Recent headlines sure seem dark and hopeless. The bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The explosion of the fertilizer plant that essentially destroyed West, Texas. A new ruling by a California legislative committee removes all gender distinctions from bathrooms and locker rooms in all public schools. The horrific details emerging about the murder of dozens of full-term babies in a Philadelphia abortion clinic by Kermit Gosnell—a crime which has, until this week, been utterly ignored by the national media. Add to that local stories of government corruption or drive-by-shootings or just plain meanness or the ordinary troubles that break the hearts of so many people.
It’s enough to dull the smile of the most optimistic person. It can weigh us down with despair. It can begin to feel like, as an old friend of mine used to say, the world is going to hell in a handbasket and I can’t find a way to scramble out. It can make it hard to face another day.
What can we do? How do we handle living, working, loving, and raising our kids in such a world?
The answer is Easter.
Remember? We celebrated that wonderful day just a few weeks ago, marking the day that Jesus rose from the dead, victorious over sin, hell, death, and all the mess of a broken world that make our headlines scream and our hearts ache.
But the best part about Easter is that it never ends. It’s not just one day with glad songs and worship, new clothes, egg hunts and chocolate.
Easter is the breaking in of a new sort of life, the new reality of heaven’s King, His forever life and eternal Kingdom.
Easter is meant to change everything.
And those of us who have a relationship with Christ are His Easter people. We can live out this new life and its implications in every aspect of our ordinary lives. But here’s the thing: our resurrection lives are simply not ordinary human lives. We have been set free to live, really live, empowered by the truth and promises of the resurrection.
The apostle writes: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead.” (Eph. 1:18-20, NIV)
Does that stun you? The power we have for everyday life is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. So, what difference might it make to live your life as if Jesus’ resurrection power is at work in and around you?
If you have Jesus’ resurrection power (and you do), there must be some difference in how you
…think about the broken mess we’re in (this is not all there is!)
…deal with that nagging problem at work;
…love people who are unlike you or difficult to love;
…battle that anxiety, temptation, addiction or besetting sin;
…approach current challenges with your marriage or family;
…persevere in health or financial difficulties;
…express emotions like anger, joy or uncertainty;
…grieve when losses mount (not as those who have no hope)
…pray and feed the faith you have for change;
…make decisions and plan the steps of your life journey.
…interact with people who don’t know Jesus;
…get out of bed in the morning and enjoy life!
The disciple’s life is always a resurrection life.
So here’s the news:
No matter how dark, you live in the glow of resurrection’s daybreak..
No matter how dead, His life always wins.
No matter the date, it is always Easter.
We disciples are Easter people.
Let’s live like it, starting today!
Every one – from the bouncing elementary school student to the confused and newly-divorced thirty-something to the 102-year-old in our town who still lives in her own home – has a concept or perception of themselves. It’s a complex mixture of the past we’ve already experienced, the present we’re in and the future that we will live. As we move across those times of our lives, we live our story.
We are obviously carry the same identity across the course of our own story. Everybody also knows that, over time, we change- physically, intellectually, emotionally, relationally, politically, socially, spiritually, and in our tastes and personality..
But how much? How much will you change?
A recent NY Times article “You Won’t Be the Person You Expect to Be” revealed new research asserting that across your whole life, you will change a lot more than you think you will. In a huge study of 19,000 people, from age 18-68, published in the journal Science, psychologists discovered that all people maintain what they call the “end of history illusion”. That is, we remember our pasts with a mixture of hazy nostalgia and bemusement. But it never seems to occur to us that in another decade or so, we will look back on our present selves with precisely the same feelings. Or as Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University wryly noted, “At every age we think we’re having the last laugh, and at every age, we’re wrong.”
Another way to say this is that we always tend to gild our past, blissfully thinking that we have “reached the peak of our personal evolution”, while greatly underestimating or downplaying the potential changes ahead for us. We seem more comfortable recalling what we used to be than “imagining how much we would change in the future.”
Why? Researchers present two possible explanations for this. First, we have a tendency to “overestimate our present wonderfulness” (if I’m doing OK, why do I need to change?}. Second, a lot of mental energy is required because imagining or “predicting the future requires more work than simply recalling the past.” (Dealing with today is hard enough, so why press into the future?)
Dr. Dan McAdams from Northwestern has a sobering summary: “The end-of-history effect may represent a failure in personal imagination”. Warm memories of our past, when coupled with satisfaction (or even unreflective toleration) over our present, dulls our imagination for the potential of our future.
