“Then Moses said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded you to do, so that that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.” Leviticus 9:6
Holy God, it amazes me that you, in your infinite and powerful ways wants to talk to me. That the God of the universe wants me to come to you each and every day with my needs and my fears. Today I come to you with praise and thanksgiving that you love me so much. Amen
I heard a description of an early “church service” the other day. The first half was open to anyone and featured scripture reading and the teaching of the gospel. Then the pastor would call out, “the doors, the doors” and it was the message to those who were not baptized or confessed believers to leave. The doors would then be closed and the second half of the service commenced. This is when the holy gift of communicating with God began. The church membership would have an “upper room” type meeting with breaking of bread and prayer to the Most Holy One.
What I like about this is that shows reverence to the second greatest blessing God bestowed on us (the first being Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins) – a loving, two-way path communicating with God. A gift given to believers by Jesus and spurred on by the Holy Spirit that lives in the children of God. I’m not suggesting only believers should pray, it’s just an acknowledgement of the seriousness of this gift we’ve been given.
In the Bible verse today, we see the seeds of God’s desire to communicate with us in the priestly ministry of the ancients. God spoke through Moses on how to address Him through sacrifices and other holy activities. He tells the priests in training that when they take these steps, they will see God’s glory revealed to them. The same is true with the gift of prayer.
“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”Luke 11:1
The disciples, just as in Moses’ day, desired to learn how to communicate with God. How to open up the heavens so they could see the glory of the One Almighty. And so Jesus taught them the prayer I mentioned yesterday, what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” It starts with reverence, placing God in our hearts and minds rightly where He belongs. It moves on to acknowledging God as the provider of all our needs and our submission to Him. We then ask for forgiveness and to forgive others. And finally for daily guidance.
The gift of prayer is God’s message to us that we are not believers of a god who is unable to do all things, or a god who can’t be trusted, or a god to whom we need to beg to hear us. Before we pray we need to be fully informed of how we view Him. If we don’t believe He is merciful then we might believe He will punish us if we bring our sins to Him. Our prayers should always include a request for wisdom about Him so that when He answers our prayer – which He always does – we will understand the answer and see the glory in His ways.
Today, I want to leave you with this beautiful prayer from King David showing us how to glorify and praise God in all His magnificent ways.
1 You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
3 Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
4 I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
6 On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
7 Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
8 I cling to you;
your right hand upholds me.
9 Those who want to kill me will be destroyed;
they will go down to the depths of the earth.
10 They will be given over to the sword
and become food for jackals.
11 But the king will rejoice in God;
all who swear by God will glory in him,
while the mouths of liars will be silenced.
“For all the promises of God find their yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”2 Corinthians 1:20
Perfect and majestic Father! How is it that you open your heavens, reach down and invite us in to your perfect world each and every minute of every day? I don’t want to miss a chance to say “yes!” back to you when you put out your glorious hand to me. Holy Spirit, I RSVP today to you, “Yes and Amen!”
A few weeks ago, my church was studying Proverbs 27 and the theme of friendship which runs throughout it. It hit me how God is always inviting us into relationships that mirror what He wants with us. Jesus, himself, changed the status of His relationship with the disciples in John 15:15 when he said, “No longer do I call you servants…but I have called you friends.”
The role that Jesus plays in the work of the Trinity allows us to create a personal relationship with the most holy of all holies – God almighty. In fact, a few of my friends who have spent years in Christian denominations where fearing God the Father is placed higher than other parts of the Trinity, recently discovered that it’s this close, personal friendship with the Lord that has brought them farther along in their sanctification.
God knows the value of friendships. He has defined what a healthy, beautiful friendship is through His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus provided gentle honesty, selfless attentiveness, stubborn loyalty, and intentional pursuit. He didn’t overlook sin and He didn’t call out sin without love. He doesn’t lie to us or betray us.
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”Proverbs 27:17
Jesus didn’t meet a couple of guys, sit around having a beer listening to their woes and their sins then sign off for the day with a “see ya!” He invested. He pursued. He sharpened. Isn’t it amazing that God wants this type of relationship with little ‘ole us?
The sermon that day about friendship featured a pin drop moment. The pastor said, “Me and Jesus, it isn’t enough.” The crowd was silent. We’ve always heard that’s all we need, right? But we were made to be loved and to love. We were made to be in communion with other believers; to be friends, loyal, intentional and wise. We know that because it’s what God wants with us and models for us.
Friend, today ask the Holy Spirit to put someone on your heart to reach out to. Someone that you need to make an effort to get to know. Let’s honor and glorify God by making a new friend to whom we can sharpen and they will sharpen us, in His name.
From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier 4 and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.Genesis 13:3-4
I heard a great sermon the other day about Genesis 13. I love how God lets us view people in the Bible with an almost cinematic touch. We reach deep into their thoughts, their trials, their sins, their joys. We can sit back and know they are about to fail or conquer. But like any good director, God places seemingly insignificant artifacts and occurrences into the story that, in order to get the beautiful breadth of the story we need to look again and dig deeper.
