Authentic Relationships

Spiritual maturity happens in the context of relationships.

Advertisements

During Lent we’ve been studying several of the foundational habits and practices of disciples.  Through our Sunday teaching and our Foundations book we’ve discovered that one of the most important practices we undertake in discipleship is relationship building.  Relationships are at the heart of following Jesus and, in fact, the disciple of Jesus has three relationships we tend to: our relationship with God, our relationship with the church family, and our relationship with those who don’t know Jesus, yet.  Each is vital and each must be given the appropriate attention.

I’ve spent this morning reading and reflecting on 1John.  I didn’t intend to read the whole book, but my devotions led me to one confusing verse and I needed to put it in context.  And as I read through the entire book I was reminded of the high value of relationship among church family.  In fact, John equates spiritual maturity – living as Jesus did – to the depth of our love for one another (2:9; 2:6).  The way we love one another in the church family provides the evidence that we are walking in the light.  Conversely, “anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister (God’s family) is still in the darkness” (2:9).

Since spiritual maturity happens in the context of relationships, I thought it would be helpful to list the ways John evidences as the fruit of church family love.

How do I live as Jesus did among my brothers and sisters in Christ?

  • Practice sincere love for one another. In 1John 2:10, the author uses a variation of the word “agape” to propose godly love for one another.  This is the kind of love God has shown the world in Jesus and the type of love he calls us to in the Great Commandment (Matthew 22).  The love we express to one another in the Body of Christ reflects the exact love that God expresses to each person and to the entire world.
  • Speak well of the church family. In chapter 3, John reminds us that the love of God has been lavished on us and we are God’s children.  There was a time when we did not belong to God.  In fact, we were under God’s wrath.  But through Jesus we have been adopted into God’s family.  In his grace, God has lavished us with his love.  So since we are each recipients of this love, let it be expressed in community.  As we treat one another well; show respect even in disagreement; recognize that Jesus died and rose for each of us – we express unity.  When you or I abuse one member of the family, we are abusing the whole.
  • Pay attention to the real enemy! We are not the enemy.  The enemy is personified three ways by John: the antichrists, the world, and human nature. The antichrists (2:18) are those who don’t really belong to the church family and tend to stir up trouble.  They lie, propagate unsound doctrine, and sow confusion.  Secondly, the enemy of the family of God is the world and the viewpoint of the world as it relates to God (4:5).  Thirdly, is the potential for our human nature to have sway over our relationships (2:15-17).  Our human nature left unchecked and unchanged by Jesus is ruled by our lust and pride and their selfish desires which separate.  Pay attention to the things that separate us from each other; pray for each other; and keep each other accountable (5:16).
  • Sacrifice for one another. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (3:16).  This verse, often associated with patriotism, has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with how the church family expresses love for each other. John is teaching the church how to be the church and be different from the world.  And, in this context, it’s about sacrificing for each other – “if anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister (church family) in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (3:17)

Loving one another like this is not natural.  We are accustomed to individualism.  Love like this is also risky.  It pushes us to invest deeply in each other.  John, aware of these challenges, writes, “Perfect love drives out fear” (4:18).  If I love you, I am not afraid of you.  If I’m not afraid of you, I can take risk in expressing my love to you.

Lent is a season of soul searching and reflection.  It is also a season of growth.  As you reflect on your relationship with your church family challenge yourself to ask, “Where am I growing?”  Are you loving one another greater than you did last year, or even yesterday?  Are you speaking well, even in disagreements?  Are you working hard at keeping the enemy at the gates?  Where have you noticed God inviting you to live sacrificially for the benefit of another disciple?

While it is indeed challenging to live in community, we have help.  We are each filled with the Holy Spirit and it is he who spreads the love of God in our hearts and connects us together as the church.  And everyone will know we are Christians by our love for each other.

Ugly Expectations

What would happen in your life and ministry if you looked beyond what is expected of you and into the eyes of Jesus who is calling you out of the boat?

Have you ever had one of those experiences where life is just going really good for a little while, only to get slapped in the face by cold, hard reality?  I have.  Many times.  In my case, I’m usually enjoying some deep, meaningful moments with God.  I’m wrapped up in worship, dreaming of what could be only to be interrupted from that dream like state by the blaring alarm clock-like, tyrannical voice of the urgent. The dreams and hopes of what could be are slain by stupid things which masquerade as urgently critical to the foundations of life.  (Spoiler: They never are!)

