So you are in the core…now what?

Follow Christ no matter the cost to yourself!
Follow Christ no matter the cost to yourself!

Remember when Jesus called his disciples?  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19).  There are three parts to this…”Come”, “follow me”, and “I will make you fishers of men.”  Relative to what we have been discussing, “Come” corresponds to ‘seeking’, for seeking corresponds to the receiving of a call to follow Christ.  But what do you do after receiving the call?  First, “follow me” then become “fishers of men”.  That is, live a life like that of Jesus, then call out to others to seek and follow Christ themselves.  This is a simple accurate way of looking at the entire Christian life.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Christianese really bothers me, but as you can tell, I’m throwing alot of it out there.  What does it really mean to “be a disciple of” or to “follow” Christ?  It means that we are aiming to become just like him.  Sorry, more Christianese…what does it mean to “be just like him”?  Does it mean that we ought to have the same divine powers as Christ?  Does it mean that we should never marry because Christ never married?  Does it mean that we should become itinerate Jewish Rabbis roaming Isreal on foot in sandles?  Clearly, becoming “just like him” requires some thought about the ways in which we are to be just like Christ.

Let me give you some thoughts.  I’ll chunk this into a series of categories…let me know what you think!

Personality.  Personality is designed to be unique from person to person, therefore, we need not emulate Christ’s personality in full.  If Jesus was laid back, but you are a naturally tight person…that may not be something you need to change.  It would need to be changed only where your “tightness” is a reflection of fear, lack of contentment, etc.  Peters aggresivness was not his problem; control of that aggressivness was the problem.

Ability.  Again, out gifts and abilities range from person to person.  Jesus was an excellent teacher; that does not mean that we all are.  The important principle here is that you know your abilities and you use them for God’s purposes.

Divinity.  Jesus is both fully God and fully man.  While he was on earth, he demonstrated characteristics of both. We must not attempt to emulate the divine attributes of Christ – only the perfected manly characteristics.

Perfection.  When Jesus was born, he had both a perfect spirit and perfect flesh. When we are born, we have a dead spirit and corrupt flesh. When we are born again, we are given a living perfect Spirit, but our flesh remains corrupt. Therefore, while temptation is not unique to us (Christ suffered just as we do), sin is unique to us. That is, moral perfection is unique to Christ alone. The significance of this is that our goal should be to strive for perfection, understanding and accepting the fact that we will not succeed until we die, as we suffer through temptation as Christ did.

Circumstances.  Each person has a unique context in which they live their lives, and this context is an important factor in determining the “right thing to do”.  We are not expected to arrange the same circumstances for ourselves that Christ dealt with directly.

Calling.  God called Jesus to specific ideals, passions and functions.  Some of these we share (e.g. caring for the poor, defending the weak, standing for righteousness, etc), but some we need not share (e.g. calling out the religious hypocrisy, drinking the cup of God’s wrath, etc).  What are your ideals, passions, and functions?  Which do you share with Christ?  Which are unique to you?  We all have a unique “calling”…just be sure it lines up with Biblical principles.

Jesus is the perfect example of holiness and righteousness in a human being and we need to do anything and everything to emulate that.

So, we don’t really need to be “just like him”.  But, he is the perfect example of holiness and righteousness in a human being and we need to do anything and everything to emulate that. What are you doing to better emulate these the holiness and righteousness of Christ?

Ooops…that’s more Christianese. Let me try again … what are you doing to improve your knowledge of God’s truth through the Bible, iron out the imprefections in your character, and do the right thing more often?

Deep Dive on Core, Fringe and World

In previous posts, I’ve described that there are three kinds of people in this world: ‘core’, ‘fringe’ and ‘world’. If you are new to this blog and have not read these, I suggest you do so. Here, I’ll start from the top but will quickly dive into some newer territory without making this post too long.

Remember we said…

  • ‘core’ people were obvious believers in Christ who lived consistently between the Sundays;
  • ‘world’ people refer to those who do not profess Christ at all;
  • ‘fringe’ people are those that are not living their Sunday life between the Sundays.