That’s the advantage of being in a church which hosts a good teaching pastor. They find the nuggets and carefully remove the outer layers, revealing the gems.
And so, I learned the other day about Bethel. About coming home. About retracing my steps to bring me back closer to God. Two little sentences in the Bible showing me where to go when I feel lost. When I have gone off track. I praise God today for Bethel – for His welcoming home.
Many years ago, I wrote a short poem for my mother in law. The gist of the poem was that like a bird finds its comfort in a beautiful birdhouse, so I find my home with her. A lot of people feel that way around her. She brings you in and gives you rest and comfort. In Abram’s case, after he had made some disastrous decisions while in Egypt, he made the wise choice to go back to God’s house – Bethel. It’s where he had built the first altar to honor God.
He didn’t just show up there, he entered back into communication with God. And he was surely welcomed.
Our human nature is to grow up and out of our parents’ homes. To plunge into the world of adulthood, seemingly going it alone. But for many who come from loving, healthy homes they know they can always come back for advice and aid.
Our relationship with God is unique. He wants us always tethered to Him. He desires to be constantly asked about who to marry, where to work, how to handle difficult relationships. He wants us to join His home gym, giving us strength to make it through trials and tribulations. He longs to have us sit around His dinner table sharing our day – our joys and our pains.
And when we wander too far away, we need to remember to retrace our steps. We need to follow our hearts back to Bethel.
After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Luke 2:46
“The teacher encourages the student morphs – moth to beauteous butterfly soars”
Mala Naidoo, author
When God directed me to start the Emboldened blog He also led me to a few simple quotes to put on the homepage. I didn’t know at the time one day I’d be using those quotes for this week’s study on Jesus and His teaching nature! Of the few quotes He led me to, I included this one by Joyce Meyer:
“If you leave church and are not convicted, asking questions, or emboldened then either you are at the wrong church or you weren’t paying attention.”
How many times have you left church and within an hour couldn’t remember what the sermon was about? You couldn’t even pull up the general topic in your memory?
I recently heard someone say that we don’t go to church to sit and put in our “dues” to God. It’s where we should 1) be rejuvenated for the mission and 2) get more training for the mission. And the second we leave the doors of our “God classroom” we should be at the ready to embark on the commission which Jesus gave us in Matthew 28:19. When church becomes a place where we leave just feeling like that was a “nice” experience, at best, or an obligation, at worst, we owe it to our personal faith progression to re-evaluate the situation.
When I started going to church my family ended up at a large Presbyterian church nearby. The pastor was just what I needed at the time. He was more counselor than teacher. And when I left each Sunday I felt he had really spoken to the problems I was having and reminded me that God loved me. The sermons were light on scripture, maybe one or two mentioned, and heavy on personal stories. But I soon found that sole message to be not quite enough. I wanted to know more. And the “teaching” sermons were what I gobbled up. As my husband can attest, I’m very curious. He constantly reminds me that I like to ask questions that seem to have no answers.
As a developing Christian, we should all be asking questions about God. If this “almighty being” is to be the center of our universe, the touchstone for how we live our lives, and the message we herald, shouldn’t we know everything we can know so we are prepared when sin enters our sphere? So we can be prepared when a seeking, fellow man starts asking us questions?
From learner to teacher. That’s exactly the path Jesus took. Here’s the rest of the scene when Jesus’ parents found him, as a boy, in the temple courts.
"Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers." Luke 2:47
And so, I constantly seek to learn more about this awesome God. At the beginning of this year my husband and I were directed to a new church. My son-in-law and his friend host a Christian men’s podcast called “Supplement the Faith.” They heard on a local St. Louis radio station a show called “Core Christianity.” The main host is Pastor Adriel Sanchez, who unbeknownst to me at the time, is a pastor in my town. They raved about his sound, Christian doctrine and told us we had to go check him out.
And so we went. The music was not my favorite – very simple and traditional hymns. The style of service was more formal than I was used to. But when Pastor Adriel gave his sermon I realized I was listening to a teaching pastor. That day, my church “program” was scribbled all over with notes!
In a brief period of time, I’ve learned a lot from and about Pastor Adriel. He and his beautiful wife have four little children with another on the way. This young pastor, who has led his fairly recently planted church for only about seven years, can be heard on the radio and podcast throughout the world via Core Christianity – which is a question and answer format. His youthfulness stands in contrast to his calm, confident poise. I recently asked Pastor Adriel if he’d be willing, in his busy schedule, to talk about his pastoral style.
And if you are on your faith journey toward learning more about His Word, I encourage you to tune in to either Pastor Adriel’s sermons at North Park Presbyterian (PCA) or the Core Christianity podcast. The questions asked on the podcast might just be something you get asked one day!
Kris: You seem to be drawn toward being more of a “teaching” type pastor than say a “counselor” type. How do you think you developed that style?
Pastor Adriel: I have a firm conviction that from the pulpit my job is to communicate God’s word clearly, and seek to apply it to the folks that God has entrusted to my care. Teaching or explaining the Bible is really important to me because I know that God’s word is the source of life. I do seek to provide biblical wisdom or counsel at times – but often that happens in the context of one on one conversations within the church.
