How do you gospel you?

In a recent conference, I had the opportunity to share a workshop on developing one-to-one discipleship in your church. One of the questions in the seminar that we sought to answer was What does every believer need? We discovered at least 5 helpful answers to that question, and one of the foundational answers is – a healthy understanding of their identity in the Gospel. If you’re going to live by the Gospel, you have to know how to identify yourself in Christ, get back to the Gospel when facing various situations, marinate in it, and calibrate your every step to it.

Well, the above all sounds good, but for a new follower of Jesus it sounds daunting. So, how will a young or new believer really gain a healthy understanding of a life permeated by the Gospel? They “get it” in a one-to-one relationship; by asking, watching, and relating to more mature believers. Titus 2:4,6 says to “train the younger women… and urge the younger men…”

 

friendship is the key to discipleshipSo, the value of intentional discipleship relationships is that new and younger believers can feel safe enough to simply ask, How do you gospel you? In fact, whether they say it or not, each gathering which young believers attend (whether large or small) they are asking that very question. I think they are simply saying, I am here, so teach me the Gospel. Show me how to love and obey Christ.”

Yet, one of our current challenges in the church today is that many people who may attend our gatherings believe the length of time they have invested in attendance = maturity in the Gospel. Therefore, what is closer to reality is that we have many young believers who have been sitting a long time. I believe that maturity in Christ is understanding how to get back to, live in, and press forward in the Gospel. So, we need to take a healthy look around our ministries and inquire to see if we have ever asked others the question, “How do you Gospel you?”

Advertisements

When Kids Break My Stuff

Through the years of training people to open their homes as ministry, we have encountered different reactions to “changing” our life patterns for the gospel. For some, change is refreshing and welcome; for most, downright dreadful. The simple truth is this, changing my life to open it up for gospel ministry is often difficult to cope with.

One of the simple markers of this ministry change at living-room level is what happens to our precious home when children from other families arrive; not just the growing, hungry ones but the little “ISIS” ones. Seriously, how were they ever recruited to such violence at so young an age? 😉

Some families do really well with this. They throw their arms, cupboards, and refrigerators open and say, “La casa mia è la casa tua!” Other families, wellllll, not as much. Practically, we share that God is sanctifying your home from the ground up. If you have ever prayed the prayer, “Lord, we open our home to you,” or, “Lord, we want to bless others with our family” or possibly, “I surrender all…” Then, the Father has heard you from Heaven and is answering your prayers!!

kids and stuff comicYes, everything from waste-level and down in your home is being sanctified and put up on the altar for God. Community in Christ is one of the ways that Jesus simplifies our homes and shapes our hearts. When you hear the crash, the zap, the scream, or the shatter and you know instantly something irreplaceable has happened, it’s one of the Lord’s cute ways of saying, “I told you, you didn’t need that anyway. It’s mine. Just look to me in this moment.” It’s cute because the Father has lovingly placed a little human, belonging to other bigger and “not-paying-attention” humans, right into the middle of the situation. The decision in that very moment is radical; it’s either wrath or trust. Is it not?

I share all of this with a little “tongue-in-cheek” playfulness. However, what is working more deeply is the gospel against pride. Yes, this is hard. It is pride of stuff and pride of identity and pride of parenting and pride of independence which says I don’t need community (at least this one) anyway. I like my life cozy and nice and safe! It’s pride that places temporary treasures over eternal people; my treasures over God’s treasures. All those kinds of pride together begin to surface and boil over into one, bad minestrone. I know! I am good at making bad minestrone.

But it does get better with time and experience. In fact, it becomes more joyful. God will simply change our hearts until his treasure becomes our treasure and his joy becomes our joy. And what is his joy? It is when one sheep, coin, or son who was lost repents and is found (Luke 15 where God throws parties). Remember, we broke his stuff – badly – and he still wants us as his children. Our homes are being brought into mission and that mission exchanges stuff for joy which is priceless.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  – Philippians 2:3-11

We took a Love Quiz

ImageWe hold a regular, missonal lunch gathering with our ministry partners called Converge. At one of our recent gatherings, we took a ministry-evaluation quiz based on the theme of Love: being other-centered. Our results were stellar! – mixed. And I think we have a very loving and serving group of people. Yet, when we sat down and just asked ourselves questions about how we take on the responsibility for others on a daily basis, there was a sense of disappointment.