Fringe “go to church” primarily for social reasons, which may include participating in any “church activity” that they feel some kind of social pressure to participate in; i.e. community service, financial giving, bible study, parking ministry, children’s ministry, etc. These are the things it takes to “belong”, and so they happily do them. Core also “go to church” and engage “church activities”, but they do so because they desire to obey God in all things, regardless of the personal cost. See the difference?

Here’s the question that prompts us to think a little deeper on this: do we associate these labels with people based on their actual state or just their perceivable state? This question matters because the later path allows us to move forward, but the former leads to a quagmire of judgmental-ism. In this world, we cannot know a person’s actual state, and it is dangerous to assume that we do. That’s not to say that we can’t have confidence in our salvation or that we cannot assume that someone who exhibits certain biblical behaviors as being regenerate or not, but those are posts for another day. I’m just saying I don’t want to get into the business of trying to sort out who is actually regenerate and who is not. It’s impossible, and there is no value in it…only confusion, difficulty, and hurt. We simply need some terms to communicate observations of people that lead to our ability to help them; we don’t need terms that we use to pretend to know what only God knows.

Here’s another question that prompts us to think a little deeper: do we associate these labels with people based on their actual maturity or their intentions in becoming mature? This question matters because we as disciple-makers cannot control the process of growth, but we can control the environment in which growth occurs. We do not control a plant’s growth process, but we can influence the outcome of that process by understanding the it and creating an environment that allows that process to work most efficiently. This is the job of a disciplemaker…to understand the process of spiritual growth and help people create an environment that allows this process to work most efficiently.

When a person has become intentional about setting up this environment, regardless of the cost to him, he has by definition moved into the core regardless of how mature he is. A one spiritual-day old believer can become as intentional about the growth process as a 60 spiritual-year old.

And so the mission remains…move people from the world and fringe to the core, then support, encourage and strengthen those in the core as they engage this sometimes intense and difficult journey.

Are you in the core? Are you helping someone else in the core with their “environment”? Are you talking to someone in the world about following Christ more closely? Are you talking to someone in the fringe about following Christ more genuinely? Do you want some help? That’s what SeqHim is here for…make yourself known and let us know how we can help you.

Are you in the fringe? Do you want to move into the core and become intentional about following Christ? That’s what SeqHim is here for…make yourself known and let us know how we can help you.

Are you in the world? Do you want to know what this Christianity stuff is all about? Do you sense that you are not right with God and that bad things will happen after you die? Do you want to hear this amazing story of God rescuing a people he loves from certain destruction and how you can be one that he rescues from the fate you already sense? That’s what SeqHim is here for…make yourself known and let us know how we can help you.

As always, I continue to pray for you all…no matter which ‘zone’ you currently live in!

Going ALL IN

Are you ALL IN?
Are you ALL IN?

Friends, I have to say that I’ve never been more confident that God desires to do something with SeqHim than I have been the past few days.  With relatively little investment on my part, He continues to open doors and make things happen.  I can also say that he is clearly driving the vision.  Why?  Because I feel as if I’m discovering something every day about it.  I understand the difference between creating and discovering, and for the first time in my life I’m creating something that feels so much more like discovery that I have to confess that it actually is discovery.

I’ve never been more confident that God desires to do something with SeqHim than I have been the past few days.

The latest “ah-ha” came just a few minutes ago as the pieces of the SeqHim name, the “core, fringe, and world” concept, and the iterative growth model all snapped into place in a new way for me.  Clearly there has been some intent behind all of these, but honestly I saw them only loosely connected.  Now I see the clearly intentional (though not by me) tight integration.  I’m going to unfold these connections over the next few posts as I attempt to clarify and enrichen this vision that the Lord has given us.

