Why must evangelism and discipleship happen at the same time?

Frank Sinatra sang that love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. According to the song, one belongs to the other and any attempt to separate them is an illusion. In the Western world, we marry because of love and those in love will, ideally, get married. Why must evangelism and discipleship happen at the same time, because you can’t have one without the other. Evangelism is the telling of the Gospel or the good news. The gospel among other things includes that the Lord Jesus came bringing the kingdom of God. Evangelism is telling people about Christ death and resurrection and relating how it is relevant to their life now. Discipleship is not only helping accept this reality but submitting to the Lordship of Christ because the kingdom is here now. If the Gospel includes the fact that Christ is Lord, then submission or discipleship is included in the message of the Evangelism.

The goal is not church growth or numbers. At best we can understand that each number represents a life that Jesus cares about deeply. Our mission as the church is to spread the message of the Gospel and help people become obedient to that message and as Rick Wood says, “everything we do as a church must be evaluated on [that] basis.”[1] To say that a church is growing with discipleship is to say my marriage is growing without love. The two are connected because they require one another. Discipling people with mere information or facts apart from faith is like someone in the Western world marring without love. The two go hand in hand because “discipleship is transformational, not informational.”[2] Trying to separate the two puts the carriage before the horse or worse it forgets the carriage and the people inside at home.

 

[1] Rick Wood, “A Call to Radical Disciple-making,” Mission Frontiers, 2010.

[2] Eric Geiger, “Discipleship: More than Information,” 2012.

Acts 19 – Four Responses to the Gospel

In Acts chapter 19 we are given four responses to the Gospel message. It is sort of a unique chapter in that regard because it shows how different people or people groups can react to the message of the God’s love and grace in one short space.

The first group that is presented with the Gospel is a group of John’s former disciples. These were ones who knew of the message of repentance that was taught by John the Baptist and they had participated in John’s baptism. They had some knowledge of Jesus and desired to do the will of God but they were missing some key parts of the message. When Paul heard this, he explained to them what they were missing and baptized them into Christ and they received the Holy Spirit.

It is interesting to me that they worked with what they knew and were humble enough to admit they did not know what they did not know. I think we can all agree that we only know so much after all 1 Cor 13:9 says we know in part so we should be humble enough to admit that. The question is not do we know in part but what do we do with that fact. We should not believe every spirit but we should be willing to listen to those who are experienced in the faith and learn because there is much to learn. More importantly, we should learn that when God brings new knowledge to us we need to walk in that knowledge. We are called to learn and grow in Christ and part of the growing is walking out the new things God brings to us.

The second group was the members of the synagogue. Paul went and preached to them for three months and their response was to harden their hearts and become angry. They had no desire to turn from what they knew and instead spoke evil of the Way (Christianity).

There are some people who no matter what will not want to hear that God loves them. They have their own ideas and preconceived notions of who God is and anything outside of that is wrong. Maybe they have been hurt by the church or maybe they are just bitter but for whatever reason, they do not want to hear the Gospel. Like Paul, I would suggest you tell them anyway because some water and some reap but God gives the increase. Our job is not to decide who gets to the hear Gods message of love and reconciliation but to tell everyone. We are not in a position to decide but to deliver.

The third group is interesting because they knew the power of the Gospel and the power of Jesus but it had no place in their hearts. There was a group of men trying to cast out a demon in Jesus’ name and the demon essentially jumped them. This demon said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I acknowledge but who are you?” Jesus was known by the demon. Paul was known to belong to Jesus but these men were unknown because they were just using the name.

For the Gospel to have any power in your life, it has to be something that is in you not just known by you. I can know that cold medicine will help my cold but if I don’t get it in me then nothing changes. You can know all about God but if the love of the Father is not in you then you have nothing. James says, you believe in God good, even the demons believe that and shudder. It is not enough to know the stories or to know about God, you need to know Him and be known by Him. You can say God all day long but the question is do you respond when He says your name?

The last group just got mad because it messed with their livelihood. These men where makers of idols and for someone to walk around talking about a God who exists without human hands or intervention was not good for them. The message of the Gospel is that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die on a cross taking our sin and shame and then rose again three days later claiming victory over sin and the grave. This message gives you no wiggle room to please God on your own and idol worship is all about pleasing God and yourself on your own.