The quiz had 8 questions. All of them dealt with every day rhythms like eating, repairing, helping, feeling responsible for others, discussing time and money, making decisions, and sharing resources. And a few of the responses were simply, “Our Gospel community just doesn’t want to engage with each other, what do we do?” And we talked all about it even though I could sense the frustration, disappointment, and confusion of what to do next.

I know that many who minister with people in community will face this same struggle, so it makes for a great minestrone. Here are 2 fundamental things to keep in mind and heart that will bring delight into your ministry of love toward others:

  1. Model It — A loving gospel community is only loving because its servant-leaders have already known the love of Jesus deeply in their own hearts. There is no. possible. way. that the true Gospel doesn’t get into our hearts and leave us indifferent toward others around us at the same time. Here’s a touch of spice for the minestrone: Christians with no urgency or affection for others are selfish and wasting time. Therefore, a loving gospel community begins with you channeling the love of Jesus for you — right into the lives and families where you live. See Philippians 2:1-4
  2. Intentionalize It — I’m “verbing a noun” here. Intentionalize isn’t in the dictionary but good preachers regularly make up new words and infuse them with meaning, right? (but first, you have to be a good preacher  ;-). I mentioned earlier that the “love questions” on the quiz covered daily life things. And I think that understanding reflects Jesus so much. He walked in towns, sat at meals, built stuff, touched the sick, hugged kids, washed feet, caught fish, and made breakfast for the night crew. God showed us the way to love — ordinary people doing every day things with Gospel intentionality. Jesus said to his often-selfish community, “As I have loved you (washed your feet and all the other daily things for the last 3 years), love one another in the same way.” (John 13). So, intentionalize Jesus right into the middle of your ordinary, daily activity for others.

Warning:  Others will catch this because it’s highly contagious.

Guidance for Spiritual Gifts – Part 2 – the Gospel Guides

spiritual gifts logo-image

In our previous article, I wanted to differentiate between the gifts and the Gospel. When these get confused or switched, an abuse of the Spirit of God generally follows with an accompanying injury to members of the Bride.

Because the Gospel is primary, and it is the work of God’s Spirit to empower it and convict with it and then restore mankind to himself through it, the Spirit-gifts will always concur with the character and nature of the Gospel. The Spirit will neither fight against the Word nor represent it in a false fashion. Therefore, the gifts are guided by the Gospel. They will correspond to all of the facets of the Gospel message and activity. When a need is met that points men and women to the Gospel, it is the Spirit who is testifying of himself and bringing men to the truth.

What does that look like?

The Apostle Paul stresses in 1 Cor 14:23 that the gifts will be orderly, they will be for the building of the Body, and they will be for an accurate representation to unbelievers. In other words, if they don’t correspond to the nature of the Gospel and they abuse the Spirit who is giving them, then the result is that people will think the church has gone mad. Unity breaks down within the church and non-believers are repulsed and repelled away from the church.

The Lord is very careful to instruct us through Paul that he cares how the Gospel is presented to unbelievers and represented in believers. So then, how the Spirit imparts his gifts will testify to what the Father is doing through the Gospel; for believers, edification, and for unbelievers, clarity (so that they will worship God and declare that God is really among you. 1 Cor. 14:25).

Some examples might include when believers show hospitality that takes on the richness of ministering to the stranger or outcast, not just putting on a dinner party. Another time might occur when discernment is practiced that the Lord protects the testimony of his people and his good name through holy decisions. We often hear about the Spirit’s activity when someone is sharing their Faith-story and is amazed that many verses or “just the right verse” came to mind in the evangelistic gifting. We also see Gospel-guidance when various members start to pray over a simple request that continues to grow into a great burden and the Holy Spirit infuses them with energy and strength to pray with great depth. And, the Holy Spirit quite frequently graces his people simply when they are showing the love of Christ to one-another that unbelievers literally take notice and say, “What’s that?” There are tens if not hundreds of examples that can demonstrate how the Spirit will testify of himself and demonstrate the Gospel as beautiful and powerful.

