Monthly Archives: May 2013

Where is the Gospel?

More than any other book in a long time, Gospel Centered Discipleship by Jonathan Dodson has really challenged how I look at what it means to be a Christian. And it has led me to rethink some of my practices when it comes to discipleship.

Dodson wrote, “Knowingly or unknowingly, everyone puts something in the center of discipleship.” For some people it is church activities while others focus on missions or following religious rules or observing rituals and liturgy. It can be easy to focus on leadership development or thinking of discipleship as merely leading a small group or a book study. Some see discipleship as primarily a personal thing while others believe it is best experienced in community.

At the center of discipleship should be Jesus because He is the one we are to follow and worship with our lives as Christians. Dodson’s premise is that many people have only a partial view or understanding of the Gospel. Some focus on forgiveness of sins and redemption while others believe in and practice the ability to be free from the grip of sin and temptation. Still some are dedicated to studying the life of Christ in the Bible and following His example, and yet they ignore the importance of the Holy Spirit. Dodson wrote, “Without the Spirit, we are powerless to believe the Gospel of Jesus , but those who are in Christ have the most powerful motivation for discipleship present in them — the very Spirit of God.”

So I have really started to ask myself, “What really is the Gospel?” And when I encounter a situation or choice to make I am asking, “How can I see the Gospel in action by how I think or act to a given situation?”

Quite simply the Gospel is the story of God redeeming, restoring and liberating humanity and the world from the impact of sin and death through Jesus, empowered and led by the Holy Spirit to the glory of God. It is ultimately about freedom and reconciling fallen humanity to a right relationship with God.

So in your life, if you are a Christian, you should be thinking how you can respond and act in ways that bring the Gospel to whatever situation you encounter. Where is the Gospel? It should influence our words, actions and thoughts as followers of Christ. It is not just a message about Jesus 2,000 years ago or merely doctrine to be affirmed in church. It is a lasting truth and present reality that impacts our lives and the world every day.

In future blog posts, I plan to cover more insights from Dodson’s book and hope to share my journey to more meaningful and intentional discipleship.

I Know God’s Will for Your Life … Do You?

The following is a speech I made at a high school graduation for one of the students  from my youth group. He graduated from a small home school co-op.

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Graduates, you are about to enter the biggest roller coaster ride of your life. It will be full of transition for both you and your parents. Over the next 5-10 years, you will meet new people, go to new places, and face new challenges. You will make decisions that could have ripple effects throughout your entire life. And you will likely be making these decisions with a lot less oversight and a lot more freedom than you have been accustomed to in the past. You are growing up, and it is time to wrestle with the joys and the challenges of freedom.

The good news is that even when you make a mistake or even outright commit sin, God can forgive you and turn around things for good. But you don’t want to make too many bad decisions and dig yourself into a big hole — right?

So, when I was in your shoes and faced the challenge of making decisions for myself with minimal parental involvement, I struggled with the question, “What is God’s will for my life?” As I have wrestled with that question through the years, I have learned a few things.

First, we tend to focus on the who, what, when and where of any situation. We want to know which career to pursue, what girl to date and eventually marry, or which place we should live. While those are all good questions, they alone won’t answer God’s will for our lives. God is more concerned with the how of our decisions. He focuses on primarily how we go down whatever path we choose. And more importantly, God cares about the kind of person we are becoming. God’s will is about more than just what we do — the focus should be on who we are — our identity in Christ.

A good question to ask ourselves is, “Do we have the heart and the mind of God about whatever we do?

Let me make a radical statement. You might find this hard to believe. I know what the will of God is for everyone in this room! You might think, “How could this guy know that? He hasn’t even met me. Is he a mind reader? How could he possibly know God’s will for all of these people?”

Those are good questions. But the reason I am so confident in my statement is that I can read. And while Scripture shows many instances of God’s will being done and revealed, only a few times does it make broad statements about God’s will. And the more I studied this issue I discovered how critical is this one thing to accomplishing God’s will for my life.

