Category Archives: Discipleship

What Does God Want from Me?

A lot of people talk about doing the will of God. But to do that, we must know what He truly wants. God could have made this easy on us by writing in the sky, sending angels to answer all of our questions or making the Bible more like a manual or Life for Dummies book. But He didn’t do any of those things. Why is this hearing from God thing so tough? Some people talk as if everything is clear. Others honestly admit that they listen for God and all they hear is the sound of crickets. 

If there are so many paths in front of us, why doesn’t God simply remove the distractions? The good Lord could remove all room for doubt. But then would we really ever have faith or free will?

When many people think about the will of God, they automatically gravitate toward what they are supposed to do for God. But honestly, if God is really God, He doesn’t need us to do anything for Him. His plan does include human involvement. But that isn’t out of necessity. It must be for some other reason.

Talking with a high schooler today, I was inspired to write this post. Too often we think of God’s will as a place, action or destination. But what if it is something bigger and yet more basic? What if our thinking about this question is all wrong?

The Bible says we are to take up our cross daily, which seems to suggest that sacrifice is required to do God’s will. But the Old Testament also states that “obedience is better than sacrifice.” The Apostle Paul encouraged believers to become mature in their faith and the fruit of the Spirit. And yet, Jesus said that we could not even enter the Kingdom of God unless we have the faith of a little child. Jesus commanded His disciples to go and make more disciples, which suggests the focus of our mission should be about other people. But Jesus also said that we can do nothing apart from His power and life. So which mission is primary to know and love God or to share the Gospel, make disciples and extend His Kingdom on the earth?

The problem is that we tend to look at this as an either or situation. And in reality, outreach flows from our personal walk with God. As I have pondered this question, I believe the true mission for every Christian is the prayer that David prayed in Psalms 27:4, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”

The primary mission of a Christian is to know and love God. It all starts with our personal relationship with Jesus. He is the living water as Scripture explains. Just as we need water to sustain life, we must have a relationship with God to live in the way as the Creator intended. This involves a wide variety of experiences and actions, such as reading and following sacred Scripture, prayer, obedience to the Word of God, thanksgiving, recognition of God’s power and presence in daily life, sacraments, spiritual gifts and miracles, confessions of faith, sharing the Gospel, etc.

And in order to have living water that remains alive and pure, it must have an outlet. Otherwise, we become like a stagnant pool where disease and bacteria can grow. That is why part of the Christian mission is to share the love and truth that God has deposited into our lives.

The Lord has given us a picture of this reality in the Dead Sea, which has no outlet. It is one of the saltiest bodies of water on the planet because it is located at such a low point. Everything flows downhill and mineral deposits collect killing aquatic life. If you simply receive from God and do not give it away, you will become full and not be able to receive any more. And what had previously been living water can become stagnant, less useful and a breading pool for disease. This picture demonstrates the dual nature of God’s ultimate purpose for humanity. It can be seen in the words of Jesus. He summed up the law and the prophet by saying, “He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27).

How you go about doing that is what makes you unique. The key is realizing that God’s will for your life is more about the journey you take with God and the person you become along the way than what you do for God or which path you choose to take.

Follow Me…

Christianity starts with this simple command that Jesus gave His disciples. He said, “Come, follow me.” The Apostle Paul said that people should follow him as he followed Christ. When we are called to make disciples, we are inviting others to follow our example as we seek to be like Jesus.

This should cause all Christians to stop and ponder what others would be like if they followed their example. Does your life look like Christ? Do others see Jesus in you? Will your life be an example for others to follow?

Chances are that others are following your example. You may not realize. But it is especially true if you are a parent, a boss, a teacher, a church leader, etc. At some point in your life, you are likely the most powerful/important person in the room. How you handle this responsibility is critical. And the best way to live a life worth mimicking is to follow how Jesus lived.

We are called to make disciples of Christ not of us. And the only way to do that is to continue to pursue and to strive to live like Christ by God’s power and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

So who are you following? And what kind of example are you setting? The little things do matter.

Knowing Jesus Changes Everything

I just got joy bombed, or at least that is what I call it after listening to Joy Dawson speak on the subject of following Jesus and the glory of God. Dawson is an internationally known speaker and evangelist. But the real important thing is that she listens to the Holy Spirit and seeks to promote Jesus as the model for how we should live.

