Loneliness in the Church

grieving

Christianity today, by in large, has missed the boat on the topic of sin.  As a culture we have determined that everyone has not only the ability, but the right to define truth and their own morality.  Consequentially Christians are no longer defining the problem of sin and damnation as that form which we need saving, but simply offer Jesus and salvation as a bonus and eternal security.  Gone are the days of preaching Hell, fire and brimstone, and now are the days of the prosperity Gospel.  We believe that we are fundamentally good beings and adding Jesus into our lives will secure success and happiness.

Such a worldview and belief system leaves us exceptionally lonely, however.  Because when we come to Jesus for salvation, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within our lives, and the role of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin and righteousness and live through us so that we die to our sin and become more like Jesus, more holy, throughout our daily lives.

“And [the Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

So we all have a sin problem, and the Holy Spirit is revealing that problem to us daily, but yet we are left in a situation where we are unable to confess that problem and find accountability and comaraderie in working through it.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said most profoundly:

“It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness.  The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners.  The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner.  So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship.  We dare not be sinners.  Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners.”

-Bonhoeffer

We are all sinners.  “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3.23).  And while we are constantly fighting against our sin by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are given the body – the Church – to help us along in that fight.  We are commanded to confess our sins to one another:

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

– James 5.16

We see throughout the New Testament that there are still times when people are suffering illnesses and even death because of their sin.  Paul taught that many were sick and dying for taking the Lord’s Supper with the wrong heart (1 Cor 11.30), and Ananias and Sapphira died for lying about the percentage of revenue that they gave to the church (Acts 5).  And James teaches us that the confession of sin and the prayer of the faithful brother can heal and restore one who has sinned.

We know that when we do sin that we have an advocate in Jesus Christ who stands before the Lord and declares that sin covered by His blood:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

But until we confess to one another our weakness, our failures and our sins, we will never find the level of intimacy and accountability that Christ expects from the body.  We are playing games and we are lying to one another.

Now, I am not saying that we need to be unwise with our emotions and hearts.  Scripture also teaches us to guard our hearts diligently:

“Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.”

– Prov 4.23

There are people in the Church who are non believers – wolves in sheep’s clothing – who will destroy the church.  There are those who will gossip, those who will not forgive and harbor bitterness, and those who will take your confession and condemn you.  Jesus has forgiven us our sin, and in Him there is no longer any condemnation:

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

– Rom 8.1

Therefore, we must be confident that the person in whom we are confiding is one who will hear our confession as Jesus does:  condemning the sin, forgiving the believer, and helping to establish methods for keeping the penitent from falling into the same sin again.

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness;each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

– Gal 6.1-3

This accountability is beautiful and of utmost importance.  Our souls depend on it.  Scripture teaches us that if we continue in sin after claiming Jesus for salvation, there is no hope for us:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

But if we find brothers and sisters in Christ whom we can trust, confess our sins to one another, pray for one another, hold one another accountable, then we can fight well the fight of faith as a body and as a community.  Until that point we will remain alone.  We will be blinded to some of our sins.  We will believe the lies that others around us do not struggle with sin, and we will either condemn ourselves or justify ourselves – neither of which finds favor with God.

So let’s get real.  Find those friends.  Engage in a body of believers and open up.  There is healing.  There is community.  There is accountability.  And we will find strength and encouragement by helping one another press on to the goal of righteousness and godliness.  And the love of a Christian brother will cover and encourage us.

“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”

– 1 Peter 4.8

Where two or three are gathered…

huddle

God has blessed believers with a wonderful form of community known as the Church.  There is the Universal Church which encompasses every believer who has ever and will ever live, and there is also the Local Church, those believers who live geographically near enough to one another to gather corporately to worship, study, serve and make disciples.  Some people hate the church.  They have this ill-conceived notion that if someone goes to church, he must be perfect and is disappointed when that person is not perfect.  Some people hate the church because they hate authority and they think that faith and religion is personal – not meant to be practiced corporately or with accountability.  But if you are a Christian, God has created you to be a part of the Church and given you a special gift and role in to play in the body.  Jesus is the head, and you are a body part.

