Confession

I have two confessions for you today.  The first is a personal weakness, and the second is a corporate weakness in the body today.

For those that do not know me, I do have a “normal” job in the IT industry.  I also have a full time family; therefore, SeqHim is mainly something I work on early in the morning and some late evenings.  As such, I figure I have to focus on one or two things to make meaningful progress.  Right now, these two things are fundraising and community development.  Problem is, I’m much more motivated my the later than the former, so I have made little progress on fundraising.  I’m praying through this, and I would benefit if you would lift me to the Lord as well.

I mentioned that the second confession is corporate in nature.  I mentioned Nehemiah a few posts ago, and I’ll quote him again here…

We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which you have commanded Your servant Moses.  Nehemiah 1:7 (NASB)

Nehemiah prayed these words as he was lamenting the plight of the people before he went before the King with his request to go back to Jerusalem.  I’ve personally remained committed to praying over God’s people almost daily as Nehemiah did, and it hit me in the past few days just how mistaken the Church has been in the times of prosperity and how we are suffering for it now that difficulty is increasing.

I have not yet done any formal “research”, but I do have enough relationships with enough leaders of local churches to know that generally speaking attendance is up but giving is down…significantly.  Just yesterday, a local church leader and I discussed the tie to our lack of training when times were good.  Churches today feel compelled to “dial for dollars” just to survive, and I feel increasingly certain that the reason we’re in this predicament is that we did not train disciples when we had the resources to do it…rather, we invested those resources in building a bigger audience.  We thought that the percentage of givers to non-givers would remain steady, but what we’re finding is that the “social givers” (as opposed to “cheerful givers”) are dropping like flies as they panic.  They were among us, but they were not truely with us. 

And so, I feel compelled to confess this corporate failing to the Lord, which I have already done personally.  Will you join me?

Who has Impacted Your Spiritual Development?

I’m currently talking to a few people I know about starting an disciple-maker network.  This network is an online community of experienced faith coaches, spiritual mentors, disciple-makers, encouragers, whatever you want to call them exactly.  Basically, they are people who are intentionally and successfully helping other people in their walk with Christ.

I’m looking for as many of these people to seed the network as possible.  And so, I’m asking you for help.  You cannot nominate yourself, but I do ask that you nominate someone who has had a notable positive spiritual impact on your life. 

Here’s what you can do in three simple steps:

  1. Get their approval before sending me any of their information.
  2. Send me a brief description of your relationship and how this person helped you in your walk.
  3. Send me an email address (or other contact information) so I can speak with this person about the network and what we’re asking of folks who join it.

Feel free to reply to this post, or send me an email at jreeves@seqhim.org.

Thanks in advance for your help!  I’m excited to see what God will do with such a community.  I’ll keep everyone posted on new developments through this blog.

What You Believe Determines What You Become

I have not yet put a section on doctrinal beliefs or core principles for SeqHim.  That will be changing soon.  For those that don’t know me, my doctrinal beliefs line up with evangelical protestantism: sufficiency and innerancy of scripture, the virgin birth, sinlessness of Christ, atoning death of Christ, resurrection, sufficiency of grace alone through faith in Christ alone to save, the reality of heaven and hell, and Jesus return.  I’ll expand on all of these in the future, but this gives you a sense of where we are.  They do matter; and, they do shape everything we are doing.

What I want to exand upon a little more here is our core principles.  I’ve come up with five principles that will shape/guide this ministry unless the Lord leads us to change them.  I would love your feedback on them!!

Transformation is a Command of God

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.  Romans 12:2 (NASB)

Most (if not all) of the New Testament can be thought of as speaking to one of four major topics: a) what we were before Christ; b) what Christ has done for us; c) what we are after believing in Christ; and d) what our responsibility is after being redeemed. 

This principle focused on this last topic: what do we do now that Christ as redeemed us and given us a new spirit?  Do we go back to living the way we once did?  No, of course not…we are called to live as we are.  We are perfect and righteous in spirit, but our flesh needs to be conformed to this perfect spirit.  This is what we mean by “transformation” and what Paul speaks of in Romans 12:2.  All other responsibilities of being a Christian can be tied back to this one calling: loving one another; serving one another; worship; giving to the poor; etc.  All of this increases in a genuine sense only as we transform.  And so, if you can obey God’s command to transform, you will obey the rest by definition.