Dawson said, “We don’t know Jesus yet. We don’t understand what we are asking when we ask to see God’s glory.” This hit me like a ton of bricks. The apostle John spent years walking and living with Jesus during His earthly ministry. But when he received a revelation of the glory of Christ while exiled on the island of Patmos, he fell down as dead before the One he had known so well. This was Jesus in holiness and in fire. This was God in just part of His glory, and John was undone.

Have I ever experienced God like this? The answer is no. Few of us have. The apostle John received a great revelation that day. We still study it today in the book of Revelation – the unveiling of the glory of God. John received this great revelation while on a prison island – a dark place meant to isolate John could not keep him from what God wanted to reveal. This gives me hope.

Dawson said, “We can go through anything if we focus on Jesus, but it is a choice.” That is so true. The apostle John could have let his circumstances cloud out his heart for Christ. But that didn’t happen, because he chose to seek God even in the midst of darkness and isolation. Do you really want to have a deep, loving relationship with God? It is possible. But it does come at a great price. Jesus paid that price on the cross. And we have to pay a price to follow Him, but it is worth the cost.

Dawson said that Jesus came down to the earth for five basic reasons. These were to 1.) Show us what the Father is like, 2.) Die on a cross to atone for the sins of the world, 3.) Defeat satan and demonic powers, 4.) Show us how to live, and 5.) To be our life.
And Dawson asked what does the Lord require of His followers. She said, “Obedience is all that Jesus wants at any one time.”

The message of Jesus was simple. He put little children in front of the disciples as an example of the kind of faith they should have. Dawson added that Jesus called His followers to repent from sin, believe in Jesus and to obey Him, and to go do and tell what was commanded. It really is quite simple as long as you stay close to God and listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

This brought to mind a question that I have struggled with for most of my adult life. Can Jesus be your savior if He is not your Lord? Dawson suggested that obedience is a prerequisite to be a disciple of Christ. We spend too much time playing church and not enough of our lives being the Church. She said, “Satan doesn’t care how much that you sing to God in a church building if you do not get radical and go out and what Jesus did.”

Jesus preached the Gospel. Why don’t we? Jesus fed the poor? Why don’t we? Jesus comforted the broken hearted. Why don’t we? Jesus healed the sick. Why don’t we? Jesus challenged dead religion. Why don’t we? Jesus spoke in power and under the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Why don’t we?

Sure, some Christians do some of these things. But many of us don’t follow Christ’s example as much as we should in our daily lives.

As Dawson finished speaking this morning, the Holy Spirit prompted me to read I John 2:1-6. I particularly noticed a connection with what Dawson said and verses 3-6. The apostle John wrote, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

The apostle John clearly stated that those who know Christ should live as He did and obey His commands. Jesus gave a commission to His followers to spread His message and make disciples. Jesus has called us to preach to the lost and pray for the sick. Jesus declared that those who come after Him would do greater things than He did because He was leaving the work of the Church to us. While we will never be God nor ransom the world from sin and death, we do have the awesome privilege of caring the influence of Christ around the globe.

So do you really know Jesus? One true encounter with Him changes everything.

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.

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?

Hearing the Voice of God

Through the years, I have definitely struggled to know the heart of God and understand when He is truly speaking to me about something. I wonder, “Is that really God or is that just bad Taco Bell that I ate last night?” I have even asked, “Why does God sound sarcastic?” I have also thought, “That must be God because I would never think something like that.”

I recently spoke at the Mix  youth group retreat on hearing the voice of God. And as the Lord frequently likes to do, He gave me an opportunity to practice what I preach the morning that I was supposed to speak. I woke up and spent some time listening and praying. The idea kept coming up that I was supposed to sing “Jesus Loves Me” over the middle school and high school students at the retreat as I started my talk. But I wondered why that would be a good idea. After all, these are teens. They will think Jesus loves me is for little children. Plus, I thought, “What does that have to do with my topic?”

Sure enough, the Lord used another Christian to confirm what He had spoken to my heart. A good friend and brother in the Lord walked up to me and said that he felt impressed to remind me that many of these teens struggle to hear God’s voice because they have the wrong notion of who God is. They believe that God is angry with them or is a harsh, demanding Father. This friend said that they need to know that Jesus loves them before they can listen to the voice of God.

