Outside the Box

First off, let me start by saying I’m somewhat hesitant to write what I’m about to write. I don’t want anybody to get the impression that I think I’m better than anybody else, or “more spiritual,” but I really want to tell you what’s been on my heart for a while now.

I follow a few Christian authors on Twitter and they often make comments or ask questions or their followers. One such comment that continually pops us is about “cultural Christianity.” Basically it’s about how we live in a nation in which individuals identify themselves as Christians, but don’t live as such. I see it every day, both inside the church and outside; but what I want to discuss varies somewhat from this.

One of the definitions of culture is “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group;” and we’re going to talk about the “culture” of the current Church. There are many wonderful churches out there, full of passionate preachers, teachers, worship leaders, and believers. They love God with everything that they are, they speak truth and life into the people around them, and they live out their beliefs; but unfortunately where I find we’re falling short is allowing the Spirit to move freely. For some reason I feel as though we’ve put God in this tiny little box and said, you can move around in here, but you can’t go any further than this. I feel like we’re more worried about making people feel uncomfortable, or taking up too much of their time, than freely and unashamedly worshiping Him. If the Spirit is moving, let Him move! Let Him do His thing! Let Him heal the broken, renew the weary, and strengthen the weak; and let those who choose to pour themselves out to Him, do so.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if we really want revival and change in our “culturally Christian” world, perhaps we should start where it matters most: the culture of our churches. We need to stop trying to contain God inside a little box, allow Him to pour Himself out on our congregations, and allow believers to soak in His presence; because if we really knew what His presence was like, we would never want to leave His side, and we would want everybody around us to share in that experience and come to know His great love.

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:23-24)

The Word

As I drove home from work Wednesday multiple thoughts flew across my mind. I thought about God’s Word; the book of Romans; an article I read earlier that day on Louie Giglio & the presidential inauguration; the church & Christianity, in general; and lastly, I thought about Paul. (Yes, I know it’s a lot to think about…this is what happens when I let myself think, smh. Sometimes it gets overwhelming and I have to ask God to just give me a break and quiet my mind.)

Regarding God’s Word, I thought about how blessed we are to have it! Imagine trying to live life without any sort of direction or guidance. (I know many people try to do it, but frankly it’s impossible and leaves one with a meaningless, purposeless, lawless, and selfish existence!) I thought about all our brothers and sisters in Christ, around the world, that are without Bibles, and how they will do anything to just have a few verses or lines of Scripture, even risking their lives to obtain it. And I thought about how we often take God’s word for granted. We are so blessed in America to have the freedom to read God’s Word, but how many of us choose not to!? Then we wonder why we feel so lost and unsure of our beliefs…Love Story Bible

Regarding the book of Romans, I thought about how chock full of information it is! As I study it, questions arise—which I jot down until I get the opportunity to ask someone (preferably a pastor) about them—and I find myself intrigued, amazed, grateful, and passionate about every verse and chapter. The book describes the purpose of the Law, our need for a Savior, the love God has for us (as revealed in the fact that Jesus came to earth in the form of a man to reconcile us to God), and how even though we (Christians) now fall under grace and not the law, we’re still expected to uphold the law and live our new lives—as our old lives passed away with the death of Christ on the cross and our new lives arose with His resurrection (Romans 6:6-7)—glorifying God in everything we do and say. And, I’m only finishing up chapter 8!!

Regarding the article on Louie Giglio & the presidential inauguration, I thought how sad that we live in a country where the minority is slowly influencing what the majority believes, says or does. Free speech has now come to mean “you can believe or say what you want as long as it’s the same as what I believe and say.” That’s not free speech! Free speech is that everybody has a right to believe and say what they want (in a respectful way, of course). If you don’t like it, that’s just too bad, because that’s freedom of speech!