If you have, Jesus knows how you feel.

In a moment of sheer delight, as he watches his disciples finally seem to get it; when they feed 5000 people and Peter walks on water – Jesus is hopeful that he’s turned a corner and prepared his followers for their future (Matthew 14).  Then, within what appears to be a painfully short amount of time, this mountain top experience gives way and brings Jesus and the disciples crashing back down into the throes of negativity.

“Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem…” (Matthew 15).  The Pharisees and teachers of the law have an agenda and they’re seeking Jesus to let him know they do indeed have an agenda.  “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?  They don’t they wash their hands before they eat.”

Why do I still hear my mother’s voice in that sentence?  “Go wash your hands.  Dinner’s ready.”

Nonetheless, the Pharisees meant something entirely different.  They didn’t really care about dirty hands.  They were, though, overwhelmingly concerned about doing things right.  And not just because washing your hands is right and polite.  Instead, they were invested in making sure that everyone was measuring up to their expectations.  They used expectations to control people.  “Follow all the rituals and religious expectations so you measure up to us!  Wash your hands so we know you belong with us.  Follow the rules.  Don’t diverge.  Don’t have your own ideas.  Don’t take risks.  Tow the line.”

Have you heard any of those statements before?  Words and attitudes like that can be devastating.  There is no room for possibility.  There is no room for faith.  With that kind of attitude 5000 people don’t get fed and Peter doesn’t walk on water.

I’m grateful Jesus handled this situation with expertise.  He sets the Pharisee straight about their misinformed worldview.  And in the end Jesus directs them and us to a heart issue.  “…the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart…” (Matthew 15:18).  What comes from the heart can either bring pain and suffering or can bring life and possibilities.

Compare what came from the heart of the Pharisees (measure up, tow the line) to what came from the heart of the disciples and Peter.  What came from the disciple’s hearts as they took their small resources, blessed by Jesus, and fed the crowd, was faith.  The disciples stepped beyond the boundaries of what seemed possible and into the place of anticipation.  Peter shows us what comes out of his heart when he steps out of the boat.  He’s counting on Jesus to do what only Jesus can do.  I’m pretty certain that in both of these experiences the disciples weren’t worried about following the rules.  I’ve never seen a rule book about walking on water!

Christian leaders, I really want you to hear this – our experience is often filled with an abundance of people and systems telling us to abide by the rules, tow the line, do what you’re supposed to do.  These words and attitudes are opposed to Jesus.  Instead of being free to risk, we are controlled into status quo; drugged into sleepiness.

What would happen in your life and ministry if you looked beyond what is expected of you and into the eyes of Jesus who is calling you out of the boat?

This interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees is bookended.  On the front side is the story of Peter on the water.  On the backside is the story of a Canaanite woman.  The Pharisees had some rules about Canaanites, too.  They were defiled.  They didn’t belong.  They didn’t measure up either.

And this woman breaks some glass ceilings.  Out of her heart comes words of life and possibility: “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (Matthew 15:21-28).  She wasn’t about to be controlled by the unwarranted rules and rituals which kept her excluded from God’s life.  Out of her mouth comes faith, hope, and deep trust in what God could do.

Where do you want to live?  Do you want to live in the prison of other people’s expectations and control or do you want to live in the freedom to follow Jesus into miraculous experiences?

Surrendered Leadership

How bad do you need to be for history to classify you as a scoundrel?  Paul Martin, in a Huffington Post article, cites some of the worst historical scoundrels like Daniel Drew, the Fox sisters, and Hetty Green.  These folks, and others like them, lived unscrupulously at the expense of others.

Now, how bad do you need to be for the Bible to identify you as a scoundrel?  That’s a whole new level.  But that’s exactly how Phinehas and Hophni are described (1Samuel 2).  They consistently robbed people; slept with whoever they wanted; disregarded authority; and ignored God.  Their story may not raise many eyebrows until you know that these two men were leaders.  They were part of a family that had been committed to serving God and God’s people.  But nothing they did reflected their position as leaders.

