Tag Archives: volunteer opportunities

Hidden Steps on the Path to Christian Maturity

Sep 05, 18
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Our last blog post told amazing stories of radical, unconditional love.  However, what was missing from those stories was how they began.  Rich Mullins, Alissa Parker and Andrew Brunson didn’t develop earthshaking faith overnight.

The path to unconditional love begins as the Lord leads us to accept Jesus as our Savior.  The road to our conversion may be long or short, but it doesn’t end there.  In fact, it’s only the beginning.  The sanctification process that follows our justification could last a lifetime and will be filled with speedbumps and potholes along the way.  Each challenge we face is meant for our good, intended to mold and shape us into Christ’s image as we’re refined in the fire of life.  Yes, it is our holiness and not our prosperity that God seeks and speaks of in Romans 8:28, one of the Bible’s most oft-quoted yet widely-abused verses.

In God’s immense love, He lays out and pushes us down a path to maturity in Christ through His Holy Spirit.  Many believers never move very far down that path, opting for “cheap grace” by repeating the Sinner’s prayer but not following the Lord’s commands to obey, love and make disciples.  Many churches permit congregants to persist in that disobedience to the Great Commandment and Great Commission (GC2) by not illuminating the full path to Christian maturity.  In the name of church growth, afraid to push congregants outside their comfort zones, church leaders put members at risk of standing to Jesus’ left with the “goats” on Judgment Day.

Only pastors truly involved in building disciples who worship the Lord unreservedly and serve others compassionately (possibly at the expense of short-term church growth) do their best to ensure those entrusted to their care will stand to Jesus’ right with the other faithful “sheep”.  Unfortunately, pastors mischaracterizing God’s love as a one-way street of grace and forgiveness with little expectation of reciprocity or accountability may grow their headcount but aren’t counting (proverbial) “sheep”.

Yes, we are saved by God’s grace – but how we act, particularly toward our brothers and sisters in Christ, demonstrates the sincerity of our confession.  Christ loves us, literally to death, but the Lord is a righteous and jealous God.  In His righteousness He had to pass judgement on sin; in His love He made a way for us through the sacrifice of His own Son.  In His love He provided the path to holiness though His Holy Spirit; in His righteousness He judges those who choose not to pursue that path and cheapen the price He paid for our forgiveness.

First Steps on the Path to Maturity

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)

Those are not the lifetime batting averages or career rushing yards of those enshrined in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11.  Those are not descriptions of the radical, unconditional love we illustrated in our last blog post.  Those are the essentials, or baby steps, down the path to Christian maturity.  Those are what “sheep” do – evidence that a new believer is beginning to move past milk and ready for solid food.  Those who haven’t yet begun intentionally caring for fellow believers are not ready to graduate to the next steps on the lengthy path toward the Hall of Faith.

Often the early part of that path involves a small step of faith.  Although some do come to know Jesus, sell everything and head immediately into the mission field, most on this journey of sanctification start by doing simple Sheep-like things.  As they take that first step, they see Jesus show up in powerful ways, blessing their work to bear fruit.  Like Elijah, who obeyed and saw God perform miracle after miracle, we must continue taking steps in our walk with the Lord if we want to see God’s hand at work.  If we march ahead in obedience, gradually our love and faith will grow to the point where we’re willing one day to challenge the prophets of Baal like Elijah, give away the clothes off our back like Rich Mullins or endure years of persecution like Andrew Brunson.

Few Churches Light the Whole Path

Why aren’t there more Rich Mullins, Andrew Brunsons and others worthy of the Hall of Faith today in America’s churches?  Those individuals were willing to trudge down the path against seemingly insurmountable obstacles and odds, undeterred because they were always looking up at the Lord and looking ahead to their heavenly reward.

Yet most churches in America today don’t equip or empower members to move beyond the first “baby steps”.  Nearly all emphasize the Matthew 25 basics of caring for those inside the church.  Every church pushes “church chores” like serving as greeters or ushers.  But they overemphasize internal tasks, rarely pointing out external opportunities farther down the maturity path.  Therefore, our gaze becomes fixed inward, only seeing immediate needs within the 4 walls of a church and not upward and outward (like those in the Hall of Faith).

By limiting outlets for leveraging our spiritual gifts, lay leaders often develop a false sense that they’ve completed the entire path to spiritual maturity by faithfully serving on church committees.  Yes, some have the gift of administration, but we are all called to the Great Commission.  I fear many elders and deacons have served at a church for 20+ years but never led someone to Christ.  I fear many churchgoers hardly miss a Sunday but have not once told a non-believer about Jesus.  Of course, serving our church and fellow members is commendable and biblical, but if the objective of that work is building an institution versus building disciples, then we remain stuck at the “baby steps” stage.

But the road doesn’t end there…

Illuminating Hidden Steps on the Path

Churches that do not highlight and encourage pursuit of the full path to Christian maturity (i.e. making disciples who make disciples) may be liable for laying out a path that leads into a ditch.  It’s easy to grow complacent and self-righteous as we spend more time around church people doing church things.  We can become less thankful for grace than when we first believed as we cuss less and serve at the church more.  As time goes on within churchdom, many become less prayerful and less inclined to take the Gospel out to non-believers, losing touch with the desperation they once felt for a Savior (back when they were in that same position).  Instead of driving down the path to maturity, they gradually disconnect from unconditional love, throwing their cars into reverse.

The rest of the path to Christian maturity beyond confession and basic “Sheep-tending” is rooted in obedience.  Obedience, love and discipleship are joined at the hip.  Jesus states plainly in John 14 that “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.… Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching”.  His greatest commandments are to love God and all of mankind.  For a church to help members move along the maturity process, its leaders must abandon catering to church consumers and challenge them to love unconditionally and obey recklessly.  We are all called to surrender our lives to Jesus like Rich Mullins, Alissa Parker and Andrew Brunson.  Anyone content with cultural Christianity must be presented with the reality that Jesus expects much more of them.  He demands personal growth and not just church growth.  Believers ARE the personification of church, so they bear responsibilities between Sundays for BEING the Church.  Yet only a small percentage of churchgoers serve actively in external ministry or share their faith regularly.

The decision to stop catering and start challenging a congregation to obey GC2 risks a mass exodus of fence-sitters and “goats”.  Although the road to long-term church growth runs through disciple-making, few pastors can stomach the short-term loss that it brings.  Being the first out of the gate is scary, particularly for an established church with high fixed costs, when there are alternatives down the street that still demand far less of their members.

So as a result we have far too many “elementary school” and “high school” level churches in America offering only “milk” and not the full path to Christian maturity.  Few churches provide a “collegiate” or “masters” level education.  Those in “high school” aren’t ready to be effective in the workforce.  The occupation of a Christian is GC2 , but how can those who aren’t yet disciples make disciples?

For those mature enough to move down the path past “high school”, remedial churches typically cling to those individuals rather than “graduating” them, providing limited options for growth and service beyond internal ministries.  However, truly transformed individuals likely will not repeat Christianity 101 over and over again, soon seeking a richer experience once they hit a church’s “educational” ceiling.  Those worthy of the Hall of Faith, who would die for their faith and endure torture before renouncing it, won’t leave higher levels of spiritual maturity to full time church workers.  Yet they struggle to find a church illuminating the full path to Christian maturity because programs, facilities, staff and amenities cater to seekers and immature believers, diverting valuable resources away from potential investments in starting “college” and “graduate” level programs for discipleship and (external and internal) service.