K: Who are your favorite Christian authors/pastors?
PA: I love reading the Christian classics. St. Augustine’s Confessions, Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, Calvin’s Institutes, C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I nerd out on church history, so I really enjoy reading the early church fathers. As far as living authors are concerned, I like books by theologians like Michael Horton, and pastors like Tim Keller.
K: What got you involved in doing Core Christianity and the podcast?
PA: One of my seminary professors invited me to be on a podcast he had hosted for decades called the White Horse Inn. Over time, we started thinking about a new project that would reach a broader audience helping them to understand the core doctrines of Christianity. A lot of research has come out recently highlighting how little Christians know about their faith – so this was a huge need. Our goal has been to answer basic listener questions about the Bible and the Christian life, and in the process to point folks to Jesus and his gospel. As we grow in our understanding of God’s word, we’re enabled to love and serve God better.
K: What do you like most about doing the podcast?
PA: I love the live element. I think it makes the show exciting, because we can’t really anticipate what kind of call we’re going to get. As a pastor, I also love it when I’m able to answer a question for someone and I can tell audibly that they’re encouraged by God’s word.
K: What are the most frequent topics you get asked?
PA: Questions related to marriage, assurance of salvation, finding a good church, and how to properly apply God’s law are common from our audience. Depending on what’s going on in our broader society, we also will get questions on current events.
K: What question have you gotten that “stumped” you? And what was the funniest question?
PA: Never been stumped! Just kidding. Actually, sometimes we get very obscure Bible questions, or questions for which there is no clear biblical answer. I find those questions to be the most difficult to handle. As far as the funniest question we’ve received… not long ago someone asked if there were fish on the ark too. That one made me chuckle.
K: Which book of the Bible do you enjoy teaching the most and why?
PA: I find that whichever book I am preaching through tends to become my favorite book for that season. Believe it or not, I had a ton of fun preaching through Leviticus a couple of years back. I also really enjoy preaching through the Gospels. I preached through Mark early in my ministry, and like to revisit the Gospels from time to time in-between other books.
K: Which book seems to be the most misunderstood?
PA: As I field questions about the Bible, I think one book that’s frequently misunderstood is Galatians. Many believers don’t have a proper understanding of the distinction between the law, and the gospel, and they struggle to understand how God’s law (and various OT commandments) are to be applied today. Galatians is helpful because it speaks to this kind of problem.
K: Do you see value in studying the entire Bible — not just the New Testament — and why?
PA: Absolutely. Jesus said in John 5 that Moses wrote of him, and in Luke 24 that the entire Bible was about him. The entire Bible gives us a glorious picture of redemptive history, and each story in that history is meant to instruct us in one way or another (1 Cor. 10:11). If you don’t study the Old Testament, you’ll miss out on so many of the riches in the New Testament, and you’ll miss out on Jesus as he’s revealed in the types and shadows of the Old Covenant.
K: What are your overall personal goals as a pastor for say the next 5 years? 10 years?
PA: Honestly, I just want to be a good husband, a good dad, and a faithful pastor. My goal is to grow in that for the next 5-10 years.
Thank you to Pastor Adriel for his time! Whether it be through a teaching pastor, Bible study groups/individual, Christian authors, a radio show or Christian podcast, these days we have so many resources at our fingertips to get to know God. As Christians, we must make it a priority to place this knowledge of His ways firmly at the forefront of our lives.
I wanted to leave you today with this quote about being a learning and then teaching Christian:
He who asks will have; what more did he ask for? But he who seeks will go further; he will find, will enjoy, will grasp, and will know that he has obtained. He who knocks will go further still, for he will understand, and to him will the precious thing be opened. He will not merely have the blessing and enjoy it, but he will comprehend it.
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” John 16:12
Having successfully weaved my way through 13 years of public school and 5 years of college I look back and can see so many of my teachers’ faces. Each face that passes through my memory comes with its own set of feelings. The teacher who bored me to death in basic high school science, the chemistry teacher who explained chemical components through ballet moves, the college humanities professor who seemed to feel teaching was beneath him, and the hard-nosed journalism professor who demanded perfection and awarded it handsomely.
We all are the recipients of teaching in some form or another – life skills, religious, formal education, even hobbies. It’s interesting then, that Jesus chose this method, being a teacher, as His style to bring the message of salvation to us all.
“But having considered the whole situation (how to best approach the world), he said, “No, I will not do what others have done, I will choose the slow and toilsome way; I will not cut the knot, I will untie it; I will not push the world, I will draw it; I will not subdue the world by military methods, I will heal it by the sympathy of human hearts.”
Charles Jefferson, The Character of Jesus
On paper, His methodology was sure to fail. By the end of His time on Earth Jesus could count about 120 disciples. You would expect more from the Son of God. This small cadre of devout followers was to spread the message throughout the entire world? And yet, here we sit thousands of years later reading His Words. Soaking up His teachings. Setting our lives out each day on the path He has instructed. No one in the history of the world has had as much influence from so little time teaching.