Many, when considering the Church, quote Jesus in an effort to claim His authority or His presence in their agenda.  We all know the verse well, and when someone begins the sentence, often times we finish the thought or stop listening because the point has been made:

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

– Matt 18.20

But have you ever stepped back to examine the context of this passage?  We quote it most often in prayer meetings and mission trips.  Here we are, setting out to do something great for God or to pray and ask something of God, and we are going to affirm ourselves that we will be successful because there are at least two of us.  Therefore Jesus is in our midst.  We cannot fail.

But Jesus made this profound statement at the end of His outline for Church discipline.  A person who calls himself a believer has sinned.  Jesus commands us to go to that person one-on-one and confront him about the sin.  If he repents, then the issue is over.  If he will not repent, then the confronter is instructed to take two or three others with him to confront the sin again.  This ties into and relies on the foundation of the Mosaic Law – that no one could be condemned on the witness of one person alone – there must be two or three.  It also works directly with the human conscience.  If a group of trusted friends points out a sin or pitfall in one’s life, it is difficult to refuse and not listen to a group whereas you can just shut out one friend.

Lastly, if he will not listen to a group, then Jesus commands us to take it to the church.  This level of accountability shows publicly that the person is either unwilling to submit to God’s law and definition of sin and therefore not a believer, or this person will repent and change when the entire church knows of his sin.

Jesus gave us this outline so that we would protect one another from allowing sin to take root in our lives, and He also gave us this instruction to help weed out false believers:  wolves in sheep’s clothing.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, and if we do not respond when someone confronts us about a sin in our lives, then we are proving the Holy Spirit to not be active in our lives (John 16.8).  We are not born again.

Jesus says,

“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

– Matt 18.17

In short, kick him out.  Have nothing to do with him.  Paul says that this is turning him over to Satan, with the hopes that he will repent and be saved (1 Cor 5.5).  But Paul also defines this exclusion as not even eating with such a one (1 Cor 5.11).

Now, Jesus knows that this is difficult.  It is hard for us to condemn someone and kick them out.  We see our own guilt, we have compassion, we are friends with this person.  It is not, and it should not be an easy thing to kick someone out of the church.  And because of the gravity of such an event, Jesus affirms us:

“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.  Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.  For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

– Matt 18.18-20

Jesus gives the church a level of authority in the Spiritual realm.  Spiritual accountability and repentance is always the goal within our community and relationships.  God gave us one another to encourage and exhort one another while serving the poor and making disciples.  And if we see that one is not submitting to God, we must “bind him”, we declare him as not one of us, and we must “loose him”, we remove him from the church – all with the hopes that this will lead to his salvation.

This is a blessing.  If someone is functioning in the church and is not a believer, but we are too afraid to call him out for his sin, then he might live an entire lifetime convinced that he is saved and going to Heaven when he dies.  He will be devastated on judgment day when Jesus says, “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Matt 7.21-23).  But if this person is held accountable, then he has an opportunity to be saved and to be made right with God before meeting Jesus as the judgment seat.

This is why Jesus affirms us as two or three to hold accountable a brother.  When we stand up against sin, Jesus has our back.  We are not guaranteed that the response will be repentance and restoration, but we are guaranteed that we stand on Scripture and when we fight against sin as a unified body, He will support and endorse it.  Standing up for Biblical truth will be honored and upheld both on Earth and in Heaven.

Scripture does indeed teach us that when we are born again that the Holy Spirit resides within us.

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

– 1 Cor 3.16

“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”

– Ez 36.27

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

– Rom 8.11

And we know that when we gather as a body that we are honoring God and fulfilling part of our purpose.  But the promise of Jesus in our midst, affirming our decisions and actions is given to encourage us when standing up to fight sin in one another’s lives.  He does not give us a flippant approval just by nature of gathering together.  He does not say that we will be successful just because we are working together with other believers.  He promises to uphold His standards and statutes and will fight against sin boldly, with us.

