intentional

What the World Needs Now!

Photo by  Mayur Gala  on  Unsplash

Photo by Mayur Gala on Unsplash

"What the world needs now—is love, sweet love..." is how a popular song in the mid-sixties went. It was sung by Jackie DeShannon and is still one of my favorite songs from the sixties. This YouTube video link of the song captures the innocent hope of the 60's for a universal love.

Another favorite song by the Youngbloods called "Get Together" became somewhat of an anthem for the peace movement of the 60's—"Come on people now—smile on your brother—everybody get together—try to love one another right now."

The 60's were a tumultuous time of expectant hope and, at first, altruistic belief in the goodness of humanity. It was a decade with a divergent mix of protests and campus unrest, an unpopular war overseas, economic change, and a moral and spiritual vacuum.

Lost innocence

A naive hope seemed to die with the close of the decade and the beginning of the "Me Generation" of the 70's. Today we're in a similar era with a divergent clash of expectations but without innocence or hope.

In fact, there's a whole lot of mud-slinging and name-calling, but it's not just political. It permeates our culture in so many ways. What the world needs now is love with humility. At the very least, some civility.

When you look into the heart of God—who is love (1 John 4:7-8, 16)—the nature of His love is humility. Out of His great love, He gave His Son for the whole world (John 3:16).

God is love and the nature of His love is humility

Jesus—love personified

Looking at Jesus we see humility. The apostle Paul pointed this out when he exhorted the church in Philippi to be unified through humility towards one another (Philippians 2:1-4). Then he points them to Jesus as our example—

Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Although he was in the form of God and equal with God, he did not take advantage of this equality.
Instead, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, by becoming like other humans, by having a human appearance. 
He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross. (Phil 2:5-8 GW)

Jesus—the personification of God's love—said this about Himself—

Place my yoke over your shoulders, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble. Then you will find rest for yourselves (Matthew 11:29 GW)

Looking at Jesus we see humility and love personified

Wrong emphasis

We in the American church, including evangelicals, are too often caught up in being right—doctrinally and morally. The focus of teaching and how we are to live is more on upholding moral standards and protecting our rights and freedoms.

Having good moral standards is honorable, and the great privilege of living in America is that we enjoy certain rights and freedoms (see US Constitution for more details).

But with privilege and freedom comes responsibility and true morality is not based on human goodness, but the nature of God.

Genuine morality is not based on human goodness, but the nature of God

Wrong direction

I fear we—the church—are moving faster and faster in the direction of becoming modern-day Pharisees—self-righteous and hypocritical and lacking in mercy, grace, and humility.

The Jewish leaders who longed for their messiah to come deliver Israel missed Him when He did come. They condemned Him and found a way of putting Him to death.

They were too caught up in themselves and maintaining their own sense of rightness to see that the Messiah they had waited centuries for was Jesus.

Are we—the church—moving in the direction of becoming modern-day Pharisees?

Changing direction

How can this be reversed? Can it be? If it can't, we are hopeless. Ah, but a solution exists.

Change comes one life at a time, one heart at a time. Then, and only then, lasting significant change will take place in our churches, our nation, and our world.

Jesus said, "Come learn of Me..." and called all believers—all true followers—to deny their selfish ambitions and desires, pride, and self-centeredness, die to themselves—take up their cross and then follow Him (Matt 16:24).

Change comes one life at a time, one heart at a time

The solution to world peace

He calls us into a simple, intentional, relational, and intimately personal life of discipleship. When disciples are disciple makers and people's lives are changed one at a time, the peace of God extends throughout the world exponentially.

This has always been the Lord's solution to world peace. It requires no degree or certificate or special training. It's a matter of sharing the life we have in Jesus with others. 

Really, it's that simple. But, it's an investment of life and time in the lives of others. It requires self-discipline and commitment and humility.

Are you ready for a change? Submit yourself to Jesus—the humble personification of love and the Lord of Lords.

Are you ready for a change of direction in the world around you?

It starts with you and me.

Need Help on How to Share Your Faith?

Evangelism. What does this word bring to mind? Typically, most people think of street preachers, revival tents or mass crusades, and handing out gospel tracts.

But the most effective means of evangelism, since the time of Jesus till now, is personal evangelism. Person to person, relational, intentional sharing of God’s Story—the gospel—in a personal way.

Some people are called to be preachers, whether on a street corner or in an auditorium. Others are quite bold and confident in approaching people in any circumstance for the sole purpose of sharing their faith.

But not everyone is like this. I’m not.

My personal experience

Even though I’ve preached in church pulpits, public outreaches, on the radio, and handed out tracts on the street, evangelism is not what I'm inclined to do. I'm not an evangelist.

Many people are not equipped, nor called to traditional public evangelism, but we are all called to be ready to share the hope we have within us—Jesus—and our relationship with Him (1 Peter 3:15).

