shift 5 of 5 suggested shifts if the church hopes to actually make disciples as Jesus intended _ from “live FOR God” to “live WITH God”

Well, here’s suggested shift # 5. This week, I have been re-posting a summer 2011 blog series from LiveSent.com. Here is the final post of the series. I hope they have encouraged and challenged you. Click here for shift # 1, here for shift # 2, here for shift # 3, here for shift # 4, and read below for # 5.

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Suggested Shift # 5 _ from “live FOR God” to “live WITH God”

If I live focused only to be better personally, then who is the focus of my life?

I am.

However, if we live to share with others about the goodness of God, who is the focus of our life?

He is. And others are.

The former approach is what I would suggest is living to be “good FOR God.” The latter approach is what I would suggest is living to “go WITH God.” I want to suggest that Jesus intended the latter for His followers – that we not live FOR Him but WITH Him.

Two reasons why I want to suggest this.

(1) because Jesus said so.

21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
[John 20:21, HCSB]

He is sending us to follow Him. To go WITH Him. Not just to do stuff for Him. He said in Matthew 28:18-20 that He would be WITH us always.

(2) because Jesus avoided the compliment “good,” which might be an indication that I should, too.

18  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.
[Mark 10:18, NASB]

Get honest with yourself. Do you study the Scriptures for nourishment for daily mission or for information for self-development. The rich young ruler in this passage seemed clearly to be looking for another reason to consider Himself good, to feel personally fulfilled with his accomplishments. Jesus did not live to that end, and He rebuked the rich young ruler with His very to-the-point response.

Jesus did not end the day hoping to feel good about Himself or His efforts. He did not practice religion for personal goodness. He lived to glorify His Father in heaven, period. Attention to His own works He considered a distraction from the work of His Father.

54 “If I glorify Myself,” Jesus answered, “My glory is nothing.”
[John 8:54, HCSB]

10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words I speak to you I do not speak on My own. The Father who lives in Me does His works.
[John 14:10, HCSB]

I personally need to beg HIm to keep making that same heart and desire present in me, that I would want to make His goodness known and His goodness only.

Please understand what I am suggesting here. It is absolutely true that each of us needs to grow. It is absolutely accurate that we each will always need to be shaped into what Jesus intended. However, the purpose of our further holiness is not so as to be holy, but rather so as to show others a holy, loving, gracious, near God. A focus on personal goodness is a focus off of mission, for my pursuits are not to be centered in personal gain but rather in the interests of others.

3  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4  do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
[Philippians 2:3-4, NASB]

So, what you do with that “salt and light” verse about our good works (Matthew 5:13-16)?

In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
[Matthew 5:16, HCSB]

You obey it. That’s what you do. It’s not about my personal goodness on display. It’s about my Father’s goodness on display in me. That’s the only thing it can mean if it has anything to do with His glory on display.

May we go preserve His presence and bring out the flavors of His presence right in the midst of this very how-could-God-even-be-present world by sharing His life given to us and His goodness proven together through us.

May we quit trying to just be good FOR God and actually daily go WITH God on mission to share this Gospel about a God who desires to be WITH us with a world who so often struggles to believe that the God who came near could possibly still be near today.

After all, when Jesus spoke His “final Word” to us – Jesus – the New Testament uses a synonym – Emmanuel. Do you know what that word means? GOD WITH US. 

That was the declaration from God when He moved into the neighborhood – He has always wanted us to live WITH Him (John 1:12-14).

If we will, then we will be that much closer to actually making disciples.

a note to pastors, cont. – are you actually equipping for the church to be going near together with Jesus? Thoughts here…

Last Monday, I posted a heart-felt note to pastors. I am simply burdened that we are not actually equipping the church to be the church as Jesus intended. This is an excerpt from what I wrote:

And we certainly were not intended to just get folks in the door of “a church.” Rather, we were intended to equip folks to be sent out as the church. So how might we equip for that. Here are three pathways of equipping I would suggest are crucial if we will equip the church to be the church as Jesus intended:

  1. the pathway of personally relating with Jesus.
  2. the pathway of together walking with Jesus.
  3. the pathway of together going near with Jesus.