But Jesus was no ordinary teacher of course. He perfected the art of being a patient teacher. He didn’t start out putting fliers around town calling the masses to a class on How to Avoid Adultery or the 10 Steps to Servanthood. He quietly began calling individuals. And sitting with them in one-on-one mentoring. He took our first three Jesus Mindset traits – loving friend, humble servant, confident warrior – and used them to tailor His words to each person’s needs.
One of my favorite teaching moments comes when the respected Pharisee, Nicodemus, came to Jesus secretly one night to learn more about Jesus’ message.
““How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:1-8
He then goes on to slightly rebuke this great “teacher” of Israel for not understanding the true message of God’s will. And a rebuke is fair, given the man’s standing and role. Yet when Jesus talked to everyday people, He tailored His teaching to their station. And through watching His behavior with others or through the use of everyday circumstances He gave time for the “ah ha” moments to sink in.
All successful and great pastors are, of course, of some teaching variety. If you read or follow on social media or podcasting various pastors you will find, however ones who want you to understand the many almost hidden aspects of the Bible. It is the “teaching” pastor that emphasizes the context of a passage and the connections to other places within the Bible. They craftily lay out the message they wish to get across and slowly bring you through each point, each verse, each Bible story so you see the big picture of God at work. For when we know of the 1,000s of connections from story to book, prophecies that came true, and the culture behind certain actions we get a greater understanding of God’s character. They know their audiences – the novice Christian, the well-versed, the Bible educated and even the seeking.
This is not to say that other pastoral styles are any less in quality or success. There are pastors who have more of a counseling nature. Or, like in our previous Jesus Mindset post on being a loving friend, ones like Max Lucado who remind us through various Bible lessons of God’s love.
And for the “regular” Christian we too will approach the world with slightly different styles when spreading the Good News of the gospel. The underlining Jesus trait however, is the desire to impart the majesty and glory of God and the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ.
This week I’ll highlight a young pastor who is teacher through and through. You’ll notice I said young. A teacher of the Word comes in many forms – not just old wizened ones! And we’ll also delve into Bible studies and groups, leading them and what you should be getting out of them.
We are all teachers in one form or another. Whether we teach through example or through words, there are always people watching and listening. We may not all reach the point where we feel comfortable teaching others the Word but with patience and diligence, we can all get to a place where we can be knowledgeable enough to contribute to others’ learning. It is our responsibility as members of Jesus’ cadre of students – grown from the 120 to millions – to continue His slow and steady work of bringing more people to the wisdom and love of God.
10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” Matthew 13:10-12
“At this they tried to seize Him but no one laid a hand on Him because His hour had not come.” John 7:30
“Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” Exodus 6:22
My church is in the midst of a study of Genesis and a few weeks ago we landed on the story of Noah. Christians and non-Christians alike are very familiar with this famous Bible story. How often do we see cute children’s books, artwork, decorations that take up this story showing all the cute animals piled into a tiny boat riding out the storm with a rainbow overhead?
During the sermon I was struck with the thought that this is not a sweet story at all. It’s a story of total depravity on the part of man versus the faith of one warrior for God. The face-off between a world bathing in the flesh and one, lonely soul swimming against that tide. The ark was a last chance lifeboat built by a soldier, an obedient servant who loved God.
For anyone who has ever seen the movie, “Evan Almighty” – a theatrical depiction of a modern-day Noah – the result of being a warrior for God, even a reluctant one, is shown in all its technicolor truth. Friends, family, neighbors, the media, and even the government may come against us.
“When you give your best to the Lord, it’s not unusual to be criticized by people who ought to encourage you. Moses was criticized by his brother and sister. David by his wife, and Mary of Bethany by an apostle.”
Warren Wiersbe commentary on 1 Samuel
During the extreme lockdowns of 2020 there were many “warriors for God” who found themselves on the receiving end of much criticism from Christians and non-Christians. Pastors and even Catholic bishops who insisted that churches needed to remain open and serve their flocks were impugned by church authority, the media, non-believers, and parishioners. In some states the government brought the full force of the law down with arrests and extravagant fines.
Now, some might still say churches should’ve been closed to protect people from illness. But these flock protectors felt called by God to bring healing to people’s hearts and minds and souls. Church attendance has never been a requirement for anyone. And they believed those who needed church should be allowed to partake in its offerings. Parallel arguments about keeping people from getting sick included the admonishment to obey governments based on Romans 13. And yet the clarification of hierarchy of obedience is spelled out in Acts 5.
"The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” Acts 5:27-29
About a few months into the lockdowns, I started seeing a confident warrior for God pop up in my Instagram feed. This young man had originally run for a state office in Northern California. He ran as a conservative Christian in a heavily liberal area and lost. I had donated a small amount to his campaign about a year before and had apparently “followed” his account. He is a musician by trade, a devout family man, and a fervent follower of Christ.
