What does it mean to believe God?

A couple of posts ago, we went a little deeper on what it means to hear God.  If you remember, this was the first of three activities that we perform to help ourselves grow spiritually.  Today, we will talk a little more about the second activity, believing God.

Iterative Growth Model
Iterative Growth Model

As with hearing God, numerous well-written books on “belief” have been written and many more could be written.  Here, we will focus not so much on defining belief and faith, but on the things we can be doing to strengthen our belief in what God has said.  But to do that, we will scope the term belief to “believing what God has said”.  In the post of “hearing God”, we discussed some aspects of understand what God has to say; in this one, we’ll discuss some things we can be doing to strengthen our belief in what we understand Him to have said.

I’ve mentioned before that the activities associated with believing God are similar to training activities in the world of athletics.  Baseball players become better players by playing the game, yes, but the best players excel at training between games.  Every athlete at the top of his game is obsessive about training.  They learn from experience, but they are compelled to train to the point of suffering out of devotion for being the best at what they do.  How much more so should a Christian be compelled to train to the point of suffering out of devotion for being the most like their Savior they can be?

What are these training activities?  I believe they are most widely known as the spiritual disciplines.  Pick up anything by Dallas Willard and you will be blessed in his encouraging view of how God changes us through these disciplines.  The disciplines are used by God to prepare us for our future circumstances.  He knows what is about to happen to us, and he provides opportunities for us to discipline ourselves in more controlled circumstances before the trouble hits.

Disciplines like prayer, study, worship, solitude, fasting, scripture memory, scripture meditation, and others train us internalize God’s Word.  They train us to make His Word part of us.  They train us to allow His Word to change us…to change who we are and therefore how we react natually.  In my life, I’ve tried to develop this habit of calling upon some specific verse of scripture when I excounter a challenging or tempting circumstance.  How could I do this if I only read the scriptures in a cursory manner?  How could I do this if I only engage extra-biblical resources?  How could I do this if I only attend bible studies for social reasons or to check it off of my “what I need to be doing to be a good Christian” list?  I can’t.  Earnest prayer, thoughtful study, focused meditation, sacrifical fasting, and (most important this day and age) regular time alone are what is required.

I’m sorry to say that this is hard work, and unfortunately that is not what many Christians these days sign-up for when they walk down the aisle.  But, God’s way is always the best and “safest” way.  And, in most cases, I would say that this little bit of pain helps us to avoid the great amount of pain that comes by trying to deal with life without having been trained on God’s ways.

I’ll leave you with this.  I’ve been a Christian since the age of eight, and clearly God has been providing for and protecting me since then…no question.  But, I did not experience consistency in life or steady change until I got serious about spending daily time alone with the Lord.  If you do not already, I encourage you to spend a few minutes every day reading a passage from scripture, really thinking about what God is saying to you through it, and praying about it with God.  If you do not know where to start, start with the book of John.

I promise that there is nothing you can do that will have a greater impact on your life than this very simple yet difficult to stick with activity.  For me, what started as a form of sacrifice (giving up some of “my” time) has turned into a joy that I cannot imagine living without.  If it were not for this simple discipline, I would be full of knowledge, but I can’t say I would genuinely believe what God has said nor have experienced the charater change that I have.

What Does it Mean to Hear God?

Excellent question…thank you for asking! 😉

In a previous post, I introduced my view of spiritual growth, which I believe is a biblical view…please tell me if you disgaree! 

Remember there are two fundamental 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, remember the graphic we use to discuss this subject…hopefully it is an image that helps you get your arms around this subject at a high level as we dive deeper into different elements of this complex subject.

Iterative Growth Model
Iterative Growth Model

What  we want to dive a little deeper on today is the activity of hearing God

As we’ve discussed, the purpose of the iterative growth model is to help people understand what it means to grow in Christ and how we cooperate with the Spirit during the transformation process.  Knowledge, character and behavior are the what…that is, these are attributes of our person that change.  Only the Spirit can affect this change.  Hearing, believing and obeying are activities that we are responsible for and are used by the Spirit as a tool, so to speak, in our transformation.  They are the how.  Therefore, when I talk about “hearing God” in this context, I’m talking primarily about the activities we are responsible for that the Spirit uses to increase our knowledge of Him. 

My intention is not to start a debate on non-essentials such as whether or not God speaks audibly now as he did in the past; however, one essential is necessary to move forward, and that is the sole authority of Scripture.  Everything you read on this site assumes that while God may reveal Himself in many ways, there is only one source of divine authority for faith and practice: Scripture.