It’s Your Turn

Are a high percentage of your church’s members so on fire for the Lord that would leave behind their careers and wealth if called into local or international missions?

More like Christ and less “Christian”

Aug 22, 18
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In our last post, How Churches Enable Conditional Love we began to paint the portrait of a person who loves like Jesus.  What does it look like to demonstrate a love so radical that the world would consider you “odd for God”?

If being a “Jesus freak” means I’m so filled with the Holy Spirit that I take WWJD to its literal and logical extreme, then count me in.  If it’s my fanatical love that fulfills the promise made in John 15 and John 17 that the world will hate me, sign me up.  But if that hatred of me stems from the prevailing perception of most Christians, that I’m legalistic and judgmental – then shame on me.

Jesus beautifully portrays the pure, unconditional love we should seek to emulate.  No one possesses enough “goodness” to replicate the unadulterated, Agape love He modeled, but through the power of Christ in us, we can do what is humanly impossible…

1. Doing what you hate most for those who can’t return the favor

The undefiled sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross was unblemished by any concern about self-preservation – driven only by unfathomable love and desire to redeem a world that had almost universally rejected His Father.

Few defy natural fight-or-flight impulses in the face of extreme danger.  Andrew Brunson, an American pastor currently imprisoned in Turkey under false charges of trying to overthrow the government, stood his ground and resisted the urge to flee.  He has publicly forgiven his captors and accusers.  At every opportunity, Pastor Brunson is glorifying God, sharing the Gospel and professing that “It is a privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ.”

2. So much empathy for those suffering that you can’t sit still and watch

Jesus desires compassion even more than sacrifice (Matthew 9:13)  Paul’s definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13 begins with “patient” and “kind”.  Jesus went well out of His way and endured countless “inconvenient interruptions” to heal nearly every ailing person that believed He had the ability to restore them to health.

Rich Mullins wrote one of the most popular praise and worship songs of our time, “(Our God is an) Awesome God”, and had the opportunity to pocket millions, but donated nearly every dollar to charity.  Rich was known to literally give the shirt off his back and the shoes on his feet to anyone in need.  He walked away at the height of his fame to teach music to children on a Native American reservation.  For Rich Mullins love was not just an emotion, it was a genuine concern for others that drove him to unimaginably compassionate actions.

3. Forgiving egregious personal affronts without any hope of an apology

1 Corinthians goes on to describe love as keeping “no record of wrongs”.  No man has had license or occasion to forgive as many offenses against Himself as Christ.  Betrayed by His closest friends, rejected by those He came to save, executed unjustly by priests entrusted with the prophesies He fulfilled, Jesus marched forward unwaveringly and undeterred to His predetermined fate.

Alissa and Robbie Parker’s daughter Emilie was in 1st grade at Sandy Hook Elementary School when she was coldly murdered by a crazed gunman.  Emilie’s parents embodied Jesus’ words in Luke 6:27-36, not only forgiving the perpetrator but launching a national ministry, writing a book and starting a blog to help others experience faith, hope and healing in the face of unspeakable tragedy. 

4. Seeking the welfare of the most unsavory character you know

Jesus eagerly pursued tax collectors and prostitutes.  He turned the tables on the self-righteous, directing His ire at them and not at those they were condemning.

The mission of CREATED is to “restore vulnerable women involved in the sex industry to an understanding of their value, beauty and destiny in Jesus Christ”.  CREATED treats the seemingly dishonorable with dignity – looking beyond actions that incite either lust or ridicule to see a soul made in God’s image, more desperate for a Savior than those standing in judgment of their disreputable behavior.

These people are weird – for Christ.  It would be unsettling if the Lord expected that kind of radical love of all His followers.  I contend that He does…

Less Religious and More Godly…

Being more like Christ and less “Christian” is the path for believers to become known as more joyful than judgmental, compassionate than condemning, and hopeful than hypocritical.  As shown above in the 4 Agape examples, we can love like Jesus.  But as we discussed in our last blog post, it will require a significant departure from prevailing church growth models.

Equipping congregations to love unconditionally and putting an end to cultural Christianity will entail…

  1. Praying fervently for the power of the Holy Spirit to fill each believer, because Agape is only possible through Christ in us
  2. Teaching church members to see people as souls made in God’s image so we can stop judging others based on appearances and actions
  3. Developing an aggressive plan to grow believers beyond conversion into disciples of Jesus Christ
  4. Redefining “church” as people and not a place, putting responsibility back on congregants for being the personification of “church” between Sundays
  5. Fighting the culture war in America with a “ground war” (with love as the chosen weapon) rather than the current “air war” (of opinions and politics)
  6. Reallocating time, talents and treasures toward uses that emphasize not only love for those who love us, but also love for those who may not like us
  7. No longer counting heads but tracking transformation, evangelism and community impact

The challenge of reversing course in those 7 ways, eliminating man-made religion and restoring Christ-likeness, is complicated by the loss of access to churchgoers today.  In an effort to cater to busy schedules and retain members, pastors have made church more convenient and comfortable – conditioning congregants to give less of their valuable time to discipleship and disciple-making, the primary prerequisites for learning to love like Jesus.  Modern adaptations and conventions for running institutional “church” have modified and misdirected love, steering it toward a lower level of commitment than Jesus modeled or intended.

It’s Your Turn…

Please share a story of radical, fanatical love you’ve witnessed in your community.

How Churches Enable Conditional Love

Aug 08, 18
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Part 2 of 2

Loving those who hate you is weird.  Praying for the welfare of your worst enemy is strange.  Forgiving the drunk driver who kills your daughter is highly abnormal.  Yet that’s exactly what Jesus tells us to do.

The question is – are churches in America today providing the path to become “weird” for Christ?  Are our pews filled with “weirdos”?

Anyone who bucks cultural norms is apt to be ridiculed.  Yet studies show that it’s not our radical, agape love that’s fueling the declining public perception of Christianity.  Instead, surveys confirm what is readily observable in the mainstream media – that Christians are perceived as unusually legalistic and judgmental.

While John 17 says the world will always hate Christians, it is possible to change the media’s characterization of Christians from “hateful” to “loving” and “compassionate”.  For example, in the days of the early church, the Roman emperor Julian had to acknowledge, “The [Christian faith] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.”

No, the first word non-believers think of when asked to describe a Christian does not have to be “legalistic” or “judgmental”.  Yet the processes and conventions in churches today contribute to that unfortunate word association.  Christ-followers could be universally known for being “weird” for much better reasons – like putting others first, serving the poor, abject humility, and loving those who hate them.  However, that will require significant departure from prevailing church growth models…

Formula for Enabling Conditional Love =

1. Looking Like the World + …

As we discussed a few weeks ago, culture has changed the Church more than the Church has shaped culture.  By definition, conforming the way we run churches to fit accepted norms produces cultural Christians, not social outliers (for Christ).  Churches advertise and offer adaptations to the framework we see for church in the Bible to accommodate an increasingly time-constrained and demanding society:

  • Comfort – Design environment around creating an experience
  • Convenience – Shorter commitment around weekend service
  • Community – Social structure around small groups (fellowship vs. intensive discipleship)
  • Control – Centralized definition of “church” around a place and pastor
  • Counts – Measuring “success” around near-term conversions, attendance and giving
  • Compassion – Focusing initiatives around holiday, church-branded “outreaches”

None of those cultural conventions are non-conforming enough to birth non-conformists.