So, are you ready for the secret? It can be found in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” While this statement was written to a specific group of people at a specific time. I believe it has relevance to every believer. Because no matter what we face in life, if we develop a thankful heart, we will be able to overcome any obstacle and move on toward God’s goal for us.

Being thankful can be hard because most people face some challenges in life. How can we be thankful in all circumstances? What about the boring, life-draining droll of adulthood? What about the time you spend waiting in line at the grocery store when the checker is moving beyond slow, and a child is screaming behind you? To make this worse, all you can think about is how your wife is waiting at home with a long honey-do list after your tiring day at work, and you just want is to be left alone.

Or, what about when your hard-to-please boss yells at you for not doing what he said should seem like common sense, but you had no idea he wanted it done that way? How can you rejoice when a difficult family situations arises, such as a rebellious child or an aging parent?

Or what about when God “doesn’t come through” as you expected? You thought God had promised something, but He delayed in fulfilling your expectation. Or, just like Job in the Bible, maybe God never answers the question you want answered most? Or how about when you are sick and don’t feel like moving? There are many tough situations that are difficult to rejoice about.

Do we need to deny how we feel or dismiss the pain that we encounter in this life? I believe the answer to that question is a big fat NO. That attitude would not be real nor would it lead to a truly thankful heart. It would merely be putting on a fake mask before God and acting religious. That might work if all God cared about was the outward appearance at any one moment. But God’s heart is not just that we would do the right things; He is more focused on us becoming the right kind of people. Jesus want us to have His heart and mind about our lives, the world and others. We must become who we are already in Christ.

So how do we develop a thankful heart?

Well, for starters, a thankful heart is born long before the moment of challenge. Most of the time I simply react out of the storehouse of experience, personality and perspective that I have obtained over my life. I don’t usually stop and carefully thing through every incident that arises. Honestly, neither do you. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. If you develop a thankful heart — realizing how much God has already done for you even if He never answers another prayer, then you are more likely to default to a more godly response. If you realize that God is sovereign and ultimately does care about you, that can bring hope in even the darkest hour.

A thankful heart is not overcome by hardship even though it is free to mourn loss. Just as Jesus cried in the Garden of Gethsemane, we are free to express our true emotions to God. But we can’t let those feelings be all there is to our internal process. We have to realize that truth is bigger than our perspective or even our challenges in life.

A thankful heart has a godly perspective and sees beyond the moment. But this is hard — even impossible to accomplish on our own. This faith response is rooted in God’ work. We just have to believe it and submit to it.

I believe the answer to how we develop a thankful heart comes from a very familiar passage. Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect.”

The Apostle Paul called early Christians to think differently from the world. Instead of being conformed to the world’s perspective, we are to have the mind of Christ. We are to be less like water that conforms to the shape of whatever cup it is in, and we are to be more like ice that is molded under cold temperatures into a solid block and will retain its shape in different types of containers. While it will melt over time, the ice takes its shape from the mold it is formed in, and for Christians, that mold is our new lives in Christ.

Also, this passage doesn’t just say our actions are transformed. The Lord wants to renew our minds and our hearts. Remember, this transformation is not just about what we do. Our actions should flow from who we are, and our identity in Christ. We are a thankful people because we are aware of how much God loves and has done for us. We are thankful because we realize the truth that he who has been forgiven much loves much.

So how do we have the mind of Christ? We take on the mind of God by reading Scripture and letting it challenge us. Through prayer, including listening prayer, we give our heart to God and position ourselves to hear directly from the Holy Spirit. By allowing God’s truth to change how we look at our situation, we find that He fashions our heart anew to rejoice despite whatever we face.

We praise God in the midst of the storm because He is worthy regardless of what is going on around us. This requires faith as well as reliance on God’s ability to transform and change the things we can’t do anything about.

So, God’s will for your life is to give thanks and rejoice in who He is. The Lord wants all of us to find our hope in Him and not in our situation. If you allow God to build this heart attitude in you, you will be able to realize the fullness of God’s plan. Until then, you may get frustrated, disillusioned or confused when things don’t work out like you had hoped or expected.