So let us gather with other believers.  Let us be vulnerable with our community.  Let us confess sins and allow the Holy Spirit to convict us and change us.  And let us follow the outlines that Jesus gave us for holding one another accountable so that many will be saved.  And let us claim with joy and thanksgiving the promise that Jesus supports accountability.

And let us also be careful how and when we claim Jesus’ authority.  Many have been hurt and disappointed by not understanding well His promise and provision.  Let us ask Jesus to reveal to you His will, His path, His plan.  Let us not assume His blessing just because a few of us have united in pursuit of a specific goal.

When Jesus Won’t Forgive You.

forgiveness

As Christians, we like to give ourselves a lot of leniency.  We claim boldly the wonderful offer of grace and forgiveness, yet sometimes forget the price that was paid so that we ourselves could be forgiven.  We forget that it is only because Jesus humbled Himself to the point of becoming a man, taking on flesh, and suffering physical and Spiritual death that we can be forgiven and welcomed into the presence of God (Phil 2).  And in that spirit of leniency, we allow room for ourselves to not offer grace to the extent that we have been shown.  Jesus, however, gives the harshest and most terrifying of stipulations on that very point:

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

– Matt 6.14-15

We must be diligent when we read Scripture to place it in the context of the Bible as a whole, and in the context of the passage.  Otherwise we can distort the Truth and end up believing heresies.  For example, we know that grace is a free gift from God and that there is nothing we can do to earn it (Eph 2.8-9, Rom 6.23).  But this teaching of Jesus implies that we earn our forgiveness by forgiving one another.  We will never and can never earn our salvation and forgiveness from God.  What Jesus is teaching here is the sobering reality that anyone who has been forgiven by God will forgive others.  We will prove that we have repented and been forgiven by forgiving others.

When we hear the Gospel, we must understand it in its fullness.  We must grasp the reality that we have sinned (Rom 3.23), and that the just punishment for sin is death and damnation (Rom 6.23).  We cannot repent and be saved until we realize our sinfulness and the penalty for it.  The moment we realize that there is no hope for our souls, but then we see Jesus crucified and raised from the dead in our place, we receive that free gift of salvation and we repent.  We die to our flesh.  We allow the Spirit to lead us to quit sinning, and to confess our sins in brokenness when we do sin.

Ultimately, when we have been through that Spiritual process of grasping the weight of our own sin, confessing it, repenting from it and accepting God’s magnificent gift of forgiveness, there is no way that we can not forgive someone else when they sin against us.  If you have been forgiven by God, you will forgive others.  It is only by having not walked that path of repentance and confession that you can harbor a grudge.  Because there is no sin that someone can commit against you that is greater than the burden of sins you have committed against God.

No one can sin against me more deeply than I have sinned against God.
And God forgave me.
Therefore I must forgive those who sin against me.
If I refuse to forgive someone, it proves that I have not been forgiven by God.
I am still lost.

Now, forgiveness is a tricky bird.  There are people who have not been forgiven by God, even though He offers forgiveness to everyone.  What is the determining factor?  We must ask.  We must confess.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

– 1 John 1.9

“Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away…”

– Acts 3.19

Our sins are not forgiven us until we confess them.  Our sins are not wiped away until we repent and return.  If there were not a condition on forgiveness, then no one would go to Hell.  Jesus’ death would cover everyone.  But Jesus did not die for everyone, His death covers only those who repent and confess.  Those who do not repent and confess their sins will go to Hell, because the wages of sin is death.  Jesus will forgive anyone who asks.  We have only to ask.

And not only that, Jesus gave us very clear (and difficult) instructions on how to handle someone who claims to be a believer but will not repent for his sins:  He teaches us to kick them out of the church (Matt 18.15-18).  Paul says we should disassociate with them to the point that we will not even go out to eat with them (1 Cor 5.5, 11).  The reason for taking such an extreme approach here is because such a person knows the Truth.  They can recite the Gospel.  They even claim to believe it and to be a Christian.  But the fruit of their hearts reveals them to be unbelievers, and thus they are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7.15), they are false prophets (2 Peter 2.1), and they will destroy the Church by leading people astray (Matt 24.24).  They will tell us what we want to hear so that we can live how we want to live with a false assurance of salvation (2 Tim 4.3-4).