And when our churches shut down in California, he stepped out onto a stage bigger than he’d ever imagined. Compelled by visions given by God, he would show up at a beach with a local pastor, his family, a few other musicians and put on a revival meeting of sorts. As word grew, each time he held a “Christ concert” more people would find their way to listen. More people asked to be baptized in the cold ocean waters. And more people started harassing them. And fines by local authorities started piling up. And he wouldn’t stop.
You may have heard by now about Sean Feucht and his merry band of “Let Us Worship” team. They’ve since led large worship services all over the United States, including Washington DC. Sean may have lost a politician’s job but he gained so much more. Throughout the pandemic their small pastoral team helped lead thousands to give up fleshly addictions and find Christ. All the while, others would show up at these events screaming demonic words, throwing blood on them and even accosting his pregnant wife.
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Matthew 4:10
I can only imagine how many times Sean and his family have reminded themselves of this statement by Jesus to Satan. I’ve watched the videos of Sean’s meetings in Portland and Seattle. It’s some of the most disturbing things I have seen in terms of demonic possession of people. You may raise an eyebrow at that statement but truly, I have never seen anything like it.
Sean is just a man. A man with a family to protect. A man who is trying to make his way through this world just like you and me. He didn’t start serving the Lord suddenly during the pandemic, he has a quiet history of spreading God’s Word including countries outside the United States. He has led missionary trips to Afghanistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. He is obviously a man used to trusting God. And isn’t it fascinating to know that he went to those dangerous places to share the gospel seemingly as preparation to lead thousands into worship in a “safe” place like the United States?
We won’t all be warriors for God just like Sean but every person who chose to attend one of his meetings during these difficult times was a warrior in their own way. Today, every person who hears God’s urging to step out in faith and stand for Him takes up the armor and can call themselves a warrior. We have a lot of good soldiers who have paved the way for us, to drawn on how they trusted God to protect them until their time was done.
As God always does, He has placed quite a lot of podcasts, sermons, and Bible studies in front of me in the last few weeks on this very character trait of Jesus. I wanted to share with you a prayer from Sparkling Gems from the Greek to help spur our warrior character on.
Lord, help me start seeing myself as a might soldier in the army of God. You have provided every weapon I need to prevail against the enemies that come against my life, my family, my business, my friends and my church. I want to stand tall and firm against the wicked plots the devil tries to exert against people’s lives whom I love and need. Holy Spirit, give me the power and strength I need to successfully resist every attack and to drive all dark forces from my life and from the lives of those close to me! I pray this in Jesus’ name!
We, therefore, desire to copy his character and put our feet into his footprints. Be it ours to follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. What saith our Lord himself? “Follow me,” and again, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Not Christ’s apostle, but Christ himself, is our guide; we may not take a secondary model, but must imitate Jesus himself.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5
Many years ago, I had the benefit of listening to a sermon series on our progression as a disciple of Christ. I have heard many pastors say there’s too many of us Christians who seem stuck at the beginning of that progression and aren’t fully living the life Christ wants for us.
It may even come as a surprise to some that there is an expected “progression” in our faith lives. We assumed that once we accepted Jesus as our Savior we’re done. We are able to check off that box on the questionnaire asking what our faith is: Christian.
"But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:16
We all have probably heard the above verse a few times in our Christian lives. But reading the entire chapter reveals something even more. The progression.
"When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power." 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
The apostle Paul himself explains that when he first came to the people of Corinth He came with the first step in the progression – the message of Jesus’ love for us. That He died for us. He rose again for us. Paul goes on to say:
"We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature." 1 Corinthians 2:6
The mature. Who among your faith group would you deem “mature” in their faith? Who among them would you deem a “baby Christian?” And where do you count yourself? This is not asked in judgment. All who are saved are equally loved by God. But you can probably tell the difference between people who are further along in their faith progression and those that aren’t. And it has nothing to do with age. The sign of a maturing Christian is that they’ve received the gift and have actually opened the box and are using it.
So what is this progression? In the sermon series I mentioned, these steps were defined as:
Believer – Mark 9:23
Follower – Luke 9:23
Apprentice – Ephesians 4:14
Learner – Philippians 4:9
Jesus Himself shows us this progression as He lived out those three world-changing years.
Step 1) The Loving and Faithful Friend
Step 2) The Obedient Servant
Step 3) The Courageous Warrior
Step 4) The Patient Teacher
Step 5) The Wise Counselor
Throughout this series, the Jesus Mindset, we will meet people – some famous and some very ordinary– who exemplify the different steps in the faith journey. And it is only correct to start with the first step. Lest we think we have step one down pat I should warn you that so many Christians remain in step one because of the difficult truths and expectations presented. It is the message we hear over and over in our churches. It is the first and the last message Christ has for us, which makes it the most important of all.
“As the Father loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” John 15:9
When I was researching various pastors who make love and friendship a cornerstone of their message I realized I had an old friend already in my midst waiting to talk to me again. As I perused through my Christian books I stopped on, “How Happiness Happens,” by Max Lucado.