This was the confirmation that I needed to hear. I explained my struggles that morning and set up song. I told the crowd that this was a demonstration of hearing the voice of God and taking a small risk. As I sang, I believe that something broke over the hearts of many in the room that morming. One student came up and said what I did was liberating. Others said they just felt God’s love all over what I was saying.

Here are some of the key points that I shared that morning. May these little insights help you discern whether the voice in your head is really from God or some other source.

Things to consider when testing a voice….

1.) Does this sound like something Jesus would say? Does it line up with the Bible?

2.) God speaks to us through someone us. Many times this is to confirm or put perspective on what God has already been laying on our hearts.

3.) God isn’t usually urgent or in a rush. Jesus even took His time when it came to healing Lazarus.

4.) God’s voice may surprise us. It might unsettle us. Just ask little Samuel, the first time that he heard from God, the Lord spoke a harsh word about Samuel’s spiritual mentor.

5.) God may not work in us or speak to us in the same way that He does with other people.

6.) God’s voice will prepare us for the future although He doesn’t usually give us all the details.

7.) Does this voice agree that Jesus came in the flesh? (1 John 4:1-6) The voice of God will lift up Jesus as the source of live and God’s revival power. Jesus came down as a man and can relate to your experiences.

8.) The voice of God never calls us to do something that only God can do.  For example, God will not push you to change your heart. Instead, He will ask you to yield to His power and then maybe go act in a way that aligns with this heart change.

9.) God knows where we are and won’t test us beyond what we can bear in Him.

10.) God’s voice will always be calling us to Himself never driving us away. God’s voice may  sound harsh at times, but it is always inviting us to greater relationship and truth.

11.) God may convict us of sin, but He won’t condemn us for it.

12.) God’s voice frequently will call us to action or rest. God may call us to take a leap of faith. Or quite the opposite, He may tell us to rest from our labors and trust in Him. Both of these require faith because we have to let go and trust God with the situation.

Supremely Ordinary

Jesus’ life on this earth presents a paradox of unparalleled proportions. The New Testament proclaims that Jesus’ death brings us life. The perfect, sinless man took on our sin. He who gave life to all things on this planet experienced the sting of death.

It is this tension between the humanity and the deity of Christ that makes Him so familiar yet so difficult to understand. There is none higher, there is none greater. Yet He humbled Himself in life and death.

Hebrew 1:3 explains, “He (Jesus) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the power of His word. Colossians 1:15 further states, “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God.” Yet Jesus was fully human knowing the same temptations and limitations as us. Jesus was a very ordinary guy. Scripture describes Jesus as being like us in every way yet without sin (Hebrews 2:17, 4:15)

Jesus who made all things experienced ordinary life coming down in the form of a little baby born to a poor family. The King of Kings toiled as a laborer in an obscure village in a small country. He who ushered in divine mercy for all who would believe on Him knew hardship, betrayal, oppression, ridicule and injustice.

Jesus never really sought fame or the spotlight. Yet He became the most famous man in human history. Millions have proclaimed allegiance to Jesus as God and Savior.

Jesus had limitless power and authority to call down angelic warriors on His behalf. Yet, he went like a lamb to the slaughter. Jesus could have made an incredible palace for Himself. But He frequently went from place-to-place with no real home to call His own. Yes, Jesus was a homeless King.

Jesus is love. Yet, He knew what it felt like to be hated and despised. Worthy of highest praise, He was ridiculed and mocked by the elites of the day. Jesus was, and is, and is to come. He cannot be limited in time. Yet, His earthly ministry lasted only three short years.

It is in this great paradox that we find access to God and reason to stand in awe of Him. Jesus is the supreme One worthy of highest glory. Yet He was very ordinary – giving us all hope that we can follow His example and in some respects be like Him. While we will never become God, we can become godly and imitate Christ’s life. Face-to-face with this paradox. I am reminded of what Jesus said about His disciples. He said that they would do greater things than He had done because He was returning to the Father.

Do I really believe that? Can I really do greater things? Will Jesus find faith on the earth when He returns? I want to be so extraordinary. But I feel so ordinary at times. Lord I believe. Help me with my unbelief because You are Supremely Ordinary.