2. Yet, Promising Something Different + …

The increasing number of “Dones”, including youth not returning to church after adolescence, speaks to missed expectations.  People are smart.  Churchgoers see through cheap imitations of what Christ intended and lose faith – not in Him but in church as we know it.

  • They expected to find unconditional love (which would be “weird”), but instead see attempts to give the appearance of love, like friendly greeters (which is actually quite normal)
  • They expected life transformation (which would be “weird”), but instead see a bar set at conversion with no options for personal discipleship
  • They expected the supernatural (which would be “weird”), but instead encountered strategies and programs modeled after the natural, like attractional children’s ministries
  • They expected real community engagement (which would be “weird”), but instead were offered occasional service projects that have negligible social impact

Those with deep relationships with Jesus will not be satisfied at a church that does not deliver on its biblical promises.  They’ll quickly see through the majority of pastors who teach that believers must come to church for discipleship, but then do not offer true discipleship programs.

3.  Then, Treating the World as “Outsiders”

Yes, churches following the prevailing church growth model in America today (i.e. Invite, Involve and Invest) are designed around worldly concepts yet claim to be nothing like the world.  You likely see the irony of the first two parts of the equation – but it gets worse.

With fewer attending church regularly and giving per capita decreasing, efforts to grow and sustain a church typically involve internal and external brand promotion.  The result of “I love my church” campaigns and congregants wearing church t-shirts for outreach events incites an implicit “us versus them” mentality.  In other words, intentional efforts to market an institutional church encourages an unintended distant stance and a public perception of judgmentalism.  As brand marketing inadvertently defines church as a place and not as people, loyalty to the church increases for saved “insiders”, but their sense of personal responsibility to reach unsaved “outsiders” diminishes.  “Insiders” band together in their belief systems and political positions, unwittingly aligning against “outsiders” who don’t agree with them – and as a result feel left out.

Rather than acting like “weirdos” and loving those who hate them, church loyalists typically ignore the Great Commission, in effect treating non-believers like the “weirdos” by substituting passive invitations to a church service for proactive evangelism and discipleship.

Equipping Congregations to Love Unconditionally

A return to the biblical model for church, which naturally creates “weirdos”, is not complicated – but would be quite painful for a church entrenched in the status quo:

  1. Pray fervently for the power of the Holy Spirit, who is rarely mentioned in most churches, to fill each believer – because the real battle is not against people but against the powers of darkness that work against the souls of men and women
  2. Teach church members to see people as souls so we can stop judging others based on appearances and actions, which makes us undervalue non-believers, overemphasize distinctions, and reduces the impetus to share our faith
  3. Develop an aggressive plan to grow believers beyond conversion into disciples of Jesus Christ, who inherently see everyone as souls made in God’s image with eternal value
  4. Redefine “church” as people and not a place, putting responsibility back on congregants for being the personification of “church” between Sundays
  5. Fight the culture war in America with a “ground war” (with love as the chosen weapon) rather than the current “air war” (of opinions and politics)
  6. Reallocate time, talents and treasures toward uses that emphasize not only love for those who love us, but also love for those who may not like us – such as utilizing the church building for ESL classes for Muslim refugees, recovery programs for opioid addicts, support groups for parents of troubled teens, and compassion efforts for local widows
  7. Stop counting heads and start tracking transformation, evangelism and community impact

Only when Christians and churches adopt these biblical strategies will society see us as “weirdos”, not because we’re legalistic and judgmental, but because we love and forgive unconditionally.

It’s Your Turn…

Do you know of a church that is producing strange, abnormal Christians who turn the other cheek, treat the dishonorable with dignity, and desperately pursue lost souls?

How to Love Those Who Hate You

Jul 25, 18
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Part 1 of 2

Much of society’s perception that Christians are not loving derives from how we interact with those who do not love us.  Jesus foretells in John 15 that the “world” will always hate Christians because we do not belong to the world.  However, He instructs Christians in the Sermon on the Mount to “love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.”  Nothing is more countercultural than Jesus’ command to love those who hate you.  That kind of love does not come naturally (in the flesh).  It can only come through the Holy Spirit.

If your response to the first paragraph is that “no one hates me”, there may be a problem.  Jesus promised that wordly people will hate Christians.  A person with no enemies has to question whether they have become too worldly (i.e. “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.”)  It may be time to live and love more radically for Christ.  Although many will be won to Christ by an other-worldly love for haters, others will hate you for acting so out of step with accepted norms.

However, I’m not sure it is our radical love that is generating the animosity seen toward Christians today.  Hollywood mocks Christians, cable news outlets vilify Christian values, and public school students declaring faith in Christ risk social ostracization – the modern equivalent of “coming out of the closet”.  I contend that the campaign against Christianity in worldly circles emanates not from our overdose of love for those who hate us, but from our lack of demonstrable love for them.

Step 1 – Loving WHO We Don’t See

To understand whether our love extends to those who hate us, we need to look first at how our love reaches outside our immediate family and friends.  Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them.”  Family obligations and church activities leave many Christians spending nearly all our (non-working) time with those already going to heaven.  Our greatest act of love for a non-believer is leading them to Christ, yet a very small percentage of Christians have shared their faith with someone in the past month.  Jesus healed and fed non-believers wherever He went, yet few Christians have served at a local ministry since the Christmas season – and churches allocate less than 1% of their annual budgets to local missions.  While Christians in America worship freely in the U.S., less than ½ of 1% of Christian giving goes toward our persecuted brothers and sisters overseas.

No, the vast majority of churchgoers do not model love for the Unseen – those they rarely encounter like the lost in our community, the poor in our city, and the persecuted far away.  It’s human nature to love conditionally – those we see most often.  However, it is our God-given mandate to love our “neighbor”, who Jesus depicted as a complete stranger.  And not just a stranger but a messy, bleeding victim of a violent crime.  The person Jesus portrayed as the definition of “neighborly” was not who we are accustomed to loving – our pastor and fellow church members – but a hated enemy (of the Jews at that time, a Samaritan).  It’s roughly comparable to a pastor or a church elder walking past a disheveled, starving mother and child – only minutes later to see an atheist (or Selfist) stop to help.

If most Christians do not appear to love the destitute and hopeless, how could society believe that we love those who dislike us?  Moreover, how can we convince the atheist that Jesus loves them if they watched so many of us ignore the plight of the desperate mother and her child?  Loving those who hate us begins with demonstrating our love for those outside our homes and congregations.  In other words, we must master the art of loving in ways that a non-believer would expect (of those in need of help and hope) before graduating to a radical love (of those who hate Christians) that would “shock and awe”.

