What about the rest of us, the other 99% ?

We need churches that help people integrate their faith with their work. That let the Gospel inform everything about them, including where they invest most of their time.

Consider what Tim Keller says below at the Lausanne conference earlier this month in Cape Town, South Africa. This point is brought up at about 5:54 in the video (with a key question at 7:05).

One hope I have as a pastor is that I could be the kind of leader who helps followers of Jesus make the connection between God’s worth and their daily work. That is one oft-neglected aspect of what it means to make disciples.


Behind every sin

Behind every sin is a lie about God.

Most of us believe that the way to stop sinning is to change our behavior. Is that true? Can we simply try harder?

(Of course, some believe there is no such thing as ‘sin,’ or it is an allusion or self-imposed rule. That is not only unhelpful, it also flies in the face of reality.)

Assuming we recognize sin and error in our lives and want to change, consider why we get upset at others when they don’t do what we want. Making it personal, what led me to get upset, to yell, and to try to control others? (We’re at more of a root cause thant simply looking at our poor behavior. Yet, we haven’t gone far (or deep) enough in considering why we do what we do.)

If behind every sin is a lie about God, then what really needs to change is what I believe in my heart. Why do I want to control others? Is it because I neglect to truly believe GOD IS GREAT?

Consider Psalm 145:3:

“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unfathomable.”

Fathoms are units of measure, such as to measure how deep the ocean is offshore. God’s greatness is beyond measure — His sovereignty is beyond limit.

So, if you and I worn out in busyness and stress, or feel the need to control others, it may be that we don’t really believe God is sovereign and in control. Instead we will seek to take control of situations ourselves, with disastrous results.

Since lies about God are what get us into sin, what gets us out? What sets us free? Consider the words of Jesus:

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jesus in John 8:31-32)

The Four Loves

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) wrote On The Four Loves [read]. Recently in a seminary course (the history of Christian spirituality), we delved into Bernard’s writings. So good, meaty and challenging. Seems he was writing for our age, as well as to his.

Consider this outline on the four levels of love:

  1. The first degree of love: When one loves oneself for self’s sake
  2. The second degree of love: When one loves God for one’s own good
  3. The third degree of love: When one loves God for God’s sake
  4. The fourth degree of love: When one loves oneself for the sake of God

In our culture, what is considered “loving God?”

Is not the second degree commonly thought of as real Christianity? (Loving God for what He can do for me — rescue me, give me a good life.) We are fine if people stop there, and make the appeal as “do you want to go to heaven when you die?” as the essence of the good news of Jesus. Here’s good news — we posture it —God can do stuff for you. Don’t you want it?

(But, what if you ‘accept’ Jesus and life becomes harder and others reject you? How would that be good? How could we continue to love God when He doesn’t meet our expectations?!)

We are (I am) so prone to love God more for what He can do for us than for WHO He is. The third level of love is enthralled with who God is. The fourth then moves into sacrifice, giving up one’s own self-love as the ultimate and into a seemingly ‘radical’ life of love and worship. This must become the new goal; it shall be our reasonable response to all of who God is in Christ (see Romans 12:1-8).

Ask yourself: Is my heart on a trajectory towards the third and fourth levels of love as Bernard describes? Why not? How can this trend be reversed?

Happy tensions: IN but not OF the world.

A helpful, brief read: Two Essential Gospel Impulses: The Indigenizing Principle and the Pilgrim Principle

Which one do you tend to emphasize (even subconsciously)? Let’s keep the two together, in a happy tension.

Some Scriptures to consider (thanks JT):

Pilgrim Principle Indigenous Principle
But Not of the World—and Be In It “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15)
Separate—and Participate “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing” (2 Cor. 6:17). “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world . . . since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 5:9),
Confront—and Adapt “The wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them. . . . Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Eph. 5:6-11). “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands . . . so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess. 4:11-12). “[I pray] that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:2).
Refuse Conformity—and Contextualize “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2) “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:32-33).

Philippians 2:1-11: Satisfied, Unified, Glorified.

Oregon Women of the Word

Kari is the speaker for the Oregon Women of the Word conference this weekend in southern Oregon. It’s a humbling request and yet fully in line with her passions, talents and character. I love to cheer her on, pray for her, free her up by being with the kids, and observe the deep commitment she has in preparing both by whole life and each day for such an opportunity.

Here’s a short outline of her three Bible-teaching sessions, on Philippians 2:1-11:

  1. Satisfied // God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him
  2. Unified // Unity displays the glory of the gospel
  3. Glorified // Humility is the glory of humanity

While the passage is essentially divided in three parts: verses 1-2, 3-4, and 5-11 for the three sessions, the teachings will cross over quite a bit. These women desire to go deep in God’s Word, so that He can go deep into their lives. May Jesus be the One who satisfies, unifies and is glorified.

A thought on productivity tools

Maximizing productivity.

Productivity is good. Good tools are very much needed. I regularly use Evernote, OmniFocus, Google Apps, an iPod Touch (as a PDA), text messaging, Google Voice (formerly Grandcentral), a bound journal, and the handy file sharing service DropBox.