There are too many so-called Christians who have found that their faith wavers when God’s will turns out to be something far different than what they expected. There are many situations and decisions where the Lord may give you lots of freedom to make whatever choice you want. There may not just be one perfect person for you to marry. Nor is there one ideal place to live. Your career and work may change a lot through your life. But I can guarantee you that if you allow the Lord to create a thankful heart in you — you always will be able to navigate whatever comes up, and at least in one way you will be living out with certainty God’s will for your life.

His Image, My Image

“Who am I?” has become the question that shapes our world. Most people are on a search to discover their own unique identity, and this is especially true of adolescents. Young people are apt to try lots of things to discover their passions, giftings, preferences and values.

When it comes to the issue of identity, I believe there are four different kind of people from a Biblical perspective.
• Those who don’t ever really think much about their identity.
• Those who are defined by everybody else around them.
• Those who look only within and still find something missing.
• Those who have a healthy self image founded in Christ that reflects their own unique callings and giftings.

Many smart people say that the key to this process of finding your identity is to look deep within to find the true you. And while this advice sounds good, it is missing something very important if God exists and He created each one of us. We are asking the wrong question. Looking deep within is just as wrong as looking around to everybody else to discover the real me. The best question to ask is, “What does God say about me?”

Since God is our Creator, only He can give an accurate estimation of our worth and value. Only He can ultimately answer our longings for acceptance and love. We are made in the image of God, which means getting to know God will help us discover ourselves. If you are a Christian, think of this another way… Jesus Is My Self Image!

Noted theologian and author, C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become.” While there is nothing wrong with seeking the opinions of others or looking within to explore issues of our life, these are limited in their effectiveness to answer our deepest questions on our journey for self discovery.

“Having a healthy self image is not the ultimate goal. Knowing Jesus in all His fullness is,” wrote Josh McDowell, Christian apologetics expert and author in His Image, My Image. Developing a healthy self image is the byproduct of chasing after Jesus and discovering just how wonderful He is.

I love what Corey Russel, author and iHOP-KC leader, said, “There is a whole generation running around asking, ‘What is my identity? What is my calling? Who am I?’ God says if we would just seek to know Him we would discover who we are…You want to know who you are – Go after Jesus. You will run right into yourself.”

Unfortunately, too many people are defined by lies that they have believed. These may be statements made by others or our own assessment of our failings and “negative” traits. These thoughts may be inspired by demons to rob us of the true identity we have when we see ourselves as God sees us. If we are defined by a lie, we will never know the real us!

Your identity development does more than just affect your self esteem. Our sense of identity is a lens that impacts how we look at the world and ourselves. If you have a healthy self image, you will be able to look at both the good and the bad in your design. But too many people can only see the negative or the ways that they don’t measure up to others. Developing a healthy self image happens as we explore the depths of Jesus Christ and realize that He is the key to our quest for discovery. And this process happens best in community because we are called to be part of a living body of believers.

Along this process of self discovery, I found out that rejecting who God designed me to be is a sin. It is actually rebellion against God. It is in essence saying to the Creator, “I know better than you how I should have been made.” While we may all have something we would like to change about ourselves, we should not strongly dislike who we are. This includes our physical design as well as talents, abilities, personality and our life situation. We were born where we were for a reason. We were placed in our families for a reason. We look a certain way for reason. We have to embrace God’s design or we can become miserable in the pursuit of becoming someone else. While there is nothing wrong with changing some things that we don’t like or are not good, there are some things we just need to accept and embrace because we can’t change it.

Having a Jesus-inspired self identity starts with searching the Scriptures to see what God says about His love and purposes for humanity. What does the Bible say about our self image and value?

God loves you more than the best parent does a treasured child.

1 John 3:1 (NIV)
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
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You were created in God’s image and bear the mark of a grand design.

Genesis 1:26-27 (NIV)
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

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God has crowned man with honor and glory. Thus, you have value and worth because God says so. He sacrificed His Son to save you.

Psalm 8:4-5 (NIV)
What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

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Key Questions to Consider

• What is the basis of your identity?
• Is there somebody you would rather be than you?
• How do you think God sees you?