Step 2 – Loving WHAT We Don’t See

Lacking evidence that Christians truly love those outside our family and like-minded friends, secular society presumes we hate those who hate us when we speak out against those with whom we disagree.  When we give our Christ-centered views on social issues, are we giving them in a Christ-centered way?  In other words, do we feel a genuine love for those who believe in gay marriage, abortion, and restricting our freedom to express religious convictions?  Non-believers are not convinced love is the motivating factor behind our words.  I’m not convinced either.  Society hears evangelism without compassion, judgement without confession (which equates to hypocrisy), and opinions without earning the right to speak them (with love as a precursor).  Non-Christians will not sense our love for them unless we truly love them.  But how can we love those who hate us?

That answer begins again with loving what is Unseen – but in this case I’m referring to an aspect of our “enemies” that we do not see.  When we watch a cable news program or read an article in publications that we know stand against all we stand for, what do we think about the speaker or author?  Many watch the talking head on our TV screen or picture the writer of the words and their blood boils at their audacity to offend our Father and lead so many astray.  Yet what we don’t see is what is most important – their souls.  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Their souls are eternal, darkened, lost and controlled by Satan.  Only when we look past the appearance, words and actions of someone who hates us can we begin to love them.  We must look deeper within, at their souls made in God’s image that longs for Him but is prevented from reconnecting with the Lord.  Their souls are empty, devoid of hope.  True love is not judging based on what we see, but bringing hope to what we cannot see – their souls.  “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15)

The question for each of us is – do we love their souls or judge their flesh?  Their flesh is outward – the combination of their sin (in words and actions) and their appearance (physical).  Their souls are inward – a battle for possession by either the Holy Spirit or demons.  Satan attacks the soul attempting to wrestle away control through affecting the external – the individual’s circumstances.  We will always find it difficult to love those who don’t love us if all we see is the external (flesh and blood), but the mandate to love our “neighbor” becomes much easier to obey when we see our kinship with others as eternal souls seeking reconciliation and redemption through Christ.

To the world, loving the Unseen – who and what we cannot see – is radical.  It’s Jesus’ type of love – a love possible only through seeing individuals as Christ sees them.  Jesus spoke dignity into people’s lives.  The crowds wanted to follow Jesus because He treated the ostracized tax collector, impoverished fishermen, outcast prostitutes, and untouchable lepers with dignity.  He saw their value as souls craving to be reunited with the Father, not as those who had value only in fleshly mind and body.

The Agape love Christ modeled is unconditional, unable to be affected by how well we know someone, how often we see them, what they believe, or anything they do or say.  Agape love, for every person’s soul, allows us to demonstrate compassion to disheveled strangers, evangelism to the lost, generosity to the persecuted, and prayer for those who persecute us in much greater proportion than Christians do today.  Likewise, it eliminates our anger toward those who hate us and rekindles our sense of responsibility and urgency to lead their souls back to Christ.

It’s Your Turn…

Do you love those you disagree with or those who hate Christians?  Are you demonstrating that love to them in ways that they find shockingly countercultural?

Why Aren’t Christians Seen as Loving?

Jun 28, 18
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“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:35)

“‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’… ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (from Luke 28: 27, 29)

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…” (Luke 6:27)

The primary distinguishing feature of a Christian should be how they love those who agree with them…and those who don’t.  Christians should easily recognizable by their mind-boggling love for those who despise them.  It shouldn’t be difficult to tell who the Christians are in the neighborhood or at work.

So, why are Christians in America not known for their love?  Instead, studies consistently show that Christians are seen by most as judgmental, by many as hateful, and by only a few as readily identifiable in a crowd.

What Should Love Look Like?

Scripture characterizes love as a verb.  Love is something we do – not just something we feel.  Biblical love is hard – it is not passive or lazy.  1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John 4 describe a love that is quite the opposite of our natural, human inclination toward self-preservation.  Jesus modeled a love that defies explanation – a script written from the beginning of time where the Author dies an excruciating death to save everyone from imminent peril.  The Lord could have chosen 1,000 easier ways for Christ to shed His blood to atone for our sins, but He revealed a plan to the prophets well in advance that involved His own Son being “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” to demonstrate His overwhelming love for us.  Christ’s love, which the Great Commandment calls us to emulate, entails:

  1. Sacrifice – What if a friend died to save you?  How would you live differently from that point on?  How would you act toward your (deceased) friend’s family to show your appreciation?  In that light, the fact that Christ died for us should spur Christians to a life of radical generosity, showing our love for Him and His children.
  2. Mercy – Jesus healed, fed and forgave at every opportunity.  Jesus continually emphasized the importance of compassion toward the poor, sick and lost – not just in words, but in actions.
  3. Obedience – Jesus states plainly in John 14 that “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.… Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching”.  Obedience and love are joined at the hip.  We obey out of love for Christ and never in a futile, conditional attempt to “earn” or “deserve” salvation.
  4. Selflessness – Philippians 2 associates love with putting the interests of others above our own, a concept so counter to our natures that it may require a lifetime of sanctification to learn to “love our neighbors as ourselves”.
  5. Unity – Philippians 2 also joins the call in John 17 for absolute, complete unity of all believers in mind and spirit.  “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23)
  6. Forgiveness – Jesus linked love and forgiveness inextricably in His encounter with the woman who washed His feet with perfume at the dinner.  “Whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47)  If we realized just how many sins Jesus has forgiven for us, we would not be so quick to judge others.  “’Now which of them will love him more?’…Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.’” (Luke 7:42-43)
  7. Unconditional – Agape love is love for God and others with no expectations or strings attached.  Given our sinful natures, the purity of Agape isn’t possible apart from Christ through the Holy Spirit.

How Does Today’s Culture Define “Love”?

In American culture today, love is viewed less as a verb and more as a noun.  Rather than something we do, it’s something we feel.  Because Agape is unattainable for non-believers, they settle for love in lesser forms:

  1. Phileo – This brotherly love is found in the warmth and affection between friends.  Companionship provides the sense of community that so many desire, but Phileo can be conditional and never extends to those we do not like.  Mark Zuckerberg thinks Facebook can replace churches because he sees the Church’s role reduced to providing community.
  2. Storge – “Suburbia” values providing for our families at the expense of all others.  Parents have no time to care for poor because they’re working late nights all week to finance a desired quality of life for their families, and then run from soccer games to cheerleading practice all weekend.  It is hard to argue with this family-oriented form of love, but it leaves little room for Agape.
  3. Eros – Our TV, radio and Internet “airwaves” are filled with references to this sexually-charged form of love, which is better coined “infatuation” in a society that endorses and encourages premarital sex.
  4. Tolerance – Under the guise of love, compassion and justice, society vehemently defends the right of each and every individual to determine his/her own moral compass and rejects anyone who defers to a higher moral authority than themselves.  Deifying each other’s false god of “self” is not love – it’s idol worship (worship of the creation and not the Creator).
  5. Freedom – In America today, any attempts by Christians to point out sin is seen as judgmental or fear-mongering – a form of hate, not love.  Although enslaved to sin, non-believers demand to remain free from the imposition of Christian values, truth or morality.  In the name of “love” (by their definition), they love and defend self at all costs.
  6. Emotions – Ask most non-Christians in the U.S. to define “love” and you are likely to hear descriptions of feelings and human emotions, not the action-oriented version in 1 Corinthians.
  7. Social Justice – One area where Millennials view love as a verb is in fighting for human rights, which they believe Christians frequently violate (by advocating Biblical standards of behavior).