Leadership is hard.  If you lead, you get this.  As a country we’re tough on our leaders – from the government to the church and everywhere in between.  We certainly expect our leaders to be people of character and integrity, and we should.  But we also have the propensity to knock leaders down.  We want them to be the best, but we quickly look for their flaws and cheer when those flaws are well known.  Leadership is not for the faint of heart.

And that’s precisely why those who are leaders – especially spiritual leaders – need to pay attention to the details.  While Hophni and Phinehas were disregarding their character and position, God was raising up another leader to replace them.  Samuel was still a young boy but God was shaping him into the kind of leader both God and the people needed.  God gives us a hint of the kind of leader Samuel could be – “those who honor me I will honor but those who despise me I will disdain…I will raise up a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind” (1Samuel 2:30-35).

When it comes to spiritual leadership God looks for a particular kind of person – one that wants what God wants.  Wanting what God wants has a way of shaping our character and increasing our integrity. When temptations challenge our moral fiber, leaders after God’s heart trust God’s strength.  When moral failure happens, leaders after God’s own heart seek forgiveness and restoration.  Spiritual leaders don’t ignore or dismiss their actions they come to terms with the call and grace of God.  God raised up Samuel to do what was on God’s heart and mind.

Whether you are a Christian leader at work, in your home, with you kids, or at your church – God is inviting you to do what is on his heart and mind.  Phinehas and Hophni reveal the destruction unsurrendered leadership creates.  Don’t be a scoundrel!  Seek the heart and mind of God, surrender yourself to God’s purposes and lead well.

Abundant Life is Found Out on the Water

Bread and water are the often joked about references to the food of the incarcerated.  But bread and water are two elements Jesus uses to show Peter the secret to a full and abundant life.

The story begins in Matthew 14.  The crowds have followed Jesus into a remote place.  The sun’s going down and everyone’s getting hungry.  The disciples want to send the crowds into town for dinner.  Jesus has another idea – “you give them something to eat.”  The reaction of the disciples is one that we would share if we were in their shoes, “We don’t have enough…”

  When faced with obvious need, “we don’t have enough…” is our usual response.  I’ve been guilty of that.  We don’t have enough time, money, people, money, time…you get the idea.  We’ve all been there and we’ve all uttered the same thing.  But I love what Jesus does in light of their scarcity.  Jesus says, “Bring them here to me.”  Bring me your resources.  Bring me what you do have.  Then Jesus does what only he can do.  He takes our limits and stretches them to meet the need.

This story is immediately followed by Peter walking on the water.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Peter and the other disciples are in a boat struggling against the storm and waves.  They’re trying to get the other side of the lake to meet Jesus, but they’re stuck.  So Jesus comes to them, walking on the water.  Peter sees Jesus and wants to be where he is – out on the water.  But Peter let his water walking certification lapse.  So he says, “Jesus, if that’s you tell me to come to you on the water.”  If I were Peter, I’d want Jesus to respond with something like, “No. Don’t worry about it. Stay in the boat and I’ll come to you.  No need to get your feet wet.”  But he doesn’t.  Jesus’ response to Peter’s longing is simply – “Come.”

Now Peter has never walked on water but here’s what he has done: he has stepped out of a boat before.  He was a fisherman, after all.  He knows how to lift a leg over the side, set it down, and walk.  So Peter does what he knows how to do.  He gives Jesus what he already knows how to do.  And Jesus does, in those moments, what only Jesus can do.

I’m convinced that this is a life truth.  We give Jesus what we know how to do and Jesus takes it and does what only he can do!

Following Jesus is about being stretched.  Left to ourselves, we usually see what we can’t accomplish.  And that always limits the abundant life Jesus promises.  Jesus stretches our faith when he says, “Give me what you do have” and I’ll take it and do an amazing thing.  Abundant life is found out on the water – when we give Jesus what we know how to do and let him do with it what only he can do.

Last night I attended an event hosted by The Asservo Project (theasservoproject.org).  The Asservo Project, based out of Pittsburgh, exists to combat global human trafficking.  They are a David facing a Goliath.  Human trafficking is currently one of the world’s most profitable criminal enterprises.  There are 40 million victims globally.  At $150 billion annually, this criminal enterprise makes more money than Google, Apple, Yahoo, and Netflix combined.  Since 2010, human trafficking has grown 850%.  Trafficking and sexual slavery is real.  Open your eyes and it becomes so obvious.