Regarding the church and Christianity in general, I thought about how so many of our churches have fallen away from preaching upon certain subject matter, currently inflicting our nation and how anemic “Christians” are running around preaching a message that is not God’s message. We need to stop basing what we believe about God based on our own feelings/thoughts or upon what our pastors are telling us. Instead, we need to open up His Word and read the Bible for ourselves!! (Now you’re seeing how my thoughts have run full circle ;)) And because we have so many churches/pastors not teaching the full gospel, those that do teach the full gospel are criticized because they talk about God’s laws, and nobody wants to hear it! We have to hear about His law and His grace. We can’t learn only about His love because we’re going to find ourselves in trouble when we find ourselves face to face with His just wrath because we didn’t follow His commands which are found in His WORD. On the other hand, we can’t talk only about His law because then we’re facing legalism and the idea that we can earn our into heaven all on our own (which is impossible!). All of His word must be taught, read, studied, learned, understood, and LIVED.

And at this point is where I thought of Paul. I believe the reason God used Paul in the manner that He did was for one major reason. Paul—as Saul—was a major proponent of the law. He knew it inside and out. He studied it. He lived it. He was passionate about it. So much so, that when the early (Christian) believers began preaching that Jesus was the Messiah, Saul accused them of blaspheme and went from town to town having them imprisoned and even stoned/killed. When Saul came face to face with Christ on the road to Damascus, his life was forever changed (hence the name change to Paul). You may be wondering, “I still don’t understand, why Paul?” Paul was a murderer—he gave approval to the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr—and there was absolutely no way that he would ever be able to “make it up” to God. Jesus’s grace was the only way to have his relationship with God restored. Paul understood God’s grace as well as His justice.

Whether we’ve failed a little or failed a lot, we’re all in the same boat. God’s word says we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God and not one of us is perfect/righteous/ in right standing with God (Romans 3:10, 23). But that doesn’t mean we ignore God’s law because we can’t live up to it or change it so that it’s easier for us to live by. Nor does that mean that we ignore the fact that God loves us all the same and wants all to come to repentance, and turn our back to those we think are “undeserving” or “too sinful.” For God’s word also says that His grace can cover it all and His grace has no limit (Romans 5:20)!

I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again, we really must teach truth in love. Even then, we need to remember that the truth often stings, and we, therefore, must be prepared for backlash, and keep in mind what Jesus said about the world hating His disciples because we bring the message of hope to a dying world and bright light to a darkened room (John 17:14, 3:19; 8:12).

Live in the Word. Breathe in the Word. Allow it to transform the way you view the world and the people around you. Let it transform you: your reactions, your actions, your words, your life! You cannot survive on 1 or 2 pieces of cake each week (I call it cake because it gives you a momentary “spiritual” high); you need your daily bread, your meat, your living water!

Multiply: Week 5

Part II: Living as the Church

IMG_34042: The Local Church

Before we begin, I’d like to start off by apologizing for not keeping up with our discussion on Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples by Francis Chan & Mark Beuving. The last few weeks have been extremely busy and draining for me, and it’s kept me from writing much of anything–besides what I’ve been writing in my personal notebook on my study of Romans.

With that being said, Week 4 of our discussion brought up some questions regarding my ministry and where my gifts and time would best be applied. I’ve made a few decisions in my life, some of which I’ve already revealed to my leaders and some of which I will soon be discussing with others. I pray that the same could be said for you; that the words that are being written here are not just for my benefit, but for yours as well; and that we’re all putting them into practice.

While Week 4 discussed the importance of being an active member in a local church, this week’s focus is on being actively involved–as a church–in reaching out to our community. Francis Chan states that “an inwardly focused church is an unhealthy church. It is a dying church. Biblically, a church that fails to look at the world around it is no church at all” (p. 66).

We are called, as believers, to reach out to our lost and dying world. Jesus, himself, said that His purpose on earth was to “seek and save the lost” and we are called to a similar purpose.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

“God has placed your church in the midst of a broader community so that He can spread His love, hope, and healing into the lives of the people around you” (Chan & Beuving, 2012, p. 66); and we do this out of the love for others that God has placed upon our hearts. Remember, the world will know that we belong to God based on our love (for God and for people) (John 13:34-35). Love must be our compelling force.

