Video post from our mission team in Nepal:
One of the great blessings of being a pastor is that I am reminded daily of what really matters in life. Today I sat down with a precious family to plan the memorial service of their loved one. Our conversation jumped from here to there, earth to heaven, the temporary to the eternal, the already and the not yet.
I believe that every day we’re given glimpses of heaven. Whether we catch them or not is entirely up to us. It seems even the worst among us catch glimpses of the eternal: something more, something beautiful, something sacred. I’m sure I’m not the only one who hears the rumblings of something eternal among us. Milton’s question echoes across time, “What if earth be but a shadow of heaven?”4 Why does every culture in the world worship Someone or at least something? Philip Yancey notes in his book, Rumors, “Alone of all the beasts, the human animal has the power and freedom to center life in one impulse. We have not, it seems, the power to abstain from worship.”5
What is that within us? Is it simply the result of some evolutionary process that has created within us this God-consciousness, this desire to exalt Someone who is beyond us? Or could it be that God Himself really has “set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)? Could it be we really do have a kind of “homing device” that calls us onward to seek, to search, to desire? In his classic book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”6 The fact that we have such longings doesn’t prove that God is the One prompting us or that eternity awaits, but I believe our longing for Heaven whispers to us in our joy and it seems to scream at us in our despair that something else is coming. And Someone else is writing this already-but-not-yet narrative.
Surely we all long for more. When Jesus prayed for the Father to set all things right by bringing His kingdom to earth (Matthew 6:10), He was calling for a present and future reality. “Thy kingdom come” should be the cry of every believer’s heart. As we join God in His restorative agenda we become the answer to the prayers of our Lord. The present life is but a shadow of heaven. You and I are not yet free from sin, but we do have the capacity within us (by the power of His Spirit) to reach our fullest redemptive potential. Live today with the end in sight. He is making everything new (Revelation 21:5).
“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12
Jesus said we will do “greater things” than He has done. I’ve always wrestled with this. What did He mean? He did many miracles and amazing things that no one had ever done before- and no one will ever do again- yet He says we’ll do even “greater things”. How will we do “greater things”?
- His presence is no longer confined to one body.
- He will be unleashed in us.
Many followers of Jesus have underestimated the power of Christ in us. It is the power of the Holy Spirit in us that brings transformation- in OUR lives and in the lives of others. If you are a child of God, when you show up, you change the entire environment, an entire setting of a room. You are a child of God! HIS presence is IN you. You walk in and God shows up! Do you know people like that? I do. Are you one of those people? Have you ever been with someone and the moment they walk into the room they seem to suck all the positive air out of the room? Unfortunately many Christians can be that way. Instead, we should recognize our influence as salt and light in our encounters with others.
- His movement is no longer restricted to one area.
- He will be scattered in us.
When Christ was on earth His ministry was confined to a relatively small area in Palestine. Once He was raised and ascended His followers were scattered in to ever-increasing regions of the world. They moved out, not independent of Him, but totally dependent on Him by His Spirit in them. When Jesus was on earth He impacted thousands but since His ascension (and the Coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts2) He has transformed billions of lives. Only God can do that!
- His Spirit is no longer tethered to one Person.
- He is now in us.
When Jesus walked the earth, the very presence of God was upon Him- the Spirit “tabernacled” in HIM. And Jesus taught that the Spirit would not come to us until He was gone (i.e. John 14, 17). So the Spirit was confined to one Man- Jesus. His prophesy is fulfilled in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit comes upon the people. Consider this: We often think of the “greater things” as the miracles of Jesus. But in Acts (once the Spirit is unleashed) the greater miracle emphasized is the miracle of salvation.
It is always important for the Church to gather but it is the Church scattered that brings about the “greater things”. Our first order of mission is never accomplished in our gatherings but as we are scattered into the world, serving others as Jesus did. Today His Spirit resides in us as His incarnational presence lives in us.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
In Part 1 I noted that a church devoted to the Gospel as the core message and proclamation will be a church in which grace is central in all things. We noted a progression that takes place in churches devoted to the Gospel:
Grace -> Inclusion -> Diversity -> Differences/preferences -> Conflict
The more grace is offered the more diversity a church will experience and logically, the more conflict will follow. Now, I use the word conflict, not as a negative one, but as a positive (or at least necessary) outcome and means toward even more grace. Think about it: the greater the diversity, the more grace is necessary. So it becomes grace upon grace. Grace abounds in a church like this.
