Jesus was uniquely satisfied. Are we?
Jesus’ fulfillment came from knowing he was the beloved Son of the Father and from doing God’s work in the world. Both are essential for us, too.
From time to time I meet believers who express a spiritual discontent, dryness or boredom. I am sure many more experience this but don’t express it. Could it be that we are not centered on the two realities which gave Jesus his inner fulfillment?
Sometimes we talk about the importance of knowing we are God’s children, and not just being his servants. This is true, but I believe that in order to be fulfilled we need to both experience the unconditional love of being a child of God, but also the thrill of doing his work. Just one will not leave us healthy enough.
At the start of his ministry Jesus came up out of the waters of baptism to hear the voice of the Father say “This is my beloved Son…” What an experience! We each need to revel in the reality that through Christ we are adopted into our Heavenly Father’s family.
But if we focus only on “being” God’s child, we will miss out on so much that comes from engaging int eh mission of our Heavenly Father.
After speaking with the woman at the well (John 4) Jesus’ disciples arrived with food. He told them he had food they didn’t know about, which was to do the will and works of the Father. Then in the very next verse Jesus points to the harvest. In other words, the “work” Jesus was about was reaching people far from God, and He urges His followers to see the opportunity He does.
There are many ways to serve in the Kingdom of God. However, believers will be most fulfilled when they in some way are engaged in reaching people for Christ. In fact, the more directly one is doing this, the more fulfilled you will be. There is nothing quite like the thrill of helping to introduce someone to Jesus and see their life changed. All ministries are important, but they shouldn’t replace the front-line sharing of Christ.
If we are opening our hearts and minds to the reality that we are beloved children of God, and also participating in the harvest work, there will be lasting fulfillment.
The Penn State scandal is a vivid lesson to all of us who are leaders.
Even if you are not a college football fan, you have recently heard a lot about Penn State and Joe Paterno. Coach Paterno and several of the top administrators at Penn State have been accused of covering up (and thus enabling) the terrible child sexual abuse committed by former coach Jerry Sandusky.
As a result, the NCAA levied very stiff penalties on the football program and the university: $60 million fine, loss of bowl appearances, and football scholarships. Some have said the penalty is unjust because it punishes the wrong people; the current players, coaches and students did not commit these acts, but they are suffering consequences because of them.
I don’t wish to argue to whether the penalties were appropriate or not, I want to point out the leadership principle involved: namely, that the actions of leaders have consequences for others.
Leadership is influence. That means that what leaders do impacts others, whether positively or negatively. This should give all of us who are leaders a reason to pause.
The Old Testament describes some kings of Israel as good and others as evil. When the king was faithful to God, the nation prospered. When the king did evil, the nation suffered. The average citizen of Israel was impacted by what the leader did (or didn’t) do. It is the nature of leadership.
The students and players are protesting that they didn’t do anything to deserve the loss of a chance to go to a bowl game this year, and they are correct. It was the poor decisions of leaders that caused that. But then again, they didn’t do anything to build Penn State’s facilities, endowment, or anything else that makes Penn State the great school they attend today. The decisions of past leaders resulted in those good benefits, as well.
The point is that leaders impact others in positive and negative ways. So, if you are a leader of a Little League team, small group, or a parent, your actions will impact others. But don’t fear, because the Lord will guide us as leaders as we look to Him. He alone is the perfect leader and King of Kings.
Habits are hard to break! That’s not a news flash, but it’s a reality I recently confronted again.
People who know me well tell me I have a type A personality. I guess it is true that I am very goal-oriented and often try to pack more into a day than 24 hours will allow.
But last year’s cardiac arrest taught me how to slow down and de-stress. I learned how to breathe more deeply, move more slowly, and to let go of stress more intentionally.
And yet, last week the tension-pain in my back told me I had slipped into old routines of hurry and stress. So, I have once again started the practices of “no hurry, no worry” – and leaning on the peace of the Holy Spirit! (And my back feels a lot better now!)
How could I have fallen back into old patterns after a wake-up call like a cardiaac arrest? Here’s my best understanding:
1. A little at a time — it didn’t happen all at once, so I didn’t notice it for a while.
2. Habits are strong because they are based on our assumptions and beliefs. When I am moving too fast to be healthy, it is because I believe I must do this or that or else… (what??) I assume it is the way things get accomplished…vor that it’s all up to me… etc.
So to break habits like rush and/or stress I need to pay attention to the little routines and not let myself drift, and especially to confront my thinking. Asking myself “why are you pressing?” can lead me to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit through His Word and not to the assumptions I’ve carried inside.