This means that have to step out of our comfort zone. We can’t keep our Christianity behind closed doors. We can’t keep the gift of Grace to ourselves! “If your church is not actively blessing the surrounding community, then you are ignoring God’s mission” and “if your church does not pursue God’s mission, then your community misses out on being exposed to the hope that God offers them in the gospel” (Chan & Beuving, 2012, pp. 74-75).

Francis Chan’s concludes with this statement:”There’s a reason God has you in this church at this point in history. You can help your church become an attractive community that exhibits Christ’s love, unity, and hope” (p. 75).

I listened to a message a few weeks ago by Beth Moore, as she talked about “God’s Purpose for Your Life in Your Generation,” and it’s what came to mind as I read Francis Chan’s conclusion. There are many of us in our churches with gifts and experiences which God has blessed us with and walked us through, which are very specific to the current generation in which we live. We may have all sorts of excuses that we use to prevent us from sharing those gifts or experiences, but God is asking that we use them! I understand that sometimes we feel inadequate, held back by others, frustrated, or even judged; but within us lives the power of the Holy Spirit! The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in us! He empowers us, strengthens us, and qualifies us for the roles He has for us.

I’m sure you’ve heard the statement, “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.” It’s so true! God has been preparing you and I for a particular purpose, over time God will reveal that purpose to us and when He does, it’s our job to be obedient and take action regarding that purpose. We need to find the roles to which we are called within our church and community and step into them in obedience, faith, and, most importantly, love.

Multiply: Week 4

Part II: Living as the Churchmultiply_square_black1[1]

1: Life in the Church

Thanks for returning while we read/work through Francis Chan & Mark Beuving’s Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples.

This week, Francis Chan discusses our need to belong to a body of believers (a church), the purpose of the church, and where we fit in, as believers. He begins by stating that  “While every individual needs to obey Jesus’s call to follow, we cannot follow Jesus as individuals. The proper context for every disciple maker is the church.” In other words, we cannot make disciples without being part of a larger church community, because we cannot follow all of Jesus’s commands if we’re not in relationship with other believers.

Look at if from this perspective: the New Testament is full of commands to do this or that for “one another.” Love one another, pray for one another, encourage one another, etc. So how can we teach people to “observe all that I have commanded” if they have no one to love, pray for, or encourage? It’s impossible to “one another” yourself. It’s impossible to follow Jesus alone. We can’t claim to follow Jesus if we neglect the church He created, the church He died for, the church He entrusted His mission to. (Chan & Bueving, 2012, pp. 51-52)

It is incredibly important for every Christian to find and commit themselves to a local body of believers. As Francis Chan states, “The church is a group of redeemed people that live and serve together in such a way that their lives and communities are transformed…If you are not connected with other Christians, serving and being served, challenging and being challenged, then you are not living as He desires, and the church is not functioning as He intended” (p. 53). This can also be applied to finding a church. If you’re attending a church where God’s word is not being taught and applied in a way that challenges you or in which serving others isn’t a priority, maybe you should rethink where you’re attending. You don’t want to remain in spiritual immaturity forever and you want to be able to serve as God has called you to. And, as Francis Chan states, “A pastor’s job is not to do all of the ministry in a church, but to ‘equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:12)” (p. 55).

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. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 5:1-2)

As believers we are called to “encourage, challenge, and help” other Christians in our lives, and they should do the same for us; and as we minister to others we are sanctified by Christ.

Now, here is the challenging part…We need to be ministering wholeheartedly and walking in love; the love that comes from the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s easy to throw some money towards a particular church activity or service, but to set aside time to get to know the individuals involved (those serving or being served), to be involved with them on a daily basis, to really care for their spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being–that’s the challenge.

