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When God Gets Personal

IMG_4141This past Sunday at our church, we were blessed to witness the baptism of four new believers. Baptisms marks a new beginning in a persons life with God. A personal declaration is being made that as Jesus died, was buried, & was resurrected by the power of God; God has done that work in my heart as well. I’m now dead to my old way, my sins are buried with Christ, & I’m raised to walk a new way (Romans 6:3-4). Every believer will have this testimony.

And it also marks the beginning of God’s work of sanctification in a person’s heart & life. A work that he promises to finish.

Philippians 1:6 – “I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  

What does God do in our hearts? I love what Peter says about God’s personal work:

1 Peter 5:10 – “Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, WILL PERSONALLY restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little.”

Peter’s testimony was that, when God gets personal four things happen:

1. We’re RESTORED. The word means mended, as in fishing nets that are tattered & torn. It can also mean equipped or put in order, or fully trained. So the image is of something that was rendered ineffective due to sin, is now being made useful, because of God’s personal work.

2. We’re ESTABLISHED. The word means made to stand. It’s used in terms of planting a plant deep enough that it cannot or will not fall over or vacillate. It also has to do with inner determination. Part of the work of God is to plant in us a determination to get back up, when we fall & we will.

3. We’re STRENGTHENED. This word has to do with mobility. God give us the ability to go farther, faster, & longer than we could before. It has to do with effectiveness & purpose. In Christ, we’re going somewhere, for some reason. For his glory & the good of others. And we’re now backed by his power. God’s strength is like a wind in our sails.

4. We’re SUPPORTED. Meaning we’ve been given a strong foundation, that cannot be quickly washed away. This is the same word Jesus used in his story of the Two Foundations in Matthew 7:24-27. A foundation on the sand gets washed away by wind & storms. A foundation on the rock withstands wind & storms. And it’s knowledge of & obedience to God’s word that gives us this support.

Of course, Peter is giving a personal testimony of what God did in his own life. He was tattered by sin & by failure as a follower of Christ. He fell asleep is Jesus’ hour of greatest need, he reacted in anger & tried to murder a man when Jesus was arrested, & he denied he even knew Jesus as he was facing an unjust trial. He needed mending. He needed to be firmly planted. He needed to be strengthened for a purpose. He needed a foundation that wouldn’t quickly wash away when tested. And these are the things that God gave him, shaping him from a failed follower to the leader of the early Christian movement.

What is your personal testimony? What is the work that God has done in you? Have you allowed God to get personal in your life? Can you say you’re restored, established, strengthened & supported by God?  Hopefully you can give a testimony of God’s work. I’ve written mine down on a site called WhatIValueMost.com. Read my story & write your own here: http://whativaluemost.com/Testimony.aspx.

Four Words that Test My Faith in Christ

TESTED_PosterLast Sunday, our church wrapped up a long study of the New Testament book of 1 Peter called Tested, with FOUR WORDS that sum up Peter’s message & that can serve as a test of our faith in Christ:

1. CHANGED: Has there been a change in my life? Simon became Peter. A fisherman & failed follower of Christ became leader of the Gospel movement b/c of his relationship with Christ.1 Peter 1:3. You’ll not come in contact with Jesus & not be changed in some way.

2. SUBMISSION: Can I say that selflessness & servanthood toward God & others is part of my identity? 1 Peter 2:13,18; Matthew 20:28. Peter was known in the Gospel for his assertiveness & brashness. But he learned that in Christ, SUBMISSION was the greater value.

3. SUFFERING: If following Christ cost me something, would I still do it? 1 Peter 4:1. Suffering & Christianity are inextricable linked. Why? Peter reminds us that we’re not of this world, so we can expect to rub this world the wrong way. And we’re going against the flow of our fleshly nature & cultural norms, so sparks will fly when our identity in Christ meets these two.

4. READINESS: Am I ready with everyday discipline in my Christian life (1 Peter 1:13)? Am I ready to share the Gospel with others (1 Peter 3:15)? Am I ready to face temptation & the tempter who desires my destruction (1 Peter 5:8)?

