Christian – what is the essential message we have to share? Are we really sharing it? Please consider this…

Last night I had the privilege of hanging out with a group of Central Florida Spanish pastors. Our language barrier was less impeding than I expected it to be. Our kindredness was tangible, these broken hearts of leaders longing to see “Christians” go near with Jesus, burdened to see lost and lonely know they are fully loved. And the issue came up again.

It is an issue that has come up multiple times in conversation with leaders over these last years. The issue that we know Jesus intended His church to live sent, but why?

What is the essential message that we as His followers have to share? The message that we believed. The message that we hope others believe. And why?

Is that essential message the declaratoin that people are lost and hell is imminent and you need to choose Christianity? Is it the assertion that truth must be defended and a culture must be protected and so those pagans need to change? I am afraid that much of American church culture has mistaken that essential message to be one of or at least a derivative of these.

Hell is real. The Scriptures speak of it. I believe it. But I would suggest that Jesus lived and died and lived again to declare more than the message of hell’s imminence and the call to people to get their act together and grab a ticket out of it. He intended to give more than an alternative religion. He died to give life.

Truth is real. It is not an “it,” though. Truth is a person. Jesus needs not my strong defense for the sake of cultural preservation. Rather He asks for our selfless love for the sake of cultural restoration. This will not happen through our country’s capital. It will only happen through our respective community’s hearts. Jesus lived and died and lived again to go near with His love through His church’s going near with His love.

And maybe that is the essential message we have believed that we are now compelled to share. Could it be that simple?

The message I have believed and keep believing is that I am loved by the God who came near. The God Who did not wait for me to say I was sorry. Who did not leave me in my loneliness and hopelessness and hurt and shame and lostness. Who did not love me because I was lovable, but rather while I was still wayward and selfish and sinful and condemned did not condemn me. Who ached to give life again and was willing to lose life to be raised to life again. Who became “God with us” and asked me to go with Him, to love like I had been loved, now and forever.

Maybe the essential message we are to believe is that God loves us. Maybe the essential message He has intended that we share is simply that – we are loved by the God who made us, whom we spurned, but Who came near anyway.

Jesus, in fact, taught this to Nicodemus in John 3. God so loved the world, and those who “unbelieve” this are condemned by their own unbelief (John 3:16-18).

The two questions I have been asking friends, and for that matter that I keep asking myself as a reminder, are:

“What do you think God thinks of you?”

“Do you believe that God loves you?”

Lord, forgive us, please. Have mercy on us, please! Those of us here in America who call ourselves Your church have far too often called people to moralism rather than to You, the Messiah.

He does not want us just to live FOR Him. He desires that we live WITH Him. And He came near to restore us and invite us into that relationship.

Abundant life does not come when we live perfect and give our best. Abundant life comes and keeps coming when we live loved and give love as it has been given to us.

Sin was not worth dying for because it was the symptom of rules broken. It was worth dying for because it was the symptom of relationship broken. It is the evidence of death. It is the result of life not present, of love not trusted.

We believe we are loved and are fully secure in Him and that love compels us to love as we have been loved. That is good news worth sharing!!!

You are loved!!! You are loved fully!!! You are loved securely!!! You are loved graciously, even in your feelings of not being worth loving.

Jesus thinks you are worth dying for!!!

And why do we share this message?

Because not trusting that we are fully loved by the God who made us, believing that He is hiding something worth knowing from us, choosing to pursue what we can know rather than pursue knowing Him, that is the root of our problems. The cause of all evil. The source of our loneliness and isolation. The brokenness of humanity.

May we share His message. Surrendered. Grateful. Selflessly.

People we encounter every day do not believe they are loved and are lost, even trapped, in that brokenness. May that break our hearts like it broke God’s heart. May we remember our own brokenness that we did not fix ourselves. May we go near like He came near to us.

May the world believe in the One who was sent.

Jesus replied, “This is the work of God-that you believe in the One He has sent.”
(John 6:29 HCSB)

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.

shift 4 of 5 suggested shifts if the church hopes to make disciples as Jesus intended _ “one is plural”

This week, I am re-posting five suggested shifts for the church to make is she hopes to actually make disciples as Jesus intended. These are from a summer of 2011 blog series at LiveSent.com. Today is shift 4 of 5. You can read shift 1 here, shift 2 here, and shift 3 here.

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Suggested Shift 4 of 5 _ from “one is singular” to one is plural”

When you read the word “you” in the Scriptures of the New Testament, do you think understand it as speaking to “me” or speaking to “we?” Because I want to suggest, and I think a lot of really smart people, much smarter than me, who have studied biblical Greek and who love Jesus, would agree with me here – in the New Testament Scriptures the word “you” (as translated in English) the large majority of the time is properly understood in terms of “we” not “me.”