But, let’s ask ourselves this question: Why do I want to be productive?

I’m learning that the goal of productivity is more than efficiency and getting more tasks done. The highest goal is to do God’s will. And to that end the more immediate goal is to be more present.

When I use tools to ‘capture’ my pressing thoughts, goals, tasks, and other info I am seeking to rid my mind of the clutter of the ‘other’ places I need to be, the people I need to contact, and unfinished projects.

Those are necessary distractions, but need to be ‘captured’ so I can get back to the more necessary task at hand: to be all here, right now. (Like when I’m home with my kids, sitting down with a hurting person, or engaging with God in His Word and through prayerful dependence.)

Jesus Sneezed.

Jesus Sneezed // discipleship in the church [originally written for manofdepravity.com]

Jesus sneezed the divine ‘virus’ on His followers, who in turn spread the ‘virus’ to others.

I chuckled the first time I heard that analogy (earlier this year from Alan Hirsch at the Verge — video here). It stuck with me. I keep thinking about sneezing and how viruses thrive in certain situations. So when a couple weeks ago I taught middle schoolers on the spread of the Gospel and the church, a summary of the Book of Acts, guess what analogy we used? Yep, Jesus sneezed. In fact we were sneezing all over the place, and made sure to sneeze out the core message of the early church: Jesus is Lord! (Acts 4:12).

He was the Master, the only true God who called the shots in their lives, so they lived as His missionaries, sent with the Spirit and sent by the One who was sent by the Father (John 17:18). In a age where we’re inoculated with a partial Gospel (go to heaven when you die) it is refreshing when one sees true discipleship spreading like a virus. Receiving Jesus as Lord is both the end of an old life and the beginning of an amazing new reality. Everything changes — past, present, and future. We can now walk in ‘new life’ (Romans 6) and ‘by the Spirit’ through God’s enablement, to venture towards loving God and people fully (Matthew 22:37-40). Thankfully, we shall not walk alone; we belong to one another (Romans 12:3-8). This is the only virus that makes us stronger the more we share it.

Personally, without the impulse towards discipleship present in others (like a virus) I would not be a disciple of Jesus today, nor a faithful husband, a loving father, and certainly not a pastor. Because in our society older men don’t know how to finish well, young men don’t know how to stay married, and young adults are aimless and confused. I would have simply been a statistic, but for the faithful investment of men. There were godly men — many of them, and especially a handful over the years — who poured their lives into me. Jason, Ben, Scott, Mark, Jeremy, Adam, Cliff. I continue to learn from them, and in time they learned from me. Their investment was self-sacrificing and rooted the love of God — He compelled them (2 Cor. 5:9-21). No doubt there were times where my progress seemed doubtful, my pride too present. Yet God is faithful, and through shared life experiences we all were changed.

There were some practical realities at play: first, we spent time together.

Sometimes it was a scheduled hour a week, other times it spilled over into “non-ministry” time. Meals, weekends, playing with their kids, trips to the store. Most of us like sports, so we hit the courts, or gathered a group of guys to tackle one another. I iced twisted ankles and watched Blazer games on their couches. I knew how to reach them, their families welcomed me — for example, I know where the dishes were in their kitchens. Because of a whole-life view, we could each call each other out when our lives where not in line with the Gospel (Galatians 2). Each of these men would say the benefit was mutual (though I argue they invested far more in me). I learned how the Gospel was for all of life, not to be compartmentalized.

They modeled renewal and developed a history with God.

Their “testimony” was not only how God had rescued them in the past from sin, slavery, death and hell. He was and is their present Savior, the all-satisfying One rescuing them in the past, giving hope for the future, and working presently in their lives (we walked through Romans 5-8 time and time again). They connected their story to the Big Story (Creation ➙ Fall & Rebellion ➙ Redemption ➙ Re-Creation), having experienced the risen Christ. There are no shortcuts to developing a history with God. We cannot cram character or spiritual growth. We need to interact with God daily and be renewed by the Spirit. These men not only experienced that reality; they shared it with me and together we dug in the Scriptures and asked God to change us. We saw a key to renewal as God’s initiative and our response, applying our lives to His Word. (Note the order.)

Keeping the Gospel at the center.

What was at the center of our relationship? Christ. That may seem self-evident but these days when I hear middle-aged men talk about discipleship it seems they gravitate towards accountability as the center. Accountability is key, and we must confess our sins to one another, be healed and move forward in freedom. Yet, the Gospel of grace must be the center of our relationships. It means we don’t have to try to impress one another (or God), as Jesus has impressed the Father for us. We can bank on our acceptance before God as motivation to move forward with selfless, bold, and compelling lives. That way I share with you my faith and my unfaith, my obedience and disobedience (to borrow a phrase from Jonathan Dodson). It means we can fight the fight of faith, through the weapons of grace, and be changed into the image of Christ in the process. Only if the good news is at the center of these relationships will we be changed. Otherwise we’re stuck in moralism, seeking to change through self-effort, self-righteousness, or self-actualization. Most of the “Christian” books these days advocate those paths, which are neither helpful or produce long-lasting fruit. We must come back to the Gospel as the only way to get saved, and the only way continue in the life of faith (it is the A-Z  of the Christian life, much more than the ABCs).