Love comes from the one true God, not from the world. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)  Apart from Christ, society can only conjure up counterfeit, cheap imitations.

Why Doesn’t Society See Christians as Loving?

Yes, the world has a distorted view of love.  Christians do not live according to the secular definition of love, so we don’t appear loving when looked at through that filter.  However, there is merit to certain aspects of society’s perception of love – like Phileo, Tolerance and Social Justice.  Those correspond loosely to the Biblical principles of Unity, Forgiveness and Mercy.  Are Christians doing those components of love well?  If not, then we’re not living out society’s definition of love – or ours.

The Bible says our love for one another should shock, amaze and attract non-believers to Christ.  Yet if what once was attractive about Christianity when we treated love as a verb (i.e. action and compassion toward all men and women, even “enemies) is no longer distinguishable from society’s view of love as a noun (i.e. positive feelings and emotions toward those who are like-minded), then Christianity will repel non-believers.  That’s the situation our faith finds itself in today – one where culture has impacted the Church more than churches are impacting culture.

In other words, society expects Christians to love like them or to show them what true love looks like.  But if believers don’t exhibit either the version of “love” that society espouses or that Christ modeled, then they will be loving in a way that others do not understand or appreciate.  In that event, we can expect a continued decline in Church growth, influence, impact and perception in our nation.  The segue away from the Biblical definition of love began as institution-building replaced disciple-building in recent decades.  “Church” came to be known as a place with evangelism entrusted primarily to “professionals” and members tasked only with inviting people to come to an “event”.  To attract and retain members, church leaders lowered expectations and no longer held members to the Great Commission mandate.  Rather than equipping disciples to go out (and follow Jesus’ example of leading with compassion and then telling them who He is), the focus shifted internally – as did the objects of our “love”.

Accordingly, society observes the allegiance Christians have to their particular church, pastor and fellow members, but not their Unity (as one universal body), Forgiveness (of those who think differently) or Mercy (for those in need or oppressed):

  1. Are We United? – The world sees our splits, factions and denominations.  However, it is not seeing much collaboration across churches around causes of great importance within our cities.  Nor are we demonstrating love for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering around the globe.
  2. Are We Forgiving? – Our lack of unity spills over into a perceived self-righteousness and judgmentalism toward those outside of our immediate congregation, inadvertently redefining “neighbor” by confining love to a narrower audience than Jesus intended.
  3. Are We Merciful? – Even within our church families, we aren’t modeling the love and sacrifice that led the church in Acts to sell their possessions to ensure no one suffered for lack of food or clothes.  Churches in America no longer lead the way in caring for the poor outside of their “4 walls” as they did for 1900 years when churches were the food bank and homeless shelter.

Love is action, not just words.  Love is the essence of our faith.  The perception of Christians will change when our love of God extends and overflows naturally and unconditionally beyond our fellow believers to all mankind.  The culture war raging in America today can only be won when churches stop building institutions that tend to fight an air war (dropping verbal bombs) and start building disciples who engage in a ground war using love and compassion as their chosen weapons.

It’s Your Turn…

Are there any other reasons why you believe society does not associate church or Christians with the word “love”?  What can be done to restore that reputation and lead more people back toward Jesus?

Are Churches Changing Culture or is Culture Changing Church?

Jun 13, 18
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Last week’s post outlined the biblical definition of “church”, showing how it has been redefined over recent decades in America.  The principal words for “church” found in Scripture, Ekklesia meaning “assembly of called out ones” and Kuriakos meaning “those belonging to the Lord”, both refer to the church in terms of a collective body of individual believers.  Yet now, society sees church as a “what” and not a “who”.  When evaluating how that transition took place, it is no surprise to learn that the distortion of the word “church” in America reflects dynamics of secular culture that have seeped into the “4 walls” of our church buildings and psyches.

Culture is Shaping Church…

As we discussed last week, “church” (as defined in the Bible) should not be characterized by any of the 10 terms listed below – but those words reflect common perceptions and realities of churches in America today.  Not coincidentally, those same terms accurately depict America’s culture.  Apparently, society is exerting significant influence over how we view and do “church”.  Let’s look at each of those 10 characteristics and perceptions of church and show how it syncs with the related cultural trend…

  1. a Place – Church came to be seen as somewhere Christians go on Sundays as Americans have become more reluctant to accept personal accountability and responsibility (e.g. for being the embodiment of “church”)
  2. an Event – Church evolved into a weekly production as Americans sought greater convenience and developed shorter attention spans
  3. an Institution – Church increasingly became structured as a legal entity operating in (expensive and underutilized) buildings as our nation became progressively more corporate and litigious
  4. a Social Club – Church has turned into fellowship without obligation, free to come and go as we please, as loyalty and commitment have declined in our country
  5. a Business – Nickels and noses have grown more prevalent measures of success in churches as money and metrics have taken center stage in our consumer and bottom-line culture
  6. a “Hospital” (for “sinners”) – For the “unchurched”, attending a weekend service became a last resort for those in crisis only when Americans’ endless search for fulfillment and happiness elsewhere eventually met dead ends at every turn
  7. Easy – Churches began allowing congregants to abdicate evangelism to the “professionals” as consumers came to expect excellent customer service (or take their business elsewhere)
  8. Quick – Worship services grew shorter and Sunday schools disappeared as our schedules got busier, leaving less time for church between work, social and kid’s activities
  9. Scripted – Sermons, songs and segues became more carefully choreographed as Americans grew accustomed to a high degree of professionalism and entertainment value at any events they attend
  10. Segregated – Collaboration among churches across denominations has decreased and diversity has suffered as divisiveness has increased between those on different sides of the racial, demographic and political aisles

Yes, churches in America have (either intentionally or unwittingly, but either way unfortunately) adopted many features commonly seen in the secular world.

Church is Not Shaping Culture…

Flipping the coin, if we look back again at our post from last week, we also reviewed 10 characteristics the Bible indicates that churches SHOULD have.  Yet we don’t find any of those prevalent in American culture today.  Therefore, it does not appear that church (as it should be) is substantially influencing our culture…