Now this study was not done from a Christian perspective, but the truths here have application for our lives as disciples and for our churches. After all, Christians and churches are not exactly known to be comfortable with change.
What the psychologist calls a “failure in personal imagination”, we could easily call a lack of faith. It is limiting yourself to what you already hold and know.
Lack of faith imagination for an individual disciple results in being dully satisfied to slog through a “Christian” life with the same rhythms, activities, words, practices, struggles and involvements year upon year upon year. You like your faith the way it is, but can’t really be described as transformation, because
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!….we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Cor. 5:17, 3:18)
Lack of faith imagination for a church family results in a warm fuzzy view of the past, a white-knuckle grip on the comfort of the way things are (or we wish they still were), and a reluctance to do the hard work of imagining the future. It’s fear on steroids. We’re terrified by, and terrified to, change. But, the Lord of the church pleads,
“See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is.43:19)
We may not like it or be uncomfortable with it, but as the study shows, change will happen. Change comes – more than we think, often deeper and broader in our experience than we expect. Change – social, technological, relational, the ways we think or learn or communicate, in virtually everything that shapes our lives – comes.
Yes, there are some truths that withstand the inevitable rush of change. The gospel, Jesus (Heb.13:8), and all that is in the Word of God. (Is.40:8) are among the few things that never change. Everything else we encounter in life is likely to change.
What do we do? We can either fight the change that comes or embrace it.
Fight the change that will come, and every day may become a succession of battles – dominated by fear, anger, and a creeping weariness of heart, soul, mind and body.
Embrace the change that will come (not as an act of compromise or surrender, but as an opportunity for exploration) – and every day may become an adventure, dominated by joy, optimism, and a growing sense of confidence in the sustaining proimises of Jesus.
You and I are going to change, along with the world that we’re in. Change will shape who we are and how we live out the faith and mission of Jesus.
So, if you’re a Jesus – follower, consider this:
To remain boldly faithful to your call
across the years of your life journey,
you simply must embrace the change you will become.
Do you embrace or resist change? What helps you process and deal with it?
We’re just a couple of weeks into the new year. How are those resolutions coming? Especially the ones about becoming a stronger Christian in 2013?
Jesus calls those who are His to live a life shaped by their relationship with Him. He intended to “make disciples” (Matt.28:19), who respond gladly to His call: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow Me….for whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Lk 9:23, Mk.8:35)
This life is a daily quest, made up of specific, Christ-shaped attitudes, choices and actions. It is the interplay of the Bible,relationships, life-shaping circumstances, serving others and more. With each passing year that we “behold the glory of the Lord”, the hope is that we will be “transformed into the same image”, being ever more “conformed to the image of God’s Son (Christ)” (2 Cor. 3:18, Rom.8:29).
A Christ-like disciple life does not just happen. It is an intentional pursuit requiring reflection, regular course adjustments (repentance), with thoughts and behavior ordered by God’s Word and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The profile below, developed for use in our church, is intended to help you reflect and gain a clear sense of where you currently stand in your relationship with Jesus. It also provides a way to prayerfully chart a path for growth. What do you hope to see change or grow in your life with Christ by this time next year—and how do you intend to pursue it?
How can you use this profile?
1. Block out some time where you can be alone with the Lord for at least a couple of hours. Bring your Bible, perhaps a journal and this profile.
2. Prayerfully, slowly engage the questions & read the Scriptures with each. Ask the Holy Spirit to use the Word to reveal the truth of your heart & life before Him—which may be encouraging or deeply convicting. Assign a value to your response from 1 (least true of me) to 5 (most true)
3. Identify at least one specific aspect in each section of your Personal Disciple Profile that needs some attention. Ask the Lord to show you practical steps to take to grow in that area as a disciple.
4. Share the results with a Christian friend or two. Covenant to pray for one another as you take the next steps in your life with Jesus this year.
A disciple of Jesus is…GOSPEL-CENTERED has been saved & is being shaped by the fullness of the good news of Jesus Christ.