So, last Wednesday, I posted the first of three follow-up posts focused on actually equipping along the pathway of personally relating with Jesus. Then last Friday, I posted some thoughts on the second pathway. Finally, in today’s post, let’s focus on actually equipping along the pathway of together going near with Jesus.

I closed Friday’s post with this question:

>> could it be that only when that love for one another as His church is on display out in the midst of our communities and out engaging the various domains of our culture and out in the everyday rhythms that people will begin to consider the practice of Jesus’ teachings as more than just an equal religious alternative? 

How would you answer that? Here are my suggestions.

First, it makes sense that only when the church’s love for one another is on display out IN THE MIDST of our communities engaging the various domains of culture living Christ’s ways in everyday rhythms that people will even have the chance to consider that God loves them and demonstrated His near love in Jesus.

14 But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the gospel of good things!
Romans 10:14-15, HCSB 

Pastors – in your strategies and assertions of what the church family you get to lead should be up to, are you calling them to cluster up disengaged and clean and safe outside of our culture, or are you giving them what they need to live sent together in the midst of our culture? I want to ask this of our church family. Let’s all as pastors do just that. And be ready for the response.

Jesus was not sent and did not die that we might be clustered Christians. 

Next, if we as followers of Jesus are not engaging the various domains or spheres of influence within our culture, then we are not living as Jesus lived. He lived out and proclaimed the ways of the Kingdom of God in all the fiefdoms of His region. He brought God’s love near both to high-brow Pharisee and cast-out leper, both to proud, educated doctor Nicodemus and the ashamed, searching-for-love woman at the well, both to tax-collector Matthew and we-hate-Rome zealots, both to governor Pilate and the thieves on the cross. Can this be said of the church families we lead? Or are we emphasizing the success of their church-going and the maturity of their spiritual ventures by activity on a centralized campus we unbiblically call “church.”

21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 
John 20:21, HCSB

Finally, pastors, are you challenging followers of Jesus just to memorize and study the Bible, or to actually live it out? Because I would rebuke any pastor who is more passionate about teaching the Scriptures than seeing the church live them out. Two reasons why:

>> because Jesus actually intended that we live what we learn.

46 “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say?
Luke 6:46, HCSB

>> because people who feel lost and lonely, who perceive the activity of those who call themselves followers of Jesus, will most likely be gripped by the near love of Jesus when they see the teachings and life and love of Jesus lived out in the rhythms of our lives, when they see it as more than just something to be learned, as more than just a religious alternative.

10 A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.
John 10:10, HCSB

We can only live in this abundant life, in these Kingdom rhythms, by His power in us (the Spirit) as we personally relate with Him and via the presence of a local church family that loves one another as they go together with Jesus among neighbors and nations. When we go near together, people see the love of the God who came near in Christ on display in the reality of our world. That is what makes it real enough to them to expose their own selfish living, to highlight their own deep desire for love and family and togetherness, and to invite them into a life with Jesus.

Are you actually equipping the church to be the church as Jesus intended? How are you equipping along these pathways?  

Thoughts or comments?

Lord, please help me to actually be equipping Your church as You intended. This is not MY church. These people You have allowed me to pastor are Your church. May I live and lead as though they actually are. 
-jason

Cultivating Daily unto the Nations: a few thoughts on loving the nation that happens to also be our neighbor…

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It seems so far away from Orlando. And yet it’s only about a 2 and 1/2 hour plane ride. In today’s world, that makes them our neighbor. In terms of countries, in terms of states and provinces, they are. Canada to the US. The northeastern states to Quebec. And the largest city there is Montreal.

If I told you that demographic data states that less than 1% of the population there claims to be Jesus-followers, would you believe me, or would you think I was mentioning an eastern country that is far, far away from these “Christian” nations of the west?

If I told you that there were cities, not just communities, in Quebec that did not have a visible church presence, would you think I was speaking of another continent than our own?