Let’ start with a 80k foot level view.  The name is SeqHim.  Seq is short for “Sequi”, which means “to follow” in latin.  ‘Seq’ is pronounced “seek”, and so that is where we get the two action words in the tag line, “helping on another seek and follow Jesus Christ”.  As it turns out, the “core, fringe, world” concept is a really good way to communicate what I mean by “seek” Jesus Christ.  And, the iterative growth model is a really good way to communicate what I mean by “follow” Jesus Christ.

I’m going to unfold these connections over the next few posts as I attempt to clarify and enrichen this vision that the Lord has given us.

We desire that those in the ‘world’ (those that do not profess Christ) and ‘fringe’ (those that profess Christ but do not seek or follow him) would truely seek Christ, as He is, rather than the pleasures of the world or the benefits of the Christian religion.  We desire that those in the ‘core’ (those who have gone ALL IN for Christ, regardless of their level of maturity) do two things: a) help the ‘world’ and the ‘fringe’ know who Christ really is and what it means to follow him; and b) help one another grow in Christ as they follow him day-by-day.

The iterative growth model is one tool for helping a ‘core’ brother or sister in Christ follow Him more closely.  It helps position maturity as a balance of knowledge, character and behavior.  It balances hearing, believing and obeying activities so that you do not become unbalanced in your maturity.

The iterative growth model is one tool for helping a ‘core’ brother or sister in Christ follow Him more closely. 

In short, the iterative growth model is a way of looking at the adventure that we were all seeking to begin with.  This adventure is to trust the person of Christ so deeply in every circumstance that it is as if he were here among us.  His Spirit becomes so real in His moment to moment guidance that the incremental value of a tangible Christ in this world becomes less.

So, are you ALL IN?  Have you stood up after having pushed all of your chips into the middle of the table and said, “there’s no going back.  I’m doing this, and I’m doing it all the way.  I’m going on the adventure.  It has great risk, and I may get hurt, but I’m doing it anyway because I love my Savior…the one who died for me.” 

Are you ALL IN?

I’m not saying you think you are perfect; I’m asking about your intentions.  Do you desire to go anywhere, say anything and do anything that you Savior desires?  Or, do you desire the combined priviledges of the world and of Christ with none of the cost?  An ALL IN person desires Christ…with all of the cost and all of the priviledge.

If you want to go ALL IN, tell me, then hang around.  There are lots of folks gathering that want to help you with the second phase…following Christ.

John

The Ultimate Goal

In my last post, I spoke about the specific and immediate goal of ministering to God’s people.  But what is the ultimate goal?  How does the mission of SeqHim converge with and support the ministry of the Church?

I mentioned what I believe is the ultimate goal in my last post, and I want to expand upon it here a bit: bring glory to God.  That ought to be the underlying reason for anything we do (or do not do).  Otherwise, what is the point?  Do everything you do for the glory of God, and work hard at it.  Yes, it is good to just chill from time to time, but even that brings glory to God…it acknowledges a) that God designed us to need rest and recreation; b) that our efforts are not nearly as important as we usually think; and c) that God himself rested and commands us to rest as well.  And so, go play golf, take a nap, or watch HGTV this weekend knowing that you may be bringing great glory to God in the process!

Given that it is good to rest and it is good to work, what do we work at?  What work brings glory to God?  Is it only “ministry” work?  Am I bringing glory to God when I go to church, serve in the nursery, help little old ladies across the street?  Sure, but does that mean that I am not bringing glory to God when I am writing a computer program, changing diapers, taking out the trash, leading a marketing project, punishing the kids, performing financial analysis, studying for a test at school, and so on?  I certainly hope not, because most of us spend most of our time doing these things that are usually perceieved as less or even non-spiritual.

Then how do we glorify God in everything we do, whether it is a ‘rest’ activity or a ‘work’ activity?  Here is a phrase that has helped me tremendously through the years: ‘do the right thing for the right reason’.  As long as you are doing the right thing (with pure motives) in any situation, you are bringing glory to God.  Sounds easy, right?  Ha!  If you think that is easy, you have never really been serious about it because it’s incredibly hard!  As a matter of fact, it’s impossible as long as we remain in this fallen world prior to our perfection.  And so, allow me to revise our goal statement to make it a bit more accurate to what is really expected of us: “strive to do the right thing for the right reason”.  We are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength…to do the very best with everything God has given us to do the right thing.  Thankfully, God’s grace enables us to try and still accepts us when we fail!  But the true measure of our faith is the effort we put into doing the right thing, purifying our motives and avoiding the wrong thing…regardless of the personal risk.