It’s one of those nuances in the English language that trips us up. Most all languages on earth have distinguishing words for “you” that indicate clearly between 2nd person singular and 2nd person plural. English does not. This is to our detriment.

In the English translations, we tend to read “you” with “me” more in mind. I want to suggest to you two reasons why this is significant. 

(1) because to Jesus, ONE is plural.

In John 17, Jesus prayed that His followers would be one with the Father and one with each other the way that He was one with the Father. He defined “oneness” here in terms of “we” not “me.” Now, you know this. And yet the tendency in American church culture is to turn bible reading and prayer and fasting and church attendance and serving into me-first rituals that develop myself to be better rather than others-first initiatives that are catalytic for community development and loving relationships that mirror “on earth as it is in heaven.”

For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, almost every “you” is plural, except for the instance of Jesus teaching on personal prayer. But otherwise, He is describing in Matthew 5 to 7 the ways of the Kingdom lived out in together form rather than in personal form. 

If I take this to heart, then I must change the way I read “you” in the New Testament. At least, I must ask the question, “Is this speaking about ‘me’ or ‘we’ here?”

(2) because I would suggest that spiritual maturity, at least as I understand Jesus’ teachings, cannot be measured with a mirror but rather only within community.

Fruit in my life that blossoms is intended to be fruit given, not fruit consumed by me. Thus, the focus of my maturity cannot be to feel personally fulfilled at the end of each day when I look in the mirror and measure my day’s performance. Maturity is not measured personally as much as it is evidenced lovingly. Within relationships. Within community. Learning shared, not learning hoarded. Life given, not life hoarded.

If I take this to heart, then my reason for following Jesus and for being a part of a local church expression may need to change. It’s confusing. And transformational. And disturbs my selfish religious practices pushing me toward actually making disciples.

One is plural in the Kingdom of Heaven. And “you” is “we.” At least that’s what I am suggesting here.

Type at you tomorrow with the fifth and final suggested shift…

shift 3 of 5 suggested shifts to be made if the church hopes to make disciples as Jesus intended…

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This week, I am re-posting five shifts from a 2011 blog series on LiveSent.com. You can click here to read shift 1, click here to read shift 2, or read below for suggested shift 3. Hope it encourages us all to be the church as Jesus intended.

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Suggested Shift 3 of 5 _ feed me to feed others

I don’t think I am exaggerating here. I would suggest that the common approach to what the American church has called “discipleship” tends to be a very self-absorbed, personal development track for which the primary motivation is to “feed me.” This is not biblical. At least that is what I am suggesting in SUGGESTED SHIFT # 3 (IN ORDER FOR US TO ACTUALLY BE MAKING DISCIPLES as Jesus intended).

Now in this we must be brutally honest with ourselves. Whether individual or family, married or single, child or adult, have kids or don’t have kids, young or old. Do you look for a “church that meets my/our needs,” or do you look for a people with whom you can both learn and live the ways of the Kingdom as well as together share them with those who may not even be following the King yet, loving to both neighbors and nations.

Is your motivation when it comes to “church” more about “feed me” or more about “feed others?” Get honest with yourself here, because the answer to this question is found in why you are even a part of the local church expression of which you are a part.

Say you are single. You looked around for a church family with a happening singles ministry. They gathered. They had events. People were becoming not-single thru this ministry. It looked good to you. And you really liked the band and the speaker. A perfect fit. You may have even invited some friends to join you. But what I have described above is not you as the church engaged with God on His mission daily making disciples. It is you as a consumer choosing a church that feeds you and meets your needs.

Say you are a mom and dad. You looked around for a church family with a happening student ministry. They gathered. They had events. Students behaved and dressed and spoke well. Even though they ate peanut butter from someone else’s armpit during some skit on the first night you attended, you were cool with it, because they gave away great prizes to the kids. A perfect fit, right? But what I have described above to you is not you leading your family to be the church together engaged with God on His mission daily making disciples. It is you as a consumer choosing a church that feeds you and meets your needs. I would go so far to even suggest this – if we as leaders don’t actually live out the intended mission of God in front of and alongside those middle and high school students, a whole lot of them will not stick with the hollow consumerism that attracted them to be a part of a local church expression once they get into college and are met with many other attractive options.

[SIDE NOTE: I am not suggesting that a happening singles ministry or a hip student ministry are bad things. God uses them to transform people in Christ a lot. I am focusing here on motivation and purpose.]

Wait a second!!! You scream out as you exclaim, “I HAVE NEEDS, TOO!!!” or “MY FAMILY HAS NEEDS TO!!!!” I know. I do, too. Two questions, though. One, are you basing your “church choice” on a need or a want? And two, are you truly fulfilled in getting or giving?