God Alone Transforms People, But We Have a Role to Play

Does that mean that we can somehow transform ourselves?  No!  Only the Holy Spirit can transform us.  But, in his soverignty and for reasons I do not understand, He has chosen to use us in the process somewhat like a tool.  We must cooperate in a sense with the working of the Holy Spirit within us.  And, a Spirit-filled Christian wants to cooperate…it’s part of what we get when we are first regenerated.  We long for and strive for and work for the day when we are “set free from this body of death”.

What then do we do?  I believe there is a very simple model that we can remember, embrace, and act on day-by-day.  It is that iterative growth model that I have mentioned before.  If you missed that post, you can catch part one here and part two here.

God Expects us to Help One Another Transform

I can’t imagine being obedient to our calling to love one another if we did not help one another in this mission of transformation.  What greater expression of love is there than to help someone embrace the gospel and grow in Christlikeness?  Giving to the poor is critical, and we should all do it; but, what if we invested more than we do today in people to help them transform to the point where they are even greater givers than we are?  Is that not how we exponentially grow (in number and in maturity) the Kingdom.  One person helping three others become more like Christ, so they can help three others become more like Christ?

Preaching, Teaching, Small Groups, Bible Studies, Books, Podcasts, and all other forms of “mass” instruction have a significant role to play, but at the end of the day the real work is usually flesh on flesh.  It’s person on person helping them practically apply what they are learning to their lives and interpret what the Holy Spirit may or may not being doing in their lives.  It’s defeating the lies of the world that cause us to compartmentalize our lives into our “church life” and our “work life” and our “family life”.  It’s being able to see “Bible teaching” in the lives of peeople we know the best and the people who know us the best.  This is how we ultimately reach the ‘fringe’ and the ‘world’…we must encourage and complement the proclaimation of God’s word with the genuine living out of it and explicit honest interaction with others on it.

Modern Technology Can Be Used for Good, Evil, or neither

My background and career is in technology, so I see first hand how it can be used for good and evil.  I also suggest that it can be used to have a neutral effect.  And this is as true in the Church as it is in business.

With every technological advancement, people first figure out how to make money off if it; cultures then change as a result of broad adoption; and sometime later, the church eventually comes around to doing something with it to stay “culturally relevant”…whatever that means.

I’m not going to go into all of the nuances of this right now.  That’s a series of posts for a later date.  But, I will assert that…

  • …technology should be embraced as a way to win treasure in heaven just as aggressivly as business embraces it as a way to win treasure on earth.
  • …the church has a moral obligation to carefully assess when and how it is used, because it can easily become distracting to the mission of the Kingdom just as the ‘cool’ factor in business can distract from it’s mission of delivering value to shareholders.

Therefore, we will pursue technology aggressivley but only to the extent that it builds the Kingdom in a God-honoring manner.

The Wisdom of a Crowd can be Greater than the Wisdom of a Few

As with the other principles, this can easily be a series of posts on it’s own; but, I will try to concisely explain the intent of this principle.  I, and many others, have noticed an accelerating movement for people to use the web to do things and not just consume things.  There are many, many examples of this…software development (e.g. open source), finance (e.g. Kiva), publication (e.g. wikipedia, blogs, istockphoto), and social networking (e.g. facebook) are just the tip of the iceberg.

These initiatives, and many others, are successful because technology enables the untapped potential of the amateur crowd.  This is a group of people who possess passions outside of their day jobs that are strong enough for them to devote extra time to working with others in their field.  They include amateur bird watchers, scientists, software developers, engineers, philanthopists, and many others.  And, the quality and speed of their production can exceed that of the “professionals”; e.g. compare Linux (open source) to Windows.

And guess what, this amateur crowd also includes faithful disciple-makers.  SeqHim is here to give you, God’s called disciple-maker, a means of working with others to do something as significant as facebook, or Kiva, or wikipedia…only, the significance is for the Kingdom and not for the world.  Can such a crowd be used for good or for evil as technology can?  Do we have to be careful to protect the integrity of the Gospel and the Kingdom itself?  Absolutely!  But there is a way forward to gain the productivity of the crowd without sacrificing the integrity of the Gospel, and I will continue to expand on it future posts…praying that many of you will join in the fight and help shape this thing.