There are two major categories for activities related to “Hearing God”: Scripture and Non-Scripture.  Ok, I guess that was a little patronizing…but, here’s the point.  Scripture is the only authority, and everything else is subject to it; but, that is not to say that extra-biblical sources are not helpful, of course.  Otherwise, I’m wasting my time writing this and you are wasting your time reading it.  When I am discipling someone, my first goal is to get them in the Word regularly to a) establish private bible study as a discipline, joy and priviledge, and b) develop a foundational understanding of the essential doctrines of the faith tied to Scripture directly.  My second goal is to feed them extra-biblical resources that strengthen weak areas of their understanding.  In this way, I can be an effective disciple-maker without being the best teacher.  I need only be concerned with helping the disciple develop skills of discernment…measuring everything they read against what they know to be true from Scripture.  My prayer is that you are doing that very thing with everything you read from SeqHim!

What are these extra-biblical resources?  I think of them as being any media that God uses to speak to his people, outside of the Bible itself.  Yes, I do believe that God speaks to us through our conscience, and He does not need media to speak to us.  I just don’t call that a “resource”.  So, examples would include books, classes, sermons, podcasts, videos, dramas, bogs, twitter feeds, seminars, conferences, etc.

Now, relatively speaking, there is a little good stuff out there, and alot of bad stuff.  The challenge for any disciple-maker is to discern the good from the bad.  And not only that, but discern the best from the good, where the distinction between the good and the best has to do with knowing where your disciple is in his walk and the kinds of resources that would be most beneficial for him/her right now. 

The vision of SeqHim includes tools and support for helping disciples and disciple-makers discrern the good from the bad and the best from the good.  Presently, this blog (and more effectively, R2 coming in a few weeks) can be used to share opinions on the best resources.  In the future, we’ll add structure, meta-languages and enhanced search capabilities to make a personalized community ranked list of resources one click away.

I’m sure there are other good sources of info on the best resources out there…I just have not seen any that live up to the standards I have in mind.  If you know of some good ones, please let me know. 

I would love to hear your feedback on the passages of Scripture and extra-biblical resources that have had the greatest impact on your walk!

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!

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

Is Spiritual Growth really Growth of a Spirit?

Let’s now turn our attention away from why and toward how

Willohroot made the comment of the year, “I don’t know how we’re going to pull this off”.  Of course, I agree, and if you are still reading this, I’m sure you do as well.  I’m sure all of you understand that we cannot do it…that if it is going to happen, then God is going to have to do it through us.  Our job is simply to be obedient, and I can tell you unequivocally that I’m personally compelled to push forward…to do otherwise would be a violation of my conscience and probably a form of sin (Rom 14). 

What I’m going to try to do now, over the next series of posts, is walk you through what I hope is a simple progression of some rather complicated thoughts that have been simmering for close to a year now between myself and a small number of like-minded buddies.

Shifting gears from the macro-issues of the church today, let’s talk about spiritual growth.  What exactly is it?  How does it happen?  How can Christians help other Christians to grow?

What is “Spiritual” Growth?

First of all, I believe spiritual growth is a bit of a misnomer because the reality is that a believer’s spirit does not need to grow – it is already perfect.  At conversion, all of us who believe in Christ, received a new spirit…a regenerated spirit…a reborn spirit.  This spirit is perfect and is one with the Holy Spirit.  The problem is not with our spirit but with our flesh.  All of the tools God gave us to interact with one another on earth are still corrupt; i.e. our minds and all they control.  Therefore, Paul can face the dilemmna that all of us face: what I want to do, I do not do; and, what I do not want to do, I do.  The desires of our perfect spirit conflict with the desires of the flesh.  Therefore, the goal os “spiritual” growth is to tranform the flesh (or, “renew the mind”).  It is to make our flesh obedient to our spirit as a slave.  It is to understand that the flesh has no power over the spirit (it is dead), and behave accordingly.  This happens over time, as we intentionally surrender our flesh to the spirit (which is one with God’s Spirit indwelling us).

Hopefully this is all sounding quite biblical.  If not, call me on it and let’s change it.

How does Growth Happen?

After years of careful observation, I’ve concluded that there are three dimensions to genuine spiritual growth: knowledge, character, and behavior.  All believers are called to grow in their knowledge and understanding of God’s truth, transform the way we think, and become increasingly compliant to God’s standard of behavior.