  1. Not a Place, It’s YOU – Because church is now generally defined as an institution, no longer consistent with the original Greek words used in Scripture, fewer individual Christians are being equipped to live out their intended Great Commission mandate (as the personification of church to those around them)
  2. Disciple-Making – Hesitancy to call congregants to obedience, instead promoting a “cheap grace” corresponding to our nation’s moral relativism, has kept many believers from imitating Jesus’ powerful prayer, care and share model that changed the world
  3. Decentralized – A body of Christ that better balanced taking care of its own with pursuing lost sheep in the community and sacrificed building congregations for building disciples would see its reach expand dramatically as individuals truly became the hands and feet of Jesus wherever they live, play and work
  4. Evangelistic – Training more believers to effectively share the Gospel (despite popular opinion deeming any voicing of religious views as improper social etiquette) would undermine the “I’m right, you’re right” philosophy that has supplanted “I’m ok, you’re ok” as the rallying cry of intolerance by those (ironically and intolerantly) unwilling to endure dissenting views
  5. Compassionate – Reoccupying the lead role in compassion, a position the Church occupied for 1900 years as it followed Jesus’ example of demonstrating His love before telling people who He is, would speak clearly to a waiting world that believes it is more concerned than Christians about poverty and social justice
  6. Believers – In a culture increasingly inclined to doubt the validity of absolutes and truth, and in the name of tolerance hold that all (religious) roads essentially lead to the same destination, there is no better time for each of us as the living, breathing church to take responsibility for leading people to Christ
  7. Risky – Stepping out on a limb to deal with tough issues within the church like sin and repentance would provide a firmer (and less hypocritical) platform to speak about sin and repentance to a world riddled with guilt but mistrusting of the church to show it the path to redemption
  8. Loving – Society sees the love churchgoers have for their (institutional) church, but not necessarily their love for the Lord and those outside the “4 walls”, instead sensing self-righteousness and judgementalism in part due to the prioritization of little “c” over big “C”, inadvertently redefining “neighbor” to include a narrower audience than Jesus intended
  9. Transformative – The calls to radical life change, submission, surrender, holiness and sanctification have been replaced with repeating a prayer of salvation and getting involved in church activities, making it difficult to distinguish churchgoers from their unchurched counterparts
  10. United – Everyone desires a sense of belonging, yet that carnal craving diminishes the collective influence of the Church when Christians sell out their individual responsibility to be a light in a dark work in exchange for service to a single congregation

It’s Your Turn…

Do you agree with our assessment of the convergence of church and modern culture?  If so, what do you plan to do to advance the biblical definition of “church” within your circle of influence?

What is “Church”? (Hint: It’s not what you think it is)

May 30, 18
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Several terms are found in Scripture to define “church”:

Nowhere in the Bible is “church” defined as a physical structure or the leadership/staff of an organization.  All of the terms above make clear that “church” is by definition either all Christ-followers or a subset of believers.  In fact, every instance of the word “church” in God’s Word is implicitly plural because it is understood that “church” always and only applies to people, not a place.  For example, the Book of Acts, where the Church was launched and proliferated, leaves no doubt as to the personal nature of the word “church”:

Physical structures don’t pray, gather or welcome.  And pastors and staff weren’t the only ones praying, gathering and welcoming.

Church Is Not…

Not every church in America is a biblical church.  The prevailing church growth model (Invite, Involve, Invest) has redefined the word “church” to mean something that would be barely recognizable to Jesus’ disciples and leaders of the early church.  The following are common characteristics and perceptions of churches today, none of which correspond to any of the terms used to define “church” in the Bible:

  1. …a Place – Somewhere Christians go
  2. …an Event – Something Christians do (with “CEOs”, Christmas & Easter Only, joining them twice a year)
  3. …an Institution – A legal entity operating in (underutilized) buildings, with significant labor and maintenance costs
  4. …a Social Club – Fellowship and fun without commitment or obligation
  5. …a Business – An organization that will have to close its doors if it doesn’t meet budget, therefore carefully measuring “nickels and noses”, with members essentially paying for pastors and staff to usurp their rightfully responsibilities
  6. …a “Hospital” – …for “sinners”, inviting non-believers into an assembly intended for worship rather than holding believers accountable for being the personification of “church” within their circle of influence between Sundays
  7. …Easy – Minimal expectations and no requirements, allowing congregants to abdicate the Great Commission to “professionals” by simply inviting friends to services next weekend
  8. …Quick – A one-hour experience designed to be as convenient and enjoyable as possible
  9. …Scripted – Sermons and songs that are carefully planned, yet with discipleship and sanctification left to chance
  10. …Segregated – Functioning wholly apart from other churches outside (and even within) a denomination, and outsourcing compassion responsibilities to external ministries

Do any of those sound like your church?  Do you know anyone who thinks many of those 10 items accurately portray your church (or America’s churches)?  If so, then it’s likely misaligned with “church” as God intended.

Church is…

To determine whether your church conforms to the biblical definition of Church modeled by Jesus and exemplified by the early church, consider how well it espouses and practices the following principles:

  1. …YOU – Church is not somewhere Christians go, but something Christians are.  It’s not a place, but is taking place wherever and whenever believers are gathered for worship, teaching and discipleship.
  2. …Disciple-Making – During His earthly ministry, Jesus invested His time primarily in personal discipleship and service to those in need.  We are only His Church when we’re following His example of (intensive, 1-on-1) discipleship and (internal and external) compassion – on a continual, ongoing basis rather than as a series of events.
  3. …Decentralized – Church is mobile, because its members are the hands and feet of Jesus wherever they live, play and work.  Their dependence is on Christ and one another, not on an institution.  Yet, in their efforts to build an entity, pastors have redefined “church” and thereby failed to equip and empower the true “church” for ministry.
  4. …Evangelistic – As the embodiment of “church”, each of us should be going OUT after the “lost”, yet churches advertise and members invite them to come IN (and join our social club), requiring they enter a building to find Jesus.
  5. …Compassionate – Jesus demonstrated His love before telling people who He is, so a true church invests (heavily) outward in serving its community rather than diverting nearly all funds to attracting and retaining, terms typically associated with businesses.
  6. …Believers – Since Christ-followers are the “church”, worship services should not be designed for those who don’t worship the Lord.  Christ wants His bride to be undefiled and holy, meaning you and I (as the living, breathing church) should take responsibility for leading people to Christ and then welcome them to join other believers in worship.
  7. …Risky – The Christian walk is not intended to be easy or safe, yet that is the “M.O.” of modern church growth models.  As the body of Christ, each of us should be challenged to “eat right” and “work out” (prayer, care and share), making the collective church healthier as it loses weight, dropping perennial fence-sitters and church consumers who will never commit to giving their lives fully to Jesus.
  8. …Loving – Love is the essence of our faith.  Our love of God extends to fellow believers and all mankind.  Love is patient and enduring but consumers (who see church as a place and not as themselves) shop and hop, looking for the best “experience”.
  9. …Transformative – Attending weekly services, joining a small group and repeating the Sinner’s Prayer are not inherently life changing.  Expectations for radical obedience are replaced with cheap grace when evangelism, discipleship and sanctification become optional.
  10. …United – In our last blog post, we looked at how defining church as a place or event separates churches and ministries into small factions, whereas properly viewing church as “called out ones” and “those belonging to the Lord” unites us all as one in Christ.

Is this list or the prior one (of what church is not) a more accurate depiction of your “church”?

It’s Your Turn…

What other perceptions or characteristics of churches would you add to either of the lists above?

7 Impediments to Unity of the Body of Christ

May 17, 18
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Among all of the calls for unity among believers in the Bible, we need look no further than John 17, Jesus’ heartfelt prayer for His followers right before He went to the cross.

“That they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity.  Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (vs. 22-23)

When I first began traveling the country speaking to audiences of church and ministry leaders about Meet The Need, I used the word “unity” quite a bit, believing it would serve as a rallying cry.  I soon learned that preaching “unity” not only did not motivate, but sparked resistance.  While many leaders from each city liked each other, many had questions and concerns about the theology or practices of other churches, denominations and ministries.  In their view, their differences outweighed their commonalities.  They had chosen to maintain a comfortable distance for a reason and were not looking for greater unity.