Do you want to join the mission?  Send me a note (jreeves@seqhim.org); check out the get involved pagepray with us; comment on this post; keep coming back…we’re pressing on and accelerating by God’s grace!

Deeper Dive on Growth Themes

In my last post, I introduced the concept of a growth theme.  Think of themes (joy, compassion, humility, perseverance) as the more concrete sub-components of the growth dimensions (knowledge, character, and behavior).  And remember, growth on these dimensions within the themes is a result of hearing, believing and obeying God.  Later, I’ll go a little deeper on hearing, believing and obeying God…the things we do.  But first, lets look a little closer at what we are trying to become (increasingly joyous, compassionate, humble, and persevering).

Joyfully forget yourself and focus on others forever.

The above statement is something I made up as a kind of personal mission statement.  Notice how it includes each of the four growth themes…joy, humility (forget yourself), compassion (focus on others), and perseverance (forever).  We are followers of Christ if we do this increasingly, genuinely and in the context of God’s truth.  Note that I did not say we are “saved” because of it.  We’re “saved” because we professed faith in Christ and He gave us life by His grace alone.  What I’m taking about here is actually following Christ after we have been regenerated.

Now, let’s look under the hood.  Are four themes really enough?  What about love, wisdom, righteousness, contentment, faith, dependenance, generosity, etc?  As I said before, we created a mind map to organize these characteristics so that we could get our arms around the different facets and begin to eat the elephant one bite at a time, so to speak.

Here is a link to that mind map: Themes v0.3

Remember, this is one of an incalculable number of possible arrangements.  This is just one that works for our purposes.  I’m happy to take feedback on it, because I do want to improve it…but, let’s not miss the forest for the trees either.

And so you will see that we’re framing contentment as a joy issue.  If you do not have God’s joy, it is possible that the underlying cause is a contentment issue.  With this kind of vocabulary, we can use it in a number of different ways to help people.  Here are a few:

Assessment: Helping Disciples Know Where They Are

We can develop a means of helping people understand where they are in their walk with regard to joy, humility, compassion, and perseverance.  This then drives where/how they spend their time addressing areas of weakness (rather than simply ammassing knowledge by an endless stream of “bible studies”).  The intent of “assessment”, would be to help someone understand that contentment is a bigger issue in their life than say generosity.

Guidance: Helping Disciples Know Where to Go and How to Get There

Guidance can be attached to the same vocabulary.  Guidance (e.g. passages of scripture, teaching, books, podcasts, disciplines, ad-hoc experiences and advice, etc)  can be provided on how to become more generous, for example, and loaded into a shared repository.

Search: Helping Disciples Find The Best Stuff Fast

Now that guidance has been loaded against a specific vocabulary, and a person understands their need using the same vocabulary, an extremely efficient search capability can be put into place that helps a disciple find exactly what they need almost immediately.

There is alot more to be said, but alas…it will have to wait until next time.  Until then, I will continue to pray for all of you as you strive to become more like our Savior.

Themes of Spiritual Growth

Let’s pick up on a thread that I started several days ago re: spiritual growth.  Remember that we discussed two basic principles:

  • spiritual growth occurs along three dimensions: knowledge, character and behavior.
  • growth on these three dimensions occurs by iterations of hearing, believing and obeying God.

And, we used the following as a picture to illustrate the basic concept.

Iterative Growth Model
Iterative Growth Model

Now let’s break down the components of knowledge, character, and behavior so we can get to something that each of us can use in our daily lives and help others to do the same.

Several months ago, some faithful buddies and I brainstormed “christian attributes”.  We asked, “what are the characteristics you would expect to see in a follower of Christ?”  Obviously, many attributes came to mind, including wisdom, righteousness, humility, generosity, love, contentment, etc.  We then organized them into four major themes: joy, humility, compassion, and perseverance.

Therefore, when we talk about growing in knowledge, we’re really talking about growing in knowledge of what it means to be joyous, humble, compassionate and persevering.  When we talk about growing our character (internal attitudes and unseen behaviors), we’re talking about developing a joyous, humble, compassionate, and persevering character.  When we talk about growing in behavior (externally observable behaviors), we’re talking about acting joyous, humble, compassionate, and persevering.