Discipleship is also about mutual fascination.

There were many other men who have tried to teach me. For some it was a matter of geography (one of us moved), or life-stage, but more often the reason it did not ’stick’ was because one of us what was astonished by the Gospel (continually). Because the Cross levels the ground on which we stand, we can both look up at the heavens and be amazed at God’s grace and love. He chose me? You? Amazing! Rehearse the Story of God with one another, share how He is at work in your lives, and be changed by the reality of Jesus conquering your heart.

Paul reminds us that what we stare at is what we become — 2 Cor. 3:17-18 (to behold is to become). Taking a specific example, if young men are staring at porn every day, it takes someone to walk with them and learn how to stare at Christ and see His glory and worth as far more beautiful and satisfying. “Stop it” won’t work with young men who are in bondage and know no other way to get through the day. Plus, if they’ve been captive for years a new pattern of life will take time to emerge.

Discipleship must be integrated with life.

“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” —St. Paul, 1 Thessalonians 2:8

For centuries spiritual life was taught alongside a trade, a skill for young men to learn and master. Productivity was a way to be a cultivator, provider, and learn wisdom. Today we operate in a low-level dualism, when our spiritual lives are separated from our daily rhythms. So, reading the Bible, praying, ‘going to’ church, and other spiritual practices (fasting!) are thought of as add-ons to our jam-packed lives. We simply don’t have time for all of that. Only the exceptional do them, all or part, and usually they are segregated and hidden from daily life. Our Christianity is personalized and privatized. (Public piety sounds so, well, pious!) As evidence we hear one another bemoan how busy we are and how we know we “should” do this or that. But then not much changes. Either we feel guilty or don’t care all that much, so we give up too quickly. We don’t know the “how” or the “why” of being disciples and engaging in Christian spirituality.

Imitation is a key to discipleship, and a common theme in the NT Epistles: check out 1 Cor. 11:1; 4:15-17; Phil. 3:17; 4:9; 2 Thess. 3:7-9; 2 Tim. 3:10-11. If we’re serious about discipleship, especially leaders and pastors, we must model this with public piety (Titus 2:7-8; 1 Tim. 4:12). Together we can subvert the patterns of our age through living a different kind of life.

What if we reversed the trend, through sharing rhythms and patterns of life that peeled back the veneer of our consumerism? And since training works best with a partner, what if we who are spiritual took the time to invest in one person this year to teach them the basics of the Christian life? No one will regret it, and while it will impinge on our lives and free time, it is well worth the investment. Let’s do it together, spur one another on. Get creative. Integrate it with daily life. Talk over lunch, or go for a run together and pray up that grueling hill. Unplug from the computer and take the family for hike. Do something constructive together — change the oil in your cars, serve the community, or prepare a meal for a family. Have a landscape project? Share the load and get dirt under your fingernails. If a young man sees how an older man and husband uses his money wisely (or frivolously), ask him about it. We live in an age where much of the common sense that parents (dads) should teach their kids gets forgotten or assumed. So we know little about how things work, how to make a plan to accomplish goals, eating healthy, how to spark up a conversation. Talk about keeping a schedule, how you manage communication (I have 5,000 unread personal emails, so perhaps I’m the one who needs help there), and project & task management. Ask questions, be curious, spread the virus of learning. The list goes on and on, and this is where discipleship gets practical and helpful. The spiritual hits real life.

Release them to spread the virus with others.

One feature of healthy life is that it reproduces. Watch how a vine spreads, over decades how a tiny acorn can grow into a foundation-splitting oak tree. Dynamic life is unstoppable. Paul sets out a pattern for discipleship to the 4th generation: “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful  men who will be able to teach others also.”

The ‘virus’ and truth spread from Paul ➙ Timothy ➙ faithful men ➙ others. We cannot contain life that wants to grow, and should structure our methods to ensure God’s life spreads this way. I think there’s a reason Paul reminds Timothy to “teach” what he has shared publicly. Not so much a lecture format (a teacher downloading to students everything he or she knows), but effective teaching is actually giving space for people to obey. The best teachers won’t move on rapidly (as slaves to the content or schedule) but will pause, reflect, and wait to see the progress in the student. Mutual fascination is quite helpful in this respect. So is being connected to the church family.

Showing How Jesus is the Good Life

Jesus sneezed His ‘virus’ on His first Disciples, and they caught it. Everywhere they went, God’s Spirit and God’s good news (the Gospel) went right with them. Like the best ‘virus’ ever, the Gospel spread among thousands of new believers in Jesus. They turned the world upside down. Just as Jesus prayed (John 17:20-23) and promised (Acts 1:1-8) — the first disciples demonstrated privately and publicly (Acts 2:42-47). They caught the virus and nothing could ever be the same.

Do you have His ‘virus’? How will you intentionally share it with others? Stick around and be all there. Sneeze on people. Show how Jesus is the good life.

Keep sneezing. Jesus is Lord!