Pastor Lucado probably needs no introduction. He is an internationally known pastor, author, speaker and more. He’s written too many books and articles to count. And the theme throughout is love. How to accept Christ’s love. And how to show love not just to our friends but to complete strangers. He reminds us that Jesus is our loving and faithful friend and wants us to model that character trait to everyone we meet. When you read about Pastor Lucado you see his lifelong mission is to set solidly in our hearts the message of God’s love for us. He shows us how to translate that great gift to others.
“I’m a pastor. I can sit down with somebody who has a broken heart and love them and encourage them and remind them of how God cares. But I struggle when I look at a budget. Or I struggle when somebody says, ‘Well, what’s the long-term strategy for our church?’ Well, I don’t know. I guess we’ll see. Let’s love God, preach Jesus, and pray.”
Max Lucado on his leadership style
So much of what Pastor Lucado speaks of seems simple. And yet, I find myself day in and day out forgetting to live out the simple messages.
“Greet one another for your sake. Experience the joy of showing people they matter. Greet each other for their sake. What is small to you may be huge to them. Most of all greet each other for Jesus’ sake.”
Max Lucado, “How Happiness Happens”
How often do we go through an entire day and find ourselves never having truly connected with another human being?
“Listen intently and praise abundantly.”
Max Lucado, “How Happiness Happens”
Isn’t that what Jesus did throughout His ministry? You can only imagine how the woman at the well in John 4:1-26 felt when Jesus was with her. He wasn’t looking over her shoulder at a bird or cute dog while she spoke. He wasn’t thinking about the next town He was to visit or His next meal. He saw her. He listened to her. He loved her even when she pushed Him away.
It’s definitely easier to live out the Jesus Mindset of being a loving and faithful friend with people we choose to be around. We pick our friends and we even pick who in our family we spend more time with. We are deliberate with whom we ask to go to lunch at work. But Jesus loved the unlovable. He touched the untouchable.
“You wonder why God doesn’t remove the enemies in your life? Perhaps because he wants you to love like he loves. Anyone can love a friend, but only a few can love an enemy.”
Isn’t this where so many of us get stuck? We count ourselves, “good people” or “good Christians” and yet we harbor, at best unforgiveness, and at worst hatred for people.
I grew up in a household where unforgiveness and hatred ran deep. I had a parent who judged harshly and never forgave. People and places got etched into stone on “The List.” That was my touchstone, my guidebook. So when I started hearing the message of God’s love, faithfulness and forgiveness it was difficult to accept. The first step was to believe God felt that way toward me. And to be honest, I find myself frequently falling backward into not returning those gifts to others.
The lessons and examples from Pastor Lucado are great every day reminders on living out Jesus’ request of us to love one another.
“God is love” (1 John 4:16). One word into the passage reveals the supreme surprise of God’s love—it has nothing to do with you. Some people love you because of you. Not God – He loves you because He is He.
Isn’t that amazing? Wouldn’t you agree that most of the people in your life love you because of who you are to them? A daughter or son, a wife or husband, a longtime friend with similar interests, and so on. We may even find ourselves saying we love a person who is related to us but we don’t like them very much. It’s all conditional. But God loves us because He is love. Let’s not just gloss over that. Take a moment to really let it sink in. He is the definition of love. Like a cloud of love envelopes us and snuggles us wherever we go!
I saw a picture the other day of a woman at the store who had created a contraption designed to keep people six feet away from her. It involved a hula hoop, straps, signs, warning reflectors and more. When I saw this I thought, “that’s the exact opposite message of Jesus.” His cloud of love surrounding us is more like a fog bank — it pulls others in and seeps into everything. It quiets the world around us.
Today, when you go out into the world, picture your God cloud swirling around you. It’s beautiful and inviting. Its little tendrils reach out and wrap around others you meet. Invite them in with a smile, a greeting, a shrug of forgiveness. With each act of love we a do a bit of cloud seeding — leaving a piece of Jesus to grow.
That ye be not slothful, but followers
of them who through faith and patience
inherit the promises.Hebrews 6:12
I don’t typically pull Bible verses from the King James version. But in one of my devotionals this version of Hebrews 6:12 was the focus of that day’s study. It got me thinking about my own faith and where I stand with “slothfulness.”
When you hear that word “sloth” you probably think of the lazy animal, hanging out in a tree accomplishing next to nothing all day. Yet slothfulness is not the same as being lazy – which is how the word is translated in the New International Version. In fact, the word “slothful” in Greek is quite different. And in the context of the verse in Hebrews it means to not allow our faith to become monotonous or without a blazing flame.
Slothful: nōthrós – slow, sluggish; monotonous
For many Christians we say we are religious because we attend church regularly. We get up Sunday morning, find our usual spot to park at church, listen to a sermon, sing a few familiar songs, and look forward to the donut or muffin on the way out. We might chat with a few friends then head to whatever else we have on our plate for the day. We can check off our “faith” for that week. We might even go to a Bible study during the week to put another tick mark on our “faithful” list.
And for you overachieving, super involved Christians, it’s interesting to note that the author of my devotional is an accomplished author, missionary and evangelist. He realized he was a good “worker” for God. But somewhere along the line it became just that – work.