So, may this be an encouragement to you today.  Strive to do the right thing, moment by moment, for the right reasons.  Make it your number one priority, higher than any any other objective you have for today.  Expend yourself learning how to determine what the right thing is, seeking the Lord in His Word, asking the Him for moment by moment wisdom, trusting that He has granted you that wisdom (James 1:5), and then acting accordingly, confidently and courageously.  In this way, you will be a delight to the Lord, He will be glorified, you will be transformed, others around you will be loved as Christ loves them, and others will be attracted to the Savior through your example of Him.

Core, Fringe and World in Luke 15

I owe this one to my pastor, Pete Chiofalo, and his wonderful message from Luke 15 this past Sunday.

First, I’ll provide a quick interpretation of Luke 15:11-32; then, I’ll comment on how each of the three groups we have been discussing (i.e. core, fringe, and world) are represented in “the prodigal son”.

Luke 15:1-2 makes it clear that the next three stories (i.e. the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son) are in response to the grumbling of the Pharisees that Jesus is hanging out with “sinners”.  Each of these parables makes essentially the same point: God has great concern for the lost; He will in a sense leave those who do not need finding to look for the lost one; and, God (and all those of like mind) will rejoice greatly when the lost one is found. 

Focusing now on Luke 15:11-32, we have a man with two sons.  The younger requests his future inheritance ahead of time and leaves the home to squander it; he becomes “lost”.  The older stays behind to continue working diligently for his father.  The younger “comes to his senses” in v17, which simply means that God has convicted him of his sinful ways and his heart has repented.  He returns home to confess his sin, and his father is eagerly waiting for him – rejoicing to the point of throwing an extravagant welcome home party for his “found” son.  Meanwhile, the older son is angry, because he felt he had “earned” what the younger son did not “earn” and was given anyway.  He was jealous of the father’s forgiveness, grace and mercy toward the younger one.

A plain interpretation of this story is that the the father in the story is God; the younger son represents all of us who have realized our “lostness”, confessed our sin to to God, and received His welcome into the Kingdom through genuine faith in Jesus Christ; the older son represents all of those who have grown up in the church and yet continue to try to earn God’s favor by keeping religious rules, completely missing the importance of forgiveness, grace, mercy, and faith to the point that we look down on (and are even jealous of) those who are received into the Kingdom on the basis of God’s grace through faith alone.

If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, I’ll bet you know where this is headed. 🙂

What I have been calling the ‘world’ are all of those who are in the same position that the younger son was in while he was away from his family “squandering his estate with loose living”.  In verse 17, this younger son moved from the “world” to the “core”.  He confessed his sin to the father (v21) and received life (v32).  And the ‘fringe’?  You got it…the older son.  Though he grew up in the same house, he never realized it was grace and mercy that bound him to the father.  He always believed it was his efforts.  People in the ‘fringe’ typically have “grown up” in the church, hearing sermons on God’s grace and forgiveness every weekend (or, at least every Easter and Christmas).  And yet, somehow, their inability to rejoice when the wretched and poor are sought and embraced reveals are heart that was never right with the Lord to begin with.

I’ll end with two questions:

1. How do you act around “sinners”?  How do you feel about other believers who seek out “sinners”?  What is your immediate reaction when a known sinner walks into your church on Sunday?  What will you do to help move people from the ‘world’ to the ‘core’?

2. Do you love those in the ‘fringe’?  Or, do you feel superior because you are the younger son rather than the older one?  What will you do to help those in the ‘fringe’ move into the ‘core’?