This reality is so staggering I couldn’t help but think, “Jesus, we don’t have enough…”  That’s all I could think about on the way home.  How do you even make a dent?  And I kept going back to this story.  Jesus says, give me what you have/what you know how to do and I’ll do what only I can do.

So that’s my current next step.  But what about you?  You may not be passionate about ending human trafficking (I hope you will be) but there is something that you are passionate about.  There is something that God is calling you to and you’re first response is “I don’t have enough…time, education, money, fill in the blank.”

But here’s the spiritual truth.  The only way disciples grow is when they are stretched.  When they say, “Jesus, I hear you, and I don’t know how I will accomplish this but I will give you what I know how to do and I’ll let you do what only you can do.”

Abundant life is found out on the water…so get out of the boat.

Stand up!

There are seasons of life where we come to the end of our ability. Hopefully these are the very seasons that drive us to a deeper place of surrender.

…Hannah stood up.

I’ve never really seen this phrase before.  It seems to come out of nowhere, yet Hannah’s action is a consequence of years of provocation.

Let’s remember the story.  Hannah was the wife of Elkanah.  But she wasn’t his only wife.  In a context unlike our own, Hannah was a product of polygamy.  She shared Elkanah with another woman – Peninnah.  Furthermore, in a culture that placed wealth, privilege, life, and success on a person’s number of children, Hannah was losing.  She had given Elkanah no children, while Peninnah seemed to be very fertile.

Not only was Hannah seeming to suffer from the depression and frustration of a “closed womb,” she was constantly provoked by Peninnah.  This troublesome relationship went on year after year until Hannah was so depressed and broken down that she couldn’t eat and constantly wept about her painful reality (1Samuel 1:1-20)

This was Hannah’s reality until she stood up.  She had enough and stood up.  She was tired of her pain and she stood up.  She was done being provoked and ridiculed.  She stood up!  She was done with the depression.  She was done feeling sorry for herself.  She stood up…and went straight to her knees. Hannah came to the end of herself and to the beginning of God.

There are seasons of life where we come to the end of our ability.  Hopefully these are the very seasons that drive us to a deeper place of surrender.  I cannot…but God can.  Often these seasons arrive after long periods of frustration, pain, brokenness, and maybe even some ridicule.  The time before we come to a place of surrender may find us filled with self-doubt and devastated self-worth.

Hannah offers a beautiful portrait of strength.  She is tired of her present reality.  She wants change – not just for herself but for the people she loves.  I also suspect she wants God to be honored with her future.

Hannah comes to the end of herself and to the beginning of what God can do.  This is a remarkable picture of maturity.  Hannah speaks to me about moving from a life of brokenness into the full and abundant life of God.  And the one act that separates the two realities happens when Hannah stands up and say’s “enough is enough!”  I am tired of existing in my current status.  I want a better future.  So she stands up and goes straight to her knees believing that God is the one who changes our story.

Where do you need to stand up today?  What are you tired of living with?  What are you tired of permitting?  What are the habits or cycles that you’re done with for the last time?  Where have you reached the limits of your abilities?  Remember the definition of insanity – if we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we always got.  Stand up!  And go straight to your knees.

In chapter 2, Hannah offers a prayer of thanksgiving for what God has done to change her reality.  In that pray she pronounces a new path, “My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my [strength] is lifted high…there is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no rock like our God.”

Stand up today and surrender your current reality to God’s best future for you.  Remember what Jesus said, “the thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy.  I have come that you may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Revive: Living God’s Abundant Life

indexI hope the start of 2018 has been good for you!  I’m excited to see what this new year brings. This is my time of year.  I like to plan, dream, and be hopeful about the open days in front of me.  I like to think that life can be full of hope and promise.

So help me out.  How would you finish this sentence?  Life is ___________?  Forrest Gump would say, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”  Some might say that life is a rat race; a bowl of cherries, a series of choices, a paycheck, a party.  We have a habit of trying to reduce the size of our life.