Iterative Growth Model
Iterative Growth Model

I’ve also concluded that the way in which we grow along these three dimensions is by hearing, believing and obeying God.  Generally speaking, it is by hearing God that we grow in knowledge; it is by believing God that our internal thoughts and attitudes change; and, it is by obeying God that our external behaviors change. 

And, this process is iterative…you don’t go to school or bible study, learn all you can, grow to maturity in knowledge, and then begin working on your character.  Rather, we all learn a little, apply the spiritual disciplines to train our belief to some extent, and obey what we have learned and become, then repeat.  And we do this forever.  Again, I think willohroot made the point that it’s not about the destination…it’s about the journey, and I fully agree.  We can’t think of this as winning a race; it’s about running the race well and finishing strong.

How Can Believers Help Other Believers to Grow?

First of all, let me say that it’s not necessary.  There is biblical precedent for God capturing and growing His people without much help from other believers; e.g. Abraham and Noah.  The core of my own personal testimony is that God used mainly unbelievers and ‘fringe’ to drive my own growth, not by encouragement but by friction.  That said, I’ve also concluded that this is the exception and not God’s desire for His Kingdom today.  God’s desire is that his people work together to build-up the Kingdom together.

In short, I believe the most effective means of helping other believers is not to call them but to personally lead them.  It’s not to talk about it, but it is to provide them an example to follow.  And, once that example is provided, then you have the right to talk about what you are doing, why you are doing it, and give advice to another on what you think they could do to grow in the same way.  This is the essence and purpose of practical, intentional and effective one-on-one discipleship.

In the next few posts, we’ll keep diving deeper into how we can make this real together.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear your feedback on these thoughts!

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…

Zero Church Aptly Named?

A few posts ago, I alluded to a mailer I received that provided a pretty good example of a “fringe building” church rather than a “core building” church. 

Note that I have never attended this church nor do I know anything about it or their leadership…I’ve only received the mailer.  Therefore, the only comments I intend to make are about the mailer and the audience it is obviously designed to reach.

A mailer I received from Zero Church
A mailer I received from Zero Church

Here are some observations:

About Zero Church

  • “Most churches are okay, but we think…”.  In other words, if you are unhappy with the church you are currently attending, then come to zero church.  Is this church reaching out to unbelievers or to people who already have a church home but are hoping to find a church that is more entertaining?
  • “We have a talk, but no preaching.”  Can you imagine the apostle Paul or any hero of the faith telling it’s audience, “hey, i’m not here to preach…let’s just have a talk.”  God calls us to teach His Word…why are we ashamed of that?
  • “We have an offering, but not for us…”  Does this mean that 100% of what people give to zero church goes to the poor and oppressed?  If that’s true, wonderful!  But, I wonder where the money comes from to pay salaries, rent space, buy office supplies, etc?
  • “We have a band, but not much worship music”.  If it’s not worship music, then what is the purpose of the music?  Entertainment is all I can think of. 

“Talk” Series

The good thing about how this series is described is that at least the word “biblical” is included.  These topics are wonderful for a Christian counseling session.  And, believe me, I’m all for Christians helping other Christians “learn how to say no”.  But, the mission of the church is to make disciples, right?  How do these topics help us make disciples?  How do they call people to Christ?  Again, my point is not about style of worship/preaching…it’s about what the style is producing.  Series like this educate people on how to live their lives in a western materialistic culture, but they do not educate people as to their sin condition, God’s grace, genuine faith in Christ, and the ultimate importance of obedience.  People become better parents, spouses, friends, and co-workers not primarily by studying how to become a better parent, spouse, friend or co-worker…they do it primarily by learning God’s word, believing is, and obeying it.

At the end of the day, I just don’t understand why churches feel like they cannot be proud of the God we serve and that somehow God is pleased when we hide Him for the sake of “building His kingdom”.  My belief is that God does indeed save people in churches like these, but he does it despite faithless methods and not because of them.  The natural fruit of churches like these is ‘fringe’ which, as I have argued, is actually hurting the Church not building it. 

We ought to be going out into the world, sharing the good news of Christ, and serving them in His name; we should not be not pulling the lost into our communities and calling them part of the Church when God has not made them part of the Church.

I understand my stance is probably not very popular.  My intent is not to be unpopular…just aligned with the God we serve as best I can be.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and observations.