Peter was concerned about READINESS b/c of his own failures:

  • In the Garden of Gethsamane he slept when Jesus as him to pray, so he tells us to “Stay awake” 1 Peter 5:8.  
  • When Jesus was arrested, he reacted by trying to commit murder, so he tells us to “Be sober” 1 Peter 1:13. 
  • He denied Christ three times even though he said he wouldn’t, so he tells us to “Be ready to give an answer” 1 Peter 3:15.

Great study & great book for our generation to study as we face more & more pressure because of our faith in Christ.

Find most of the messages at http://bridgenorthshore.podomatic.com/ or on our Itunes account.

Reminder: “God saved you to be a conduit…” #devo

The Gospel came to you because it was heading to someone else. God never intended for your salvation to be an end, but a beginning. God saved you to be a conduit through whom his glorious, life-changing gospel would flow to others. You are a link in the chain…

Robby Gallaty in Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples

The Recipe for On Mission Living

Heart + Eyes + Imagination + Action

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Heart – Desire for God & Others

We are on mission for something. Often it’s for ourselves. Getting our heart set on God’s purposes is always the first step in life on mission. Get started with 1 Peter 3:10-12.

What issues of the heart are keeping you from being on mission for God & others?

Eyes – Awareness of the Needs Around Us

The Bible says Jesus “saw the crowds” & then “felt compassion” Matthew 9:36. Are you aware of the many needs around you? If you think you have to travel to a distant place to find human need, then your eyes are not open. Look around.

Imagination – Ideas to Engage the Needs Around Us

Many of our failures in mission as churches are failures of imagination. We can’t imagine ourselves being a solution for our communities. I pray for the innovation & courage of the men who so wanted their crippled friend to see Jesus, that they climbed on top of the roof, ripped a hole in the roof, & lowered him down at Jesus’ feet. Mark 2:1-12.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” May we not be bound by weak excuses & lack of imagination in reaching our communities.

Action – Implement & Execute Outreach Strategies

Many have a heart for God, are aware of the needs, even have the ideas, but never launch & take action to reach out. Take out your calendar & write down the next date you intend on inviting a neighbor for dinner or coffee. When is your church’s next outreach event? When is your unchurched friend having surgery? Who is in transition that you can bless? Mission needs a calendar & a plan of action!

Write down these symbols in a prominent place & use them to pursue life on mission, for others.

Commitment, Honor, and Transfer Growth

Transfer Growth is the term church leaders use when members swap churches. It’s not the preferred method of church growth, but accepted as part of ministry in our “church of your choice” culture. This topic makes for a lot of  hallway conversation at Pastor’s conferences & is brought up as issues of concern for pastors in regard to church planting & revitalization efforts. I’ve written about the Transfer Growth Boogie Monster & its implications for church multiplication. There ARE good reasons for Christians to transfer, i.e. moving to a new community, being led by the Spirit to connect with another church’s mission, or being sent out by a church to start something new. And bad reasons: “I’m not getting fed”, difficulty in relationships, “they’re too judgemental” – i.e. the church confronted my sin, wanting to disconnect from responsibility to serve. Here are some of the issues that transfer growth creates and has created for the church:

  • Designing ministries for Christians. As church leaders, it’s easy to strategize & plan either out of fear that people might leave for another church, or in hopes that Christians will notice our church & jump on. So, instead of equipping/releasing people for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12) & focusing on the needs of the unchurched culture, we slowly begin trying to hold onto or attract people by giving them what we think they want.
  • Low Commitment, Disposable Relationships. Our low commitment culture has crept into the church & produced shallow relationships that are disposable after one difficult conversation or awkward moment. We grow spiritually & relationally through such conversations & moments. Without them, shallow, superficial, non-confessional faith could result. Seen this in church lately? How can we teach that commitment to Christ & a community of followers, not a cooler church with more going on is the pathway to spiritual growth?
  • Greener grass thinking. Today, we have people that have transfered two to three times and found the same issues at every place and have given up completely on church. What if leaders could have used it as an opportunity to teach about commitment, that relationships are tough & messy everywhere & that God wants to use these issues to shape & form us? Grass gets green because you water & fertilize it. In church that means commit to Christ, obey his word, & do it with others – consistently.
  • The appearance of success. Churches growing by transfer growth appear successful & can be the envy of ministry circles, but the real measure is the influence on the community. Only allowing the gospel to infuse the cultural context & change indigenous unreached people will result in a transformed city. What difference does it make if our church grows, but the community around us remains the same?

