Monday, October 15, 2012

A Picture of the Gospel

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”
(Ephesians 5:25 ESV)
If there were a survey conducted among Americans that asked the question, “What is the purpose of your marriage?” 90% of people are going to answer by saying “marriage is about loving each other and making each other happy.”
While this is true, this is not the purpose of marriage. The purpose of marriage is to give the world a picture of Christ and His Church.
But what does this mean for us? Why would Paul compare these two things? What correlation do our marriages have with the Gospel?
• New Identity – When a person becomes a Christian they receive a new identity. They are no longer defined by the things of the world but are now defined by their relationship with Christ. In 2 Corinthians we see that when a person comes to Christ they actually become a new person altogether. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)
When a man marries a woman they become “one” and she assumes his last name. This “new name” is symbolic of their new relationship. She is no longer identified by who she was as the daughter of her father but she now has a new name to mark her new life with her husband.
• Service – As a Christian you are called to die to yourself. Your life is no longer about you because you have been “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). We want to serve Christ because of the work He did on our behalf. We do His work on earth so that others can see our love for Him and bring Him glory.
As a spouse we serve our partner out of a desire to show them our love. We want to be a helper and set ourselves aside so we can enrich the lives of our partner. These outward professions of service give us the opportunity to express the inward love we have for them.
• Sanctification – Sanctification is the process of becoming more like Christ. This process begins when we accept Christ and the Holy Spirit comes into our heart. It doesn’t conclude until we are glorified with Christ in Heaven. Becoming like Christ takes time and isn’t always easy to experience.
Marriage is one means God uses to speed up this process. Marriage is the union between two sinners who each come in with rough edges. Through marriage these rough edges rub against each other and eventually begin to smooth each other out. Through this refinement both spouses tend to become more sanctified.
• Covenant – Under the new covenant God promises an everlasting relationship with His people if they believe in His Son Jesus as their savior. It’s not a conditional covenant that can be relinquished; once we enter into this covenant with God it is eternal.
Marriage is a covenant relationship as well. We aren’t in marriage “as long as everything goes our way.” It is intended to be a lifelong commitment “for better or worse.” When we enter into this covenant we are accepting the good from our partner as well as the bad. Covenants should not be taken lightly. God takes His promises seriously, as should we.
• Idolatry – God means it when He says in Exodus 20, “You shall have no gods before Me.” He never intended us to worship anything but Him. Since the Church is the bride of Christ, worshipping anything but God is committing infidelity against God.
In the same way, to have an inappropriate relationship with someone other than our spouse is to commit infidelity. We are putting the feelings of someone else above that of our spouse. The bond we form with this other person becomes more important to us than the effect that it will have on the person we have at home. We elevate someone else to the position of highest regard. This is the essence of an affair.
There is a direct correlation between how the world sees your marriage and how it views the Gospel. If you show them a marriage full of lies, resentment, and selfishness then the world is going to have a distorted view of the Gospel. If you show them a marriage full of honesty, commitment, and service then they are going to see a clear picture. Now the question becomes, are you showing the world a distorted picture of the Gospel or a clear one?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Backyards & Closets

My wife and I love hosting parties and cookouts at our house. This means that several times a month we have anywhere from 10-20 people in our home. We have people in our backyard playing games, people in our kitchen having snacks, and people in our living room hanging out and talking.

During these cookouts we don’t have people in our dining room for long conversations and 3-course meals. And we certainly don’t have people hanging out in our bedroom or our daughter’s nursery.

However, we do have certain people that we allow to not only come to the back of our house but also have access our bedroom when they come over. They get to see where our daughter sleeps. A few of them can even rummage through our closets and look for clothes to borrow if they want to.

We all have a desire for friendships that are this intimate, the friends that we can allow to see our “dirty laundry”; friends that we don't hold anything back from.

Social media is the most evident proof we have that we all have this desire, whether we realize we want it or not. However, the fact that we have social media can be damaging to us as we strive to live in biblical community.

If you were to look at my Facebook page you would see that I have around 1,000 “friends”. On the surface it would look like I have more than enough people who would be there when I need them the most. But if you look under the hood at what is really going on you would see that not only are these people not really my friends, but in fact, I don’t have an authentic relationship with more than a handful of them at all. They are the people that have access to my back yard, but not the friends that I should allow in my bedroom.

To our detriment, through a status update or tweet, we have people to whom we can air out our dirty laundry at all times. This is further proof that each and every one of us have a desire to share the “real me” with those around us.

A few weeks ago I saw a post that troubled me, and made me appreciate Build A Better Us [marriage ministry] even more. She said, “I sure wish my husband made an effort to make me feel special on Mother’s Day.”