Our family has needs, too. I just don’t want my kids growing up having their attention spans grabbed for a season with an attractive ministry. I want them having their hearts gripped for life by a Savior who loved them first and now compels them to live with a beyond-me purpose – the only kind of life, in fact, that can even keep their attention and truly fulfill.

We must not forget what Jesus and Paul both taught about our needs being met and our life being full.

Consider this:

38 “If you don’t go all the way with Me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve Me. 39 If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to Me, you’ll find both yourself and Me.
[Matthew 10:38-39, the Message]

And this:

11 “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that My joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. 12 This is My command: Love one another the way I loved you. 13 This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends.
[John 15:11-13, the Message]

And this:

12 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. 13 Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. 14 And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. 15 Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. 16 Let the Word of Christ-the Message-have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! 17 Let every detail in your lives-words, actions, whatever-be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.
[Colossians 3:12-17, the Message]

It sounds counter-intuitive, but our personal needs are only truly met when we live loved and give love. Our needs are only fulfilled when we trust that we have been loved first by a God who was willing to demonstrate that love through sacrifice, and we then live daily to give His love away into the lives of others. And not just through a service project. But through deep relationships in which “on earth as it is in heaven” is beginning to blossom, among both the “lost” and the “found,” via shared life together in the daily rhythms of our lives.

Relationships that do not just provide refuge and a false sense of security, though. Relationships that purposefully and intentionally push us toward disciple-making and mission engagement and selfless living because that is the mission around which those relationships have united and for which they ultimately exist.

We must move from “feed me” to “feed others.” And probably more appropriately, from “feed me” to “share what has been given to me with others” so that we can experience the love and life as Jesus intended. He loved us first and asks us to love as He has loved us.

Suggested shift # 4 tomorrow…

shift 2 of 5 suggested shifts if the church is actually going to make disciples as Jesus intended…

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This week, I am re-posting five blog posts from last year on LiveSent.com regarding five suggested shifts needed if the church hopes to make disciples as Jesus intended.

Click here if you want to read suggested shift # 1. Here’s suggested shift # 2:

Followers of Jesus must shift from thinking of themselves as having to be LEARNED to make disciples toward having to be a LEARNER to make disciples.

You may not have even thought about it before. But I actually hear it a good bit from people when we stress that each and everyone of us as followers of Jesus should be “making disciples” as we are going among both neighbors and nations. I hear this very significant excuse:

“…but I can’t do that because i don’t know enough to teach it.”

I assert that it is a significant excuse because it is very heartfelt. But I would suggest that the problem is that it is, although heartfelt, a demonstration of a misunderstanding of the word “disciple.”

The word “disciple” does NOT mean “I know a whole lot so much in fact that I can teach you all the ways of King Jesus so you should come sit in a classroom and listen to me teach and also grow to know enough one day to go and teach in front of a classroom.”

I am by no means discounting the importance of teaching in discipling. It is one of two key words in Matthew 28:18-20 – “to teach all that I have commanded you.” But we need to quit thinking about how to teach His ways like we have in the 20th century church under florescent lights to people in uncomfortable chairs, and instead we must look back to Jesus and how He taught the ways of the Kingdom under the light of the sun and the moon to a people with whom He walked in relationship daily.

The word “disciple” also does NOT mean “I don’t have to learn anymore because I have earned my Jesus PhD and have my not-gonna-go-to-hell tenure and actually don’t have to work hard anymore at teaching His ways to others.”

The roots of the word “disciple” actually imply a meaning more like this one –

I am a learner and will always be a learner, more like an apprentice, who learns from a Master and then does what I’ve seen Him do everyday.

We don’t learn enough to now have earned our “disciple degree.” We never quit being a learner who lives what is being learned. That is a disciple.

Not knowing enough, then, is not a valid excuse, if we understand the word “disciple.” At least that is my suggestion here. We actually would have to give an excuse as to why we don’t live as learners who walk with our Master everyday and then try to live out together with others what we are learning so as to see the Kingdom actually show up right here and right now.

What if we moved from being a “teacher” to being a “learner?” What if that actually is teaching – when learning happens? What if we prioritized learning the ways of Jesus with others who are also learning His ways along with those who have not found their way in Christ yet?

What if we defined who we are as the church in these terms:

a people who learn and live the ways of Jesus together, sharpening each other in His ways, introducing others to Him, and then learning together with Him how to live those ways in the rhythms of our daily lives as the Spirit changes us to be more and more like our Master

So, there is my 2nd suggested shift. For what it is worth. I don’t have to be LEARNED to make disciples. But I do have to never quit being a LEARNER who goes and learns Jesus with others. Jesus then is the Rabbi, the teacher, rather than me. That’s always gonna work out better.

Hopefully it encourages many of you to move beyond what you see as a limitation (i don’t know enough to teach) toward what is actually an opportunity – to learn and live the ways of the Kingdom within community together in the midst of a world longing for “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Type at you tomorrow…

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