The hindrance for many of us sharing our faith is timidity and lack of confidence, but the key is focusing on building a relationship.

A more typical focus is on the mechanics of how it should be done or the content of what needs to be said. But when we look at the example of Jesus in the Gospels, we see a very tailored, personal approach. 

Jesus showed more interest in the person than a methodology in reaching people with the gospel

When I share on evangelism, I encourage people to consider how each of their life stories connects with God's Story. I also encourage people to use biblical storying to share their faith with others.

Our prime example—Jesus

Compare Jesus' example to the more common approach of monopolizing a conversation with a prepared spiel, in an attempt to convince people they are sinners.

We see Jesus' example early on when He was in the temple among the Jewish leaders and rabbis (Luke 2:41-50). Jesus is found “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” He isn’t preaching to them, but listening and asking questions.

Further along in the gospel narrative, we find Jesus engaging people with stories and wise sayings called parables.

Jesus engaged people with stories and wise sayings called parables

He often used questions when challenged by the Jewish leaders, asked questions of the crowds of people when He taught them and used questions when He explained things and to exhort His disciples in private.

The Jesus-way of evangelism

Jesus engaged people from all backgrounds and stations of life. He seemed to tailor His interaction with people to their level and state in life.

He treated those with questionable backgrounds and character with unexpected dignity. He rubbed shoulders and ate with prostitutes, drunks, unethical business people, political agitators, and the like.

And His band of followers included uneducated fisherman and tax collectors (renegade IRS-agent types) to mention a few.

His tactics were different than anyone expected, which included His followers and the Jewish spiritual leaders.

Jesus' tactics were different than anyone expected

His tactics were different from what is customarily seen today. Jesus' way is different than what is found in most evangelism training programs and books on evangelism, let alone stereotypical evangelists, whether well-known or not.

Learning from Jesus' example

How can we learn from Jesus' example? It just might make sharing our faith with others easier, and more fruitful.

People, worldwide, know they are sinners in some way or another, or at least that they are less than perfect. Most people, throughout the world, are lonely and often feel less than important.

When someone shows interest in them and is willing to listen to their story, they take notice. I have found this true traveling nationally and internationally on planes, and in airports, and other situations.

People want to tell their story to someone

One reason people seek out a counselor or therapist, even in social networking, is to find someone who will listen to their story.

A simple starting point

Here's a simple starting point for personal evangelism. Simply ask a person about himself or herself. Who are they? What do they do in life? Just show interest in them. Genuine interest.

This builds rapport, the beginning of a relationship. It establishes interest and even a sense of trust. It builds a bridge that makes it possible to share your own story and the greatest story—God’s story.

This requires genuineness above all. Most people are perceptive enough to know when you are listening to them, or just listening for an opportunity to break in and say something.

Once you hear a person’s story, you've built a bridge of respect and trust. This will often give you an opportunity to share your own story, your life story of faith.

Once you hear a person’s story, you've built a bridge of respect and trust

This isn’t a complicated or new approach. In fact, it takes place many times a day, often without any intention. It just happens.

Wouldn't it be nice if sharing your faith just happened in a natural way?

It can. I'll post a follow-up to this next week... so stay tuned!

Think about what I've shared so far.

Take some time to look at how Jesus engaged people with the truth of His story—God's story.

A Results-Based Dilemma

unsplash_number_keys-ABranch

unsplash_number_keys-ABranch

Let's face it. America is locked into results. We measure and quantify everything, even our leisure time. Think not? We post life events or moments on social media, then check to see how many "likes" we've received. It's an epidemic and it's not healthy.

Christian believers are not immune to this epidemic. It infects churches and other ministries. We measure the sizes of congregations and buildings and responses to various types of ministry efforts.

Jesus wasn't results oriented in the way we are. He did expect results but not the kind we do.

One of the Lord's closest followers betrayed Him, the others abandoned Him at a critical point, and then He died. From a human point of view, that would seem like a failure. But of course, there's far more to the story than that! And far more to Christianity than measuring results.

Dwindling results

Much has been written about the dilemma American churches face today. In general, Millennials are not too interested or engaged with church, many in older generations have given up on church and become part of the Dones, and the majority of America's pastors are getting grayer.

Personally, I see this stemming from a lack of personal, intentional discipleship, which requires long-term investment in people and commitment. This is what we see the Lord Jesus model in His ministry on earth, but it's not easy to measure in terms of progress.

Perhaps this stems from the approach the church takes with evangelism—presenting the gospel, God's redemptive message.

American-style evangelism

Evangelism in America reflects our national cultural roots. We tend to be confrontational and analytical, so we present the gospel as if it was a legal argument in court or a debate that requires a yes-or-no answer.

Decisions can be measured, like the responses to a large-scale crusade or an altar call invitation at the end of a church service or evangelistic outreach.