As Christians we should continue to eat with those who are not Christians and claim to not be Christians, because these people need to hear the Gospel and these people might still be saved.  It is still possible for the person who has been removed from the Church to be saved, too, and Paul teaches us that it is in fact for the hope of their salvation that they would be disciplined by being removed from the Church (1 Cor 5.5).  Our ultimate goal in everything that we do is to exemplify the Gospel and to see people saved.  For those who do not claim Christ through reasoning and prayer, and for those who falsely claim Christ by distance, discipline and prayer.

This is what separated many of the Pharisees from the penitent.  This is why Jesus hung out with repentant people:  both pharisees and what many considered sinners.  And it is because of this reality that Jesus taught plainly:

“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

– Luke 7.47

If you understand the weight of your salvation, you will forgive others.  It is only by not understanding the forgiveness offered that one can harbor bitterness and not forgive.

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

– Eph 4.31

Therefore, let our hearts and attitudes towards those who have offended us be a test by which we examine ourselves.  We are instructed:

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”

– 2 Cor 13.5

It would be a terrible thing to think that we have been forgiven and to think that we are Christians, and arrive at the judgment seat to find out that we never were saved.  And this is one test by which we can examine our salvation:  Do we forgive others?  Are we ready and willing to forgive others when they ask?  Or do we harbor bitterness, and therefore set our righteousness and worth above Jesus’?  An unforgiving Spirit fundamentally says, “this offense against me is greater than any offense that Jesus has forgiven”.  And we all know that Jesus has willingly forgiven every sin under the sun, including murder, adultery, theft, deceit, abandonment, and anything you can name.  Jesus said that if we are unwilling to forgive, we prove ourselves to have never been forgiven.  Therefore let us become people of grace and forgiveness, let us prove ourselves to know God.  Let us confess our sins to one another and let us forgive.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

– James 5.16

“Only God can judge me.” Does that not scare you?

only god can judge me

As we walk through the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage last week, people are lashing out at one another from both sides.  In the midst of all of this chaos, there is a quote from Rick Warren floating around the internet world that says,

“Our culture has accepted two huge lies.  The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them.  The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believer or do.  Both are nonsense.  You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

But yet our need for approval and self-fulfillment yearns for everyone to not only agree with us but to support and affirm us.  This, obviously, is impossible in a world where people have different belief systems and different values.  Thus we cry “tolerance”.  Live and let live.  But subconsciously by tolerance we really mean, “agree with me”.

And a very interesting response to disagreement these days is the statement, “Only God can judge me”.  It is intended to be a conversation ender, to put off someone who would call someone else out on an action or deed, but the irony is that God will indeed judge us, He has given us sixty-six books to help us understand exactly how and for what He will judge us, and yet we think we are walking with His affirmation.  In short, the person who will judge most fairly and most harshly is God.  He will not overlook any small sin that our moms, our teachers, or even the law overlooked.  There is no “warning” for speeding.  If you are guilty, you will pay.  There is no “I will let it go this time” or “extra credit” to make up for where we were lacking.

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

– Rom 3.23

as it is written,
“THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;
THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS,
THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;
ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS;
THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD,
THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”

– Rom 3.10-12

Scripture teaches us that there is none righteous, and that all have sinned.  Every. Single. Person.  And what is the punishment for sin?

“For the wages of sin is death…”

– Rom 6.23

Everyone who has sinned deserves and will suffer physical death.  And those who have not found salvation in Jesus will suffer eternal death in Hell:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”

– 1 Cor 6.9-10

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

– Rev 21.8

Have you ever told a lie?  That alone is enough to be sent to Hell.  Did you ever eat a cookie that your mom said not to eat?  That was sin enough to get Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden of Eden and bring the curse upon the entire world.  Now, based on that fact, whose judgement would you rather have?  God’s or man’s?  This is why Jesus admonishes us,

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

– Matt 10.28

God sends people to Hell.  And Jesus says that that should be the most fearful thing, not even someone who would murder you.  God’s judgment is that much stricter and worse than man’s.

