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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Grow – Invite – Connect – Give

A couple of years ago, as I was reading my Bible (I can’t remember exactly what) I was struck with a thought that I wrote down on a post-it note.

We exist to give our lives away that others might know the depth of God’s love.

I still have the post-it note and it is still stuck in my Bible. When I see it, it gives me pause and makes me consider how my life lines up with that insight.

I am regularly amazed at the patience, grace and forbearance of God. It is clear that he loves us tremendously. The greatest act of love was the death of his son on the cross. That act of love opened a whole new life of forgiveness and freedom that was unknown since the Garden of Eden. But God doesn’t force himself upon us. He doesn’t demand that we receive his love. He doesn’t require that we live in his grace or that we recognize him for who he is.

Likewise, when we become followers of Jesus, God’s patience, grace and forbearance continue even when we don’t trust him fully with our lives and our possessions. God does not force us to give, but he calls us to a life of giving.

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church he concludes with the challenge to “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” What was the work of the Lord? Spreading the good news of Jesus, caring for each other, loving the poor and helpless, feeding the hungry, sharing their resources, teaching truth, exercising their spiritual gifts in community with others - to name a few.

Really, I think it is safe to say that whatever we do, done for the glory of God, is the work of the Lord.

"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Colossians 3:17, NIV)

Our greatest acts of faith come in the form of giving. Giving always requires something from us or of us. Inherent in the act of giving is a level of self-sacrifice that looks to the needs of others above ourself. Unfortunately, we often see this as painful but God wants us to see it as joyful!
"Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:7, NIV)
As Jesus grabs hold of our heart we come to see that we don’t live for ourselves, we live to give. In giving, we find blessing. In giving, others see the reality of Jesus. In us giving our lives away, others see the depth of God’s love.

Grow – Invite – Connect – Give

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What Does It Matter?

Grow – Invite – Connect – Give

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV)

There are three ways you can view the church. You can view it as a gas station, a hotel or a home.

A lot of people view church as a gas station. You see, a gas station is a place you go to get something you need. You may not like that you need it and you may not like the price that you have to pay but, through what people have taught you and perhaps from personal experience, you are convinced that a car without fuel is pretty worthless. When you go to the gas station, you use your credit card at the pump, you may nod to the person next to you getting gas but you really aren’t interested in relationship. Relationship only happens when you can’t get the pump to work and you have to talk to the attendant or you buy a little caffeine and sugar hit. It is all about getting what you need as fast as you can and you don’t return unless you have to.

Other people view church as a hotel. The hotel is a place to stay for a bit to get the needed rest to get to someplace else. Hotels are mostly about value and comfort – finding the right mix of the two. The relationship is a little higher because you are talking to the desk clerk to get checked in, you might make some small talk to the other people at the continental breakfast bar but once you are rested and fed, off you go to your next place.

God views the church as a home. A home is a place where you belong. You don’t visit, you don’t pass through, it isn’t just about getting what you want or need. A home is where you give and where you get, it is where you are funny and grumpy, orderly and messy, happy and sad and your family loves you just the same because they are committed to you. A home is where you grow up in size and grow up in character. A home is a place where people love you too much to let you stay the same so they encourage, challenge, rebuke, teach and discipline you so that you can reach that wonderful potential that you may not see but they do. A home is a place you sometimes feel like running away from because it is filled with messy, smelly, occasionally obnoxious imperfect people that hurt you. But they are family so you stay and work it out.

God never intended His church to be seen as a commodity – something to be selfishly used. He intended His church to be a Spirit empowered, relationship driven, passion filled group of imperfect people striving to encourage each other to be more like Jesus.

Here is something that is absolutely true – the longer we stay away from the church, the easier it is to stay away from the church. We eventually convince ourselves that they don’t need us and we don’t need them.

But the Bible is clear – we need each other. We need to be connected in regular, committed relationship with others that goes beyond the surface. It is one of the most difficult things we do in our journey of faith in Jesus Christ – finding authentic relationship with others. It starts with engaging in regular corporate worship, teaching and celebration of the sacraments of communion and baptism. It moves to engagement in growth, learning and relationship through small group connection and matures when we serve in community with each other.

What does it matter? It is the difference between a living, growing, deep abiding faith in God versus a self-serving religious experience that puts myself as the object of worship instead of God.

It matters a lot. Keep connected.



"See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness." (Hebrews 3:12-13, NIV)

" The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ."

"Now the body is not made up of one part but of many."

"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed ..." (1 Corinthians 12:12, 14, 27-28, NIV)

Grow – Invite – Connect – Give

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Growing Up

Grow – Invite – Connect – Give

"Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:4-5, NIV)

You probably already know that I like my electronic toys but one of the best inventions to come around is the digital camera. Talk about instant gratification! On my computer I have over 7,000 pictures that go back to 2003. Sometimes, when I am looking for a certain picture I will scroll through the thumbnail size pics and it is like watching my kids evolve right before my eyes. Being with them each day, I tend not to notice the subtle changes but when I look at them over time, I am amazed at how they are changing.

When we look at all the things that God has created and designed to grow, unless you are a fly, growth takes time. If you are a fly, your whole life is going to be experienced in 15 to 30 days, as long as you don’t meet a fly-swatter! For the rest of us, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual growth takes place over years and we often have a hard time seeing the changes.

When it comes to our spiritual lives, God expects us to grow up. Accepting Jesus in our life to save us and lead us is just the beginning of being the person God created us to be. To be that person, we must intentionally engage in the activities that contribute to growth.

Through the centuries of people following God, there have been developed a number of practices to facilitate spiritual growth. They are commonly referred to as Spiritual Disciplines but I like to think of them as Spiritual Habits. At the core of these habits are a few essentials that foster having a growing spiritual life. All followers of Christ are called to consistently and regularly practice, at a bare minimum, a life of worship, Bible reading, prayer, and reflection in community with others. Of course, the spiritual life is like all else, doing the minimum may maintain where you’re at but it rarely moves you beyond that!

Growth as a Christian is ultimately about one thing - we would more and more abide in Jesus so that we are transformed. When we grow we are becoming more like Jesus in the way we think, the way we talk and the way we act. So the goal of growth is not that we would just know more but that we would be more.

Author and Professor Dr. Dallas Willard says it this way:

“The aim of disciplines in the spiritual life--and, specifically, in the following of Christ--is the transformation of the total state of the soul. It is the renewal of the whole person from the inside, involving differences in thought, feeling and character that may never be manifest in outward behavior at all. This is what Paul has in mind when he speaks of putting off the "old man" and putting on the new, "renewed to resemble in knowledge the one who created us..." (Col. 3:10)” (Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation and the Restoration of the Soul)

Spiritual growth should be seen in the same light of why we bother to eat food each day. Most meals are not gourmet affairs – peanut butter and honey sandwiches aren’t very sophisticated! But as we eat healthily each day it provides fuel for our bodies so we can meet the challenges of the day. The daily feeding of our souls through practicing spiritual habits brings the growth that will make us disciples of Jesus. Jesus described that as living life to the full. As a Christian, that is what we should long for most.

"In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so." (Hebrews 5:12-6:3, NIV)

NEXT: The Importance of Connection

Grow – Invite – Connect – Give