So, pastors- and the people of the church- are called to a difficult challenge (that only God can accomplish). In a diverse congregation the pastor must lead in a way that honors the Lord and brings unity to the Body. However, too many people (pastors included) believe this means that we simply maintain status quo. Certainly this is the easiest way, but it is not God’s Way. As a pastor, I know that when God speaks to me regarding my congregation, I must obey- regardless of what I think.
Here’s how I describe the constant role of the senior pastor:
Preserve the core AND (at the same time) stimulate progress and innovation.
I’m indebted to Jim Collins for helping me grasp this coexisting task of great leaders. First, the role of the pastor is to constantly preserve the core. By definition, to be core, to be essential means that it is not be open to change- never. It means it never has been changed and never will be. If it is non-core, however, it must be open to change (or it has, by default, become core). This is the stuff heresy is made of- either core issues becoming non-core or non-core issues becoming core. This is how the Church has moved forward for 2,000 years: Preserving the core while stimulating progress and innovation. Any great church will be devoted to the core (and be united around the core) and we will not allow non-core issues to divide. This is a Spirit-led strategy of leadership for a pastor and the leaders of any great church.
Of course the challenge comes when we start talking about what is core and what is not core. How do you define what it is core? And we all respond in unison: “The Bible is our authority!” How do you know (biblically) what is core and what is not core? Let’s look at that in Part 3.
I’ve learned many life lessons from triathlon and the many life parallels of being a man. In 1 Corinthians 9:24, Paul says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” His point here is not so much about competing against others as it is about the how you run this race of life. He says race to win. The triathlon is an image or parable of a man’s life in many ways. It’s not enough to start the race, you must finish the race strong. (In fact, they have a term for it when you “DNF”- did not finish- too many men DNF in life). Many men start strong but very few finish well. Along the way you’ll suffer many setbacks, you’ll want to give up, you’ll never win every race, you’ll suffer injury along the way. You’ll need to train hard. You’ll need to live a disciplined life, and you will definitely need some men to come along side you and train with you. As individual of a sport it seems to be, you cannot do it alone.
But here’s the KEY learning: The idea behind “the triathlon of manhood” is this: We must focus on three disciplines in order to finish strong. A man must do well in all three areas of his life in order to succeed as a man.
The Triathlon of Manhood
1. His spiritual life
2. His relational life
3. His vocational life
“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.” 1 Corinthian 16:13-14 The NASB says it this way: “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14. This passage has four imperative commands that tell us how to run and win this race.
Winning the Race
1. Be on guard. Watch out! Be alert! Many men are not aware of the schemes of the evil one. You need know the Word of God, study it, and apply it! Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Listen: there are moral conditions for spiritual insight. If you want an ever-expanding and clearer view of God, you must keep your heart pure. Wake up! Do not give into sin. .
2. Stand firm in your faith. Hold tight to your convictions. Real men are unmoveable in their convictions. Guard your heart, be alert regarding what goes in to your mind, what you see.
3. Be the man. Be courageous. The one defining mark of a real man is courage. Real men humbly listen to the audience of One.
4. Don’t stop loving. Everything you do must be done in love. We struggle in our culture to combine the rough, adventurous, masculine, barbarian spirit of men with a loving, kind, and tender heart (that’s a tough thing) but it is a potent combination in the hands of God.
The ultimate ironman: Jesus Christ. Jesus is the ultimate man and He has finished the race for us. He becomes, at the same time, our goal and the means (the power) to finish the race strong. Men, commit to the triathlon of life and you will finish strong!
10 questions to ask at the start of 2010 (Dr. Don Whitney)
Take some time to consider these thought provoking questions and how 2010 might be different for you than previous year:
1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?
3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?
4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?
5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?
6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?
7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?
8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?
9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?