“Jesus came, proclaiming the gospel of God, saying ‘the time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel’….I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes….I have been crucified with Christ. It is no long I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live, I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Mark 1:14-15, Rom. 1:16, Gal.2:20)
+ I am daily aware of and joyfully grateful for God’s gospel purposes in the cross & resurrection of Christ. (Lk.19:10, 1 Cor. 15:1-11, Eph.1:3-2:10 )
+ I interpret my moments –good and bad–by the fact of my Savior’s unfailing love for me. (Jn. 15:13, Rom. 5:8 & 8:31-39:, 1 Jn.4:16)
+ When I sin or fail, I am more likely to run to Jesus, delighting in grace rather than avoiding Him to wallow in guilt. (Jn. 8:1-11, Rom. 7:15-8:3)
+ Gospel truths are shaping my life & thinking about my identity, circumstances, decision-making, troubles & relationships. (Jn. 8:31-32, Phil.4:8)
+ My relationship with Jesus is vibrant, intimate and life-shaping. (Matt.13:44-46, Jn.15:1-11, Phil. 3:7-9)
+ I am learning to recognize gospel truths of Jesus revealed in the entire Bible. (Lk. 24:44; 1 Pet 1:23-2:2)
+ I am more satisfied with the presence and promises of Jesus than anything else on earth. (Jn. 4:14, 6:51; Ps. 73:23-28)
A disciple of Jesus…. GLORIFIES GOD, living all of life as a worshipper of God.
“Jesus said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given me’….Thus says the Lord, He who created you…He who formed you…: ‘Fear not, I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine….everyone who is called by My name, whom I created for My glory, whom I formed and made”. (Matt. 28:18, Is.43:7)
+ I live aware that the purpose of my life is to display God’s glory in all things thru Jesus’ supremacy. (Gen. 1:27; Rom. 12:1, Col.1:15-19)
+ My heart delights in (& my emotions are stirred over) God’s glory as the most important reality in the universe. (John 17: 1-4; Ps. 63, Rev.4:11)
+ I battle my tendencies to make life about me & my replacement agendas, rather than about God & His pleasure. (Matt.16:13-23, Jer.2:12-13)
+ I am faithful to gather each Lord’s Day & fully engage in participating in worship with God’s people with my local church. (Lk. 4:16, Heb.10:23-24)
+ I maintain a consistent daily time of personal worship—including reading/meditating on the Bible & prayer. (Mark 1:35-38, Ps. 1, 2 Tim. 3:16-17)
+ In all of my life— family & relationships, school, work, spending, hobbies, entertainment – I act to bring honor to Jesus. (Matt. 22:37,. 1 Cor.10:31)
+ I pray boldly, asking God to move in me & our church in ways that can only be explained by Him. (Jn.15:23-24, Lk. 18:1-8, Acts 4:31)
A disciple of Jesus… GROWS TOGETHER with Christ’s faith-family as an apprentice, learning how to be and do life like Jesus.
“Jesus said, ‘teach them to observe all that I have commanded you’…Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me…we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Matt. 28:20, John 15:4, Eph.4:15-16)
+ I intentionally order my life to follow Jesus & be transformed like Him in thought, character & action. (Lk.9:23, Rom. 12:2, 2 Cor. 3:18, 1 Jn.2:6)
+ I recognize & follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit –both positive & negative- each day. (Jn.14:26, 16:7-15, Rom. 8:9-16, 1 Thess. 5:19)
+ I am pursuing a holy life, guarding my heart against sin, grieving and repenting when necessary. (Prov. 4:23, Ps. 51, 1 Peter 1:13-21, 1 Jn 3:4-9).
+ There is a deep consistency between what I say I believe and how I behave in all places & times, both publicly & privately. (Matt.7:21-27,James 1:22-25)
+ I have Christian friends who know where I stand on the items above, regularly pray, encourage and challenge me in my walk with Jesus –as I do with them. (Mk.3:14, Jn.13:14, 1 Thess 5:14, 2 Tim.2:2).
+ I am fully engaged with the life & mission of HBC AND am actively involved with a Sunday School small group. (Acts 2:41-47, Eph.2:11ff)
+ I consistently express the Christian’s “one anothers”: love, honor, encourage, forgive, serve, spur on, tell truth, be patient, pray, bear burdens, rejoice, speak grace-full words. (Lk. 22:24-27, Jn. 13:34-35, Eph.4, Rom. 12:9ff)
A disciple of Jesus…SERVES THE WORLD as a missionary, spreading Jesus’ love and gospel to all people from neighborhoods to the nations.