But what God wants of us is deep, passionate faith. And if you already have that – awesome! I hope you will still enjoy what is to come in my Fresh Fire posts!
He wants us to be in love with Him. He wants us to be eager to speak with Him and to be sad if we don’t feel His presence. He wants us to stand for Him in the face of those who would speak against Him. He wants us to seek the opportunities to speak about His glorious promises. He wants us to remove all spiritual neutrality and instead burn red-hot for His message of love, forgiveness, redemption and salvation!
My son-in-law once shared with me Charles Spurgeon’s compilation of prayers called, “Spurgeon on Prayer and Spiritual Warfare.” I soon got my own copy and was amazed with the fervor level of his sermons. There’s nothing slothful about Mr. Spurgeon! I wanted to share this excerpt about praying with a blazing heart:
“I would that some of you prayed more vehemently! “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matt 11:12) An old Puritan said, “Prayer is a cannon set at the gate of heaven to burst open its gates.” You must take the city by storm if you would have it. You will not ride to heaven on a feather-bed, you must go on pilgrimage; there is no going to the land of glory while you are sound asleep, dreamy sluggards will have to wake up in hell. If God has made you to feel in your soul the need of salvation, cry like one who is awake and alive; be in earnest; cry aloud; spare not.
Charles Spurgeon, The Raven’s Cry
Whew! I get exhausted each time I read that! And yet, during the “Great Covid Pandemic” I watched friends’ faith fall by the wayside. They were comfortable with sitting in their PJs watching a church video and nothing more. I also watched others be lifted to higher heights. Their Bible study life became daily and hour-long. Their prayers became constant and vibrant! Their work of sanctification grew by leaps and bounds! I have written before that I believe a great sifting has occurred. Those who choose to be “slothful” in their faith will continue to slide out of a relationship with Jesus. But we don’t want to be lost into the world.
For five weeks, I’ll share 25 verses about strong, energetic, and passionate faith. A few may feel familiar but my hope is that most will be something new. Because that’s what this series is about – stripping away the “usual” and monotonous and injecting a bit of new fire.
God’s promises are so much more beautiful and glorious than anything the world can ever offer. It’s up to us to grab hold of our faith with renewed vigor and fire. It’s up to us to burn in passion for our Lord.
Here’s the prayer from that day’s devotional about slothfulness. I hope you pray it as a stepping off point for the study!
“Lord, help me understand how totally unacceptable it is for me to lose my passion, momentum and desire. I ask you to forgive me for allowing any hint of slothfulness to operate in my life. Today I repent and deliberately turn from slothfulness. Holy Spirit, I turn to you now and ask you to stir and reignite the fire in my heart. Please help me regain the zeal, the thrust and the fire I once possessed. Help me to keep that fire burning this time, never to lose it again. I pray this is Jesus’ name!”
This letter was written May 2020 after a number of attempts to sit down with my pastor or even an assistant pastor about my concerns over closing up our churches. Instead I was met with silence. Absolute silence. You see, I believe Christians are being put to the test. God’s threshing room is operating at full throttle. The wheat and chaff are being separated.
In conversations with my Christian and non-Christian friends I have made this argument: When a corporation, charity, educational institution, government, mother/father, pilot, pastor, soldier, or whatever job you can think of forgets what their primary, intended purpose is they go astray. Christian churches’ primary purpose is to bring the Word of God to people who need to hear it. It is to have Christians and searching non-Christians be in communion with each other to praise God for our salvation. It is to serve God and God’s people. The primary purpose is NOT to keep people from catching a virus. Now, that doesn’t mean that safety and security are thrown out the window. Just like our schools, whose primary purpose is to teach our children — not keep them from catching a virus — our churches must stay focused on God’s plan. I laud those corporations and small businesses who have not forgotten their primary purpose — to bring goods to customers. Somehow they have figured out how to also keep their customers and employees safe. Christian churches should place themselves at least on the same plane as Costco or Walmart. I, for one, think our churches have a much greater role to play in God’s universe.
After I sent this letter to my church and church leaders I waited for the storm to come. And it did. I found it interesting that the people we all see as “plugged in” at our churches were the most offended. In fact, I was told by one that Satan was working in me. I also got the “who do you think you are?” But it was regular, church-going people who spoke to me with shouts of “hallelujah!” We “regular Christians” are begging for communion. We NEED each other. We need to see each other raising our hands to God in praise. If you are a pastor and reading this, we need you.
“I told my friend today that I’m about to commit a “Jerry Maguire.” For those of you who haven’t seen the movie here’s what I mean. Jerry, a sports agent at a large firm, has a “come to Jesus” moment one night about the nature of his business and how it has become de-personalized. He writes a manifesto and shares it with all his colleagues. And while they all think what he says is great, they turn against him, shunning him.
My manifesto is not about a job, it’s about Faith, or the lack of it from our churches. In these uncertain times we have allowed Satan to use all his dirty tricks against us. And we have willingly followed him like the Pied Piper. We have failed at God’s biggest test since Jesus’ crucifixion. And we’ve failed gloriously. We have been Judas in the garden willingly pointing out the rule breakers. We are Peter denying Christ out of fear of punishment.