This is not only sad, but dangerous as well. This is unfortunate on two fronts. First, this woman obviously has some deep problems in her marriage. But, second, she also doesn’t have a real community to share it with. Thus, she finds a false one through her Facebook wall.

The 1,000 friends I mentioned before aren’t all going to be there to encourage me with Scripture when I need them, nor are they going to be there to pray for me.

This is one of the things I love about discipleship. As long as I have someone willing to lead me with biblical insight, I know I have a safe place to turn. He isn’t going to simply “like” my status or “@ reply” with a generic “I hope things get better”. I know that he is there to listen and to give me godly wisdom during the times when I need it the most.

Hopefully, I also play that role for the men I disciple. If I see them unloading all of their problems on Twitter then I know that I’m failing them. Our life-on-life is lacking something because I’m not a safe place for them to talk through their issues and I haven’t instilled in them the importance of taking their problems to Jesus.

As I am being discipled and discipling men I should strive for a relationship where they are allowed in my “bedroom”. They should have access to my closet. This will not only benefit both of us, but will be a source of sanctification. If there are things that I’m hiding from these men then I want them to have the right to ask me about it, to hold me accountable.

The Christian life isn’t one to be lived alone; we are made to be in relationship. While I can’t give everyone access to the back of my house, I do want to bestow on certain men the right to see all of me, even the dirty closet. If they don’t see these areas, then I can isolate and hide my struggles and sin. Or I will eventually allow the wrong people to see my private rooms who can take advantage of my vulnerability. This has the potential to be detrimental to my life and ministry.

Who do you allow in your bedroom? Who has access to your closet? Do you keep your struggles to yourself? Or do you have the people who can point you to Jesus when you need it the most?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Social Media and Ministry

Social media has added a new dimension to ministry. I addressed this in a previous post where I explained why I decided to start this blog in the first place. If you missed it, that article was basically a 600ish word rant about how, for the most part, I view social media as a joke and want to be a better steward of the platforms God has given me. While I don't recant my words there, I do want to clarify that this statement is more about how we use social media then about the technology itself. Many people use social media for valid reasons. Some people like to use it to keep loved ones in another city up to date on their lives. Other people use it for entertainment. And still others use it as a way to share their thoughts with the world. While there are many great ways to use social media, as ministers of the Gospel, let's not use it as a platform to subtly brag about how great we are.

With the advent of Twitter and Facebook, we have raised a generation of ministry workers who may or may not even realize how much they come across as "hey, look how much God uses me!!!" Are today's ministers bragging about the work the Lord is doing through them, or are they bragging about all the work they do for the Lord? The difference is that one is for His glory, and one is for theirs.

Half of the people I follow who have a public ministry fill their timelines with "pray for me as I'm going to preach at..." and "I've got the opportunity to speak to [enter group name here] - pray for me." While there is nothing wrong with these words, I would encourage those who Tweet or post in this manner to evaluate their hearts. Are you really depending on the prayers of others? Or are you really saying, "Hey, look who asked me to preach!”? If you fall into the latter category, I would encourage you to just be bold enough to say, "I assume you want to know where I'm preaching, who I'm preaching to, and what I'm preaching about.” They follow you; they want to know about you. Don't you dare mask it with "I want your prayers."

Those of us who are in public ministry need a heart check. When you have a job where you are in front of people and often get pats on the back for "how great of a lesson you just taught," it’s already hard not to become prideful. The last thing we need is another public outlet where we can talk about and draw attention to "how much the Lord uses us."

Something tells me that if Jesus had had a Twitter account on the day represented in Matthew 5-7 He would not have Tweeted "headed to Capernaum to preach. #sermononthemount."

So let’s examine our hearts. I ask you to think about your own Tweets and posts that ask for prayer. Is your goal to show that you're relying on the help of the Holy Spirit? Or do you, however subtly, just want to remind everyone how important you are?

OK, enough of my soapbox; I need to wrap things up so I can Tweet the link to this blog post to everyone.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Foundation of Love