You may have different habits which creep up on you, but I wonder if they are rooted in the same places?
I see an old but nonetheless troubling trend in the American Church today: some mistake their zeal for a theological “truth” as zeal for God.
I guess that was on my mind as I emailed a friend who is a man of God and growing greatly in his faith. Here is what I wrote to him (who I will call “Theophilus”)
I’m not saying that doctrine is irrelevant, I’m just pointing out that making a long narrow list will not match God’s reality nor help us grow. Knowledge – using our minds – is part of following Christ, but we need to be humble on our opinions. We can’t love our doctrinal positions more than people nor more than God.
1 Corinthians 8:1 – Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.
Again, what really matters? Knowledge plays a part, but not the biggest part.
2 Peter 1:5-8 – For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6) and to knowledge, self-control: and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 ) and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8) For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In His love,
Most Christ followers in the Western world work on this equation: lead many to Christ = Success. Pastors who lead churches to grow large get invited to speak at conferences and seminars. Believers who win a lot of people to Christ are held up as models for others. The idea, I think, is to encourage others to do share the gospel and promote the goal of winning the world to Christ. Makes sense.
But, what if being really effective at sharing the gospel wouldn’t get you on a magazine cover but a prison sentence? What if starting a movement of Jesus would get you killed instead of promoted? Would you still do it?
That was the reality for the apostles. They brought multitudes to Christ, wrote the New Testament, saw miracles and got statues made of themselves by later generations. But before you apply for the job, let’s not forget that one of the marks of an apostle was to suffer for the Gospel. Jesus told Paul from the beginning that he would suffer for Him. And Paul went without food, was chased from town to town, imprisoned, ridiculed and eventually killed for his faith. I don’t think he even had a 401k or dental plan.
In some parts of the word, suffering is a reality for many who are leading movements of Jesus. There are believers in China who lead networks over literally millions. That’s a big church! But they also spend much of their time in jail or under government surveillance. Some workers I have heard and read about cannot be identified by name or place because of security concerns. They may lead movements of millions, but very few know about them. I am not only humbled by their commitment and obedience, but personally challenged.
Threats do not deter a true Spirit-led follower. Not even death threats. Why? Because he/she has already died. Jesus said “Anyone who would come after me must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” That is, we must die to ourselves – our plans, privileges, self-direction, etc. If someone is already dead, you can’t change their minds by threatening to take their life away – they already gave it away to Another!
Last year I had a cardiac arrest and was without a pulse on the floor of a gym. Only 7% of people who have cardiac arrest outside of a hospital live to tell about it. Not only did I live, but I have no heart damage and full energy once again (I ran 3 miles on Sunday). But I am aware that any life I have has been granted by God — so how can I do anything but say “yes” to whatever he wants of me?
The same is true for everyone, though. We were all dead in our trespasses and sins, but God made us alive again through Christ. So, let’s live today not for ourselves, but for Jesus. Let’s not evaluate His commands against our comfort and preferences, let’s remember we are already dead and thus have no preferences or claim to comfort. That is true living!
I am very aware that as an American pastor I don’t get penalized for sharing the faith or obeying Jesus (at least not much). BUt I don’t want to assume that will always be true.
What would you do for God if it really didn’t matter what your salary was, what people said, or where you lived?
And now for a little particle physics.
This week scientists excitedly announced they had found evidence of the Higgs boson, a long-sought particle which they believed would explain some of the universe’s secrets.
Since I’m not up on my sub-atomic physics, I’ll let Professor Stefan Soldner-Rembold, from the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester, England, explain.
“Scientists believe that in the first fraction of a second after the Big Bang, particles zipped around the universe at the speed of light with no mass, and no inertia. It was only through their interaction with the “Higgs field” that they acquired mass and were capable of forming the universe.”(http://bostinno.com/2012/07/06/what-is-god-particle-higgs-boson-definition)
In other words, it is the Higgs field which explains why things have mass — how matter comes to be. It is why your light bulb has mass and light doesn’t. It is a huge step in understanding the universe.
So why is it called the “God particle”? That’s actually a bit of an accident, but ultimately this discovery does not “replace” God. It doesn’t disprove that God created the universe. If the Higgs boson causes matter to form, where did the Higgs boson come from?
It makes me think of Colossians 1:17, which says of Jesus, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
“What is a disciple?”