So I stopped using that word and began promoting unity indirectly by convincing each church and ministry to utilize the same platform for serving their community and causes.  By making an offer each of them couldn’t refuse – conforming the software to look like their web sites, taking work off their staff, giving them complete control over who they connected with, and giving it to them for free – the body of Christ wound up united not by choice but because of the benefits of Meet The Need for their particular organizations.

That approach was highly effective for a while, but collaboration has continued to dissipate to the point where fewer churches are willing to join a network to serve alongside other churches and ministries.

What Works Against Unity?

Today, Satan is pulling out all of the tricks up his sleeve for accomplishing his ultimate goal – sowing discord among God’s elect:

  1. Distorting Truth – Misinterpretation of scripture, fostering disagreements among believers, is one of Satan’s primary MOs for fostering disunity.  Taking one passage or principle, ascribing it disproportionate importance and claiming a unique understanding of it, has been the origin of all “cults” and the basis for churches and denominations throughout history to criticize and separate from one another.
  2. Putting Little “c” Before Big “C” – Those sensing a call to ministry to advance the Kingdom (big “C”) often find their focus gradually narrowing to advancing the interests of a single congregation (little “c”) if their path leads them to a church staff role.  As we will see in a moment, attempts to grow A church can come at the expense of THE Church.  In management consulting, we called this phenomenon “going native” – working with a client so long that you forget you still work for the consulting firm, thereby undermining the interests of your real employer.
  3. Redefining Church as a Place – A united body of Christ would adopt a biblical definition of “church” as people (the “assembly of called out ones” and “those belonging to the Lord”) and not as a place.  In America, “church” is seen as somewhere people go on Sundays.  That perception allows churchgoers to abdicate their responsibilities as the personification of “church” and see their pastors and buildings as the embodiment of church.  Therefore, rather than all Christians uniting as individual believers around the globe, we segment into small factions labeled as “First Baptist” or “Cornerstone Church”.  Our world and ministry shrink accordingly.
  4. Fundraising – Yes, I said it. A dwindling pool of frequent churchgoers (who now give a lower percentage per capita) and the rise of megachurches (who can offer far more attractive children’s programs) mean fewer dollars are available to smaller churches.  Survival instincts breed self-interest, not unity.  Also, we see fewer local ministries partnering in cities across the U.S. due to competition over a limited number of high-capacity donors.  Likewise, churches are working less with external ministries, instead devising their own local missions initiatives over concerns that those partnerships could divert member giving.
  5. Measuring “Success” – Depending on the metrics a church uses to gauge its “success”, a little “c” may view itself as “healthy” yet may be making the big “C” more unhealthy.  Among the thousands of churches we have served, not one measured its contribution toward the unity of the overall body of Christ in its city and world.  The typical church closely tracks growth in “nickels and noses” while investing less than 2% of its budget in local and international missions.  Therefore, they provide many more opportunities for internal “church chores” than external outlets for service.  An internally-focused church concerned about numbers, therefore attracting new members from other churches and clinging to members who should be going to another church (i.e. one that offers more discipleship for a mature Christian) is actually undermining the welfare of the big “C”.
  6. Seeking Credit – On a weekly basis, Meet The Need sees examples of churches and ministries looking to build their own names, thereby impinging God’s name.  Typically, it involves participation in an outreach event where they complain or pull out because their organization was not getting enough recognition.  Nothing works against collaboration more than the desire for acclaim.  Nothing stifles unity more than stealing credit that is not rightfully theirs.  In contrast, not only does Meet The Need “white label” our solutions (because churches and ministries are the face of Christ to their communities), but we actually urge them not to broadcast our name to volunteers or families receiving help.
  7. Catering, Not Challenging – We are called to a life of discipleship, leading us to imitate Jesus, who spent His days discipling and serving.  If churches still challenged members by offering intensive, personalized discipleship, then believers would unite around what Jesus commanded above all else – loving God through discipleship and loving others through service.  Those Great Commission mandates are about dying to self and adopting a common Kingdom cause.  A common cause is always necessary for unity (forgetting our individual interests and putting “team” first), but efforts by churches to attract and retain members have shifted the cause from pursuing the lost to placating churchgoers.  And “self” as a cause always spawns discord.

Given these root causes, what should churches and ministries do to foster unity of the body of Christ?

How to Overcome Barriers to Unity

The Church in America is decreasing in growth, impact, influence and perception because it is declining in unity.  We are living out the ramifications of the truths Jesus shared in the verses we looked at earlier – John 17:22-23 (“That they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity.  Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”)  Society isn’t recognizing our unity so it doesn’t recognize Jesus in or through us.

Therefore, we urge gospel-believing and practicing churches and ministries across the U.S. to unite by:

  1. Defining “church” in an inclusive way (any gatherings of believers for biblical worship, prayer and teaching)
  2. Making unity a Key Performance Indicator
  3. Alleviating the financial burden of administration and pitfalls of “competition” through cost sharing (e.g. children’s programs) and decentralizing (e.g. house churches)
  4. Building networks, not around our differences (e.g. denominations) but around what’s the same (e.g. mission, mandates and causes)
  5. Developing common goals, collaborating around evangelism and community transformation, working with local leaders to collectively identify and address specific causes
  6. Considering the unique strengths and capabilities of each organization and how those little “c’s” map together to form the big “C” (i.e. the parts of the body spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12:12)
  7. Filling gaps in the city where resources are inadequate to serve local needs and to reach all with the gospel

It’s Your Turn…

Please share great examples of unity among the churches and ministries in your community.

How Did People Recognize Jesus is the Son of God?

May 02, 18
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Nearly every time someone recognized Jesus and acknowledged Him as the Messiah, it was because of His acts of mercy and compassion.  It’s no different today.  Non-believers recognize Jesus in us when they see His love flowing through us.  People see hope through the help.  They assume that if someone is willing to help, then they may be a source of hope as well.  It is our actions (Care), when combined with our words (Share) and our pleas to God to reconcile someone to Him (Prayer), that open eyes to see and ears to hear.

“Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name.” (John 2:23)

“Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” (John 4:48)

What signs and wonders did they want to see?  The arrogant and unbelieving sarcastically asked Jesus to perform a magic trick that was either self-centered or for self-preservation – associating him with their own priorities.  They were not compassionate and therefore did not ask for compassion.

However, those who were humble and expectant asked for practical help like healing or food.  They were in need and simply asked for kindness.

In either case, the arrogant and humble were alike in one respect – they wouldn’t believe unless Jesus did something.  Jesus refused to perform on demand if intended as a test, but fulfilled requests that were rooted in compassion.  As a result, many who were lowly and oppressed witnessed and were deeply impacted by Jesus’ demonstrations of love and empathy, whereas few with superiority complexes got to see Jesus in action or acknowledged His divinity when they did.

The lesson from all this is clear – people won’t recognize Jesus in our lives and in His Church if we do not practice what we preach.  Words are not enough – we can’t “outpreach” Jesus.  Although He had the perfect words, He still led with compassion.  Yet today churches devote less than 1% of their time, energy and budget to local missions.  Sad considering churches followed Jesus’ model and took the lead in compassion for 1900 years.