            Discipleship has become a buzzword in many Christian circles lately. This isn’t a bad thing; in fact it’s a great thing. Jesus commands all of His followers to make disciples in what’s known as the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. Sadly, we have fallen away from this being a commandment to all believers. We expect the people who work for our churches to teach the Word to everyone else, leaving the rest of us no responsibility to make disciples whatsoever. We have replaced what is our duty by passing the job on to the staff of our churches. This is not only lazy, but I would argue that is disobedient and therefore sinful.
            However, we must be careful in this. Making disciples and teaching others God’s Word IS a command. In fact, I would go so far as to say that teaching the Bible to our disciples is one of the most significant eternal investments we can make as believers. But we can’t forget one important thing… It’s not our greatest command. In Mark 12:28-30 we see someone approach Jesus and ask Him about that very issue. He says to Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28 ESV). Jesus answers him by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4 and saying that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. He then goes on to say that we are to also love our neighbor in the same way that we love ourselves. We see that God’s greatest command is based on love.
            If the goal of making disciples were to just teach the Bible then we were right by passing this job off to our pastors. After all, they often know much more about the Bible than we do and could easily do this Bible teaching from the pulpit. But teaching God’s Word is only part of the equation. Making disciples, just like anything else, needs to be founded on love. Love of God and love of our disciples. This love is built through our growing relationship with them. This is an unrealistic expectation for 1 pastor to have with a whole congregation. No one would ever even suggest that it would be possible for him to have a deep relationship with everyone who attends his church.
Our initial goal should be to spend time, show love, and serve them in any way we can. This will show our disciples that we value them. A byproduct of this love will be a strong relationship. Now you don’t have a relationship that is just you preaching at them. It is a relationship that is built on love.
If we start with loving our disciples, caring for them, and being their friend they will know that what we teach and tell them matters. It matters to them and becomes real because they know we care about them. They know what we say to them is in love. It is God’s Word that we want them to know and love the same way that we do.
Now we’re not just guessing at what we want to teach them because we know them. We know their struggles. We know their interests. We know their victories and we know their failures. We know their stories. We know who they are. We know them well enough to show them that God’s Word is relevant to their lives. We can show them that everything they are going through is addressed in the Bible. We can show them that it’s not just some study, it’s a love letter written to them from God.
I think one of the reasons that people want to jump right into teaching is because at the end of the day it’s easier. It’s not less work, but it definitely has a systematic formula. You teach them a passage or section of scripture and then call it a day. This isn’t so when you invest the time that it takes to formulate a loving friendship. There is no life-on-life with the Bible study driven model. Living life with someone takes time. We see this very clearly in the life of Jesus. Many Bible scholars have said that Jesus spent up to 85% of His final 3 years with His 12 disciples. He spent time with them because He loved them. He spent time with them because He didn’t see them as a project; He saw them as an eternal investment. He saw them as the ones who would carry on His message long after He was gone.
If I were to ask 100 people,  “what do Christians do?” The answer I’m going to get 90-100 times is “read the Bible, pray, and go to church”. While these are definitely things that we do to connect and communicate with the God we love, these aren’t our primary actions. If you made a chart of my time usage from month to month these actions would only make up a small fraction of my time. So why are we defined by them? In John 13:34-35 we see that Jesus says that we will be known as His disciples by the way we love one another. Jesus says that our Bible study and prayer times don’t define us. He says that we are known and defined by our love for one another. This should be true of our discipleship relationships as well.
All of our earthly relationships should be a reflection of our love of Jesus. And because of this love we will want to obey the commands that He has given us. This of course includes the command to make disciples. We should begin by loving them, and striving for them to love Jesus in the same way that we do. We show them His love by teaching His Word and sharing His Gospel. Only then will our disciples want to start the cycle themselves and begin making their own disciples. They will inevitably repeat what you model in front of them. If you model a Bible study, they will start a Bible study. If you love and emotionally invest in them, they will do the same for their disciples. I’ve turned this idea into the chart below:

Why do we make disciples in the first place?

            Let me be clear, I think that teaching the Bible and sharing theological truths are some of the most needed yet most neglected areas of discipleship. I’m simply suggesting that this isn’t WHY we disciple, nor should it be the place that we start. We start with love so that the relationship can grow. The transference of knowledge is what we are working toward, which is why it’s important to begin the relationship with the end in mind.
            Making disciples can be intimidating. Fortunately we have ministries like DownLine and DownLine Online that can teach you all you need to know to get started when making a disciple. They have even released the DownLine Builder, a customizable curriculum that takes the guesswork out of the Bible study side of the relationship. Loving them, however, is going to take intentional time and effort on your part. There is no formula, system, or curriculum for that. This is why it is called giving your life away for the sake of others. This is what Paul describes in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 when he says, “We cared so much for you, and you became so dear to us, that we were willing to give our lives for you when we gave you God's message. (CEV)”
At the end of any discipleship relationship I have been in I want them to be able to say, “Jeff taught me a lot about the Bible. He also taught me what I need to know to be a successful Christian man. He did all of this by showing me the love of Jesus Christ.” That’s a success in my book. That’s what Jesus did with His 12 disciples, and that’s exactly what I want my disciples to do with their lives and the men disciple as well.