Clearly, there are many, many ways to organize these attributes.  This is just the way we did it, and I think it works pretty well.  In future posts, I can share the detailed “mind map” that describes how we organized the attributes and dealt with “super-themes” like righteousness and wisdom.

Now, remember the second principle that describes how we grow in the three dimensions and their four components.  Generally speaking, we grow in knowledge by hearing God; we grow in behavior by believing Him; and we grow in behavior by obeying Him.  Therefore, we grow in our knowledge of what it means to be joyous by hearing what God has to say on joy; we grow in chracter with respect to joy by genuinely believing these truths from God; and, we grow in joyous behavior when we obey these new truths that we genuinely believe.

I have lots of examples from Scripture and from my own experience to share, and will do so over time, but for now let’s start with one from Acts.  Do you remember Paul and Silas in prison (Acts 16)?  They behaved in an extraordinary way.  First, rather than grumbling (which I’m sure I would have been), they are singing and praying.  Then, when the earthquake hits and the prison doors are busted open, they did not flee.

Now look, I’m excited by the growth God has caused in me over the past several years, but I am nowhere near this level of mature behavior.  Paul and Silas were so focused on the welfare of their guard, they essentially sacrificed themselves for him…a non-Jew and a non-Christian.  Why on earth would they a) be singing in prison; and b) not leave when God “obviously” was trying to set them free by way of the earthquake?  In the first case, they had learned to be “content in all circumstances” (we bucketed contentment within the joy theme).  In the second, they had serious compassion for the jailor and knew what “the right thing to do was” (see my previous post).  Why were they so joyous and compassionate?  Because they knew the promises of God and they genuinely believed them.  They had already invested years into knowing God’s word and practicing the disciplines required for training themselves for just such a moment.  Of course, Paul (at least) had the additional experiences of supernatural encounters with God, but these are not necessary to grow to the point Paul was.  We can all get there by studying God’s word, proactively training ourselves to believe it, and them acting upon it in any circumstance.

And so my encouragement is simply this: know God’s word, believe what you know, and obey what you believe.  Over time, learn a little more, believe a little more and obey a little more.  Just keep moving forward and never stop. 

If you need help, please raise you hand.  I, and many others joining this community, are here to help you!

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.

The Plight of the People

As we are approaching a time for a broader launch of this site, I thought it would be helpful to take a brief step back and frame the need SeqHim is attempting to meet for those that will be logging on for the first time in the next few days.

“They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and it’s gates are burned with fire.”  Nehemiah 1:3 (NASB)

 The people of God were suffering.  What as Nehemiah’s reaction?

“Now when it came about when I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”  Nehemiah 1:4 (NASB)

His reaction was first mourning over his people and second prayer and fasting.  But what did he pray for?  Did he pray over a solution?  No, if you read the next few verses, you will find that Nehemiah prayed…

  • a prayer of confession on behalf of the nation. (Neh 1:6-7)
  • a prayer of reminder to God’s of His promises to His people.  (Neh 1:8-9)

Significantly, v11 ends with “Now I was cupbearer to the King”.  In other words, God had placed him in a position to help the people as he placed Esther in a similar position (Esther 4:14).  And I believe he is confronted with the same internal struggle as Esther…do I stick my neck out before the King to help my people who are in need?  With great personal risk, he did…just as Esther. (Esther 4:15-17)

What situation is the Church in today?  Is it really fair to compare it to the Israelites in the time of Nehemiah?  Certainly, the situations are different…but, the pattern and principles involved are the same.  I want to briefly mention three ways that I believe the people are suffering:

  1. Many are deceived into thinking that the world’s ways are God’s ways.  So, they think they are following Christ, but they are really obeying another master.  And as such, they suffer the natural consequences of it.
  2. Many want to genuinely follow Christ, but they do not know how.  They hunger and thirst for righteousness, but they do not know how to obtain it.
  3. Many are being deceived into false doctrine.  So many people who profess faith in Christ fall pray to obvious heresy.  Why?  Mostly because they were never taught the truth, the value of spiritual disciplines, or how to obey God in a practical sense.  

Why are the people suffering?  Well, there is much to say about this, but at the end of the day it comes down to the simple fact that we are not glorifying God in the ways he has taught us to.  We are, in a broad sense, embracing the world’s principles of success rather than God’s, and so we miss out on God’s blessing and suffer.