Yet God has supplied us with everything we need in order to fulfill His calling. The power to transform hearts and change lives comes from the Holy Spirit (John 6:63), through the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and through prayer (James 5:16-20). As we use the Scriptures to give counsel to others, there is power (Hebrews 4:12). As we pray passionately for their hearts to change, there is power. (Chan & Beuving, 2012, p. 60)

God places each of us in our particular situation so that we can minister specifically to the people around us. Until every person in our church is using the particular spiritual gift(s) that the Holy Spirit has empowered each of us with, the church won’t be functioning at its full potential.

I’m still sitting here trying to fully comprehend all that this chapter discusses. I have a certain set of spiritual gifts, but where they can be applied in my church, is something of a challenge to me. Strangely enough, I’ve been praying about this since just before the new year…Where can my gifts be best used/applied? Where should I focus my time and energy? How do I best love/serve others?

I’m sure you’re now asking yourself some of the same questions. This is good! This study should challenge and encourage us to make change, so that we can become disciples who make disciples.

Whoever is Not Against Us is For Us

A number of things occurred today. 1) I was looking for a sermon to listen to and came across a pastor bashing a Christian author. I didn’t listen to it mainly because I was a little upset to have discovered it to begin with. 2) I came home and spent some time in my Bible and came across Mark 9:38-41…

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.”

Hmmm…Makes you think, doesn’t it?!

This summer we’ve been studying Genesis in my Sunday school class; and upon reading the first verse–In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth–we were questioned, “How important is it to believe the literal meaning of that verse?” Well, my first thought was, “If we don’t believe that verse, then we question the entire Bible; it becomes nothing but a fairytale.” (These were questions to get us thinking.)

Further along we were asked,  “What must we believe to be saved?” What a question! There are certainly fundamental truths that all Christians hold to: the Scriptures inspired by God (Bible), only one true God (revealed in 3 persons: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit); the deity of Christ; the virgin birth; Jesus’ sinless life, His death, and resurrection on the cross for our sins, etc.

So, MY question is this…Why all the backbiting?! Why do we fight and bicker amongst ourselves over Bible interpretation…why don’t we just live it!? Why don’t we love the way God wants us to love? Treat people as He wants us to treat them? Share the gospel; the story of His love and devotion for them? Why aren’t we using the gifts, that He’s so graciously bestowed upon us, to guide others in His direction?

Trying to live the Law to the letter and forcing it on others, without exhibiting mercy and love towards their fellow-man, is the same mistake the Pharisees and Sadducees made! The whole point of the Law was to point out what’s wrong;  yes, so that we’d be aware and turn away from it. And it’s not wrong to tell others something is immoral, according to God’s word; however, just because someone has chosen to live a certain lifestyle doesn’t mean we love them any less. How many people enter a church feeling worthless, and disgusted with themselves, looking for hope and love and find something less than welcoming?

It takes a radical heart change for someone to change their lifestyle. Beating them over the head with rules and regulations isn’t going to do it. I should know…I was one of those people. I knew all the rules and regulations because I grew up in church; but it took a radical heart change, and recognition of God’s love and grace and mercy, before I changed how I was living.

Sorry, I feel like I’m a little off topic…Back to what I was saying…We, the Christian church, need to stop fighting amongst each other, and take His love to the world, in an overwhelming and passionately driven, type of way.

I read somewhere once that the many denominations of believers all have different “gifts.” Some churches have excelled at providing shelter to the homeless, some have well-endowed orphanages, others have been blessed with miraculous healing ministries, family and marriage counseling centers, children’s ministries, mentoring programs,  or drug rehabilitation programs…the list can go on and on. However, just because the ministries are different, doesn’t mean any one is better than the other.

For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, [being] many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. (Romans 12:4-5)

We’re all part of the same body! Therefore, we need to stop acting like we’re better than one another and recognize we all have the same head; and with that, the same goals and purpose.