This is where the water hits the wheel for me. This past summer, I began to ask myself what my belief in Jesus really means to me. Because if I really believe that the lost can be found in Him, that purpose is defined by Him, and that hope arrives in our lives because of His presence and His love, then would I not be burdened to take His love to both the neighbor next door and even the nation next door?

Or is this “Christian” stuff just for me and my wife and kids and our betterment and our blessing?

Please pray with me. I am not suggesting that we all need to learn a polished presentation and be armed with a truthful tract and go declare a meaningful message to a people we don’t even know. I guess what I am praying is that the Lord will awaken me, awaken us, to how His love given compels the one to whom it is given to live with personal presence embodying God’s glorious truth displayed via consistent compassion in the midst of ongoing relationships among a people we are really wanting to know. A people whom we care more about what they are becoming than about our own betterment.

This is what God did. The presentations of previous messengers had not been enough. Truth declared alone had not restored. But God in skin delivering truth in the embodiment of love, that was enough.

The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 HCSB)

And Jesus said to His followers:

As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” (John 20:21 HCSB)

We do not save. But we are sent. And sent together simply to “make disciples.” To go be the family of God in the midst of the lost and lonely like Emmanuel has done with us. And we go as a learner of His ways empowered by His Spirit to be a lover in His way that those who have not found their way may find Him and simply believe that they are loved by a near God.

How might we embody both truth AND grace to both our actual neighbors (those in our daily pathways) as well as to our neighboring country?

Please pray, if you sense His leading to do so, for wisdom and response that we all might feel compelled to give the love that has been given to us.

-jason

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Cultivating Daily into Family: three suggestions for discovering & discussing Emmanuel as a family.

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Most families have Christmas traditions. Cookies for Santa. One gift to open on Christmas Eve. Reading the Christmas story together. Advent candles. And there are so many more I hear about. If you have one you are especially fond of and are willing to share it, please do so in the comments section of this post! After all, that’s what this post is really about. As you are cultivating the Gospel daily into your family, I wanted to share with you three suggestions for discovering and discussing and celebrating the Child who was born to communicate the essential message of the Kingdom of God – GOD WITH US.

First, my family and I started a new tradition this year reading through the Jesse Tree readings from Ann Voskamp. They are beautifully written, imagination-engaging, Scripturally-based daily readings from December 1st through Christmas day accompanied by a small paper ornament that we can hang on a small tree that we have designated as “the Jesse Tree” (as she describes it). You can check out this great resource for discovering and discussing Emmanuel by CLICKING HERE. Obviously, it might be a bit too close to Christmas to incorporate this resource this year, but you could definitely look ahead to using it next year (unless you just want to do a marathon reading of them this week!!!).

Second, starting this week you can get a Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones and read the stories leading up to and culminating with Christmas Day. This resource is one we enjoy all year round because of the way Sally Lloyd-Jones stories the epic tales of Scripture around one central theme – that each story whispers His name. Every story leading up to the Advent whispers Emmanuel, as does every story after. And the Jesus Storybook Bible chronicles this greatest-of-all love stories of a God who chose to love we who betrayed Him before He even made us. Our kids absolutely dig the Jesus Storybook Bible, and I am positive yours will, too!

Third, this week and maybe even on Christmas Eve, simply take some time to sit down with your kids and ask, “How are you learning that God is with us, and what difference does that actually make in our daily lives?” Be patient and be quiet. Let them answer. Learn from them. Affirm them. You may be surprised by what they say. Consider together how God putting on skin, becoming a baby, and coming to be present among us changes everything about our daily lives. Talk about how “GOD WITH US” demonstrates that He loves us and actually is so very good, and how His love should compel us and transform us in how we love one another, even our enemies. Maybe conclude by asking, “Do you think that is what God intends for His church – to go daily among neighbors and nations to declare with our near presence His near love (to go and be Emmanuel)? How can we together as a family do that in the coming year?”

Hoping these suggestions will help you this week as you celebrate Emmanuel and continue to cultivate His grace and love and nearness into your family.

Merry Christmas!
-jason