To move it to today you could say these men were like pimps, hustlers, and charlatans. They made their living off people trying to please themselves through self-fulfilled worship. You need this to make you happy because you are the one who needs to feel that connection. Take this drug to feel good. Take this stuff to feel better. Take this person to feel powerful. Take this to please yourself. Listen to my great wisdom to be better. Anytime you come across someone peddling that message you are going to run a high risk of making them mad telling them that you cannot please God and you cannot find satisfaction in your efforts to feel better.

Again, I would reiterate that our job is not to judge who is worthy of the message but to deliver it and to pray for all those we share it with. I would also suggest that sharing the good news is not always about giving a full presentation of the Gospel message and trying to get someone to “say the prayer.” Sometimes if not most times it is just about being real and being true. It is about letting people know that God loves them and you love them. It is about praying for people and letting them know you will pray for them. We need to be real with people and in turn, I think we will find they will be real with you.

Just a thought,

Mike

 

A Call to Death

I have noticed that I share on the topic of discipleship a bit more than I thought. I wonder why that is, though. Maybe it is due to the lack of my own discipleship training. Maybe it is because of the lack discipleship training I see in popular Christianity. Maybe it is a part of a calling. I really don’t know but either way, I was thinking about discipleship.

The call of Christian discipleship is first and foremost a call to death and denial of oneself. Jesus says in Matthew 16:24 that we must carry our cross and deny ourselves daily. Luke records it in his Gospel by saying whoever does not carry their cross cannot be Jesus’ disciple (14:27). Paul further clarifies in Galatians 2:20 that we have died and now live in Christ. Paul’s point about death to self and life in Christ is found throughout his writings and give us the clearest picture of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

It is a hard road to be sure and there will be times of wrestling, fighting, and rejection. Times when wrestle with our decision to obey Jesus. Times when our flesh fights back and tries once again to lead our lives. Times when we reject the notion that death is required. These are to be expected and to be endured. James writes that the testing of our faith is necessary to produce maturity (1:3-4). This is to be expected, but in that we can also expect victory. If we are being tested, then it is because we are in Christ. Testing is not for those who are not disciples. Testing is for the elect. Simply put we are tested because we are His.

The call to be a disciple of Christ is a hard call. It is not for the faint of heart. It is hard because it requires all of us. It requires our total commitment. 1 Peter 3:8-9 says that we as disciples are to be like-minded, sympathetic, love believers, be compassionate and humble, not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but to give a blessing. The call to be a disciple is a call to live opposite of your natural self. It is a call to live counterculturally. It is a call to live in Christ so that He can live out through you. In that others, will see Him and then they, in turn, can die to self and live in Christ. It is not simply a call to live selflessly. Anyone can try and live selflessly. I can try and live for my family or friends but to what end? So, that they might love me? So, that they might respect me? What a short goal. No, the call to be a disciple of Christ is to live for Him so that others receive eternal life.

But even in that, there is a balance that must be maintained. We are to live for Christ yet in that He desires us to live abundantly. We are to live for Christ yet we are to take the time to rest and reflect on our lives. We are to live for Christ but we are also to enjoy the life we have. At times that feels like a contradiction. We are to be wholly dedicated to Jesus yet at the same time He is wholly dedicated to us. It is a symbiotic relationship where we live in Him and have our being and at the same time He dwells in us and says He will give us the desires of or hearts. It is in Jesus that we find our lives and that is the catch. Jesus says He is the vine and we are the branches. If we want to produce fruit, we must do it in Him. We must make the commitment to die to ourselves and live in Him.

Just a thought,

Mike

Love Like Jesus

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Of all the things Jesus talks about and does this one is not on my list of things I like. I like when Jesus talks about asking by faith in His name because it gives me confidence that He hears my little prayers. I like reading about Jesus walking on water or calming the waves because it reminds me my Lord is above creation. I like reading that Jesus fulfilled the Law because it lets me know I don’t have to try and meet the tedious commands of it. I don’t like reading that I need to forgive those who harm me or that I need to turn my cheek to those who have slapped me because that is hard.