10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, preached a whole sermon in 1744 on Acts 4:31- (“And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly”) to an audience at his alma mater, Oxford University, no less. Here’s what he said:
“How few of you spend, from one week to another, a single hour in private prayer? How few have any thought of God in the general tenor of your conversation! Who of you is, in any degree, acquainted with the work of His Spirit, His supernatural work in the souls of men? Can you bear, unless now and then, in a church, any talk of the Holy Ghost? Would you not take it for granted, if one began such a conversation, that it was either hypocrisy or enthusiasm? In the name of the Lord Almighty, I ask, What Religion are you of?”
So, are you a hypocrite or an enthusiast? (Or do you not speak of the Spirit and His work in your life at all?) Let your words prove that you are a follower of Jesus Christ today. Leave no room for questions regarding the “religion” you choose. If you’ve chosen Jesus, let others know it.
Make sure HIS name comes up in your conversations today. Let’s talk about Jesus.
As a pastor I talk often with people who are wrestling with what true forgiveness really is. I’m glad that in recent days it is the topic of many of our conversations (and excellent discussions on this blog). When it comes time to offer grace, many of us misunderstand what true forgiveness is (or perhaps what forgiveness is not). This past week at Ignite (our Weds. night bible study), I taught on the subject of “Cheap grace vs. costly grace”. In his classic book, “The Cost of Discipleship”, the great Christian martyr and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (one of my heroes), explains the difference:
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church… grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.
Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God.
Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin.
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man’ will gladly go and self all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
The proclamation of cheap grace is either that you are a sinner anyway, and there is nothing you can do about it, whether you are a man of the world or a religious man, good or bad you can never escape this world of sin and so just put on a bold face and rely on the grace of God, or that because you believe in the grace of God then you are free from sin no matter how you live because his grace covered all you sins; past, present and future the moment you made a profession of faith in his grace to cover your sin. Is there a more diabolical abuse of the grace of God than to sin and rely on God’s grace to cover it?
How can the grace of God, which cost Him so much cost us nothing? Grace means complete repentance and denial of self in order that Christ may reign. Then His grace is not offered to us (for such a high price) in vain.
Guard this priceless treasure in your life today.
I just got back from “See You at the Pole” Our students were up before the crack of dawn and gathered around the flagpole at their schools and prayed for their teachers, families, and friends. It was so inspiring. I was touched (again) by the raw and unabashed passion of our kids for Christ. I began to wonder what happens to many adults as we get older. I know some adults are praying for their neighbors, their co-workers, and their families. But I know many are not. The Bible tells us that prayer changes things. Jesus told us to pray for His kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven”. We are to pray the very values of the kingdom (read Matthew 5) to come into our daily lives. Pray that you will see God’s kingdom come through you as you seek to be light in your world today. Thank you students for being an example for us all.
At FBC McKinney we’ve been walking through a life-changing series entitled, “God’s BIG Story”. We’re exploring how to read, study, interpret, and apply the Bible. My premise from the start has been to consider the reason God gave us the Bible in the first place. Then, given that larger, Divine purpose, allow it to be the lens through which we understand and apply God’s Word.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
- is God-breathed. (it’s inspired by God- the writers, prophets, teachers spoke God’s words)
- shows us truth. (it shows us which way to go- it gives us the truth about God, us, and all of life)
- exposes our rebellion. (it shows us when we get off track- reproofs, refutes error, convicts)
- corrects our mistakes. (it shows us how to get back on track- sets straight, corrects)
- trains us to live like Jesus. (it shows us how to stay on track- “trains, instructs, disciplines”
God’s Word does all of this; but to what end? “…so that…” (“for this purpose”) that we might be able to live IN righteousness- in conformity to the life of Jesus. So that we might be “fully equipped, completely outfitted, fully furnished, fully supplied” to walk as Jesus did. Everything we need is in the Bible (minus one thing)- the Holy Spirit. As you approach God’s Word you cannot do so without the inward working of the Spirit.
None of this happens magically or by osmosis- you must read it alone and study it with others! And it’s critical to remember that we cannot be obedient to the Lord apart from the work of the Spirit. So many of us already know more than we’re actually applying. In the end, Jesus says, it’s not what you believe that counts, it’s what you believe enough to do!
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Luke 6:46
In the end, all of Scripture points us to one Person who said “follow me.” Today, may you “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22) and “walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6).