I'm not saying these approaches are wrong. They reflect our historical and cultural identity and they appeal to our inclination to measure results.

How can we quantify God's Kingdom?

But is the Kingdom of God quantifiable? Was Jesus concerned that His followers—His church—be able to measure the results of their efforts at fulfilling the Great Commission?

Instead of counting decisions as a measurement, we need to make disciples who will also make disciples. There is no measurement that brings a point of completion for this, it will continue till we see Jesus face-to-face.

Another approach of presenting the gospel or sharing one's faith falls into the category of friendship evangelism. A current trend of personal evangelism is summed up with the unverified quote attributed to St Francis of Assisi, "Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary."

Life example is vital for being a living witness of Jesus Christ to others (Acts 1:8), but words are essential for communicating the truth of the gospel.

A better way, or another way?

I love preaching and teaching and know they are still viable and valuable to present the gospel to others. Most people who respond to an invitation at a crusade or evangelistic rally, or in a church setting were brought by a friend or a family member.

But the evangelical church as a whole is not reaching the present generations as well as we could.

Is there another, better way? How about asking—Is there another approach to presenting the gospel to a postmodern, nearly post-Christian generation?

There is and I'll look at one such approach next week. But let me be clear. This is not the next best thing, it's just one more approach to presenting the gospel, and it has a biblical foundation.

Are you curious? Check back next week!


Expert Opinions and the Truth

Unsplash.com_JApplegate

Unsplash.com_JApplegate

What is it about experts that make us want to hear what they say? Is it their intelligence? Their experience? Their authority or recognition as an expert?

Many years ago I realized a couple things about experts. They are often self-appointed, and too often their expertise is knowledge-based rather than experiential. And, oh yeah, they can be wrong. Sometimes more wrong than they're right.

For example, take the experts in the (Mosaic) Law when Jesus' came. They were wrong, way wrong, but would never admit it. (Mark 2:16-17 GW) They couldn't see past their self-righteousness to see the real need of people, but Jesus did.

I believe we've been held captive by the opinion of experts far too long. (Click to Tweet) For starters, the earth is not flat. Draining someone's blood doesn't get rid of a disease. Humans can travel faster than the speed of sound and run a mile under four minutes.

Experts and Jesus

The experts of Jesus' time, people who should know better than anyone, missed what they were looking for—the Messiah. Why? For one thing, they didn't like who He had as His followers. They also didn't like much of what He did and said.

My definition of arrogance is the resulting combination of pride and ignorance. (Click to Tweet) Sadly, my experience with (so-called) experts has born this out way too often. BTW, I'm no expert.

I can only guess why you would want an expert opinion. The expectation is that an expert will deliver an authoritative and true opinion. But alas, opinions are opinions, regardless of who gives them.

Jesus had real authority and He spoke truth, not opinion, and His view of discipleship was simple and practical. (Click to Tweet)

Jesus had real authority and He spoke truth, not opinion

An expert example

A considerable amount of books, pamphlets, and messages on discipleship have been generated over the years. All try to capture the essence, purpose, and value of discipleship.

One book I can recommend is The Master Plan of Evangelism, by Robert Coleman. It is a classic and well worth the read.

One of the simplest views of Jesus' model of discipleship can be found in Paul's epistle, 2 Timothy in Chapter 2. Here is where I find the essence of discipleship. Not so much a how-to plan, but a process. Discipleship is an ongoing process. It's a way of life.

Discipleship has a beginning but ends when we see Jesus face to face (1 Cor 13:12).

Where do we start?

The foundation for all true discipleship is God's grace—His kindness poured out for all humanity through Jesus.

My child, find your source of strength in the kindness [grace] of Christ Jesus. (2 Tim 2:1 GW)

The foundation for all true discipleship is God's grace

How does the process of discipleship begin?

First, we need to become a disciple and follower of Jesus.

We need to be faithful and consistent in our personal relationship with Jesus, and our relationships with others.

Then we are to pass onto other followers of Jesus what the Lord has worked into our lives. How has Jesus worked His life and truth into your life? This is what we are to share with others.

You’ve heard my message, and it’s been confirmed by many witnesses. Entrust this message to faithful individuals who will be competent to teach others. (2 Tim 2:2 GW)

We need to be faithful and consistent in our personal relationship with Jesus

What is the primary message?

The essential gospel should always be the basis for sharing our faith with others. The essential gospel, as I wrote about in my book, is simply— He (Jesus) came, He died, He rose. Here' one way Paul expressed it—

Always think about Jesus Christ. He was brought back to life and is a descendant of David. This is the Good News that I tell others. (2 Tim 2:8 GW)

The essential gospel is always the basis for sharing our faith with others

How can we be ready?