Jesus says to forgive because on the cross He forgave. He says to turn the other cheek because He turned His. Jesus did not come to give us a bunch of rules to follow instead He came, partly, to give us an example to follow. He is patient and we should be patient. He is gentle and we should be gentle. He is love and we should be love. Our task is simple…We are to walk as He walked.

 

 

Reasoned Faith and the Gospel

In Matthew 8:10 Jesus says that He has not seen a faith in Israel that matches that of the centurion soldier who comes to Him to seek healing for his servant. What provoked this strong commendation from Jesus was that the man understood authority. He understood how it worked and that presence was not required for power to move. His faith was founded in his understanding of how things worked. This man was able to grasp the concept of authority in his mind and exercise his faith because of this.

Anti-intellectualism has impacted the church in at least five ways according to J.P. Moreland, and two of them will be discussed here. The first is a misunderstanding of faith’s relationship to reason and the second is the spawning of an irrelevant gospel.[1] These two things are not that far from each other when you examine what they result in, namely a weakened Christian presence in the community and in the world. The lack of one’s ability to link reason or knowledge to faith causes them to withhold their testimony with others because often times it is feared they cannot answer the questions posed to them. While the irrelevant gospel, when shared, is based on feeling or a perceived need and if someone is “feeling” fine then there is no need for the message.

One effect resulting in the lack of reasoned faith in the church can be seen in the high number of children who grow up and lose their faith. David Kinnaman says in his book You Lost Me that there is a forty-three percent or nearly eight million people who while they were active in the church in their teens do not participate in the church by their early thirties.[2] Now it should not be assumed that the entire cause for this is a lack of reasoned faith but it does play a large part. People are more and more unsure why they believe what they believe and if understanding is not present then the natural progression is to not believe it anymore. The world is becoming more and more post-Christian and with that, the old system of following your parent’s faith is diminishing.

One of the most effective ways that church leaders whether they be youth pastors, senior pastors or lay leaders can combat this is by becoming “dedicate[d] to the task of training believers to think theologically and biblically”[3] This is in no way a condemnation of any particular church, pastor, or group of churches but an overall encouragement that Christians do and will desire deep theological teaching. Instead of having youth groups that play games and hang out we should teach them the Scriptures and answer their hard questions. For adults not only should we be edifying them for the work of God on Sunday’s but instilling in them and understanding of Biblical truths that go beyond being a good spouse and neighbor.

Perhaps it is time to use the vast resources of technology to do virtual classes via email or web chats. Often times people must be pushed to ask the hard questions they have. Individuals can feel scared of asking such questions as is the whole Bible true, do we have proof Jesus rose from the dead, are the six days in Genesis six actual days, and so on. Non-Christians ask these questions often but more than a few believers are scared to push for such answers so we must be willing to give them chances to ask these questions. We must be willing to not only learn about what we believe but what others believed as well.

This will cause the pushing of an irrelevant gospel to almost disappear. The gospel as it is presented at times now is you need Jesus to make you better and happier. The problem arises when people feel just fine. They have no perceived need in their lives so the solution for a happier life is a non-necessity to them. They are quite happy where they are at, however, this approach is not the tradition that we see in the Bible. An important aspect of sharing the true Gospel is understanding the community you are in. Paul when speaking to the people in the Areopagus in Acts 17 not only shared the truth of God from Scripture but also from what they already thought to be true. He was able to bring in things they knew and show them how they already had some understanding of what he was saying.

Moreland suggests in his book that the more we grow intellectually in other areas the more we will understand the Bible. This will not only “enrich life and contribute to Bible study and spiritual formation” but in turn, it will give us understanding into the world God created.[4] If I want to properly share the Gospel with a Muslim then it serves me well to understand the Muslim position. By doing this I not only have a better knowledge in the truth of my faith but what they believe as well. I can then meet them where are at and in doing so I open doors.

