle ahead if Paul warned and instructed him.  Paul instructed through word and deed. Paul’s life-on-life experience with Timothy modeled for Timothy a striving against the flesh, an uncomfortable subjection to the world and a wonderful transcendent victory that would be replicated in Timothy’s own life. On the surface it doesn’t make much sense- but there is a paradoxical nature to truth in God’s economy.

            Happy are the sad.  Rich are the poor. Last are first. Wise are the foolish.  Loved are the hated.  Established are the pilgrims. Weak are the strong.  Paul stated in 2 Cor. 12:10, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak then I am strong.”

            Thank you Paul!  Thank you for reminding us of Christ’s strengthening power.  The humility and brokenness the comes from stressful and emotional taxing situations are not for naught, but rather work to serve a higher purpose.  Have you exhausted yourself financially, He is strong.  Your teenager keeps you on pins and needles, He is strong.  Your parents expect much from you, He is strong.  The very person you respect and love most hurts you horribly, He is strong.  My friends seem to ignore me, He is strong.  My rights have been violated, He is strong.  My good intentions have not been well received, He is strong.  “If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.”2( Cor. 11:30)

            Who are we seeking to glorify and satisfy?  Too much of the time, upon careful examination, we will find that we only work from our strengths (comfort), operate in our strengths (comfort) and make decisions based on our strengths (comfort) that we may be glorified and our egos satisfied. When we do, the world, our co-workers, other disciples have no reason to boast in Christ. We, through our own wisdom and strength, could produce the same results.  Walk in your weakness (what is uncomfortable) that Christ may be exalted.  Dare to walk in an area of discomfort or expose an area of weakness, failure, or distress in your life that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves.  My grace is sufficient for thee:  for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”  (2 Cor. 12:9) Paul is simply agreeing with Peter who prevailed upon Christ, “I believe but help my unbelief.”

The cycle of discipleship is facilitated by trying and uncomfortable circumstances. Believers grow in grace as a result of a pursuit of holiness, an ownership of failure and the humility of repentance but we also model the mission of making disciples in the midst of such circumstances. It’s paradoxical- and antithetical to most of the self-help strategies that we could embrace. But then again it’s not about becoming a better you. It’s about becoming more like Jesus.

“I walked a mile with pleasure
she chatted all the way;
And left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with sorrow
And not a word said she;
But, Oh, the things I learned
When sorrow walked with me.”

Robert Browning

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Wrecked Camaro and a Gracious God

Living and working closely with others facilitates the cycle of discipleship. Paul was sovereignly and strategically placed in close proximity to others as he pursued holiness. In Philippians 3:12, Paul asserts his desire to attain to an unhindered relationship with Jesus Christ. As he pursued this desire he worked alongside Timothy, Roman guards, Lydia, Titus, Silas, Mark, Onesimus or  Barnabas. The saw how he endured unjust treatment, thwarted plans, disappointing failures and less than comfortable circumstances. Paul’s response, as recorded in Scripture, was always selfless and Christ-exalting. I have no doubts that there were times of self-pity, brokenness and doubts but the biblical record is clear concerning Paul’s general disposition in trials, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thess. 5:18) We now have this treasure in earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7). This earthen vessel is fragile, undone, and naturally empty but through faith it becomes a house of God or temple of the Holy Spirit. The outside is assuredly temporal, fragile and subject to the stress and strain of the trials of life but the inside contains an eternal treasure; Christ-who is our life (Col. 3:3).

            “If you then are risen with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God.” (Col. 3:1) The pursuit of holiness is God’s doing as we embrace the sin-conquering, life-transforming Gospel. The earthen vessel is nothing. The treasure within is everything. When we are under the strain of unjust treatment, chaotic circumstances and temptations to yield to the flesh the broken vessel reveals the treasure within. Those that are close to us are able to sense and see what is being revealed. We must be vulnerable and allow them access to our inner life. Our witness, our discipleship method- is our willingness to be a broken vessel that the treasure within is clearly seen. This begins with God’s pro-active compassion as He leads us on a pursuit of holiness that is to be observed by others so that Christ might be exalted, not us.

            When I was seventeen, I saw a red 1969 Camaro that was a dream car for most teenage boys. It was sitting in a man’s yard with a “For Sale” sign. I ask my dad about it and he said to stop and ask about it. So the next day I pulled in the driveway and began looking it over. As I did the owner came outside and told me all the great things he had done to the car. It was beautiful and even smelled of new paint and interior. After he finished telling me all the good stuff he revealed that the car had been wrecked and declared a total loss 8 months before. He bought the car from the insurance company and took it to a local collision repair shop that had totally restored the car. It was as good as new he proclaimed. I was disheartened. My family was in the automotive repair business. A wrecked and repaired vehicle was looked down upon as a rule. I didn’t even ask the price and courteously gestured as I left. That evening dad ask me what I had found about the Camaro. I told him that I stopped and looked at it but I didn’t get a price from the man. Dad asked why and I told him the car had been wrecked badly a few months earlier.  The next question out of my dad’s mouth is the point of this lesson; “Who fixed it?”

            Paul’s closeness to his disciples allowed them to see a man that was a total loss, broken beyond repair by any human means. But the broken vessel revealed an eternal treasure, a worthy Repairman. Paul’s discipleship of others was characterized by vulnerability. This vulnerability helped the disciple to see that no state of brokenness is beyond God’s ability to restore. And that is our message to a lost and dying world.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Paul's Co-laboring Disciplemaking Method

Paul got in there with the boys. He worked alongside Priscilla and Aquila. He took Timothy, Silas, Barnabas, Epaphraditus, Onesimus and several others under his care and brought them along in the gospel. They did not train and then go help Paul.  They were not ministry proficient and then deemed worthy of ordination prior to striking out with Paul. They were trained as they served alongside Paul in church planting, shepherding, teaching and preaching.

Paul’s disciplemaking method was gospel-centered instruction infused through engaging the student’s senses. This was accomplished by proximity and experience. It is true that Paul was an apostle but that does not negate the fact that he needed help to carry out the work God had given him.  The help provided by the men who traveled and worked with Paul was immediate and essential. But the real worth of the co-laboring was the disciplemaking benefit. They witnessed Paul in trying and tragic circumstances. They heard his teaching and saw his practice when no one else could. It is true; growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus is more caught than taught. This kind of ministry is the God-ordained method of producing disciples who worship Jesus Christ. Bible school and seminary can provide valuable direction and vocational resources for those leaning toward vocational ministry but to live alongside people, allowing them access to your inner life, home, work, attitude, marriage condition, parenting and social life helps them see how the gospel works for everyday living.

This kind of ministry can get messy. The mentor can be misunderstood or even judged for being carnal in particular matters. The issue is not whether we fail in our day-to-day lives, we will. The issue is how we deal with failures. If we are to be disciplemakers we must model a pursuit of holiness, an ownership of failure and the humility of repentance. This is the cycle of the discipleship, Paul lived alongside several people. We can do the same. Let’s crawl out of our caves, invite some people into our kitchen, into our lives, with no agenda. No agenda other than gospel-centered living.

What comes out of your mouth when you hit your thumbnail with a hammer? The guys standing beside you know what you say. Next I will discuss the problems with living in close proximity to others and how God uses that tension to make disciples who worship Jesus.