How can we fulfill the Great Commission, teach people to honor commitments, be a unified church in our cities, and make room for those swapping churches? A few ideas from a sojourner:

  • Develop a vision for expanding the kingdom, not growing one church. When your church grows by transfer growth it may be at the expense of another church. If that church is small, big holes may be left to fill. How does that help the kingdom? Can I help that Pastor? Should I hold these people accountable to fill the commitment they made at the church? I heard Bob Roberts say years ago, “What’s good for my church numerically is not always best for the kingdom, but what’s best for the kingdom is always best for my church.” I think that applies well to transfer growth.
  • Get to know other pastors in the area. When people know that you’re not in competition with Pastor ____ & that you actually like him, want to see him succeed, & intend to honor him at every turn (Romans 12:10), you will help them get a vision for the kingdom & release any ill will they may have. Especially those who are coming with an axe to grind. I learned pretty quick in ministry that when someone comes to my church with an axe in the back of a pastor down the street, it won’t take long for that axe to be in my back. If you ARE in competition with Pastor ____, REPENT, & get a kingdom mindset, then invite an area pastor or two to lunch or join or start a network of ministry leaders working for the good of the region.
  • Assuming you have intentional process for developing members – When people are transferring ask, “Have you talked with your current pastor about this?” If we believe that church membership is a spiritual decision, then God will confirm it. Encourage them to talk with their current pastor about how God is leading them. This is a another way to honor our brothers in arms pastoring other congregations in our area. It also communicates that this is a serious decision & that you’re more interested in spiritual growth than gaining another satisfied consumer of your particular religious goods & services.
  • Assuming you have intentional process for developing members – When people are transferring ask, “Have you made any pledges or commitments that you need to honor or be released from at your current church?” If we believe that church membership is a spiritual decision, and if we believe what scripture says about commitment (Proverbs 20:25; Ecclesiastes 5:4-6), this is a great question to ask of transfers. Especially if churches in your area are in the middle of building or capital campaigns. Pastors, we have little right to complain about lack of commitment in our congregants, if we welcomed them in at the expense of their commitments to another congregation.
  • “…do the work of the evangelist…” 2 Timothy 4:5. The evangelist is concerned about growing the flock from those outside of it. And that’s what we must do to turn the tide of decline in Western Christianity.  In their book On the Verge, Dave Ferguson & Alan Hirsch, outline the strategic problem facing the church in North America. “The majority of churches in the US are using a model of church designed to reach 40% of the population. This leaves around 60% outside the reach of the church.” Simply put, we’re all fishing in the same pond. We need churches that design ministries for the 60%. Churches that will step out of the church of your choice circle of influence & send people to the hard places, to have hard conversations with people who have little inclination to be impressed by our music, programs, building design, or clever sermon outlines. Churches that won’t be as concerned about size as they are about reach into the unchurched community. Churches that see the opportunity to take mission trips into their communities just as they do into foreign countries. Churches that will ask “Where is the church not?” & go there until the gospel message has been heard by all.

Not all transfer growth is bad or bad for the kingdom. But my desire is for commitment, honor, evangelism, kingdom growth, community transformation to take precedence over a bigger crowd at my church next Sunday.

What are other issues created by Transfer Growth? What do you do as a ministry leader to disciple transfers? Does this matter at all?

What if Jesus Were Normal?

Yesterday, I took a look at a few halmarks of “NORMAL CHRISTIANITY” or what normal has become for many of us western Christians. Some questions I’m asking of my faith journey is would a first century believer that moved to my neighborhood from Ephesus or Antioch or Jerusalem recognize anything of the way (Acts 9:2) in my normal Christianity? and…

What if Jesus were our standard for Normal? What might Christianity look like? A few thoughts: 