“…when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”

– 2 Thess 1.7-9

God does judge.  And He will judge.  And it is a terrible thing to come to judgment day unprepared.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

– 2 Cor 5.10

“But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.”

– Rom 2.5-8

Finally, Jesus’ teaching of “judge not lest you be judged” is not intended to make the impact, “live and let live” (Matt 7.1-2).  It is making the point that by the same measure we judge we will also be judged, because God does not allow hypocrisy.  We are taught to hold one another accountable, to help keep our brother from stumbling into sin and to restore people who want to repent with gentleness, knowing our own tendencies to fail.  Accountability is vitally important.

So which should we prefer, for someone to tell us in love (or even with ill motives) that our heart of unbelief and our sinful actions will lead us to an eternity of suffering – or for us to be left alone and to meet God when it is too late to change and suffer a fate of damnation?  Do we truly want to let only God judge?  Or do we want someone to step in and tell us about the hope of salvation and forgiveness in Jesus Christ?

God will judge.  There is no doubt about that.  But let’s humble ourselves to the Bible and to the accountability of people who care enough about us to warn us that the path we are traveling would be that unto destruction.

Should missionaries have to go to seminary?

4.1.1

We have a funny disposition as a culture, and that is the fact that we are a bit wishy-washy in our thoughts on education.  Most high schools are now college-prep, and most jobs require a bachelor’s degree at the minimum.  Some require a master’s and very few will consider your resume if you are starting out in the world without a formal education.  That being said, there is also a veneration for those self-taught experts – those few who have prodigy-like ability to think, reason, play an instrument, or preform.  Once we achieve a level of critical thinking and reasoning, we examine and judge any and all who are in authority and function by the mindset,

“How do you know?”

There is one passage in Scripture that evangelists use as a scapegoat for discipleship and independent thinkers use as an excuse for avoiding theological education:

As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.

– 1 John 2.27

Have you heard, or thought before, “I have the Holy Spirit within me to teach me, I do not need anyone else”?  Or how about, “He now has the Holy Spirit in him, God will teach him…just leave him in God’s hands”?  Or how about someone feeling called to the ministry, and saying “Why do I need to go to seminary, if God is calling me to the field”?

Churches vary on the requirements for pastoral leadership and mission boards vary on requirements for missionaries.  But consider this:  there are still 6,100+ people groups around the world that are less than 2% Christian.  There are still about 1,900 languages that do not have the Bible.  How many would-be missionaries are ready to go to a foreign land where there is no Church or Bible, lead a few people to Christ, and teach them the Bible and discipleship?  We take for granted the internet and all of our forefathers who have done so much leg-work for us in our personal studies.  We have podcasts, internet broadcasts of sermons and mountains of books on every theological issue and question.

But in short, when you get to the field and find that first believer, what will you teach them?

If you are called to be a pastor, can you verbalize how you believe the Bible teaches that the Church should be led?

There are many people who have been believers for a long time and because of their love for the Scripture and for the Church that they have a deep and real grasp on Scripture and what it teaches on most major doctrines and issues.  There are some, who, when they come to faith are radically changed and given a drive to read and absorb and develop on their own initiative a vast education on Church history, theology and the outworkings of the Church and discipleship.

But the Average Joe needs to be taught how to read the Bible, basic systematic theology and how to apply the Scriptures to our lives.  Notice that John, when he says that believers have no need of a teacher, the context of the passage is in relationship to false teachers and those who have gone astray and abandoned the faith. They were teaching false things and John wrote three letters in order to teach true believers how to look out for these false teachers, how to walk in obedience and according to the Word which they knew, and to not be taught by liars.

John was teaching them.

