What is Our Purpose in Life?

What is the primary purpose of a man? What is their reason for being? Why are we all here? Clearly these are deep questions that have answers only God can fully understand. Though I will not pretend to answer fully in one blog post I do believe God has provided a simple view that will allow us to move forward confidently.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon struggles to answer these questions. It is the outpouring of a man who wasted the better part of his life seeking significance through what the world has to offer. His recurring mantra is “Vanity of vanities…all is vanity”, because he eventually came to understand that our significance cannot be found in anything the world has to offer. It can only be found in what God has to offer. His final conclusion is revealed in Eccl 12:13, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep his commandments, because this applies to every person.” Note that the two directives, fear God and keep His commandments, are inseparable…genuine reference for God includes obedience. Therefore, we may confidently state that our primary purpose in life is simply to demonstrate our respect of God by obeying Him.

But what would God have us to do? What does it mean to keep His commandments? Surely it does not mean simply keeping the law, for the entire New Testament is written with the view that obedience to God includes more than keeping the letter of the law. Jesus himself gives us the simplest answer when he says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.'” Matt 22:37-40. Earlier in Matthew, Jesus says, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 7:12). Toward the end of Matthew, Jesus separates those who loved Him from those who did not, and the means by which he knew who loved Him and who did not was the manner in which they treated other people (i.e. other disciples of Jesus). As if to underscore this teaching to the Galatians, Paul later adds, “the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. (Gal 5:14)

Based on these few passages plus a number of others, the principle purpose or reason for being of a human is simply to do the following:

Love God and Love Others

Love God

While true, this calling is still very abstract. How can we begin to break it down so we can keep our arms around the it yet make it more applicable to daily life? If we left it here, it would remain a Christian cliché – a mantra that people profess but do not even understand let alone live. Let’s begin by taking each part one at a time, beginning with “Love God”. Loving God can be stated simply, yet more precisely, as the following:

Hearing God, Believing God and Obeying God

That is, we love God when we listen to Him, trust Him and then obey Him. We seek specific truths of God from His Word (The Bible), we believe the truth granted to us, and we live consistent with that belief. If a person does these three things, they express love for God in its purest form. To the extent that strive to know God’s Truth through the bible, believe it to the point that we take action (rather than simple intellectual assent), and actually do what it says is the extent that we love God. When we fail to crave God’s word, believe what we know, or obey what God has said we are being unloving toward God.

Love Others

Loving other people is just as easily misunderstood. Most connect love with emotion; God connects it with sacrifice. A loving person does not simply have warm fuzzy feelings; they let go of what they have for the benefit of others, regardless of how they “feel” about them. The perfect example of love, of course, is Jesus sacrifice of Himself for those that did not love Him first. Consider the statement below as a simple refinement of the “love others” directive:

Joyfully forget yourself and focus on others forever.

There are four components intentionally includes in this phrase: joy, humility, compassion, and perseverance. It is believed that upon inspection of God’s word, loving others can be boiled down to these four major “themes”. We love others when we forget about ourselves (humililty) and focus on the needs of others (compassion) with great passion and contentment (joy) for the rest of our days (perseverance).

That is, we love others when we forget about our own needs to focus on the needs or others, and we are most supremely fulfilled doing this consistently throughout our lives.

Now, let’s connect this to the Iterative Growth Model.

People grow along three dimensions: knowledge, character, and behavior. They grow along these dimensions by hearing, believing, and obeying God iteratively and incrementally. Remember also that we briefly discussed themes. The themes are characteristics that are developed by successive iterations of hearing God, believing God and obeying God and can be considered components of knowledge, character and behavior. For example, if one theme is compassion then I can grow in my knowledge of compassion, belief that leads to compassion, and compassionate living.

Connecting the iterative growth model to loving God and loving others, the hear-believe-obey cycle directly maps to “Loving God” as described above. Similarly, the themes map directly to “love others”. There are four major themes: humility, compassion, perseverance and joy. These themes map directly to our tag line for loving others: Joyfully (joy) forget yourself (humility) and focus on others (compassion) forever (perseverance).

Therefore, because we develop joy, humility, compassion, and perseverance by hearing, believing and obeying God, one may conclude that we love others by loving God! It is by our love for God that we are able to truly love others! And so, the highest calling of a disciple, Loving God and Loving Others, can be slightly rephrased as the following

Loving others by loving God

The significance of this is important. This statement implies that we cannot love others unless we first love God. It is our love for God that empowers and even compels us to love others. More than this, love for others is evidence of a love for God. Hence, Jesus words on Matthew 25 where he states that we have loved Him when we loved others. His statement here is based on this foundational truth that God’s people, those that love him, love others – it’s just what they do. Being a disciple means accelerating this trend…forever.

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

If you are not moving forward, you are moving backward.

If You are a Butterfly, Act Like One
If You are a Butterfly, Act Like One

“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 12:2a

 

I would argue that there is a negative consequence to not renewing your mind…that is, you will be conformed to this world.

Romans 12:1-2 is a classic verse of Scripture regarding the importance of transformation in the life of every believer.  Most teachers that I have heard stress the importance of transformation in a positive sense…that is, you ought to renew your mind because then you will know God’s will more clearly.  And this is certainly true and a blessing to us.  However, I would argue that there is a negative consequence to not renewing your mind…that is, you will be conformed to this world.  I think it’s one or the other…there is no middle ground.  Each day, you either renew your mind or conform to the world.

Recently, I engaged an online “discussion” with a person who calls himself an “Agnostic Catholic”.  He grew up Catholic, adopted reformed theology, felt certain he was regenerate, then turned away from the faith and to agnosticism.  During my interaction, I renewed an old struggle with the meaning of Hebrews 5:11-6:11 and uncovered some new insights.  Once of which is relevant to this post.

I think he is saying that a person who thinks he is regenerate can fall away if he does not act like a regenerate person acts.

“For in the case of those who have once been enlightened … and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit … and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance…”  Hebrews 6:4-6 (NASB)

“But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking this way.” Hebrews 6:9 (NASB)

“And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises”. Hebrews 6:11-12 (NASB)

I’m not going to write a commentary here, nor am I trained to do so.  So, please test these thoughts in light of Scripture.  But, I think what’s going on here is that the writer is frustrated that the disciples are not pressing on toward maturity, so he issues are warning.  That warning is, “look, if you are not maturing in your faith, you are at risk of falling away and proving yourself to be a fraud.  So get in gear and press on to maturity.” 

To be clear, I don’t think the writer is saying that a regenerate person can become lost again.  I think he is saying that a person who thinks he is regenerate can fall away if he does not act like a regenerate person acts.

My salvation is not tied to my works, but my assurance certainly is.  For, if I am not acting like a believer, why should I think I am?

And, I think Peter says the same thing.  After calling the saints to maturity, Peter says this …

“Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about his calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” 1 Peter 1:10-11 (NASB)

And so, assurance of salvation is tied to maturity. If you are not pressing forward, you may indeed stumble (i.e. fall away), perhaps even to the extent that you prove that you were wrong about His “calling and choosing you” to begin with.

Have you ever interacted with someone who was a believer and now is not?  This is the first I have met…that fell as far and as hard as this.  Only God knows the condition of his heart, but it has awakened me to the reality that unless I am pressing on in maturity, I risk the same fate.  My salvation is not tied to my works, but my assurance certainly is.  For, if I am not acting like a believer, why should I think I am?

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!

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!

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.