  • Taking Risk for the Good of Others. Philippians 2:3-8, outlines how Christ’s death was a series of sacrifices for the good of others. From coming to this world in the form of man to dying on a cross, he put others ahead of himself. And we are commanded to do the same, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had…” Philippians 2:5 NLT. Following Christ means putting others first even at great risk to yourself.
  • I adjust my life to WHATEVER God says. Prior to being crucified for a non-crime, Jesus ask the Father if there was any other way, but qualified his prayer with “Not my will but thine be done.” Normal Christianity seems to believe the chief qualifier is our happiness and pleasure, not God’s will and the good of others. What’s the qualifier for your obedience? Your desire or His?
  • Responsiveness to the Needs of Others. One of the key words in the book of Mark is IMMEDIATELY. It’s used many times to describe how Jesus responded to the needs of others. Matthew 9:35, says that he saw the crowds and felt compassion, then responded by sending out disciples to meet their needs. What happens in your heart when you see the needs of others? or hear about a need?
  • Upside Down Relationships. You want your faith to stand out? Try following Jesus’ instructions on relationships. Love your enemies. Don’t Judge. When you lend, don’t expect it returned. If someone has something against you, take the initiative to get it right. If someone ask you for a favor, do it times two. I’m convinced that if Christians would make Christ’s relational principles the norm, the world would be shaken.
  • Going / Sending. Two of my favorite words in the story of Jesus are “Jesus went.” Speaks of his responsiveness and his desire to take the good news. I’ve said, I’d love for that to be on my grave stone, should I have one. “He went.” Along with those two words we see “Jesus sent.” He didn’t hold on to his followers and see the reasons they weren’t ready. He sent them out, allowing them the opportunity to experience the power of God and be used to expand the kingdom. Am I going? and as a leader, am I releasing and sending? The popular statement among leaders, “the church shouldn’t be known for its seating capacity, but its sending capacity” fits the Christ life and should be the norm. See my post on Creating Sending Capacity.

What else would you add to a list of Jesus norms?

Mind the Gaps

Living the Christian life everyday means LISTENING TO GOD and DOING WHAT HE SAYS. God speaks to us through His word, prayer, circumstances, other people, the church. How do you respond?

I know what God says, BUT…

  • “my situation is different.”
  • “that will never happen to me.”
  • “everyone else does it.”
  • “that was a long time ago.”
  • “they deserve it.”
  • “god understands my needs.”
  • “who really does that anyway?”
  • “that’s just not possible for me.”
  • “I’ll get around to that one day.”

When you disobey God it means there is a gap between where you are and where you know God wants you to be. “I know what God says, BUT…” or “I know what I should be doing, BUT…” reveals that gap for all that it is. When you excuse your disobedience, you are saying more about what you believe about God than anything else. What you should just go ahead and say is, “I know what God says, BUT…”

  • “He really doesn’t matter that much to me.”
  • “I know better than He does about this issue/situation. I’m so much wiser about these kind of things.”
  • “God has changed since the Bible was written and all that stuff doesn’t really matter anymore.”
  • “I’d rather do what my friends say than God. They are so much smarter than him.”
  • “I don’t really think He can provide for this need. I’ll just do it myself.”
  • “I don’t really believe in God at all. Since he’s not real, I can do whatever I want.”

If you can easily excuse a pattern of disobedience, blowing off the word and will of God, the book of 1 John says you are a liar, deceived, and in darkness.

The true Christian responds to God’s word with obedience. He’s revealed Himself in Christ who is willing to transform our lives. The transformed one responds to God with obedience. You can mind the gaps by repenting and being obedient to what God is calling you to do.

What gaps can you close right now?

Zero

Thinking about numerical goals for 2012 & beyond. None challenges my faith more than ZERO. How about shooting for some of these?

  • Zero w/o the opportunity to respond to the gospel.
  • Zero homes destroyed by addiction, adultery, abuse, neglect.
  • Zero kids dying of curable diseases.
  • Zero elderly residents w/o life’s necessities.
  • Zero kids w/o encouragement, mentoring, and opportunity to connect w/God.
  • Zero suicides completed.
  • Zero kids waiting for adoption.

In our quest for numbers going up, let’s not forget to think about the ones that should be going down and add them to our stat sheets every now and then. Someone asked, “What difference does it make if our churches grow but the community continues to deteriorate?” If we’re really making disciples who respond to God’s call of engagement (Matthew 28:19-20), some things should be moving toward zero.

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