How People Recognized Jesus…

People did not recognize Jesus was the Messiah simply because He told them He was the Christ, but only after He had done something to demonstrate His compassion and love for them:

  1. John recognized Jesus, exclaiming “It is the Lord” only after He filled their nets with fish (John 21:6-7)
  2. The two men Jesus met on the road to Emmaus recognized Christ only after He handed them bread to eat (Luke 24:28-35)
  3. The royal official recognized and believed in Jesus only after his son was healed (John 4:53)
  4. The man born blind recognized Jesus as God’s son only after He was healed (John 9:35-38)
  5. The disciples recognized it was Jesus and not a ghost only after He saved Peter from drowning (Matthew 14:26-33)
  6. The city of Genneseret recognized Jesus for His ability to heal and brought Him all who were ill (Matthew 14:34-36)
  7. The woman at the well recognized Jesus as a prophet (and the Messiah) only after He conveyed an intimate knowledge of her personal history (John 4:7-30; 39-42)
  8. Nathaniel recognized Jesus as the Son of God only after He showed He cared enough to understand and acknowledge him personally (John 1:47-49)
  9. Mary recognized Jesus was not the gardener only after He spoke her name (John 20:14-16)
  10. The Roman soldier recognized Jesus was the Son of God only after He died for our sins (Matthew 27:50-54)

What does that mean for how Jesus recognizes His followers and how others recognize Jesus in us?

How Jesus Recognizes True Believers…

Are you like many Christians disturbed by Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25?  Maybe you find it a bit uncomfortable to read Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7 that even many of those who are highly “religious” will find themselves on the outside looking in on Judgement Day?  Yes, each of us is saved by grace and not by works, yet as the Book of James contends, faith without works is dead.  Jesus questioned whether someone lacking the compassion to feed the hungry, clothe the poor and help those imprisoned (for their faith in Christ) is really a Christian at all.  We should too.

Christ recognizes His followers by their sincere compassion and love (demonstrated by actions), not simply by their status or nice-sounding words:

  • Jesus was toughest on those who were the toughest on others (arrogant) and chose to use those who were toughest on themselves (humble).
  • American Christians are not great judges of genuine believers. Our culture tends to glamorize the wealthy and devalue the poor.  We often see humility as a sign of weakness and want the most self-confident person on our team.
  • When God picks his teammates, He looks for those most likely to bring glory to Him (not to themselves) and to love others well. Thus the Lord chose the “lowest of the low”, like shepherds and fishermen.
  • God recognizes greatness in low places where we usually look for it in high places.
  • The Lord recognizes the righteous, but we are often fooled by the self-righteous.
  • Jesus says we will recognize false prophets and true believers by their fruit. Most of the fruits of the Spirit have to do with how we treat others (i.e. love, forbearance, kindness, goodness, gentleness).

How People Recognize Jesus in Us…

Those who are “blind” can’t recognize Jesus. Jesus came to give sight to the “blind”. (John 9:39)  The spiritual leaders of that time claimed they could see, but did not recognize Jesus or John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:12)  They lacked compassion and love for others.  Likewise, it is our caring and concern for others that will cause believers and non-believers alike to recognize Christ in our churches and our personal lives.

Predictably, efforts to attract and retain church members have had the opposite effect – redirecting energy from building disciples who follow Jesus’ model of leading with compassion to instead building churches.  Society understandably no longer recognizes Jesus in most churches, instead seeing churches as uncaring and judgmental.  As the evil spirit said in Acts 19, “Jesus I know, and Paul and I know about, but who are you?”

Non-believers are more apt to recognize something different and alluring about a mature church (which has little to do with how long it’s been in existence) – those with strong discipleship programs and compassion ministries.  Older churches can become faint of sight, no longer recognizing the Great Commission and Great Commandment because they have been indoctrinated in (internal) churchdom for too long.  The pastor’s initial vision of community transformation may have become clouded by increasing demands of keeping up with the operations of the church.  The community will notice – not recognizing Jesus in that church because they do not see His love flowing through it.

It’s Your Turn…

Have you seen a church begin with excitement and tremendous impact, then slowly lose sight of its passion for bringing help and hope to those outside of the “4 walls” (who do not recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior)?

Older Doesn’t Mean More Mature (in Christ)

Apr 18, 18
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The “maturity” of a Christian has little to do with how long ago that person accepted Christ.  Likewise, the “maturity” of a church has little to do with how long it has been in existence.  In fact, there is often an inverse relationship between the amount of time that has passed since:

  • one’s rebirth and the depth of a person’s walk with the Lord
  • the planting a church and its overall spiritual “health”

“Younger” churches are often more mature…

Consider the following signs of “maturity” and typical changes that occur over the life of a church:


  • New – Fewer staff and members gives leaders more time to invest in each one
  • Old – Growth leads to less personalized, intensive and effective discipleship methods (e.g. small groups)


  • New – Not having much to lose in terms of members and financial obligations creates greater boldness in challenging people to live out (obey) the Great Commission and Great Commandment
  • Old – Expectations shift from members sharing their faith and making disciples to inviting people to church to let the “professionals” assume that responsibility


  • New – Running compassion projects in the community when the church first plants is common as a means to accomplish the pastor’s vision of impacting the community and to connect to new people
  • Old – Gradual transition to serving internally in order to manage the increasing number of church “chores” that come with growth


  • New – Targeting unreached groups and neighborhoods year-round, engaging them where they are to demonstrate the love of Christ and change the world
  • Old – Marketing the church to local zip codes to bring people in for a weekend service or advertise occasional outreach events taking place on campus

“Younger” Christians are often more mature…

Now look at the same signs of an individual believer’s “maturity” and typical changes that occur over the life of a Christian:


  • New – Little head knowledge of scripture but eager to learn, seeking a personal mentor and willing to adapt as new biblical concepts and commands come to light
  • Old – Heard all of the Bible stories before, often less voracious to consume God’s word and more unlikely to make life changes based on new learnings


  • New – Initially on fire to share their faith, unindoctrinated by churchdom, deeply in touch with God’s grace and thankful for their recent salvation
  • Old – More time around “good” people in church and less sin in their lives diminishes consciousness of the depths of their depravity and the peril from which Christ saved them, decreasing their sense of urgency to rescue others from a similar fate


  • New – Millennials are highly service-oriented, justice-minded and evangelistic, looking for opportunities outside of their church to follow Jesus’ model of leading with compassion and then sharing who He is
  • Old – Challenges of raising families and working toward retirement provides less time in busy schedules for serving others, leading many to invest nearly every spare minute in taking care of their own rather than in those in greatest need of help and hope


  • New – New believers still have many unsaved friends from their “prior life” and want to see them come to know the Lord
  • Old – Most long-time believers surround themselves with those who are already saved and few feel comfortable talking about God with non-believers (because they have not been discipled adequately to defend their faith)

It’s your turn…

Do you agree that the definition of “maturity” is similar for a Christian and for a church?  If so, have you seen the evolution from Kingdom to churchdom in the lives of your friends or church?