How are we to react to this?  Well, how about mourning?  Do you care that the people are suffering?  If so, how about praying and fasting over it?  What do we pray for?  How about confessing the sins of the Church on it’s behalf?  How about reminding God of His promises to build and protect the Church.  Nehemiah provides an excellent example for us.  Will you follow that example with me?

Then what?  Well, Nehemiah went and rebuilt the wall with great risk and sacrifice to himself.  What will we do?  I believe we must:

  1. Identify, mobilize and encourage faithful believers to genuinely follow Christ.
  2. Call out into the visible Church and help those God brings forward to genuinely follow Christ.
  3. Call out into the rest of the world, sharing the pure gospel of Christ, and helping those who respond in faith become genuinely follow Christ.

Will you join us in the mission?  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…we need all the help we can get.  There is much of work left to build this wall! 

What’s the first step?  The first step (of many) is to build the community of believers…let’s spread the word of this effort far and wide that all those God is calling to it around the world can join in.  The next steps will unfold from there.

http://seqhim.org

Is God at the Center of your Life?

For six years, I have engaged a wonderful ministry called Bible Study Fellowship (BSF).  I often tell people that I have not benefited more from any other ministry (or church, for that matter) than BSF.  This morning, I spent time in Numbers Ch 1, 2 and 3.  In these chapters, God takes a census and assigns encampments to Israel.  He places His Tent of Meeting in the heart of the encampment.  Why?  Because God should be at the center of the life of His people.

Ok…nice cliche, but what does that really mean?  It means that faithful obedience to God is more important than work for God (or anyone else).  It means that it is more important that we know God’s word, believe it and obey it ourselves than teaching or helping others to do the same.  It means that it is more important to obey the higher principle of love than sacrificing it for family, vocation, ministry, or even adhering to religious tradition (like attending a church service).

Does this mean that we don’t have to go to church?  (Gasp!)  We don’t have to give sacrificially?  We don’t have to take communion, serve the poor, etc?  Well, yes and no.  Here’s the rub…people who know God’s truth, genuinely believe it, and desire to obey him want to worship him.  They want to give sacrificially.  They want to obey Christ’s command to be baptized and to take communion.  They want to perform works of service.  They want to work hard at their vocation.  They want to pay all of the their taxes.  They want to build healthy famililies and sacrifice for them.  These are all things they naturally want to do and do them as well as they can (given the obstacle of our flesh).  If you don’t want to do these things and are constantly looking for ways out of them, God is not yet in full control of your desires.  That’s a problem that needs to be (and can be) addressed.  (BTW, if you want help with this, keep following the blog or send me an email, jreeves@seqhim.org.)

For example, let’s say it’s Sunday morning…you’ve got the family all dudded up for church, about to walk out the door, and the phone rings.  It’s the neighbor down the street (who is a ‘fringe’ person that frankly you don’t care much for).  He is supposed to be at work in 15 minutes, and his car will not start…he’s asking for a ride.  What do you do?  I’ll argue that putting God in the center of your heart means caring more about providing for this person that you don’t even really like than taking your family to church.  It means understanding that the love of Christ is better manifested by sacrificing the benefit and desire to worship with other believers.  It means understanding that the blessings that come from sacrificing your desires for others are more significant than performing religious ceremony and tradition.  It means providing an example of love to your family is better than getting them to church so they can hear a description of love.

So, ceremony and tradition are good things.  Christ commanded baptism and communion for a reason.  Worship is good, and we should not forsake gathering together on Sunday or any other time. 

BUT, the goal of all of these things is not to make us rule keepers; it is to transform us to the point that we no longer need the rules!

My prayer for you and for myself is that we be transformed to the point that we are so much in tune with the heart of Christ that we no longer worry whether or not we are in His will…we are confident that our desires are His desires and can freely and aggressively pursue them.  We don’t worry about God’s favor if we choose to leverage the resources He has assigned to us to manage (time, money, materials, relationships, etc) in a way that is non-traditional, because we are confident that we are focused on His Kingdom and not our own comfort or preferences.  

I’m a long way from this personally, but as I’ve said, I’m praying for it because I believe God desires it for us and is the ultimate goal of our perfection.