Last night our bishop asked our district pastors to answer that question. People responded in a variety of ways — many are tempted to say “I’m not sure, but I know one when I see one.”
But if our goal is to make disciples, we really need to know what one looks like.
I like to answer this way: a disciple is someone who hears the voice of Jesus and does what He says. Working on that assumption, our churches and our personal ministries need to focus on helping people learn how to hear the voice of Jesus and obey what he says.
It is vital we teach people how to hear the voice of God through the scripture. At Crossroads we advocate for the SOAP method popularized by Wayne Cordeiro. (Scripture, Observation, Application Prayer) If we daily read the scripture and process it in those pattern, we can hear from God.
It is also important to teach people to listen for God’s voice through inner promptings. When God speaks into specific situations in our lives he ometimes chooses to do so directly in our spirit. Teaching people to listen to God is a crucial first step in making disciples.
Every one of Jesus’ original 12 heard him say “Come follow me”. Jesus says in John 10:4 “his sheep follow him because they know his voice”.
Listening is the first step, but clearly if a person regularly hears from Jesus and then says “No, I’m not doing it”, I wouldn’t call that person a disciple or follower. Teaching people to obey quickly, completely and cheerfully is part of making disciples.
When we teach people to hear from Jesus and do what he says, everything else will fall in to place in their lives.
How are you hearing and obeying? How are you teaching others to do the same?
There is a lot of talk about discipleship in the American church today, and I believe it will heat to a boil within a few years.
Over the last few decades we have learned how to grow big churches — we have more mega-churches than ever in history. (The list of the 100 largest churches start at 8,000 attendance today, up from 4,000 in 2000.) But in the process we have discovered that it does not mean we have more disciples. The purpose of the Church Growth Movement (starting with Donald McGavran’s writing in the late 1960’s) was “to make make more and better disciples”. We figured out quantity, but not quality. As a result, we have many huge churches, but our society is not deeply impacted, and research shows attendees do not live much differently than unbelievers.
So, where to turn? The answer is probably not to launch a “church shrinkage movement”. Small churches are not better at making disciples, either. I am not bashing mega-churches; I think they have been a very positive development for the Kingdom.
The point is to focus on what makes disciples. The truth is, we have not built our churches, large or small, on a disciple-making foundation. The problem is our assumptions and starting points in our churches. We assumed that if we could get a lot of people in a room who sing and hear truth, then the kingdom would come. That didn’t happen.
Someone said “Start with disciples and you will always get the church. Start with the church, and you will rarely get disciples.” Wow, that’s a radical statement, and if true, it explains a lot.
We used to say that church planting was the most effective means of disciple-making. That may not be true any more.
Brian Hook, the church planting pastor at Northwood Church in Texas (where I will be for training again next month) said “…in the years ahead we will be talking disciple rather than church planting.”
This year is the 200th anniversary of Adoniram Judson leaving England for India (and later Burma) as a missionary. A lot has changed since then.
Researcher Steve Addison reports that in 1800 22.7% of the world self-identified as Christian. Today, 33% of the world does. More than 53% of the world is either Christian or Muslim, a figure that is likely to rise much higher by 2100 (some say to 2/3).
The Church looks a lot different today than it did in 1800. Two hundred years ago most Christians lived in Europe, today the epienter of the faith is in Africa and Asia. The number of Christians in China has grown exponentially in China over the last 200 years. Yet, the house church was unknown in the days of the early missionaries. Most missionaries were trying to reproduce the European form of church: organ, choirs, Western songs, dress, etc. The church would not have spread had it been limited to that form.
I believe faith in Jesus will keep growing across the world in the years to come, but we might not always recognize the forms the church will take. In fact, the Church is undergoing rapid transformation before our eyes, No longer is there a single established form. Today we see God working through cell churches, house churches, megachurches, missional churches, and more.
Let’s keep following Jesus, not our forms, and allow the Spirit to blow through our traditions as He will.
Steve Cordle is the founding and lead pastor of Crossroads Church, a small group-based congregation with five locations in the Pittsburgh metro area. He also leads a18movement, a non-profit dedicated catalyzing church plants globally. Steve is the author of three books: A Jesus-Shaped Life, Hear it, See it, Risk it, and The Church in Many Houses. He coaches pastors and church planters in the United States and Western Europe. He enjoys running, playing classical piano, and all Pittsburgh sports. Steve is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary (M. Div) and United Theological Seminary (D. Min). Steve and his wife, Linda, have three grown sons, three daughters-in-love, and three grandchildren.
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