Here’s one suggestion on how to answer each of these: keep reading this blog and engage with your feedback.  I have some ‘blue sky’ ideas on how we can help one another do both of these, and I’m going to need alot of help to make it happen!

http://seqhim.org

Are ‘fringe’ building churches such a bad thing? Maybe not…

The problem is not so much with what churches are doing; it’s with what they are not doing. 

Many churches are so focused on growth that the majority of their resources (money, materials and people) are focused on growth initiatives; i.e. building campaigns, community events, etc.  This leaves little left for internal growth initiatives.  In other churches, particularly those overseas, there is precious little resource to invest in either external or internal growth.  Either way, churches are struggling to help people to grow.  We are adding to our numbers, but we’re adding ‘fringe’ and we’re not helping ‘fringe’ move to the core.

BUT, what if there existed a community of ‘core’ believers whose sole purpose was to birth new believers from the ‘world’ and develop baby believers in the ‘fringe’? 

If this community was effective, it would complement churches of all sizes, shapes and styles while filling this all important gap of internal spiritual growth.  It would have to be orthodox and yet inter-denominational.  It would have to be united on the essentials of the Christian faith, but mature enough to give and receive the freedom granted by grace.  It would have to be seemlessly global, not bound to a region or local church body.  It would have to be large in number, but it would have to be more concerned about the maturity of the community than it’s size.  It would have to be simple for community members to communicate with one another; it would have to be accessible, transparent, authentic, and helpful to those outside of the comunity.

If such a community existed, ‘fringe’ building churches could leverage the community to supplement their existing internal growth initiatives, practically free.  If such a community existed, a small town church in west Texas, an isolated body of believers in Zambia or an underground small group in a communist or muslim country would have equal access to the same global support structure as a mega-church in the USA.

Does this sound exciting?  Do you want to engage?  Let me know…

[polldaddy poll=1334431]

Choosing Sides in the Unseen War

“When surrounded by war, one must eventually choose sides.”

The opening line to a recent Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode (above) struck me as applicable to our discussion.  In his comments from a couple of posts ago, Bob ended with “At least we’ll all know where we stand!”  One day, we will certainly know where we all stand b/c all will be forced to take up sides at some point.

Over the past few years, I’ve spent considerable time researching and developing small group strategy.  I’ve participated in small groups, led small groups, coached small group leaders, and helped churches start and grow small group ministries.  Through all of this, I’ve tried to keep the focus on the role a small group plays in the spiritual war we are presently engaged in (Eph 6:12).  Unfortunately, the momentum is to think of small groups more as social clubs than army platoons.  Small groups ought to be more than friends being friends; they ought to be a means of mobilizing God’s people in our struggle against the “spiritual forces” Paul speaks of. 

This trend is another driver toward the need to go back to one-on-one discipleship.  If the Church has an effective means to grow people (and the forming consensus is that small groups are not an effective means to grow people spiritually), then small groups can safely be more “communal”.  You would train your small group leaders to identify those in their small groups who are willing to be disciples, then take them aside for deeper training or pair them with someone else who can.

To bring this back to where we started, the point is that we in the Church are indeed “surrounded by war”.  Not a war with flesh and blood, but with the spiritual forces that are trying (and will ultimately fail) to overcome God’s people.  Only the most core of the ‘core’ remember this on a daily basis and live their lives accordingly, yet all of us should. 

What does that mean in a practical sense?  It simply means taking spiritual growth (i.e. knowing God and his Truth more, developing a Christlike character, and obeying God in all things regardless of the potential sacrifice) more seriously than anything else.

Have you chosen a side?  Are you engaging the enemy?  If not, will you?  If you will, keep coming back and we’ll continue to discuss how we can do that together.

And so, our mission is…

… to help willing people move from the fringe to the core (discipleship) and from the world to the core (evangelism).

My observation is that the majority of local churches today, particularly evangelical churches in the west, are focused mostly on the evangelistic portion of this mission using mostly a strategy of “attractive” worship services.  It’s staggering to see how much money is being poured into these ‘attractive’ worship services; it’s even more staggering to observe that many churches are coming to the conclusion that to make the service ‘attractive’ they must minimize the role of God and the Bible in it.