The challenge before the church is great and task daunting but the rewards are greater. By better understanding our faith and how it is built upon reason we not only secure our own thinking but also find that the world around us changes as well. Expanding our knowledge should not be feared because while it is true that “knowledge by acquaintance is an important foundation” it must be remembered that we are commanded in the Bible to grow not only in grace but also the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).[5]

[1] J.P. Moreland, Love God with all your mind 2nd ed, (NaviPress, 2012), 19; 24.

[2] David Kennaman, You Lost Me (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books), 22.

[3] Moreland, 51

[4] Moreland, 93

[5] Moreland, 59

When your best isn’t good enough

 

I think that everyone should know how to use a concordance with a dictionary (herein just called a concordance) whether you own one or use one on the internet. I own a Strong’s but I typically use BlueLetterBible.com because I am too lazy to move the eight feet where my copy is. I believe that one of the most valuable tools you can have in your arsenal when studying the Bible is a concordance. Knowing how and when to use a concordance is so helpful that I am willing to say you are cheating yourself by not using one. I know that is a bold statement but it’s my website.

I do not recommend using a concordance all the time because you don’t always need to look up the definition of a word. However, we must always remember the Bible was not written in English and those translating it did the best they could. The Bible was written in Greek and Hebrew (more or less) so sometimes a word has a stronger meaning than was applied when translated to English. That does not necessarily mean the English translation you are using is wrong but it does not capture the full weight of the word.

Such is the case with Philippians 3:8 where Paul says “I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth.” To make sure we capture the context Paul is talking about all the things that he used to count as good to him and made him something special. He was a circumcised on the eighth day meaning his parents kept the law, he was a Hebrew of Hebrews meaning his line was pure, he was a Pharisee meaning he was righteous by their standards, and so on. By first century Jewish standards Paul had it going on and he could tell you about it. Paul now says that because he follows Christ he considered those things loss and filth. Paul is saying that he now knows what is right and true and that is righteousness comes by faith in Christ alone. This is a bold statement in and of itself and we might look at that at some point, but right now I want to take a closer look at how Paul views his former status in view of this revelation of justification by faith alone.

Paul calls the old things filth. The Greek word is skybalon and it usually translated filth, rubbish, trash, dung, or some variation thereof. These are all pretty good but when we look at the literal definition of skybalon it means; any refuse, as the excrement of animals, offscourings, rubbish, dregs. Just let that sink in for a minute. When compared to what we receive by faith in Christ what we “accomplished” or bring to the table on our own is like “the excrement of animals.” I cannot even think of a way to compare that to anything. That is the comparison you use when trying to contrast two things. I have animal excrements and Jesus has glory, righteousness, and power. Do you see the madness that is involved in thinking you can earn His love? What could you possibly offer to Him? You have nothing to offer Him. What could you bribe Him with? We come to Him and want to flaunt our animal excrement thinking He will pat us on the head and say “good job.” Are we insane?

Paul is even being more gentle than Isaiah was. Click here and read what the word ‘iddah means in Isaiah 64:6. This is what your “righteous” acts are compared to. How can we think that we can make God pleased with us when are best is ‘iddah or skybalon? If that is what are best is what is our worst? We do not get to God because we are good enough, and we do not stay in God because we are good enough. We have Christ and are in Him because He is good enough. He is more than enough. Jesus came to us when we sinners. He did not wait for you to get cleaned up because if He was going to wait for that He would still be waiting. God came down to us because He is love and love moves.

We have to shake off this idea that we can earn God’s love or blessings. He blesses because He wants to, He loves because He wants to, and He called you because He wants to. He does not need you but He chooses you. He says that one the drunk I want them. I want the prostitute, I want the liar, I want the crack head, I want the cheater, I want the adulter, I want the one thinks they are useless, I want the weak one, I want the slow one, I want my children. He does not wait for you to get good enough because you can’t be. He just wants you.

When we walk with Jesus for a while we start to think that we need to earn our keep. That somehow the love that saved us is not enough to sustain us but that is a lie. Yes as a child you have responsibilities, but those responsibilities do not make you a child they are yours because you are a child of God. Jesus says that we should be yoked to Him and that His burden is light. That means we are tied to Him and He will teach us how to do the work and that He will carry the weight. We just have to walk with Him in the same love that He gave to us, to begin with. So walk with Him and find peace.