So, should missionaries be required to go to seminary?  Should pastors?  Anytime we take a hard and fast stand on a question like this, we rob God of the opportunity to work boldly and dynamically through someone.  God is not require to work within our man-made rules and expectations.  But when you are considering a position in leadership, remember that we are encourage to take such a calling seriously.  So seriously, James says, that few of us actually do it:

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

– James 3.1

When we take a position of authority in a church, we will be held to a higher standard and a stricter judgment before God.  This is not just socially, implying that people will be watching (even though they will be), but God will judge more severely those who have accountability for the souls of those in their flock and in their church (Heb 13.17).

So, when you get on the field, what will you teach these new believers?  When the missionary that you send gets to the field, are you confident in his theology and belief system to be the point person for an entire people group with their discipleship?  This is no small task, and we must humble ourselves before the Lord and the Church and the mission board to rightly understand the weight of the assignment and judge our capabilities.  God is the one who causes the growth and who uses us.  He does not necessarily need a formal theological training to teach people through us.  But are we walking closely enough with Him to know if we are ready?

The disciples took three years walking daily with Jesus before they were ready.  Paul spent three years in the desert learning and praying by Himself before he entered ministry.  Let us not begrudge education, but let us also not add to the Word of God and His requirements.  Let us humbly ask God what His will is, pray with any and all who would be sent out, and examine them in their understanding of Scripture and ability to teach.

What does God have for you [to do] today?

whole world

It is easy to get caught up in considering what we should do for God, do we not?  Millennials and Generation X are consumed with “making a difference” and “changing the world”.  And that is an honorable endeavor if we are convicted by the Scripture and calling of God and if we are concerned about meeting people’s greatest need namely salvation.  Now, we know that it is God alone who saves and it is God alone who softens and draws hearts to repentance, but he chooses to use us as the mouthpiece for His mission.

But sometimes we get so caught up looking at the big picture that we are unproductive in the day-to-day.

God is not concerned about what you can do for Him.  He does not need you to accomplish His work.

“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’”

– Acts 17.24-28

Rather, God – because of His great and unfathomable love for us – chooses to use us to accomplish His plans.  He has a plan for saving people from every tribe, tongue and nation, and He wants to use us to be a part of it.  God is primarily concerned about making disciples out of people from every tribe tongue and nation.  Jesus said that that must happen before He will return to bring about the end of the age:

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

– Matt 24.14

Jesus gave very clear outlines for how we will know that the end is coming in Matthew chapter 24.  He speaks of the tribulation, of the marks of the end times, of the Anti-Christ, but in the middle of it all He says that every nation (people group) will hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ before He returns.  We see clearly in Revelation that some will be saved from every nation:

“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation’.”

– Rev 5.9

So if we want to join in the work of God, we must be about the work of making disciples of every nation.  This only makes sense, as it was Jesus’ final instruction as He was leaving the world:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matt 28.18-20

Notice that Jesus does not say, “Go make converts”.  He also does not say “Go preach the Gospel”.  He says, “Go and make disciples”.  The job only begins when someone comes to faith.  God wants us to be disciples and to help others become disciples.  That is His primary concern, and if we want to be about His work, that will be our main focus.  That means long-term investment in people.  That means living life with people and pushing one another to holiness and good deeds.  That means fighting the fight of faith on your own and with others.

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.  But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

– Heb 3.12-13

As long as it is called “today”, encourage believers of all levels and walks of faith to fight sin.  We do this through evangelism, we do this through daily interactions and relationship, and we do this through intense discipline and accountability.  Our evangelism message must include repentance.  Our friendships must include Spiritual accountability and check-ins.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

What does God have for you today?  He wants you to firstly be a disciple.  Know Him, love Him, spend time with Him, and ask Him where He is working around you today.  He secondly wants you to make disciples.  If you are a brand new baby Christian you can share your conversion story with those around you.  If you have been in the church all your life and know the Bible backwards and forwards, you can teach the young and growing to know the Scriptures and to be faithful.  If you are headed to the mission field in a month, you can still hold accountable and encourage those around you today.  If you are on the mission field, just being there isn’t enough – get out and share!  Make disciples.

