Wednesday, April 18, 2018

We Are Always Making Disciples, But Whose?

"make disciples . . . teaching them to observe all that I commanded you"

       When I was just a few weeks old my father he took me outside one night, lifted me toward the heavens, and said, "God I give you this child to preach the gospel." I was in shock when he told me this when I was in my forties, because until he was in his sixties he lived an agnostic, immoral life.   
       I listened as he continued his confession, "Then I went about doing everything I could to make you into the image of what I thought a man was, and that image was not what a man of God is. I spent my life doing everything I could to turn you away from God, and into a worldly man and I am so sorry." 
       I thought of that conversation as I shared a cup of coffee with a friend. He talked about a season of disobedience when he led his family away from church. He said he still read the Bible and prayed during that season, but his decisions had consequences in the lives of his family members.  
       I said, "I guess we are always making disciples, one way or the other. We are always leading people toward something." He talked about several families in his church who had become engrossed in weekend activities for their children, how these young families had drifted.
       He had talked to several of the fathers. Each of them justified their choices. Each said that the sports leagues or other activities they were giving their lives to had positive implications for their kids and their families. Each of them talked about the other "Christians" who were doing the same.
       We are always making disciples. The only question is, whose disciples are we making? If we lead our families away from public worship, small groups, service to our local churches, and devotion to the Lord and his people, there are consequences. There are many positive things in the world, many opportunities to create memories. Many things instill better-than-average values, but we are not called to better-than-average. 
       We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ. He is not better-than-average. He is all that is good and perfect. He is the object of our faith, the goal of our discipleship. He alone offers eternal and abundant life. Every decision we make is a discipleship decision. It is either toward him or away from him.
       Every person is responsible for his or her decisions. No one is fated by bad parenting to live a life of immorality. Our heavenly father is greater than any earthly father or any other earthly influence. God alone transforms, but we are part of his plan of transformation. While others are responsible for their choices, we are, too. We are always making disciples. In Christ, we are set free and empowered to make the kinds of choices that lead other toward him.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Compelled By The Love Of Christ And Easter

For the love of Christ compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: If one died for all, then all died. And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the one who died for them and was raised.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15

     You may not like this, but I still think it's worth talking about. The love of Christ does more than save you. It changes you. It transforms you. It rearranges your priorities, which means it reorganizes your life. When you really get the enormity of his love, you come to love what he loves.   
     You love and prioritize the mission he's given you. "We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ's behalf: 'Be reconciled to God' (2 Cor. 5:20)." His great love compels you to make his good news known to all people. He loved you. That overwhelms you. Your response is to love God and make his love and gospel known.
     Easter is next Sunday. It is probably the holiday when unchurched, lost people are willing to attend a religious service. Christmas is still in the race, but Easter is the big day for getting someone into a house of worship to hear the Gospel. What will you do with it?
     Will you gather with family only? For some of us that is the mission field. We travel great distances to go to church with mom, dad, brother or sister, because the only time they go to church and consider God is when we show up in town and take them. However, some of us see holidays only as family days. Our priority for Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving is to get together with our family. Is that wrong? Of course not, but it may not be altogether right either.
     What if the gospel was your priority this Easter? You might spend the week in prayer, inviting friends, family, and everyone else you met to come to church and hear about Jesus. You might decide that being at church to meet those people when they came was more important than eating another ham with family. After all, your family is saved. You communicate that to family. Some get it. Some don't. But, you have eternity to spend with them, and will see them next week. You don't have eternity with your neighbor, because he is lost. That's why you prioritized Easter for the gospel.
     Hey, I said at first that you may not like this, but, if the gospel is your priority because the love of Christ compels you, you might at least consider it. Easter is the singular outreach Sunday of the year. If you invite people to come and then you're not here, well, the person they were most likely to connect with at church won't be there. But, if you're there, and they come, it's a very different story.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Hoping In The Resurrection While We Grieve

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.
1 Thessalonians 4:13

     I have lost more in the last few years than at any other time in my life. My wife and I have become empty nesters. Our church has changed significantly, and while some change is good all change is a loss of what was - good or bad. I've lost friends. Some to conflict, some who have left our community, and some who have left this earth. And, when I think about those who have died in the last couple of years (Beck, Jim, Harold, Shirley to name a few), I miss not only them but many more in my life who have died. 
     Jim and Harold weren't just friends. They were mentors, broad shoulders and listening ears. Men I knew might disagree with me, but would never betray me. Shirley was there, present, faithful. That may not seem like much of a compliment, but she consistently loved my children and every other child in our church for generations. And then there's Becky. What can I say about her except, "You ain't right."
    Loss isn't just about here and now. Every time we lose someone we're not only left with the emptiness and grief of that loss, but also with the loss of our imagined future that contained them. We lived each day with the blessing of their presence, and we imagined a future in which we would continue to share life with them.
     We can heal. We can work on our grief, begin to develop new ways of living each day, but to really overcome our grief we also have to deal with the future. It's not just today without them, it's every day without them. 
     Just as God heals our current grief, He also has a remedy for our future-without-them grief. It's called the resurrection. If we believe in Christ, we will grieve because we loved like Christ. But, we do not have to grieve without hope. We do not have to fear the future without them, because "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep" (1 Thess. 4:14). 
     We don't have to imagine a future without them if they believed in Jesus and we believe in Jesus. God has guaranteed that our future contains, not only Jesus, but all those in Him who we so love. We just have to wait a little while to see them. And, while we wait, we are not alone. The One who rose from the grave, who promises to unite us completely and finally with Him, and to reunite us with those we have lost is with us even now. 
     "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel's voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so WE will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words" (1 Thess. 4:16-18 - emphasis mine).