And I’d like to help us think about life differently at the beginning of 2018.  So today and for the next 5 Sundays I want to teach us how to live God’s abundant life.  Does that sound good?  Would you like to know how to live an abundant life? One that is full of hope and dreams and anticipation.  An abundant life instead of a mediocre life; a full life instead of a life robbed of hope and meaning?

Late last fall I spent a lot of time praying about God’s direction for this year and where he wants to take us as a church.  The word that I kept hearing and seeing is a word that oozes life.  It’s the word revive.  I like that word.  Do you know what revive means?  Revive means to restore to life; give new energy or strength!  To revive is all about giving life.  That’s what Jesus does.  He gives life.

Our primary Scripture for the next 5 weeks is from John 10:10.  READ.  There are two things happening in this sentence. There’s a thief who steals, kills, and destroys.  Then there’s Jesus who says that he comes to give you life.  And not just life – the kind where we just live and muddle through the day.  He brings life that is full or abundant.

Here’s my hope for this teaching and for 2018.  If you are the kind of person who feels like you’ve got the short end of the stick on life; or if you’re just getting through – life dealt you a bad hand and things are happening that you’ve never asked for – I want you to hear this word and live into something new.  If you’re just caught up in the routine – I want you to let Jesus bring you a full and abundant purpose this year.  If you’re comfortable and you’re thinking – life’s pretty good – no worries, no challenges, no surprises – I hope God shakes you up a little bit and pushes you to a place where you’re hungry for more purpose and deeper significance.

Now because we want God’s word to inform and transform us, we need to understand the context here of what Jesus means when he says the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that you may have life; and have it the full.

Just prior to all of this, Jesus heals a blind man. The man was taken to the Pharisees, who investigated the healing but refused to acknowledge Jesus as the healer; in fact, they mocked the healed man for trusting Jesus. When Jesus heard what happened, He went to the previously blind man, revealed Himself as savior, and accepted the man’s worship of Him.

Then Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (John 9:39). Some Pharisees overheard this and, taking offense, asked, “What? Are we blind too?” (John 9:40). Jesus replied, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep” (John 9:41—10:2).

Jesus continued talking about the gatekeeper and how the shepherd calls out his sheep and how the sheep will only follow the shepherd whom they know (John 10:3–5). Jesus then interpreted His words: “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:7–10). With these words, Jesus declares that He is the only way to salvation and the fullness of life. But who is the thief? And what does it mean that the thief “comes only to steal and kill and destroy”?

The Greek word for “thief” used in John 10:10 means “one who steals.”  Anyone who claimed a way of salvation other than Jesus was “robbing” the people of truth.

Let’s think about the patterns and habits right now which in a very real way, rob you of a full life with Jesus.  These are the habits and experiences that work real hard to replace Jesus.

Pleasure.  If I just find the things that make me feel good or be comfortable – I’ll have a full life.  If I could just take a cruise, retire in luxury, or have my fantasies fulfilled – that’s life.  Problem is that those are moving targets.  We move from thing to thing believing that the next one will make me happy.  The next car, the next marriage, the next house, the next drink.  Each time takes a bigger thrill, or bigger event to bring another high.  But it never lasts.

Performance.  I need to confess that this the one that steals full life from me the most.  Always trying to do more to make someone else happier.  Have you lived there?  If I just do more, they’ll love me.  If I’m a better husband, wife, parent, child, employee – I’ll feel full, loved and satisfied.  And we live in the myth that success produces life.

Possessions.  If I just get one more thing I’ll feel like I have a full life.  Abundance is not what we think.  So before we get tricked into thinking that more is better, we need to think about what Jesus says about abundant life.  Wealth, position, power are not God’s priorities for us.  If this were the case, Jesus would be the wealthiest person, ever.  But the opposite is true, Jesus said this about himself, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)

Pursuits.  The delusion that if we just stay busy enough and if the pace of life remains at an intense level we will discover life.

These thieves masquerade as givers of life, but actually all they end of bringing is pain, frustration, heart-ache, and death, spiritually and physically.  Rather than being agents of revival these habits and patterns steal the fullness of life.