If you can think of one that you’ve seen, would you share it with me?

In our next article of this series, we will look at how the gifts accompany and flow through service and character. I hope for God’s glory— in you!

Guidance for Spiritual Gifts – Part 1 – The Gifts and the Gospel

[Note: I took a break from writing for 6 weeks due to travel and suffering from a kidney stone. I realized it’s harder to think and write when a stone is eating your brain to stay alive. However, the Lord really blessed and healed me. You can laugh, cry, and rejoice with me through the story that I wrote here called “My 4mm Miracle.” Thanks for praying through it all with me and also for really missing these articles 😉 ]spiritual gifts logo-image

Zest

What a great word to describe the flavor and gusto of a splendid minestrone. Zest literally means an agreeable or piquant flavor imparted to something; anything added to impart flavor, 
enhance one’s appreciation, etc. Notice two key words in this definition — impart & enhanceContinuing with the Italian simile of the Lord’s church being like a wonderful minestra, so the Holy Spirit’s work through his imparted gifts enhance the life and vigor of his people and signify his active presence. Zest does not make a soup, but it does demonstrate that there is something different and wonderful about what is in the bowl. In this series, I would like to briefly add (if possible) one flavor at a time to magnify our appreciation of what the Lord is doing through his church while understanding that there is still a great deal for all of us to taste and learn from the Holy Spirit as we see him working.

 

The Gifts are not the Gospel

This is such an easy thing to confuse in different church circles. It’s an issue of priority. The Gospel is primary, the gifts are secondary, and both are necessary. The most magnificent part of the Gospel is that God gave himself for us in love on the cross and then gives himself to us in life through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the first thing that needs to be clearly emphasized is that the very Spirit of God is both given and then the giver — as he is pleased and finds pleasure to operate for his glory. The one gift that I receive is the Spirit, and he has the gifts that he imparts when he desires to do so.

There are two awkward claims that Christians often make.  The first claim begins with, “I have this-or-that gift…” And what we generally mean is that we’ve experienced the Spirit’s blessing and enabling at specific occasions and in certain ways. However, the awkward part of that phrase is that it makes us sound like we are the new owners of the gift to release at will. In the Gospel, I have Christ and he has me. Therefore, my identity is built in Jesus and is not found in a grace-gift that I might use or one that I think might correspond with my personality. If I find my identity in a gift, I miss the Spirit. It is common to find Christians spending a good amount of time wondering, debating, and even arguing whether a person “has” a certain gift or not. Take the pressure off. Make sure you or the person in question has Christ and is fulfilling his royal law. You know, the law that says love God fully and your neighbor as yourself. The Spirit has the gifts. He is the owner and he wants to give them, but remember, those gifts represent him and the Truth so he will be very careful, strategic, and sometimes surprising in how he imparts them.

The second awkward (and I believe, incorrect) phrase that I’ve heard at times is, “Unless that gift (whatever one the Christian has in mind) is manifested, the Holy Spirit isn’t there.” Now, I know that the phrase isn’t spoken exactly in that way, but it goes something like that depending on the context. I’ve heard it recently and also through the years in ministry in different forms — but that’s the gist of it. Usually, the person has a pet-gift that has grown into an agenda where they would like to see an entire church formed around it. They have equated much if not all of the Holy Spirit, doctrine, and the work of God with that one gift. It becomes the litmus test for all service and fellowship.

Again, the problem is one of  identity. The Apostle Paul corrected the Corinthian believers strongly saying, “One Spirit, many gifts.” Their error was an inordinate focus on one particular gift and therefore an abuse of the Spirit himself. So, the temptation we face is to identify so strongly with the expression of a gift that we build the Gospel around it. In effect, we make the gift and our experience dogmatic by saying, “Manifest this gift and then you’re really in God’s family.” No, the Gospel tells us to manifest repentance. We should be more concerned about what kind of vessel we are than what kind of gift we are manifesting.