“As the Father sent me, I am sending you….Go, and make disciples of all peoples….Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (Jn. 20:21, Matt.28:19, 2 Cor.5:18,20)
+ I embrace my responsibility to represent Christ & steadily communicate His gospel to those in my sphere of influence. (Lk.24:47-48, 2 Cor.2:14-16, 5:18)
+ I befriend, serve and verbally share the gospel with far-from-God persons. (Jn.4:1-42, 1 Peter 3:15)
+ I know my neighbors’ names & their spiritual life/ relationship to Jesus. (Jn.1:35-42, Col.4:5)
+ I am personally involved with injustice & broken people in my world. (Matt.25:31-46, James 1:27-2:8)
+ I have a ministry, place, people or cause where I am weekly investing my life (time, resources, gifts, abilities) in service for Jesus’ sake. (Matt. 9:36-37, 1 Cor.12:4-7,11)
+ I order my finances by God’s plan, giving first & faithfully (moving towards a tithe) through my church’s ministry budget., and growing in generoisty with other needs I encounter (Mk.12:17, 41-44; 2 Cor.9:7-12)
+ I am willing to do whatever it takes –change, sacrifice, etc- to reach unreached peoples at home and among the nations with Jesus’ gospel. (Matt.10, Mk. 8:34-38, 1 Cor.9:19-28)
+REFLECT: In prayer, ask the Lord to press home at least one of the lower (3 or below) marked areas in each area of the Disciple’s Profile on which He wants you to focus in 2013. Then, jot down at least 2 possible, practical, measurable ways you can begin to pursue growth in that area. Remember, it takes at least a month of consistency for a new pattern of thinking, behavior or character to take hold in a life
Then, choose one of the strongest statements you marked in each area. Ask the Lord to show you how that might become even stronger in you and be more leveraged for His Kingdom purposes.
+ SHARE what you’ve discovered with a couple of Christian brothers (men) or sisters (ladies) who will pray with you, encourage you, and lovingly hold you accountable for pursuing what the Lord has shown you.
Christian growth is inescapably relational, so this is a crucial step in Christ-shaped life transformation. Hopefully, it will be someone who will also be transparent about their journey with you, so you walk forward together.
+PRAY for yourself and others in your faith family to live as faithfully growing disciples. This sort of growth requires the wisdom of the Father, the life of the Son and the power of the Spirit. Jesus said, “Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me, and I in Him, He it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. “ (Jn.15:4-5)
Let me know if this is helpful to you, or ways you think this profile could be improved.
But what does that mean, exactly? Well, some clarifying definitions are in order. Seeing the following as distinct and yet related in a synergistic way is crucial. Think of these as a three-legged stool of a church’s missionary identity and life
First, the church has a mission. It is Jesus’ primary assignment to His people until He returns: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt.28:18-20) It is called Great because of who gave it and the vastness of it. It is a Commission because we are a people sent by our Risen King, empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) bearing a message of reconciling life, joy, peace, and hope (2 Cor. 5:17-21) that enables people to become more like Jesus now and live with Him forever.
The church’s mission is disciple-making: leading sinners in all places to Jesus and the transforming good news of His saving death and resurrection life, and then helping them grow like Jesus to where they also lead sinners in all places to Jesus and the transforming good news of His saving death and resurrection life, helping them to grow like Jesus to lead sinners….Disciples of Jesus is who we are (Identity), and there is a sense in which disciple-making is all we do (mission).
Second the church engages in missions. There are specific activities –locally and globally – in which the church invests time, people and resources to reach and make disciples of people who do not yet know Christ. This may be what most that grew up in church think of when they hear the word. There are missionaries sent to other places (away from “home”) to share Jesus with people there. We pray for them, knowing that the Lord’s power is necessary. They need to be supported so, we join with others to give to special missions offerings. There are real people needs around us, so we organize mission projects in the local community. There are people in other parts of the country or around the world who need to know Jesus, so we organize mission trips for members of our congregation to go for a short time to serve.
So, a segment (not all or even a majority) of each local church is faithful to pray for, give offerings (above our tithe) to and learn about missionaries, unreached people groups and the like. We may participate in mission projects or go on mission trips organized by our local church. And there has been a remarkable shift away from denominational dependence back towards the local church in all of these activities. All of this is important and crucial aspect of a church’s living out the mission.
But surprisingly, it is all incomplete – and strangely hollow without the third leg of the stool: individual Christians who live every day as missionaries. In recent years, this has been referred to as “missional living” or in the helpful phrase Jamie Dukes uses in his powerful book, Christians are to “Live Sent” (New Hope, 2011). That is, we live every moment, wherever we are, as a message sent from the loving heart of our heavenly Father to the people in the part of the world in which He has placed us.
Your relational circle (the people in your neighborhood, community, school, job, etc) is the unreached people group to whom God has sent you to love like Jesus and spread His gospel. Their language is the one you must learn to speak. Their needs, hurts, dreams, joys, tears and questions are the stuff of your prayers. The places you go in your ordinary life (work, school, day care, coffee shop, soccer field, grocery, bank) are the primary sphere of your mission. This does not take away from or reduce the responsibility for the global spread of the gospel. But this is where it starts.