I’m convinced that we want more than this.  That we want more than mere life.  Because mere life isn’t working.  We want our lives to count for something.  As a follower of Jesus, your inheritance is a full, abundant life. And the source of abundant life is Jesus. Jesus says time and again that he is the giver of life, the author of life.  READ John 11; 14.  But the most powerful statement Jesus made was “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.”  Full life happens through Jesus.

Now some people may say, “Wait a minute, don’t I already have life? Aren’t I breathing? Isn’t my heart pumping blood?”

I would answer, “Yes, but . . . not the life Jesus is referring to.” The life that Jesus gives is infinitely and eternally different than the life one possesses now. Maybe a little lesson in Greek vocabulary would be helpful in discerning what the significance of this life he offers is. As with most of the Greek language, it employed several different words to communicate concepts and thoughts that in English only one word is available. Such is true with this concept of life. They had six different words to clarify its meaning. But two words are important for us.

The first word is bios, in which the English word biology is derived.  It refers to the duration of life – one’s life span, the time between one’s birth date and one’s death date; or it refers to the necessities of life – one’s food, shelter, and clothing.

The second word is zoe.  It refers to life as God has it. The life that belongs to God that becomes ours when we cross the doorway of Jesus and enter into a relationship with God. It is not a possession but rather an infilling – God once again breathing his life into us.

When we were born we were given bios life, when we are born again we are given zoe life. Until we cross the doorway of Jesus and enter into a relationship with God through Jesus we may be physically alive but spiritually we are dead.

To be a follower of Jesus, to know who he is and what he means, is to have a superabundance of life. There is a new vitality, a new meaning, a new energy, a new purpose, a new significance, a new outlook, a new hope, a new joy, a new life.

Our family would travel a lot. And sometimes we would need  to rent a car.  This is always stressful for me. I don’t like to spend money on those kinds of things. When we were younger, Melissa and I would travel to Florida often.  So when we got there I’d have reserved the cheapest care possible – like a Fort escort.  It gets good gas mileage.  It runs fine.  It gets you to where you need to go.  And it’s cheap.  So once we have one of those kinds of cars held at the rental company. When we arrive, they’ve got bad news.  They’re all out of Ford Escorts.  I don’t know why, we had it reserved.  It should be there!  So the attendant behind the counter asks if I’d mind an upgrade.  Would I mind?  I’d love an upgrade – at the same price as the Escort.  The only car they had available was a convertible Chrysler Sebring.  This the perfect Florida car.

We were driving in style.  Does this car get you to your destination any faster?  No, but you get there in more comfort. You feel better about yourself.  When you get out at the hotel – you’re not embarrassed to let the valet take over.

Now I’m having fun with this – to teach us this – What was God up too when he sent his son, Jesus?  God is about upgrading life.  Through Jesus, we are offered a life that is not just okay; not just muddled through; but full – full of vitality and meaning; of purpose and significance.

That’s what this year and every year going forward can be about.  And we can choose to endure where we are, or we can say, Jesus, I want a life that full and meaningful and purposeful.  A life that does more than exist.

We tend to think of the word, salvation, as the forgiveness of sins or the escape from punishment.  But it actually has a deeper meaning. The simple and best word for salvation is “life.”  I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly.

“Thrive” is a word for life.  Thriving is what life was intended to do, like a flower stubbornly pushing up through a crack in the sidewalk.  Thriving is what God saw when he made life and saw that it was good.

Ironically, the only way to have this kind of life – one that thrives and is abundant – is by surrendering.  Saying, Jesus, I need the abundant life, because the one I’ve got isn’t working out real well.

ONE Culture (Part 3)

I think many of us have had one of those moments in life when we asked the question, “now what?” You lost a business or a job and the question on your mind is “now what?” How do I provide? Or you lost a spouse and you’re wondering now what? How do I move forward? You get a diagnosis that will change your life and your future – now what? But the other side of the question is just a challenging. I just met the man or woman of my dreams – now what? I just got the best promotion I could ever hope for – now what?

oneFor a lot of us we asked now what when your kids were born. Right? I remember this like yesterday even though it was almost seventeen years ago. Our son was about to be born. Melissa says “it’s time.” We rush to the hospital. The hospital takes such good care of you; they make you so comfortable; it’s so easy – especially for the guys! Caleb was born and they take great care of him. He’s bathed, fed, kept in the room with mom. There’s great instruction about caring for him. The staff is there to teach us. Finally the day comes to go home. I pull the car around to the hospital entrance. The nurse brings Melissa and Caleb down to the entrance. Melissa gets in the car and the nurse hands me Caleb. And I look at her; like what do you expect me to do with him? You’ve taken care of him. Can you help me put him in the car? Why are you handing him to me I don’t know what I’m doing? And she says this is as far as I go; it’s up to you now. And I’m left with this sense of now what?