Jesus promises to never leave you nor abandon you but that promise is conditional one one thing; that you accept Him and place your faith in Him. So put down your filth and all those things that you think make you a “good person” and trust in the One who has the goods.

Just a thought,

Mike

Giving up good for great

I think most of us would agree that Jesus had a successful earthly ministry. I think a good deal of ministers of the Gospel would probably not mind a ministry like His. If we look in Luke chapters 7-9 we see a great deal of things that look like a successful ministry. To be honest, if I was building a ministry I would be very happy with the results I see in these chapters. There is great teaching, divine healing, casting out demons, and followers getting revelation. Simply put it is pretty incredible.

In chapter 7 there is the centurion who sends word to Jesus that his servant is sick and makes this great confession of faith and Jesus heals the servant. Then shortly after this, there was a dead man being carried and Jesus raised Him from the dead. Then as the crowds gather Jesus teaches them in these great parables. This is also a story of a woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears. It is just one thing after another.

Moving to chapter 8 there are more great parables including the parable of the sower. A personal favorite happens here where Jesus calms the wind and the waves. Once the boat lands, we have the story of Jesus casting out the legion of demons into a herd of pigs. It then goes on to talk about the woman being healed just by touching the hem of His clothes. As if that was not enough there is another person raised to life, this time, a little girl.

Chapter 9 does not let up either. You might think with all this there would be a breather but this is like a fast action flick. Jesus sends out the disciples so they go and start doing ministry. After this, there is the feeding of the multitude (5000 men) with the fish and bread. Can you imagine what that must have been like? I bet there has never been fresher bread eaten. A little while later is when we read Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ). Jesus then predicts His death and resurrection and tells them (and us) that we have to take up our cross and follow Him. We are not even done with chapter 9. There is also the transfiguration, another demon cast out, another prediction, and more teaching. Then Jesus says something about going to Jerusalem.

Wait! Pump the breaks! I thought Jesus had a pretty good thing going here why on earth would He want to go to Jerusalem? They want to kill Him there. Jesus has been seeing growth in His following, He was performing miracles, and He was casting out demons. What more could He want? Jerusalem was bad for business. How many people want to go to the place where they want to kill you when things are going well? Things are good in Judea why ruin it? Not only that Luke says that Jesus steadfastly set His face to Jerusalem which means nothing was going to stop Him. The word in the greek is stērizō and means to make stable, place firmly, set fast, fix 2) to strengthen, make firm, 3) to render constant, confirm one’s mind. He was going and nothing was going to stop Him? But why?

The answer is two parts. First, because it was time. If you remember we said twice before this He predicted His death and resurrection. Also, Jesus spoke about the right time a few times. He said to His mother in John 2:4 my hour (or time) has not yet come. But now it was time, it was time to head towards His death. He knew that now He must go and be betrayed into the hands of men (Luke 9:44). The second reason is you. You are why He went to Jerusalem. He went because you needed Him to. Jesus had a successful ministry on earth but He was about to have an even more successful ministry. Instead of teaching here and there, instead of healing here and there, instead of gaining followers here and there He was about to go global. He did great in Israel but now He was about to launch a worldwide ministry. The likes of which had never been seen and it was all for you and me.

Hebrews 12:2 says that for the joy set before Him Jesus endured the cross. Jesus had a good thing going but there was a better thing in store for us so He did that. He went to the cross so that we could be forgiven and live a full abundant life. He set us free and in doing so changed everything. The whole game changed after the cross. But it started with Him setting His face to Jerusalem. It started with a determination that He would die while we still sinners. It started with a the idea that He would love us first. Jesus knew that while He had a good thing going there was a better thing waiting. You are that better thing. You are the reason for the cross. I don’t say that negatively either. Yes, our sin put Him there, but He chose it. He chose it because He loves you and He could not stand to see you apart from Him.

The cross is pain, agony, and death. But it is also joy, love, and life because of what it accomplished. In the words of the old hymn, “Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.” It was all paid by Him in love for you. I am so glad Jesus left a good thing for a great thing.

Just a thought,

Mike