What does such living look like? Dukes provides (p.148-157) a helpful series of questions to help us consider how missional we are, how like missionaries we are actually living. May I ask you to join me in prayerfully considering each question?
+ When you speak of church, what prepositions do you use?
(“Don’t use to and from and in and at when you speak of church. or other words that refer to church as a place or an event. The New Testament doesn’t. Why should we?”)
+ When you think of missions, do you think of a missions trip to a distant city and a service project in your own community, OR do you think of daily life among your family, neighbors and co-workers?
+ What is your common declaration about lost people around you? “Can you believe how these people act?” OR “When can you come over for dinner?”
+ Is my tendency to disengage from culture and retreat into safer, more distant Christian environments, OR is it to engage culture even amidst discomfort and danger?
+ When you hear “make disciples” do you think of a classroom OR your relationships?
+ Do you spend a lot of time wondering whether you should quit your job to surrender to ministry, OR do you simply live to minister to anyone and everyone where you are currently?
+ When you think of a friend who needs help, do you think “I need to get him to see the pastor” OR “I wonder what I can do to help?”
+ When you think of heaven, do you think “kingdom come” OR “kingdom is here”?
(“The purpose of living isn’t just ‘pie in the sky by and by.’ It’s to give people a taste of the God who came near…a glimpse of what is to come.”)
+ Do you think godliness is measured with a mirror OR within community?
(“In Jn. 13:34-35 Jesus told his followers they were to love one another as He had loved them, and that people watching them would know they are learning and living His ways by their love for one another…it is a safe conclusion that without love for one another in transparent, united, mission-centered community, we cannot live sent as letters of God’s love and hope)
AND TOUGHEST OF ALL….
+ Do you have a lost friend who would actually introduce you as his or her friend?
We have a mission, our church does missions, but the missing energy of Jesus’ Great Commission’s command to “make disciples of all” rests with individual disciples becoming missionaries in their everyday, ordinary lives.
Every day is a uniquely personal combination of ordinary stuff, surprises, opportunities, thoughts, heartaches, delight, weariness, relationships, questions and more. Days roll by and as the writer Annie Dillard notes, “Of course, how you spend your days is how you spend your life.”
I suppose it could just as easily be said that how you apply your faith in Jesus in the moments of those days determines whether you live by faith or by your wits. And that, ultimately, will determine not only your growth like Christ, but your experience of His joy, peace, hope, mercy and more.
Now, there are a thousand different things every day that can distract us from faith in Jesus, or at least pose as substitutes for trust in Him. Disciples have for centuries adopted holy habits to lash mind and heart to the surpassing greatness of Christ. These spiritual disciplines are helpful in forming Christ in us.
But I also find it helpful to embrace some simple reminders, or soul triggers to grab my spiritual attention throughout the day. A simple black band on my wrist prompts me to pray for unreached cities across North America, like St. Louis. Hearing an ambulance is a reminder to pray for God’s mercy to the hurting and express my gratefulness for His sustaining mercies.
These soul triggers can begin first thing every morning. What if, as soon as your eyes opened and you saw the first light of day, you were reminded to turn your attention to some aspect of God’s character, His heart for you, and redeeming mission in the world?
Consider how many times the Bible uses the dawn of the day to communicate something about God.
When you wake in the morning…
+ there is a supply of new mercies available for that day:
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;his mercies never come to an end;they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lam. 3:21-24)
+ your soul can be satisfied with His love, so you can have deep gladness
“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. (Ps. 90:14)
+ there may be joy rising again after a season of grief
“For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Ps.30:5)
+ the ears of your heart may be quietly sensitive to the Lord’s truth.
“ Morning by morning he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught… to listen as a disciple” (Is.50:4)
+ it’s a reminder of Jesus’ Resurrection Day and the power that is also ours.
“On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus….that I may know Christ and the power of His resurrection” (Lk 24:1-2, Phil. 3:10)
+ all creation and all peoples are already praising the Lord.
“The Mighty One, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting… From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised!….For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations” (Ps.50:1, 113:3, Mal.1:11)
+ the Lord reigns as sovereign authority over all
“I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.” (Is.45:5-7)
Choose one of these truths, and for the next week, let the first light of day be a soul trigger to meditate and soak your heart in it. It could set the tone for all the moments of your day, to live each day and eventually your entire life, by ruthless trust in the goodness of Jesus.