Have you been there? What do we do next? Now what? I think this is also a very fair question to ask when it comes to following Jesus. Now what? What do I do now? I’ve said yes to following Jesus; I’m going to church – but now what? What comes next? Is it just about showing up and sitting in a row or putting some money in the offering plate? Is it just about religion and ritual? What’s next? What should I do? Important questions.

When we start to read the NT we very quickly see that God has an answer the question, what now? The NT’s answer is a word called “maturity.” Read Ephesians 4:11-13.

Maturity is about growing in an intimate and passionate relationship with Jesus. Growth is a part of life. Things that are healthy will always grow. I don’t need to make my kids grow in size – I have no control over that – if they are healthy they will grow. And we watch kids grow through stages right? Newborn – sit up or crawl or eat solid foods – potty trained – walking – riding the bike – puberty – boyfriends and girlfriends – driving – leaving for college, marriage. We watch growth happen in front of our eyes every day. Healthy things will grow.

Just after Thanksgiving I joined the gym and hired a trainer. I was growing but in all the wrong places! I’ve joined gyms before – but always quit. I’ve never hired a trainer – and she won’t let me quit. She pushes me to grow. So I tell you what, most days of the week I hurt; I’m sore. But what’s happening? My muscles are growing; my endurance is growing – I’m becoming healthier and growing.

Growth (maturity) is a natural part of life. Even in our relationship with Jesus. But here’s something we don’t often think about –to become mature requires engaging in an intentional process of discipleship. A mature, healthy relationship will not happen by accident. Growth in relationship will happen when we’re intentional about it. My marriage will be stronger when Melissa and I are intentional about doing the things that make it stronger. The same is true is our relationship with Jesus.

Let me give you a definition of what maturity looks like. Hold onto this definition – it’s what we will use to see if growth is happening or not. A disciple is a follower of Jesus whose life is centering on loving God and loving others.

A spiritually mature person is someone who lives as if God is who he says he is and will do all he has promised to do.

What now? The answer to what now as least as far as our relationship with God is – maturity – intentional discipleship- a life that centering on loving God and loving others.

We will be intentional about creating a culture of discipleship; a environment where maturity is expected and can happen in positive ways.

So what does this mean? What will maturity look like? How will we know we’re growing in our relationship with Jesus? Paul has a vision of this. His vision was to birth, cultivate and mobilize disciples. So let’s see what Scripture says about maturity and growth.

So here’s the first fill in the blank when we talk about maturity and being a disciple of Jesus – Bring. That seems strange. What does “bring” have to do with maturity and being a disciple? Well, let’s see what Paul means – Read 4:12.

There’s a couple of things really important about this verse. “To equip his people for the work of ministry…” Maturity is about being equipped for something – this work of ministry. Well what is the “work of ministry?” In what we call the Great Commission Jesus said – here is what the people of God do and nothing else – make disciples. So the work of ministry is to invite people who don’t know Jesus to follow him and become his disciples, too, just like you are. What’s the rest of that sentence? “So that the body of Christ may be built up.”

Building up pictures a building under construction, but Paul uses it here with the body of Christ, where the analogy would be physical growth. This includes both adding new members to the body and seeing all of the members growing spiritually as they come to know God and His Word in deeper ways. We read in the early chapters of READ Acts how “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (2:47).

So when we talk about maturity and about being a disciple – a significant part of being a mature disciple means brining or inviting those who don’t know Jesus yet into an environment where they can begin to follow Jesus, too. It’s about invitation to come and see. Come and see who Jesus is and how Jesus transforms our living.