Just as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:14, the devil has masqueraded as an angel of light. His deception has been as cunning as with Eve. Our churches have closed and our pastors have hidden away under the guise of “saving people.” We have allowed the realm of worldliness to define the role the church plays in our Christian lives. We have deemed ourselves “non-essential.” All the while our role of bringing people to the one true Savior has diminished. We are no longer in the business of saving souls.
In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul says he will keep on with his ministry in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about – saving people. He goes on to say, “For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. Unlike today’s churches, Paul describes the Macedonian churches as giving everything they had during severe trial just for the joy and privilege of sharing in the service for the Lord’s people. We can count on one or two hands the churches in the news that have shown this same fervent love for the gospel.
But what have been Satan’s works? I’m sure if you’ve read to this point you have already spoken a few of them in rebuttal. Let’s start with the most prevalent. Romans 13 clearly convicts us to obey the government because they rule only under God’s authority. Rebelling against authority is considered rebelling against God. So therefore, when the State tells churches they must close, we must obey. Ah, but the devil loves to cherry pick scripture. What he has done here is take advantage of the Christian desire to do what is right, to follow laws, and to be good citizens. What he doesn’t want you to do is dig deeper. Is the law just in the first place, in the eyes of God? Backing up to Acts 5 we see the apostles being persecuted for performing signs and wonders among the people. The Pharisees were angry and claimed the law prohibited them from teaching. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in his name,” the Sanhedrin says in verse 28. And the apostles’ response? “We must obey God rather than human beings.” (v29). Where were our major denominations at the outset of our shut down standing firm that churches are essential? Where was their conviction that God calls us into service during times of trouble? And where have they been since? It’s one thing for a church to have said on the outset of the shut down, “Let’s close for a couple of weeks and see what this is all about. We will clean our facilities and come up with safe practices. And then open.” But allowing government to tell us that we are not even allowed to do that goes not just against one of the basic rights of this country but of God’s laws.
But what is wrong with keeping people healthy? You now entered into Satan’s second lie. To accept this premise, you have to believe that our churches are irresponsible, unnecessary and incapable of keeping people safe while attending church. Somehow, we have a greater respect for our grocery store management than for our church management. I laud those few pastors who have found creative ways to do church – beyond the impersonal video exchange. Drive through confessionals, drive up church, drive through prayer time, and more. The bold few have even ripped the veil off one of Satan’s other lies – that going to church is somehow not a choice. So, they open their churches to anyone who chooses to attend. Do they still adhere to safe practices, of course, because God doesn’t call Christians to be stupid. He calls us to trust and to obey Him. Why have we expected more from Walmart than from our church? Why have we put ourselves on equal footing with our gyms?
Even our most trusted faith leaders have failed us. While they preach on trusting God, they cower behind their computer screens. Where is the trust? Where is the bold faith? Where is the healing of lepers and of the sick? Where is the knowledge and belief that God is in our midst? Who do you think God is smiling on – the church that closes and locks their doors or the church that is open to the sick, the anxious, the scared, the homeless, the alcoholic, the abused, the weak and the poor? The other lie Satan tells us is that living in our impersonal, technology connected faith, God’s work is full, is enough. We say things like, isn’t great we can connect with missionaries across the world during this time? Isn’t’ amazing how we can still be together through a video screen? If that were true, then why didn’t the apostles just rely on letters to the churches? Why did they feel the need to enter into cities that were sure to persecute them, sure to throw them in jail? Where are the pastors who say as Peter and John, who after laying hands on a lame man cured him, said to the Sanhedrin, “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man is healed.” Yes, technology is great for those who can’t be with us. But we’ve preached and preached over the last few years about the dangers of relying on technology and becoming less connected rather than more. And what about the supposed connections we’ve made? Besides videos, have our churches and our denominations reached out regularly to their parishioners via phone calls, letters, etc? Have they been regular guests on news shows teaching about ways to ease our anxieties? Have our pastors personally reached out to people who have reached out to them about their concerns? And what about the non-members that attend our churches? How have those people been personally connected? What about the non-believer who one night, feels called by the Holy Spirit to enter a church and hear the Word?
You see, the devil has used our goodness, our desires to do the right thing against us. It’s time to gird our loins with Truth. God does not want our churches locked. He does not want us hiding in fear. He wants those doors thrown open. He wants us to welcome all who are lost, who are lonely, who are fearful, and who are spiritually sick. We must stop allowing Satan to define God’s mission for us. As my friend once said to me, “This should be a pastor’s ‘jam’.” Meaning this time in the world is when the fight between dark and light should be most obvious. It’s what we have been training for. It’s the time to call for peace in His arms, for faith in His words, for trust in His love. “
Here’s the thing about what happens to Jerry Maguire. He wins in the end. He gathers up the believers. He tears down the old way of doing things. He renews faith. He remembers what his intended purpose is.