Consider the big picture of your life and plan for the future.  But hold it loosely, as God often changes the path, and follow Him boldly and without reserve.  Enjoy Him today, listen to Him today, ask Him where He is busy today, and ask Him if you can join Him there.

Humility

humility

I was listening to the radio on my way to work this morning, and a popular song came on the radio.  I started singing along as it is quite catchy and the theme of the song is strong, but I stumbled over one of the lines of the pre-chorus, and was quickly appalled at what I had just sung:

We are Your church.
We are the hope on earth.

Rend Collective’s “Build Your Kingdom Here” spends the entire song asking God to change the world, to bring the Kingdom on Earth, to do a mighty work, and then it throws in that strange phrase that is unfathomably out of place in the song.

Is it just nuance?  Does the author mean that we are the instruments that God uses to make a difference and bring hope to the world?  I truly hope so.  But the problem is quite simply the fact that that is not what it says.

There is a large, Christian non-profit organization known around the world that has adopted the mission statement, “we want to answer the prayers of children”.  Again, we can argue nuance and the heart behind the statement (perhaps more easily in this case), but let us consider what we are actually saying.

God has established the Church on Earth as His body.  Jesus Christ is the head, and each of us has a unique gifting and role to fulfill within the local body.  Some of us are mouths, some of us are feet, some of us are hands, and some of us – as Paul says – are parts less honorable and less presentable (1 Cor 12)!  God chooses to use the Church to be His mouthpiece for taking the Gospel to the world, for pushing believers on to maturity and to worship Him.

We, as the Church, however – apart from God – are nothing.  Paul says that if Jesus was not the Savior, we are the most pitiable people in the world (1 Cor 15.19).  Apart from God we are all spiritually dead (Eph 2.1).  We are not righteous, we do not seek after God, and we do no good on our own (Rom 3.10-11).  And when God brings us to Spiritual life, we are servants or slaves of God.  We are made into new creatures, we are set to walk in His ways, to His service, unto His glory.  In-and-of ourselves we are nothing, but we are made alive in Christ by virtue of His nature.

Jesus Himself was the epitome of humility and He taught us to be humble.  That is why Paul teaches,

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

 – Rom 12.3

Jesus Himself said that we should always sit at the seat of least honor, lest we embarrass ourselves when someone of higher honor comes.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

 – Luke 14.11

The point is simple.  We are most assuredly not the hope on Earth.  Jesus Christ and His Gospel is.  We are blessed to be the ones to proclaim the hope, but we are merely people pointing the way to the hope.  We most assuredly do not answer people’s prayers.  God may use us to answer prayers, we may the tool that He chooses to use in His sovereign ways, but we are not the sovereign, the benefactor, the provider.  In fact, we might screw things up if we “answer” someone’s prayers in the way we think it should be resolved, because often times God has a greater plan than we could ever imagine in the works!  For example, the Bible says,

For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.

 – 2 Thess 3.10

If someone is “praying” for food, but it lazy and unwilling to work, and we go in and feed him without the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we enable his habit and do not allow God to work a life-changing miracle in his life, convicting him of responsibility and work ethic.

The heart and intention might be pure behind these two thoughts.  But danger lies in the un-thoughtfulness of using such a motto.  First of all, the person may come to believe what they are saying.  It might start out with the right heart, but in attempting to be what they are saying, people will err.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it teaches error at best and heresy at worst.  If a young Christian is in your presence and you teach him these false truths and he does not have the foundation of Biblical knowledge and understanding, he will go astray from the beginning.

Humility is the key.  Praise God, there is no greater honor than being used by Him to preach His Gospel and His truth to another.  But we are no one’s hope.  We answer no one’s prayer.  God alone is the hope, God alone answers prayers.  Consider your words today, and your efforts.  Are you watching to see what God is doing around you, and joining Him in His work?  Or are you busy being about your own efforts and asking God to bless them?