How can you and I be ready at all times and anywhere to share the gospel in our own words? And how can we share what the Lord has worked into our own lives?

We need to know the truth of God's Word ourselves. How can we share with others what we don't have a firm grasp of ourselves? (Click to Tweet)

Do your best to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker who isn’t ashamed to teach the word of truth correctly. (2 Tim 2:15 GW)

We need to know the truth of God's Word ourselves

Two essential elements

In a previous post, I asked— What are two essential elements of true discipleship? Discipleship the way Jesus did it needs to be both relational and intentional.

It begins with our own personal relationship with Jesus and continues through personal relationships with others.

Discipleship requires commitment on our part. We need to be intentional and faithful in discipling others, even when the results aren't encouraging (see Matt 15:15-16 NIV). (Click to Tweet)

Discipleship the way Jesus did it needs to be both relational and intentional

How? That brings us back to the beginning—being strong in God's grace (2 Tim 2:1).

Discipleship is an ongoing process, not a task to accomplish. It's an intentional, continuing relationship with Jesus and others. (Click to Tweet) Discipleship is a way of life.

3 Observations and Truths About Discipleship

unsplash.com_tkelley

When I returned to my home culture after fifteen years overseas, I knew something was missing. At first, I couldn't put my finger on it, but I knew a significant shift took place.

It wasn't one specific thing, but an accumulative process that brought this shift. "What happened," I wondered?

It wasn't so much what happened as what didn't happen—personal, intentional discipleship within the church.

Something missing

My first indicator was a general biblical ignorance. This was puzzling. More biblical teaching was available, in more ways than when I moved overseas (1990).

Resources for biblical studies had multiplied, through books, audio, video, and online products. There was plenty to choose from and yet, the consumer-oriented American Christian wanted more of it.

But with all that was available, something was missing.

Was it a lack of community? Leadership? Commitment? Yes to all the above and more. But why?

A pattern

It finally dawned on me that what was common in the '70's and 80's was lacking in the new millennium.

Intentional, relational discipleship was a primary element of the Jesus People Movement of the late '60's into the '70's. It was a natural, organic element embedded into the movement by God.

It didn't just happen by itself, but it wasn't a well-outlined curriculum or program. That came later.

This seems to be a pattern with us humans.

The wrong thing was replicated

God does something sovereign and dynamic, then we try to systematize it. We try to codify and quantify it—axioms, rules, and numbers—in order to replicate it. In doing this, we end up stifling whatever God did or is doing.

Discipleship, as Jesus modeled, is a process of replication that reproduces disciple-makers. It should never be reduced to a program.

The human effect turns a movement of God into an institution.

We try to organize the spiritual dynamic or life of the movement, which quenches the river of life God sets in motion, by attempting to channel or contain it.

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." (Jeremiah 2:13 NIV)

Not a spiritual growth program

Discipleship is not a spiritual growth program. 

It's not a follow-up or aftercare program for those who've said the sinner's prayer.

Discipleship is the natural progression of evangelism. They aren't synonymous, but they aren't separate either. Robert Coleman's classic book, Master Plan of Evangelism, makes this clear.

This isn't rocket science, as they say. A person doesn't need a degree nor professional training to be a disciple-maker. Nor does a disciple-maker need a title or official role.

Yes, a disciple-maker needs to be grounded in the truth of God's Word and led by God's Spirit, but they don't need a certificate to make them an authorized disciple-maker.

3 simple observations

  1. Discipleship is not a cognitive skill to be learned or taught—it's a way of life.
  2. Discipleship is a life with purpose—that purpose is revealed in the process of discipleship.
  3. Discipleship requires some type of challenge to pursue the goal—the goal is following Jesus and being transformed by the Holy Spirit.

3 simple truths

  1. The Lord Jesus saw discipleship as an intentional, relational process. It's not a phase, but an integrated whole. Discipleship involves following Jesus with a community of believers—Matt 16:24; John 8:31-32; Acts 2:42-47.
  2. Discipleship is the pastoral responsibility of the church. Not the institution or corporation, but the community of believers under the Lordship of Jesus, as led by the Holy Spirit. This is made clear in Ezekiel 34:1-24, and by Jesus in John 10:7-16.
  3. Discipleship is a community-based process of sanctification. This is shared pastoral care among a community of believers. It's not relegated to one leader or a select group of leaders, although leadership is important. It is a shared commitment of each believer to one another—John 8:34-36; Acts 4:32-35; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20.

This is not all that can be said about the subject, far from it!

Do you need more insight on any of the 3 observations or truth above? Let me know!

But, it's my hope these simple, brief observations and truths help confirm whatever God may be stirring in your own heart.

So... What is God stirring in your heart about discipleship and following Jesus?

Let me know, and thanks for reading and sharing this post!

This is an edited & updated version of an earlier post— 3 Simple Observations and Truths