I wish all of you could have been at the church family meeting last Sunday. I’m very proud and appreciate the leadership of your church council. Your leaders have a pretty clear picture of where we’re going as a church in this community. One of the things that we talked about was our position in the portion of Millcreek Township. Did you know that there are 91,000 people within 5 miles around this building who are disconnected from God? So because we understand that a part of being a mature disciple of Jesus is bringing/inviting people into a relationship with Jesus, where asking ourselves the question, “how is God calling us to reconnect with this community in a new way that helps a portion of 91,000 get to know Jesus and follow him?” How can we bring/invite someone else to follow Jesus?

I love the heart of God. I was 16 years old when someone took the time to invite me to follow Jesus. That moment changed my life. And Jesus welcomed me into a relationship with himself. A 16 year old kid who did not have it figured out; who felt every far from God; who was looking for purpose and life. And Jesus stepped into my life and invited me to follow him. What would have happened if I was never invited to come and see and determine for myself is I should follow Jesus?

Who invited you to follow Jesus? Who invited you to come and see? That person changed your life. When we talk about being a mature disciple – we must include a very real conversation about what it means to be a church that intentionally, systematically and cheerfully creates an atmosphere to bring/invite.

Here’s the second word – Grow. This is word that’s easier for many of you to understand, because you are all about personal growth. And growth is critical for being a mature disciple. When we talk about growing we talk about it in language that connects head and heart. Paul says it this way – read 4:13. Unity of the faith is about doctrine and truth- it has to do with head. Disciples will understand basic Christian doctrine and a Biblical worldview. We’ll be unified on the basics of Christian theology. But then Paul goes deeper – knowledge of Son of God. When the Bible uses this word “knowing” or “knowledge” it’s not head knowledge – it’s heart knowledge – it’s intimacy. Not knowing about Jesus but knowing him personally and intimately.

So growing as a disciple and moving to maturity is certainly about head knowledge – we should be learning deeply and be able to communicate who God is. But growth never ends at head knowledge. Head knowledge must change a disciple’s heart. Read Colossians. The more deeply we know God, the more deeply we are transformed. Our lives line up with God. We become just like Jesus.

So when we talk about discipleship and maturity we’re beginning to see that it includes bringing/inviting people to come and see Jesus and to intellectually engage with Jesus and the Bible in a safe place and allow Jesus to get to our hearts. I believe that the local church has the potential to a seminary – a training place for disciples of Jesus. I believe this so much that we’ve created a school of discipleship for us to participate in and take those next right steps of discipleship/maturity which includes discovering our mission. Spiritual maturity, our ministry and our mission. We’ve added a thorough class called Invitation which equips us to see what God is doing through the Bible.

Here’s the final fill in: Send. Read 4:13. Maturity is not an end to itself. Discipleship/maturity occurs so that a disciple is empowered for mission and ministry in Millcreek township; Erie county; PA and the world. A disciple is empowered/trained to “go and tell.” To change the world for Jesus.

Paul talks about this using the language “the fullness of Christ.” To be growing to allow Jesus to fully live in our lives. The church in the world is Jesus in the world; because the church is the fullness of his incarnate body.

So as disciples we are sent as missionaries of Jesus into our jobs, our neighborhood, our family, our favorite restaurant or circle of influence. Maturing, growing disciples are missionaries. In any place we find ourselves we reflect Jesus and invite someone else to get to know Jesus, too.

So now what? When we talk about having ONE Culture – we have choices. We can have a culture where we come and sit in rows and engage in ritual/religion and feel good together. Or we can have a culture in which as the family of God we’re inviting our community to come and get to know Jesus, grow in a knowledge and intimacy of Jesus and be sent into our community to invite more people to follow Jesus.

So here’s our take away this week. I want you to know that you don’t need to be a Bible scholar, the best person in the world, the best parent in the world; but I can invite someone. I can say, come and see. Something special happens when people who are far from God, get together with people who are following Jesus, something special happens. Some of you get this because you’re here because someone invited you.

Let’s practice this; “You should come to my church this Sunday.” Just invite. You’re over hearing a conversation. – You should come to my church this Sunday.

We have no idea how important an invitation could be for someone. You have no idea what hangs in the balance. You have the power to change the trajectory of someone’s life. Simply by inviting.