This weekend, I received a flyer in the mail for a new local church in my area.  I don’t have it with me at the moment, but I saved it…maybe I’ll scan it and upload it if I think about it later.  But I noted that it did not have the word “God” anywhere on it.  It also contained a number of comparisons between it’s style and other (obviously, less ‘attractive’) styles of worship. The phrase, “we have a talk, not a sermon” comes to mind. 

Now, I understand the concepts and purposes of the “seeker” church and the “emerging” church, but what kind of a church believes they have to hide God to be effective?  Would God really call us to something that requires us to hide his Name to be successful?  Isn’t the power to save in the gospel itself?  Isn’t the biblical model for evangelsim Christians sharing their faith unashamedly with other Christians, in large group, small group, and one-on-one settings?  Looking at today’s churches, you would think that the power to save is in concerts, dramas, social events, community service, and pop psychology ‘talks’…that it’s more important to go to church, be in a small group, have a good marriage, help people find their parking spots and not be stressed out than it is to have a genuine, personal, saving relationship with the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ which demands that we give up many (not all) elements of comfort to do the right thing and not just the popular thing. 

My purpose in saying these things is to make a very specific point. 

That point is that unless something is done to reverse the trend, we will soon find the visible Church dominated by the fringe…an intermingled group of lukewarm believers and Godless non-believers united not by one faith in God but by one faith in the world’s system.  The core will be reduced in size, influence, and effectiveness.  We will all rejoice in our election of leaders who promise a hope that is of ourselves and not of God.

If the core is going to do anything to reverse the trend, it has to rise up now.  Time is running out …

Who is living on the ‘fringe’ of the Church?

I don’t want to belabor the ‘problem statement’ too much before getting into some thoughts on the solution, but I think it’s wise to go one level deeper before moving on.

Let’s briefly elaborate on ‘core’, ‘fringe’, and ‘world’ then conclude with “so what?”

Core

These are obviously genuine believers in Jesus Christ.  They know their Bibles, or are working hard at knowing their Bibles.  Internally, they struggle to think and act as Christ would, whether that is popular or not.  When they mess up, it really hurts yet move on in God’s forgiveness.  The core is seen by the fringe and the rest of the world as generally loving and ‘good’ but also a threat to principles they hold dear such as ‘tolerance’ and ‘relative truth’.  The core’s firm belief in one God and one Savior makes the world and the fringe very uncomfortable, and this causes constant friction with these groups yet also unites the core in one Faith.

World

These are obvious non-believers in Jesus Christ.  Whether they label themselves athiest, agnostic or a believer in some other faith or cult, all deny one of the beliefs that make Christianity, Christianty.  These include historic essentials such as the diety of Christ, the atonement of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and the return of Christ.  In general, these people are not upset by being called ‘non-Christian’, for they are not trying to be Christian. 

Fringe

For those thinking I’m being kindof black and white, here is the gray area…the vague overlap of the ‘core’ and the ‘world’.  The ‘fringe’ includes those people who would call themselves a Christian but who think and act differently from either the world or the core.  People in the fringe may or may not be ‘regenerated’ (born again). Some are genuine believers and simply immature; others are not believers but really like being in community with other believers.  Regardless, they all look about the same; they have little knowledge of the Bible, little motivation of study it on their own, little motivation to be more like Christ, and little motivation to act as Christ would act in situations where that “Christlike action” comes with personal risk or sacrifice.  Their focus is largly on conforming to the norms of the “church” community; and, because the ‘church’ community is mostly fringe (more on this in a later post), these norms align more with the world’s guidance on how to become happy and comfortable and less with God’s guidance.

So, what does this mean?  It means that you, the reader, fall into one of these groups.  If you are in the world, you probably don’t care much about any of this.  If you are in the fringe, I am praying that God would call you to the core.  If you are in the core, I’m praying you might help me help those in the fringe whom God is calling to the core get there.

More to come…