Please understand that I’m not picking on any specific church. There is the tendency for Christian communities to gravitate to a one or two-gift-only practice. Some churches concentrate on a couple of sign-gifts while others think that the only two gifts in operation are preaching and listening with an optional third gift of rear-end endurance & comfort depending on your persuasion. I’m writing principally to assist our church to be Gospel-centered and Spirit-guided. We’ll talk more about how the gifts are Gospel-guided in the next article.

8 Signs that our African Friends are Receiving the Gospel

Ngwa Smith Isoh from CameroonThey are “ours” because we share life together in this land and church.
They are “friends” because the Good News is for everyone, and then Jesus makes them “brothers“.
They are “African” because they have immigrated by the tens of thousands¹ to find work and they are bringing a very distinct cultural perspective on life and truth. Subsequently, when the Gospel begins to win the hearts of our friends it produces a number of signs that transformational change is occurring. Here are some of the excellencies of Christ that shine through:

  1. Our brothers think more about Jesus than money
    Our brothers have so much cultural and familial pressure on them to perform and become wealthy with European money.  The main motivation is often summarized in the word prosperity. Money — obtaining it, having it, showing it, and sending it — becomes the all-consuming focus. One of our brothers shared with us that he had lived every day for thirteen years trapped in the agony of perpetually thinking about money. At the thirteen year mark, the Savior and Lord Jesus broke in to his life and rescued him. Now, he shares with us that he thinks much more about Jesus each day than he ever does about money. The weight has been lifted and the victory allows his soul to rest.
     
  2. Our brothers repent of being their family or tribe’s savior.
    As mentioned above, our African friends arrive seeking not just for employment for themselves but often for their entire family or tribe. A family in Africa is greatly assisted if their loved-one can send them 30-50 euros each week from Europe. The grim reality is that it is often harder to make money in Europe than what their dreams and ideas had originally informed them. So, this sets up a tenuous system. There is a lot of pride if you do well and a lot of shame if you don’t. When the Gospel comes in, however, that system is up-ended. Our brothers and sisters are no longer motivated on one hand by pride and on the other hand, shame. Jesus buried the first and and bore the second. Now, we see a wholistic and generous love being offered to their families. We also notice that there is much more honesty in reporting their circumstances to their families. They tell them what they can and cannot do — and that Jesus is their family’s Savior, not themselves.
     
  3. Our brothers seek to bless the city and not just take from it
    It follows simply that if you are here in Europe to prosper yourself,  your family, and your tribe back home, you are most likely not interested in integrating into the city or looking to spend your time and resources to benefit the people around you. However, the Gospel settles us and helps us to look around at others. It causes us to give and to seek the good of the society where we live. Our brothers from Africa begin to take an interest in the history of our cities as well as the social conditions. What a surprising message is broadcasted when the natural outsiders seek the benefit of the indigenous insiders who are predisposed to not want them here. Only the Gospel brings our African brothers to say with eager humility, “We are all here.”
      Continue reading

I Don’t Go to Church

Vision_and_decision

I’ve struggled with this language and idea that we “go to church.” Have you thought about this too?

Authentic “church” is not something I go to; it’s something I am. Even the word “church” speaks of a people who are called out by God. They are the people of God as a state of being. 

We need to watch and renew our language. We’ve reduced the whole concept of church to something very event-centric; like church is a sports event or concert thing held in a stadium environment or a trip to the mall. Jesus didn’t die to make something so cheap, so plastic. He died and rose again for his bride and his family.

So, instead of saying, “I (singularly) go to church,” we could more accurately say, “we live in this church, together.” And this state of being and living comes from the special identity that’s given to us in the Gospel. We live through our identity in Christ. Therefore, we gospel one-another (a term I have shamelessly borrowed from Steve Timmis 🙂

My emphasis is more about a paradigm shift than a nuance of words. If I just go to a church then it’s very easy for me to just go away from a church too. It starts to treat other people (our holy-family members) as a weekly task to be accomplished and checked-off on a personal agenda. It also sounds very consumeristic. So, I think it would be a good thing for us to struggle with this kind of language until we nail-down who we really exist-to-be in this holy minestra of the church.